Broke Girl's Guide To :: Buying Contemporary Designers

I used to think spending a lot of clothes was silly, when I could find similar styles for a minuscule amount of the price at places like Forever 21. And then…I got my first silk shirt. It was just a white button up from Michael Kors that I found on clearance at Marshall’s, but the way it hung! The way it felt! The way it made me feel! I was hooked.

But here's my secret: I rarely pay full-price for anything.

We’re not talking full-on designer here - Prada, Gucci, and Chanel still remain firmly out of my budget when it comes to clothes. But Contemporary Designers like Rebecca Taylor, ALC, and Equipment aren’t necessarily out of reach from the every girl’s budget. In fact, I’ve snagged several gorgeous pieces for around the same price that I’d pay for a top at The Limited. So today, I’ve put together a buying guide of some of my favorite discount shops for designer duds.


Best for: Bags & More recent collections
I’ve bought several bags on Gilt to date, including Kate Spade, Rebecca Minkoff, and Barbara Bui. They seem to consistently have bags that are lovely marked down 50% or more, so if there’s a certain designer you’re holding out for, save your money and you’ll probably see it. I’ll probably end up buying my Balenciaga City bag from them if I ever save the money.

They’re also great about having the most recent collections. After the pieces go on sale on the main designer’s site, you’ll see them pop up on Gilt before they head to the discount retailers like Last Call.

Watch out for: Expensive shipping, Heightened Sense of Urgency, their personal collections
The one thing I don’t love? Rare free shipping. You’ll occasionally see a sale that offers free shipping if you use a Master Card (which I do, hurrah!), but for the most part it’ll be $6-8. I recommend the shipping above basic.

The other big problem with Gilt is the sense of urgency - since they’re a “flash sale” site, you might feel tempted to buy things so they don’t sell out or go away forever. Sometimes that can lead you to spend money you wouldn’t have otherwise.

Finally, this isn’t so much of a problem as something to be aware of - Gilt owns several in-house brands. Alex+Alex, Elorie, and The Letter are a few trademarks registered with Gilt under which they sell their own lines. From my experience, the pieces are good quality for the value, so if you love it, buy it! But they often throw these pieces into sales at a “significant discount” to make you feel like you’re getting more of a deal than you are. They’re probably worth the sale prices, though.

Best Sale:
Gilt usually has an “End of Season” sale twice a year that boasts 90% off. You’re taken to a list of designers and have to navigate your way through those by priority, hoping your favorites you don’t even know you had don’t sell out. The sale is made up of all of the left-overs they had throughout the season, so if you find something you love in your size, you’re set to get a great deal.

Last Call

Best for: Tops, Dresses, Shoes
Last Call is where I’ve snagged a lot of great tops for work. Their selection is usually chock-full of Equipment, Rebecca Taylor, Rebecca Minkoff, Alice + Olivia, and Eileen Fisher selections at reasonable prices. When you stack their coupons they send through email, you can often get a $250 blouse for around $60.

Watch Out For: Flux Pricing
The downside is, their pricing changes DAILY. A blouse you might have loved at $60 yesterday could be $100 today, depending on what the promo is. It’s my experience that they change the sales often and aren’t likely to run out of stock IMMEDIATELY, so it’s best to wait for the right combination of promo+coupon.

Best Sale: Wait for a great coupon via email! I often get an additional 20-50% off coupon, $10 off $30, etc.

Additional Note: If you can shop Last Call in person, DO. The website is just a small portion of what’s available in store. I found a 3.1 Phillip Lim Jacket (Originally $700) on sale for $80 when I was there! But there was only one. Websites don’t sell a quantity of one, they sell the things they have lots of. So if you want great deals, get them in-store.

Saks Off Fifth

Best for: Tops, In-House Brands, Shipping from Stores
Honestly, Off Fifth is probably my least favorite of the fine discount stores. I do not recommend shopping in store - you’ll leave disappointed with their selection, unless you love Ivanka Trump bags and Juicy Couture sunglasses. But, they’re really great about shipping items from stores if the website is out of something particular you’re looking for, so it’s worth a shot.

Watch out for: Bad Sales
Same as Last Call, you have to watch for price flux. I often check between the two on the same items to see who has the best deals. Saks is particularly bad at terrible sales, though. Their “Buy One, Get Two Free” sale comes to mind - it’s a great way to spend 2 hours looking for three things you want. They raise the prices and only include the crap items, so it’s really a bit of a waste of time.

Best Sale: Wait for an Additional % off.
Also, when you sign up for emails, they’ll give you a coupon for $30 off $100, which when stacked with promos and discounts makes for a great deal.

Nordstrom Rack

Best for: Anything! Just shop this one in store.
I’ve found Dolce & Gabbana pumps, a Milly Jacket, Marc Jacobs Sunglasses…I LOVE shopping at Rack. They also have a store online, but I don’t explore it as often as the ones I mentioned above. I have scored some cute Sole Society sandals from there.

Bonus: Use your Nordstrom Debit or Credit Card here and rack up the rewards. You can look up Double & Triple points weekends for extra buying power!

Barney’s Warehouse

Best for: Designer
There’s a reason Barney’s Warehouse is usually out of my price range - even at heavy discounts, their items are high-end designers. 75% off $2,000 is still $500! But, if you’re quick and not picky, this is a great place to get your designer fill, if you have your pennies saved or a great credit card. Also, this photo is misleading because I actually got my Wang at ShopBop. So whatever.

Marshall’s & TJ Maxx

Now we’re getting into the “In-Store” stuff. TJ Maxx does have an online retail presence, and it’s not half bad from what I’ve seen. The reason I’m lumping these two together? They vary based on where you live. For instance, in Little Rock our Marshall’s & TJ Maxx get their wares mostly from Dillard’s distributers, meaning the best you’re gonna find is Coach, MICHAEL Michael Kors, Theory, and the occasional Kate Spade bag. Say you’re in Dallas though - their TJ Maxx constantly has designer denim, contemporary dresses and tops…I’ve even heard wind of a Valentino Bag or two. So what THESE stores have is based on what else is in your area.

That said, it also varies between the two. In Little Rock, our TJ Maxx has a great bag section but Marshall’s bags kind of suck. But I prefer the Marshall’s shoe selection and clothing. So you kind of have to visit both to see what you can find.

Best sale: The Clearance sale! I’ve found ABS Platinum for $5, Vince Camuto for $15, and a Theory sweater for only $30.

Other Sales of Note:

Everything I listed above is a discount retailer, which usually means they’re the best place to start when you’re looking for a deal. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get a great deal at one of the non-discount retailers! Piperlime & Shopbop both have great sales and clearance, so cross-reference each of these sites when you’re looking at something specific. For example, I was in LOVE a strawberry print top from Equipment this summer (and let it slip away! sigh). It was on sale on Shopbop for $82, but Saks had it for an additional 25% off of 100 - making it $75. Consider the perks, promos, coupons, and shipping whenever you’re comparing the sites. At the end of the day, if you’re willing to do the legwork you can get some killer deals on your duds.

I've also found some amazing deals on and BlueFly on everything from Rebecca Taylor to Prada, but have not purchased from either. They're both great sites to peruse the clearance section if you're looking for a deal; most tops I've seen are $40-50!

Finally, consider using a service like ShopStyle or Shop It To Me to keep you up-to-date on sales. I tag several items I like as they come out, and they’ll send me emails when those things go on sale. I also get emails from each of the stores above; it can get overwhelming, but it’s the best way to find a sale if you’re in the market for something specific.

Next up in this series: Buying Secondhand! I've got some great tips to making that thrift score.