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6 items you’ll need to survive Black Friday

Still too full from oversized portions of turkey and holiday wine, many of us flock to the local mall on Black Friday hoping to take advantage of insane holiday sales. On a day when you have to brave hoards of holiday shoppers and the Crazy-Target-Lady types (she’s my current Twitter obsession, follow her tweets @ChristmasChap), it’s smart to be prepared. Here’s what you need to survive Black Friday.

1. An extra roomy, lightweight purse – isn’t just for grandma

A roomy purse is very important on this day of marathon shopping. Take a handbag that has plenty of room for the essentials, like your wallet, cell phone and car keys. But be sure your handbag is also big enough for you to stow smaller purchases – say a holiday-inspired eye shadow from Sephora or a pair of earrings for your niece. Avoid a leather bag at all costs, it’ll feel like you left a five-pound dumbbell in there, and opt for a canvas tote or another lightweight option – like a nylon shopper.

2. Comfy shoes will save your feet

It seems like an obvious choice, after all you know you’re going to be walking a lot — beginning with the trek through the parking lot and then there’ll be all those hot laps around the mall. When you select your footwear, think about what you plan to accomplish on Black Friday. If your plans include shoe shopping, you might select ballet flats over a pair of boots.

3. One word about clothing: layers

If you plan to make it to the mall right when the doors open, it’s oh so tempting to throw on yoga pants and a sweatshirt. Yes, an elastic waistband seems like a good option when you’ve overdone it at Thanksgiving dinner, but it isn’t a good look for the mall or any public place outside of the gym. Put together a decent outfit for the national day of retail excess. With all that schleping through stores, and dodging fast walkers, trying to get around slow walkers, and getting in and out of clothes, you’ll want to be able to adjust your outfit according to your fluctuating body temperature. By layering a cardigan over a tee or a tank under a button up, you’ll be able to adjust your outfit as needed.

4. Coffee is your friend

Waking up before the sun comes up to beat the holiday shopping crowd means you’ll want to have your favorite caffeinated drink in hand as you blearily finger a tie neck blouse early in the morning. Before you hit the mall, stop by your favorite coffee spot. Better yet, your fancy-pants coffee maker probably has a timer, so set it up, save a few bucks, and enjoy caffeinated goodness as soon as you wake up. Don’t be shy about pit stops either — you’re probably going to need an extra large refill at least once.

5. Snacks prevent hangry shopping

Don’t try to lug around a turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce and stuffing bursting from between a leftover biscuit; instead, throw a bag of almonds in your purse and nosh on it when you get hungry. No one likes a hangry (hungry-angry) shopper, so keep some sustenance in your purse and refuel as needed.

6. A shopping list doesn’t make you a nerd

It’s always a good idea to use a shopping list, whether you’re braving the crowds on Black Friday or headed to the grocery store for a few items. It helps you stay organized and can prevent forgetting important people on your gift-giving list. If you’re an old fashioned gal, you can put pen to paper. I have to admit that using pretty stationary for that list can add a touch of glamour to your shopping trip. But for someone who has embraced technology, I recommend Evernote. You can import any variety of lists to your smartphone from your online account and the app allows you to check items off your list throughout the day.

Farewell, Filene’s Basement

Filene's Basement

Last week I was surprised by the news that Filene’s Basement planned to file Chapter 11 Bankruptcy and would look to liquidate their stores.

The discount retailer is an original gangster in the industry. The chain opened its doors in 1909 and has provided glamorous, fashionable and cost-conscious women with discounted designer merchandise for over a century.

As a California girl I haven’t had the pleasure of shopping at Filene’s Basement (the retail chain is almost exclusively located on the East coast); however, I am familiar with the store’s reputation, as well as it’s famous Running of the Brides event.

Ready, set, go brides!

For those unfamiliar with the Running of the Brides, it’s a sale in which women literally run to nab designer wedding dresses at jaw-dropping discount prices. To-be-brides, often with several friends in tow to help grab as many gowns as possible, would literally camp out in front of stores to get a prime spot in line. The chain’s website even provides tips to help brides get the most out of the sale.

