Retro Rerun: Stalking The Elusive Bargain

| Jun 5, 2017

This Retro Rerun from the TGForum Archives originally was published back in the ’90s. Some of the prices mentioned are a lot lower than we have today and some of the stores mentioned have disappeared into the mists of time. In general what I wrote back then is still applicable for a trans person who wants a stylish wardrobe but doesn’t have the budget to spend top dollar.

A wise woman once said, “To shop is to live.” Truer words were never spoken.

Shopping. Not for the necessities of life like food and drain cleaner, but for the treats, like a hot new dress or the perfect pair of shoes, speaks deeply to most women and many transgendered women are no exception.

When I first started to dress (in the privacy of my own home) shopping was a major adrenalin rush. I still remember the terror that accompanied my first foray into that bastion of the feminine world; the women’s clothing store. (Fortunately I was on the right track with that first purchase, since I made it in a discount shop.) I shook, sweat ran off every inch of my body and I was sure everyone was staring at me. There was no possibility at that time that I would have shopped en femme so there I was, quivering and dripping sweat in my male attire. Looking back I bet everyone was staring at me since I looked so uncomfortable and nervous. After picking out a cotton, pleated skirt I thought would fit, I hurriedly paid for it and burst out into the light of day, without being arrested, or becoming completely dehydrated.

Since that first shopping experience I have shopped everywhere; from my hometown to California to London; in both genders, cash and credit, and I’ve picked up a few tips along the way. Now, I share my hard gathered shopping wisdom with you.

Angela’s first law of shopping says, “If you are searching for a particular item you won’t find it, or you’ll find it at full price.” The best way to shop is just go. Don’t say, “I need a knee length blue skirt with pockets.” You’ll visit every shop in three states and you may find it … for full price. If you wander through the stores with a “just looking” attitude, bargains will practically jump off the rack. Careful though. While you’ll find many pieces you can use to create a number of sexy outfits, always ask yourself, “Can I use this with clothes I’ve got?” I have succumbed to the “bargain-I-had-to-buy” and didn’t ask that question. One of those bargains, a gold knit dress with full crinoline skirt is still in the closet. Only $4.98 at a Macy’s Clearance Outlet store but it’s never been worn and I can’t give it away. My only hope is Halloween. [Note: Macy’s Clearance Outlet is one of those things that has faded away. In each Macy’s store they have section called Last Act. That’s where the 21st century shopper will find the big bargains.]

Department stores really have the best buys, after they get away from the retail price and into the “Land of the Markdowns!” Go to the clearance racks. That’s where the big buys lurk. If you have time to invest in your bargain quest you will cultivate those racks like a farmer brings along a crop of corn. Check them every week. Watch the papers for sales coming up and be there the first day of the sale. Make sure they have several things in the size and color you need. Stop in every week and check the rack. If the stock begins to thin, strike like a hawk and take your purchase home. (In many department stores the sales people will call you to let you know the status of the bargain you’ve been stalking. If you are open with them and tell them what you want they’ll be happy to help you spend your money.) I’ve gotten burned on the “wait and see” shopping mode by waiting too long. That great red dress now hangs in some other women’s closet.

The “time investment” approach to shopping can pay off big in savings. Most department stores have limits on how long they let stuff hang around on the clearance racks. J.C.Penney, for example, will start selling off the summer stuff at the beginning of July to make room for the fall things that women-who-pay-full-price are going to buy in July and August. That means you can get significant savings at the beginning of July and probably wear it till September. As the summer goes on the percentage taken off the price gets higher.An item may be marked down to $6.99 and then by the end of August 50% more will be deducted. I call that period in the life of a markdown “Stock Up Time.”

Bloomingdales Junior Department also has incredible buys when they decide to clean out the clearance racks. A $48 dollar skirt will be marked down two to three times, ending up at $14.95. When the big fifty percent off sale hits you get it for $7.50. Heck, buy four.

After the clearance racks in department stores your next best bet for big buys is the outlet mall. Stores in an outlet mall, such as Franklin Mills [now Philadelphia Mills] in Philadelphia and Potomac Mills in Washington, DC, are like giant clearance racks. The merchandise that didn’t sell from all the stores in a chain is shipped to these outlets for hordes of bussed in bargain fanatics to buy. (Whew! All that alliteration almost wore me out.) Those hordes mean one thing, if you can, do your outlet mall shopping on a weekday. Weekends at an outlet mall can lead to sensory overload. They may find you huddled against a wall at closing time, muttering to yourself, “Just one more store, one more store….” The crowds on a weekend can turn a nice afternoon of shopping into a fight for survival. Avoid them if you can.

On the day you go to the outlet mall prepare for an expedition. It’s going to be a long day. Franklin Mills for example is almost a mile long and contains over 200 stores. If you spend twenty minutes going through the racks in each site of retail worship — I mean, each store, then you’ll be there for sixty six hours! Of course, you won’t visit every store, some of them carry “guy stuff.” Ick.

Like all good sports, make sure you warm up before you begin your spree. Do some stretching to loosen those leg muscles, make a few preliminary purchases in your neighborhood to get that buying groove and practice saying “Charge it.” Now you’re ready for a productive day of fashion transactions.

A couple of tips about salespeople; They want your business and will help you if it will increase their commission. Some stores have salespeople who are too helpful. It’s practically impossible to browse in peace at the Merry Go Round chain since the sales staff are lean and hungry. They pounce on any customer like a wolf attacks a rabbit and if you can get out of the store with less than ten (coordinated) items you’re a lucky woman. Of course a personal relationship with the sales staff, particularly in department stores and upscale shops will get you bargains and make you feel like the pampered lady you are.

That’s it for shopping tips. Take this wisdom and go forth. Look out bargains, here we come.

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Category: Fashion, How To

About Angela Gardner: Angela Gardner is a founding member of The Renaissance Transgender Association, Inc., the former editor of that organization's newsletter and magazine, Transgender Community News. She wrote the Diva of Dish column for TGF in the late 1990s and was the Editor of LadyLike magazine until its untimely demise. She is currently the Editor of TGF. She has appeared in film and television shows portraying TG characters, as well as representing Renaissance on numerous talk shows. In her idle hours she keeps busy producing her monthly TG parties, Angela's Laptop Lounge.

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