The Four Golden Rules to Shopping the Sales the Smart Way

Written by Kat Aalam


Posted on February 03 2020

January is a funny old month. It’s the start of the year yet so much of it is bound up with the end of the previous year. It is a time of resolutions, of guilt, of changing old habits and resolving to make new positive changes.

The same sentiment of “out with the old and in with the new” also applies to retail in general and most ostensibly the fashion industry. Alongside the focus on new beginnings, ergo new body/new you/new wardrobe etc the January sales are a time when shops clear the winter season stock to make way for spring and summer collections. Yet the irony of this is, we are about to endure the coldest and toughest months, weather-wise, of the year, so the notion that we will be flinging off our layers and wafting around in spring frocks is ludicrous.

So while our little store will be receiving deliveries of lighter knits, printed blouses, and midi skirts, the reality is we will be unpacking these deliveries whilst being wrapped up in winter cashmere and autumn knits. Which means that if you are considered, controlled and careful, the January sales can actually be a bloody brilliant time to score some genuine bargains.

We have all befallen the siren call of a 70% discount of something that is the wrong size/not your colour/unflattering/impractical/just not you (hello sequin strapless Halpern for Topshop jumpsuit 2 sizes too big, in need of a shed load of alterations but was only £14.99 that is currently residing in the bottom of my wardrobe having not seen the light of day since January sales 2019) and can become terrified of making similar mistakes while sale shopping.

But rest assured, there are some brilliant offers to be found out there especially in independent boutiques like ours; things you will be forever grateful you bought, things you possible would never have purchased nor could have afforded/justified paying for had they not been on sale. But how to know the diamond from the dud? We’ve compiled a guide to ensure you shop the sales like a fashion pro not a damsel in distress. Simply follow our 4 golden rules

  1. The size does not have to be right

In an ideal world, the sales would be filled with everything you love, all half price and in your size. In the real world, however, this rarely is the case, but this is nothing a good tailor cannot help with. If the dress you love is 2 sizes smaller than you are, no, there isn’t anything to be done and you will just have to accept that it wasn’t meant for you. Never buy something with the aim of dieting into. But if it’s too big, or even just a smidge on the neat size, do not despair. Seams can be let out, they can most definitely be taken in and an experienced retail assistant will be able to advise you on this. So if you find something you love and it’s a little on the big side, if with the price of the alteration added the item will still have saved you money, then it’s worth buying. Things like jeans are a really good example this. If you find a really good pair at a really good price but they are 1 size too big, it is worth considering having the waist taken in, adding a belt or just rocking them a bit on the loose side. As long as the leg looks ok, the waist area is fixable so be sure to factor that in and the same applies to trousers and especially skirts which are a doddle to take in or size down. My husband once found an Aquascutum wool pea coat that was 70% off in the sale but was 1 size too big and it really was too big everywhere. But for about £70 our in-house tailor resized the entire thing so given that it was £899 down to £269, even with that alteration fee, it was absolutely worth doing for such a classic, quality and well-made piece. And don’t ever be too much of a slave to what the label says anyway as there really is absolutely no uniformity in the fashion sizes. They’re just a guide really so be prepared to try something on and if it feels and looks good, who cares what the label says.

