The Art of the Sample Sale

One of my favorite things about living in New York City had been the access to an abundance of amazing sample sales. Since moving to Pittsburgh two years ago I’ve realized how much I miss this unique and exhilarating form of shopping. Certain sales brought with them the opportunity to acquire some truly unique pieces at dirt cheap prices.

It was back in 1997 that I attended my first sample sale. I was working on the sales floor for J.Crew and had never even heard of a sample sale. But they were holding one, and my more experienced colleagues couldn’t recommend going enough. The sale was taking place in Manhattan. I remember riding the train into Penn Station, and not knowing what to expect. My father came with me as his interest was piqued as well. What I found was a small, dark room loaded with tables piled high with various pieces of clothing. And it was cheap! I spent probably $100, and walked away with a giant trash bag filled with items including a flannel sports jacket, a couple pairs of pants, sweaters, and several neck ties – some of which I still own today. My father was less impressed, and offered to take me to what he referred to as a “real sample sale.”

That real sample sale turned out to be for Joseph Abboud – my father’s favorite label at the time. The big difference I found between the two sales was that while J.Crew’s sale had a number of items that were real, true samples (mis-sized, holes cut out of trouser legs, the word SAMPLE written in big, bold letters) the Abboud sale was more overstock. There was a lot of selection, but nothing about it felt unique, at least not to me. I bought a few items, but nothing particularly memorable. 

I went on to frequent sales that included Hugo Boss and the once-coveted Barney’s New York Warehouse Sale. But it wasn’t until the first J.Crew sale of the Mickey Drexler era did I truly begin to discover that with a little patience, along with brand knowledge that I could find some truly amazing deals. It was at this sale that I acquired a British Millerain for J.Crew waxed jacket for about $40. I also got a cardigan made in sweatshirt fabric that I wore to death while working from home. These were on top of several t-shirts for about $5 a pop, jeans, button-ups, and a canvas bag that I ended up using for work.

J.Crew British Millerain Waxed Cotton Jacket

Over the next several years I attended every bi-annual sale for J.Crew, plus sales for Daniel Cremieux, Tommy Hilfiger, Proper Cloth, Isaia & Eidos, Bonobos, GANT, and more. I acquired several items that I love, and still wear to this day. Since the start of COVID-19 in-person sales have been cancelled, and others have been moved online. I recently looked at a sale for the brand ONIA, and even bought a linen shirt that as it turns out looks and fits really well. But it’s not the same. I am confident that sales will return to their former glory, and when they do I will be sure to return to NYC in person to reap the rewards.

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