top of page

How To Successfully Shop A Sale Rack

Clothes rack full of soft neutral clothing

Today I want to talk about our old friend, the sale rack, and how to shop it with intent and success. We all LIVE for a good deal, the kind you get to brag about freely with no judgment. I once found a pair of vintage Gucci heels marked down to $20 at a consignment store by someone who clearly didn't know what they were doing. And yes, they were real. And yes I strutted around like a rooster in a hen house after I found those suckers.

That's not really the norm, though. Normally, a sale rack is packed full of two things: items going out of season; and/or, items that have some sort of issue. It could be a wonky fit, a makeup stain, or an anomaly in the fabric or structure. Sometimes those issues are easily fixed and no big deal. But still: a sale rack should always be approached with hopeful caution, and without an agenda. In other words, don't force it because it's marked down, even if it's the deal of the century and you're basically broke.

There are several ways a sale rack can be your friend if you go in with the right mindset and plan. Here are my eight major tips for shopping a sale section like a pro!


1 | Don't Deviate From Your Shopping List. Successful shopping begins and ends with the right list. Is the sale item something you need? Will it fill a void in your wardrobe? Is the type of item you wear regularly? For example, I own several pairs of Spanx leggings and wear them ALL the time. If I find another pair on sale it could be a good buy for me, provided it's a style I would wear often. However, a silk dress that's dry clean only? Unless a specific special occasion is on my radar, a dressy, costly-to-clean item does me no good to wear once and then just hang in my closet.

2 | Don't Start There. Sometime we think the sale items are the only pieces we can afford. That's not necessarily true. Explore the store first to familiarize yourself with the brands and price range. You may find something that's a better fit for you, your shopping list, and the season that's not marked down but still within your budget!

Clothes rack with trench coat, silk blouse, belt, and jeans.

3 | Avoid Overly Trendy Items. Here's the thing with super trendy items: you should never pay a high price for them. They'll be gone within one season and then you're already donating it after a few wears. Waste of time, right? Well, it depends on which trendy item you're referring to. If you've been eyeing a specific item for awhile and you're still in love with it, finding it on sale would be awesome! But convincing yourself to try a trend just because it's marked down is all wrong.

4 | Evaluate Brand vs. Style vs. Price. Fact: finding a pricey brand on sale is downright exhilarating. But don't let the allure of the label knock down your bad-deal defenses!

Let's break it down using Equipment blouses as an example. They cost about $200-250 full price. Finding one on sale would be pretty fab, no? Well, what does it look like? Is it a creamy ivory, pale blue, or classic leopard print? Or it chartreuse with red poppies all over it, or maybe electric blue zebra print? The classic, versatile colors -- in your size, with the right fit -- make fabulous buys. The wild prints, on the other hand, are probably on sale because no one liked them in the first place. They're just too much for most people! A bad shirt with a big brand name is still a bad shirt.

Lastly, consider the discount you're getting. Maybe you did find the classic Equipment blouse marked down half off and it's the closest you'll ever get to affording one. It's still $100 or more! Is that $100 best spent on a nice silk blouse, or could you use that money to fill a more pressing need in your closet? However you answer is right and valid, but it's important to ask the question period.

Clothes rack with all black and white clothing.

5 | Try It On! Are you pulling on it? Smoothing it down over and over? Standing on your tippy toes trying for a more slimming silhouette? Repeat after me: it's not meant to be. I don't care if it's a sale item or a full-priced designer dud, if you're having to work at it to get it just right, it's not right. Fit is the KING of style criteria and if you're fussing over it trying to force it it's time to walk away. That's why you should always try something on! And always, always check the return policy (more on that in tip #8!)

6 | Fit, Color, Longevity. It's gotta fit like a glove or close enough at the time of purchase. Do NOT fall into the trap of thinking you'll tailor it to perfection unless you already visit your tailor regularly. Otherwise it's extremely likely you won't actually follow through and then you've just wasted your money.

Ask yourself if the color is one you'll wear a lot. If you gravitate toward blacks, grays, and navy blues you may not wear the chocolate brown very much. It also might be hard to style with the other items in your closet. Only go for an item in a color you don't wear much if it's specifically on your shopping list and you've thought it out beforehand.

The question of longevity includes both style and quality criteria. Is the style very "of the moment" or is it a piece you can wear for awhile? Is the piece well made or is it poorly constructed? Does the material feel like it'll wear well over a period of time, after several washes? Some items, like basic t-shirts, may not require such a detailed examination. Sometimes you just need to check a box, like a layering shirt or something to throw on at home with your joggers. Otherwise, each garment should be inspected through several lenses of scrutiny.

Empty hangers hanging on clothes rack.

7 | Know Your Truth! When will you wear it? Where will you wear it? How many ways can you style it? What's motivating you to buy this piece -- the deal? The sales associate? A friend? Your budget? Your desire to buy something that you haven't found yet so you start rationalizing it? Be HONEST with yourself! Don't dream up a lovely vision of how you'll wear something if you don't live that way. Don't see someone else's life and style in your vision -- be true to your own.

8 | Check the Return Policy. As a general rule of thumb, large national retailers will refund sale items within an abbreviated window of time. Clearance items are often the exception, though, so pay attention!

Smaller, local boutiques usually will not accept sale items back at all. Even full-price purchases may not be returnable for a refund, so always check the policy before you commit.


Shopping a sale rack can lead to an amazing deal on a piece you love! It can also be a trap and enabler of bad shopping habits if you don't watch it. Remember to:

  • Stick to your shopping plan and list

  • Hold a sale item to the same fit and quality standards of a full-priced item

  • Be honest about when, where, and how you'll wear it

  • Evaluate how good of a deal it really is for YOU!

What's your experience been like shopping a sale rack? Do you always beeline for it or do you approach with cautious optimism? What's the BEST sale item you've ever found?? Those stories are always so much fun!

Thanks for stopping by The Tony Townie today! If you liked these tips, consider saving this post to a Pinterest board dedicated to shopping or life hacks. It'll be super easy for you to pull up on the fly or share with a friend!


bottom of page