  1. Know thy needs

It can help to go into the sales with a clear and focussed idea of what your wardrobe and lifestyle needs are. If the moths have eaten your favourite knits, now is the time to snap up cashmere and cardigans. If you work wardrobe needs an update, seek out tailored blouses, blazers or dresses and don’t get distracted by the sequin miniskirts adorning the rails. If, however you have birthday parties coming up (both of us have many a friend with a January or February birthday) or winter weddings (when I got married it was up in Scotland in early March and my friends moaned about not being able to find anything weather appropriate in the shops at the time – should have shopped the January sales I say!) now is an excellent time to pick up some velvet or beaded pieces that didn’t get purchased for Christmas and New Year. They may have in the shops with the festive period in mind, but they will be still be absolutely perfect for your bestie’s birthday night out or cousin’s hen do, as it’ll still be far too cold for spring frocks until at least early April. We have some beautiful pieces that are still instore from our pre-Christmas party collection, including an effortless pink velvet top from Emily and Fin that is perfect under a tuxedo blazer with jeans for a date night and a stunning print wrap dress that would work fantastically for a winter wedding, both now half price. Another thing that is great to get in the sales are boots. If you are fortunate enough to have small or big feet you are likely to do well in this area. As a size 39 it is highly unusual for me to ever find anything in the sales, but Kat is a size 40 so can often score incredible bargains. If you clocked up the number of times you wear your boots I think you would agree that it is absolutely worth seeking out well-made and timeless boots, long or ankle, with a reasonable heel height because, let’s face it, you will be wearing them for a good 8 months of the year. And with knee high boots looking so fresh and fabulous again, thanks to the 70s nostalgic mood we seem to be experiencing, it is worth snapping up a mid-height pair in black, grey or tan should you find them. A girl in London really can never have too many pairs of boots. Just be sure they are the pretty much the right size – half a size too big is negotiable as a thick pair of socks or an insole can work wonders, but there is no tailor (or cobbler) in the world who can make a pair of boots longer.


  1. Take a chance

While we are all for focussed and strategic sale shopping, sometimes the more open minded you can be, the better a bargain you will buy as you simply never know what you might find. We had the most incredible electric blue, cobalt faux fur coat in our sale and a customer who teaches primary school children and cycles to work (ie had no ostensible, practical use for it) tried it on, fell in love and had to leave with it. At 30% off the original price, it was a really affordable for such a special piece and while it wasn’t at all what she had been looking for, because she felt like a rock star queen in it, she went for it. So sometimes the feel good factor must also be factored in. The same works in the reverse – even it ticks all the boxes, is your size and a good price, if you don’t feel lovely in it, or can’t see yourself reaching for it in the morning, leave it. Much better to put that money towards something that does makes you feel good.


  1. Cost per wear is everything

Cost per wear is something that we at Damsel do bang on about but it’s because we fundamentally believe that your purchases should be able to go the distance, not just in terms of quality but also in terms of style and lifestyle. Raised by a mother with a classic, European, almost traditional approach to clothing, we were encouraged to save up our pocket money and put it towards one wardrobe staple that was at the top end than bulk buy in Miss Selfridge every Saturday morning with our mates. After ignoring this advice one time too many and learning the hard way (those white shorts that “only” cost £15 but didn’t stand up to one cycle in the washing machine) we both learned to save and then spend carefully, and I for one most definitely have things in my wardrobe from when I was 16 years old that still look current and wearable now (my D&G black jacket with white daisies springs to mind) and at just turned 40, that’s some good cost-per-wear. While we love the fashion press and shows, it’s our jobs are to translate the runway trends into realway life and if we cannot see ourselves wearing something more than once or twice, it doesn’t make it to the store. There are, of course, trends that have become part of our everyday lives season after season, like skinny jeans, leopard print, and trainers with everything, but if you’re concerned something is too “of the moment” chances are it will date quickly and won’t earn you that all important cost per wear. We recommend working out what items in your wardrobe you wear, wash and wear on repeat and if you find a similar version of said item at a bargain price, don’t be tempted to think “oh I have one already” and leave it, because if it’s something that is almost a signature (trophy jackets, boots and grey knitwear for me), is the sort of piece you just know you will wear for work, play, and everything in between AND is on sale buy it. Far better to repeat buy and get your wear than go too far outside of your comfort zone and purchase something you will never wear. Fortunately there is such a focus these days on slow fashion and a backlash against the idea that clothing is throw-away so hopefully this mind set of buying once but buying well is starting to gain real traction.

So there you have it, our guide to navigating the sales and tips on how to make the right choice. And if you genuinely cannot find anything in your size, that can be altered, at a good price, that makes you feel a million dollars, that can be worn time and time again and just isn’t “you”, save your pennies and get a coffee instead - because the new season collections, in all their spring glory, will be arriving soon.