How to Buy Discount Designer Clothing This Holiday

Chances are, designer clothing found its way onto your holiday shopping list this year. The gift may not be for you, but a modish loved one is begging for the hottest thing from Prada, Gucci, Coach or the like. Yet with loads of holiday cheer to spread, your pocket will feel the squeeze if you can't uncover a stellar yuletide sale or, at the very least, buy discount designer clothing.

Although Christmas is drawing dangerously near, there are still loads of places in the winter retail wonderland to find discount designer fashion, from sunglasses and handbags to clothing and shoes. The trick -- as with all shopping -- is to know what you're looking for and where to find it.

For starters, find out exactly what the giftee wants, right down to the color of stitching on bags. Why? When purchasing cheap designer womens clothes, the best deal may be at a store where all sales are final. This doesn't always mean a merchant is sketchy; simply that they're trying to get rid of overstocked or discontinued items. With that in mind, carefully peruse all terms of a buy before swiping your card and, if you feel uncertain, back out. Saving a couple bucks isn't worth padding a counterfeiter's pocket, especially when the gift is for someone else. (For a more detailed guide on avoiding fake designer goods, read our post "How to Spot 10 Counterfeit Products.")

The following are some general tips to consider when turning visions of designer sugarplums into a Christmas reality. If your holiday budget is already drained and the purchase needs to wait until the new year -- a legitimate excuse when facing "discount" items that still clock in over $200 -- these guidelines can be applied at any time.

1. Research Brands
This should go without saying (especially if you read the intro), but have a clear picture of the item, including every minute detail. If it's a Coach handbag, know the size, style, color and, if possible, distinguishing marks. If you're looking for Prada sunglasses, know the color and fit. Make certain the giftee has actually tried on anything they want and don't be afraid to suggest they do so. This reassurance comes in handy with finicky items like jeans. Designer brands like True Religion run a gamut of sizes and cuts, many of which differ from more generic denim. To fully appreciate the extra cash spent, the fit should be flawless.

And if the name dropping above was too subtle, here it is: Know the brand. In the world of designer fashion, a label is everything. You don't want to give a "Channel" bag when you expected Chanel.

2. Research Sellers
Modern shoppers are more adept than ever at using the web to comparison shop. However, simply finding the lowest price without taking a quick inventory of user reviews is dangerous. A recent article in the New York Times exposed how any online chatter -- whether good or extraordinarily bad -- can bump a merchant to the top of search engine results. Google has since begun changing the way sites are ranked, but designer goods are perpetual targets for shady folks, both online and off.

Moral of the story: Don't trust a search engine to drop the most reliable businesses in your lap. Dig a little further and make those decisions on your own. Pay careful attention to reviews from Amazon, eBay and sites like My3Cents or BizRate.com.

3. Scour Reputable Discount Sites
The Internet can be a veritable trove of prime deals, particularly if you stick to a handful of legitimate, reputable sites. Bluefly.com is a prime example of discount designer goods done right. I known for regularly discounting everything by 20 percent or more. The holidays have spurred a slew of one-day-only sales on clothing, handbags, jewelry and the like, a trend which will generally continue until Christmas Eve. Use Bluefly free shipping codes to further pad your gift budget. (More on this in a bit.)

Men often get lost when talking about designer labels, but watches are aLuke's had me  different story. The deal-of-the-day website JomaDeals.com fulfills the male propensity for wrist bling, offering one heavily discounted watch for a limited amount of time. Mark-downs sit in the 70-percent-off range and last until time is up or the item sells out. The one downside to Joma is a lack of control -- your only option is what they choose to display: But if you're buying for someone who simply wants a quality brand-name watch, keep a close eye on the site.

4. Register for Private Sales Sites
Private sales sites cater largely to those with a thirst for designer clothing. Most don't display offers on their public websites. Rather, they require you first sign up for a free membership, after which deals are sent daily to your e-mail. The whole arrangement gives them an "exclusive" feeling. Items tend to go quickly, but only because discounts often reach 70-percent off. A selection of the best includes Gilt, Beyond the Rack and Rue La La.

If you're truly feeling the holiday crunch, it may be too late for a private sale. Like deal-of-the-day sites, the selection is limited by day, quantity and selection, making them smart for holiday shopping only if your giftee isn't picky. However, they're worth joining if you regularly buy designer goods for yourself or others. Over time, you could save thousands of dollars with only a few smart, select choices a year.

5. Visit Designer Outlet Stores
If you have time to spare or that final person on your list doesn't know what they want, a factory outlet is perfect. Not only can they touch a tangible object, designer outlet stores promise sizable mark-downs on a near-full line of goods. Be aware, however, this is not always the case and know the retail value of similar items before you jump on a buy. Outlet malls are found in every corner of the U.S. and most house several designer stores. Visit the website Outlet Bound and search for locations by state, store or category.

Although not quite a factory outlet because it carries a variety of brands, Loehmann's is one of the few modern retailers to keep its inventory confined to brick-and-mortar stores. The department store is like an upscale TJ Maxx, with regular sales of 30- to 50-percent off on labels like Calvin Klein, Kenneth Cole and Dolce & Gabbana. Loehmann's operates in New York, Arizona, Virginia and nine other states. Use the store locator to find one in your area.

6. Consider Resellers
The Internet is full of resellers who peddle designer clothing, most of which purchase wholesale then distribute at 50-percent off or more. (In fact, if you're the entrepreneurial type, it's a very lucrative niche market.) Many go through reputable sites like eBay and Amazon, making it easy to quickly check user ratings. Be sure to carefully read everything you can find about a reseller before buying. For every legitimate auctioneer, there's another bad egg.

Aside from the regular channels, several auction websites only deal in designer clothing. The plus with most is they only sell brand new goods, meaning what you see on the website is exactly what you get. Like private sale sites, however, deals come and go by the minute, so you have to be on the prowl. OohILove.com is one of the most reliable, with sales of up to 95-percent off goodies from Prada, Gucci and Louis Vuitton. The site is participating in the third annual Free Shipping Day: Buy on Friday, Dec. 17 and get your entire order shipped for free with a 14-day return window.

Outside of cyberspace, shops like Plato's Closet specialize in "gently used" name-brand goods. You won't find a ton of high-end stuff, but for clothing from Abercrombie, Express and American Eagle, the chain beats thrift stores by a mile. Check the Plato's Closet website for a full list of locations.

7. Save on Extras
As you may have noticed, free shipping is kind of a big deal to us. Free overnight and return shipping is an even bigger deal. If I were a superhero, ProductExpress.com would be my kryptonite. When a site guarantees never-before-worn designer clothing and accessories with a generous holiday return policy of 90 days (60 days any other time), there's little reason to resist. Aside from clothing, the site also sells luggage and is participating in Free Shipping Day.

Plenty of other websites make expensive products more enticing through free-delivery offers, online-only discounts and more. Quickly browse for specials -- Express free shipping comes to mind -- before finalizing a purchase. Even when buying direct from a designer website, most offer free shipping on orders over $200. It sounds like a ridiculous amount, but chances are your buy will meet or surpass the threshold. 

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