Having been in the market for a wedding dress a few years ago, I had deliberated attending a Running of the Brides event and tried to enlist a few girlfriends to accompany me.

One enthusiastic friend, yes, Lauren, I’m talking about you, happily agreed to come with me. Had we made the nearly three-hour trek to experience the bridal chaos, Lauren would have been an invaluable asset. In initial talks about the sale, she demonstrated her elbow throws and strategized ways to find the perfect wedding dress by taking advantage of her excellent negotiating skills and her keen eye for quality. These character traits make Lauren a great friend to have at a crazy sale and a very savvy shopping partner.

End of an era

With so much enthusiasm and fanfare behind the Running of the Brides event, not to mention a struggling economy and the rise of recessionistas, it seems somewhat strange that Filene’s Basement is going out of business.

Aren’t many of us trying to stretch limited dollars? And, let’s face it, regardless of how little cash is available, many of us find ways to squeeze a few bucks out of our budgets for fashion. I’m more likely to give up a month of Americanos at Starbucks than I am to forgo a new dress for an upcoming wedding or holiday party.

In lean economic times it seems as though retailers like Filene’s should be booming rather than filing for bankruptcy. A recent HuffPo article suggests that Filene’s Basement may have been squeezed out by online flash sale sites like Gilt Groupe and Rue La La. Apparently the rise of such websites has increased the demand for excess designer stock and with so many players in the space there isn’t enough merchandise to go around.

It’s undeniable that the shopping landscape is changing – particularly for those of us who love to find an irresistible deal. Although there are obvious benefits to physically shopping at a brick and mortar store, the online retailers seem to provide deeper discounts and the ability to filter by size and brand – streamlining and speeding up the shopping process. That said, it has been my experience that the brick and mortar discount retailers have fresher stock – a pair of Seven of All Mankind jeans bought a Marshalls showed up on a Gilt Groupe sale about a year later.

Regardless of the reasons why Filene’s Basement is biting the dust, fashionable women on a budget (and budget brides) have also lost a great shopping source.

Dear Target, Please Bring Isaac Mizrahi Back

Isaac MizrahiLet’s take a moment to reminisce about the early 2000s, specifically 2002. In many respects it was a good year, nearly everyone shook it to Nelly’s Hot in Herre, denim came back in a big way, and Isaac Mizrahi debuted his fashionable, yet purse-friendly line for Target.

You know what I’m talking about, it was right around the time when people started referring to Target as “Tar-jay.”

It was hard not to notice the Isaac Mizrahi for Target line even if you’d just run into the store to restock on paper towels and bottled water. The impeccably tailored jackets, skirts and dresses, eye-catching prints, and punchy colors almost seemed like they’d gotten lost on their way to a nice department store.

The most enticing thing about the clothing was that it had a high-quality look. Sure, some clothing was made from polyester blends and, on close examination, there were buttons that could be described as chintzy, but you couldn’t complain about the cut and construction of the line’s offerings.

From designer magic to designer duds

So there it was, Target had innovated the ultimate impulse item for women: well-priced clothing by a designer with serious name recognition. Blouses and the like just begging to be plucked from the rack as you sailed past on your way to the checkout line.

What could possibly go wrong? Well fast forward a few years, add in a lineup of impressive designer collaborations, and let the disappointment begin. Somewhere along the line the quality of these designer collaborations went to hell.

Time and again I’d anxiously await the release of a new collaboration, including Porenza Schouler, Zac Posen, and Rodarte, only to be disappointed by the poorly constructed items or clothing fashioned from such cheap material you couldn’t look past it to see the beauty or genius in the design.

It’s not just Target either. Other retailers who have wooed high-end designers (e.g. Simply Vera Wang for Kohls or Nicole by Nicole Miller for JCPenny) have fallen short as well. Granted the flaws aren’t always the same but they’re usually equally disappointing.

The point is, regardless of design, execution and quality fabrics really do count. I guess the Project Runway judges were right all along.

I still heart Target

Don’t get me wrong — I still love Target. There are often great fashion finds to be found; for example, occasionally I’ll come across an item that looks expensive and well made – just not from one of their designer collaboration lines. I also love Target because the retailer offers on-trend fashion at a very reasonable price. Letting you try something new and fun without having to sacrifice your entire paycheck.

And I’ll keep going back to check out those new designer collaborations – if only to see whether the Isaac Mizrahi magic can happen once again.

10 Step Guide to Shopping at Discount Retailers

You know why you should shop at discount retailers: fantastic discount prices on everything from clothes and handbags to non-stick pans or luggage. But did you know that there is an art to navigating discount retailers such as T.J.Maxx, Marshalls and Ross?

I know, I know, it sounds like an outright exaggeration, but it’s true.

Growing up: I got it at Ross

As a teenager, the quantity of clothing in my closet was of the utmost importance. I loved shopping at Ross because I could get a crazy number of items for the meager back-to-school shopping budget granted to me.

Image courtesy of tfwww

My mother, aficionado of quality fashion, wasn’t thrilled with this obsession with anything cheap and trendy. She’d try to steer me toward Calvin Klein jeans – seriously, they were

cool back then — while I’d grab multiple pairs of flimsy, no-name bell bottoms that looked like something featured in the pages of Seventeen.

As the years passed, I developed a predilection for luxury labels. I didn’t realize that I could find high-end designer items at these stores, until one day, while rifling through a rack of cheap sunglasses, I found a flawless and super cool pair of D&G shades.

Now this may sound a little dramatic, but the discovery changed by shopping life. I began to obsessively troll the racks of discount retailers, and over time I mastered the art of uncovering amazing merchandise hidden among armloads of undesirable clothing.

So, without further ado: A ten step guide to shopping at discount retailers.

1. Invest the time

Amazing finds, like a marc by marc jacobs swimsuit or Miu Miu platforms, aren’t likely to be conveniently displayed for you as soon as you walk through the door – but it would be amazing if it worked that way!

Experience has taught me that casually perusing the merchandise at one of these stores for just ten minutes usually results in few to no finds. If you are going to explore the fashion possibilities at the nearest discount retailer, be sure you have plenty of time to cull through racks of clothing, shoes, or purses.

Being patient and taking the time to really go through what’s available at a particular store will increase the likelihood that you’ll uncover a high-end gem. Keep in mind that it’s easy to come across the same hideous pair of pants over and over again, but there may only be only one beautiful skirt, sweater, or pair of stilettos by your favorite designer hidden among the dregs.

2. Give each discount retailer a chance

I’m a bit of a nomad and have moved from the West Coast to the East Coast and back again. Having lived on both sides of the country, I’ve found that not all discount retailers are created equal – and just because the Marshalls in one town or state is great, doesn’t mean it will have the same type of selection in another metropolitan area. In other words, it’s worthwhile to check out all the discount retailers near you.

3. Learn to navigate each store

An initial time investment at a discount retailer will pay serious dividends on future trips.

In many of these stores, I’ve found that designer jeans or expensive labels are frequently put on the sales floor in the same place. For example, when I lived on the East Coast my local T.J.Maxx always put Hudson and 7 For All Mankind jeans on the same rack in the exact same place. I could literally walk over to the same section, push away the pleated chinos, and like magic my favorite denim brand would almost always appear.

Now, not every store works this way, and you may miss out on other good buys if you don’t take the time to look through the racks. However, if you generally know where you’re likely to have the best luck, there’s no harm in starting there first.

4. Go in without expectations

Okay, remember those amazing Hudson jeans from step #3? Well, it didn’t always work that way. Sometimes a different brand of jeans would make an appearance, or the denim gods weren’t shinning down on me and my size just wasn’t there.

Keeping an open mind may also open you up to new fashion possibilities. Perhaps you wouldn’t necessarily be into sequins or paillettes, but there’s an amazing deal on a to-die-for paillette skirt and you decide to buy something that’s a bit out of your comfort zone. Go for it, that’s part of the fun of shopping at these retailers.

There have been plenty of occasions when I’ve found a high-quality item that I might have passed up at a department store because it was too expensive or just a bit too costly for me to try something so trendy. If the price is right and it’s a good quality piece, what the hell, live a little and take a chance. It may just turn into your go-to piece for date night or some other occasion.

5. Try everything onImage courtesy of jannett

This is just good advice any time you’re shopping, but particularly important when shopping at a discount retailer. At a department store or boutique, you’ve got more than a fair chance of going back to the store and finding a better size. With a discount retailer, on the other hand, you can’t be sure that a better fit will be available when you return the next day or the following week (and it may not even be available the same day). By trying the item on, you’ve got a better chance of finding a size up or down if it is indeed available.

Oh, and ladies, don’t buy something that’s too small with the idea that you’ll fit into it after you’re finished with the next crazy diet. I’m sure your fitness extravaganza will be successful, but go shopping once you’ve actually left your current dress size behind. Trust me, you don’t want that beautiful, too small garment tormenting you each time you see it in your closet.

6. Examine each item closely

Many of these retailers mark flaws, but not all of them do. Aside from manufacturer flaws, there’s a risk of in-store flaws or damage…cue the gross foundation ring on the neckline of a t-shirt or an obvious catch on the otherwise perfect dress. Take a close look at any item you are considering. It’d be a shame to find a blemish you can’t live with once you get home.

Also, take into account that not all flaws need be deal breakers. Sometimes you may find something on the clearance rack because of an undone seam that’s easily stitched or a missing button while a packet of replacements are conveniently provided on the original tag.

One last bit of advice: be realistic about your sewing prowess before committing to a flawed item. Don’t fool yourself into believing you can re-bead an embellished dress if you’ve never even threaded a needle.

7. Set a budget

With all this talk of having to excavate the racks at your local discount retailer, you may be thinking that there’s very little need to set a budget. Au contraire! For beginners and pros alike, there will be many times when you’re conflicted because there are too many good things to buy.

Before you leave the house, know how much you feel comfortable spending. Frequently, you’ll come in under budget, but you’ll keep yourself out of trouble when you find yourself pushing a shopping cart brimming with a mother lode of luxury goods just daring you to max out your credit cards.

8. Don’t be a label whore

For some people this isn’t an issue. Bad fashion is just bad fashion, and you have no problem walking away from a bag, pair of pumps or dress that’s just plain ugly or not your style.

Then there are people like me: the label worshippers. I take an extra long stare at the merino turtleneck that’s an awful, unflattering color – somewhere in the neighborhood between chartreuse and vomit — just because it’s Dolce & Gabbana.

Resist the urge to buy the stuff with the fancy labels if you don’t genuinely love it. What’s the benefit of spending money on a high-end item, discounted or not, if it will never see the light of day, or worse yet, becoming a fashion victim and appearing on Glamour’s DOs and DON’Ts List? 

Another great strategy is to look at each item first, before scoping out the label, and then deciding whether you like it. If it doesn’t pass the gut check, it shouldn’t make it to the register.

9. Feel confident walking away with nothing

If you find nothing that suits you or whole bunch of things that leave you feeling tepid, leave everything behind. Walking away empty-handed isn’t a bad thing. It won’t always be easy, but leaving a store without purchasing anything at all is sometimes the best thing for you and your bank account. Besides, deciding not to buy the mediocre will give you an opportunity to splurge on the super special finds on another trip.

10. Keep your receipt

Nearly all discount retailers have generous return policies. Sometimes you get home only to have your best friend, boyfriend, husband, children or neighbor scoff at your purchase. Or, perhaps, you’re less confident about sporting that neon color now that you’re looking at yourself under good lighting. Regardless of the reason you have a change of heart, as long as you hold on to your receipt, you typically have up to 30 days to change your mind – that is as long as you haven’t removed the tags and worn the item.