Smart Shopping

Published on: August 17th, 2010

I was raised to believe in the power of a bargain. The women of my family have a sixth sense for knowing when and where that 25-percent-off sign will magically transform into a 50-percent-off sign, and we never pay full retail if we can help it. My mother is the undisputed queen of the department store coupon; my sister once bought a formal prom dress for $15. And I? I am blessed with the infinite patience necessary to scour the racks of outlet stores, consignment shops and discount department stores until I stumble across the perfect piece.

But a single perfect sweater or $7 pair of designer jeans does not an outfit make. The art of scoring a reduced-price outfit often requires many shopping trips to many different stores, but I wondered if the ultimate feat could be accomplished: could I find an entire outfit in my favorite bargain shopping spots—for under $100?

Enter Jill Jones, YS stylist, fashonista and shopper extraordinaire. It’s always been my dream to have a stylist hold my hand whilst selecting clothes that will transform me into a perfectly coiffed sartorialist and explaining to me all the mysteries of fashion, and this challenge seems like the perfect excuse to do it. Jill is game but balks a little when I tell her where we’re going. “You probably aren’t going to find an entire outfit at a consignment store,” she tells me gently, as if explaining the truth about Santa Claus to a small child. “We’ll probably have to visit a few other places to round things out.”

But I have an ace up my sleeve: Rags Consignment in Boulder is not just a consignment shop; it is a carefully edited and expertly curated selection of gently worn (and sometimes brand new) merchandise consigned by some of Boulder County’s best and brightest.

We arrive bright and early on a Tuesday morning, and I’m shocked to see how many other shoppers there are at a time when I thought we would have the place to ourselves. Clearly, my secret shopping spot is not as secret as I had thought. Jill is immediately impressed. “I haven’t been here in about 10 years,” she admits. “They’ve got a wonderful selection.”

She then gets down to business, reading out a list of things for me to look for.
“I’m thinking a high-waisted trouser jean, a blazer, or maybe a trench, a billowy blouse…I’ll start with the jeans, you start with the jackets.”

We fall into a rhythm, the methodical scrape of hangers against racks like a metronome counting the time. I pull out two, three, four jackets and hold them up for Jill’s approval. When we’ve each collected a handful of items, we commandeer a corner of the buying counter and start laying out our discoveries. All the jackets are nice in their own way, but they aren’t exactly what we are looking for. “There was a green one,” I venture, “but I thought it might be too bright.”

“Show me,” Jill commands.

It’s perfect. We find a lacy white tank top to go underneath it and then scour the shoes. An adorable pair of silver flats jump out at us and tie the whole thing together beautifully. The grand total? $88.40 before tax, leaving more than enough cash left over to pick up a bag or a cute bauble from the front counter.

But Jill isn’t done. She’s found a pair of perfectly broken-in chestnut colored cowboy boots and she wants to create a second outfit around them. “When I shop at consignment stores, I always look for leather boots, brand-name sweaters and blazers,” she says. I hastily scribble down these pearls of wisdom. I’ve produced a high-collared sheer blouse that she falls for head over heels.

“Fall in Colorado,” she muses. “I think shorts are still an option, don’t you?” She pulls out a pair of Calvin Klein denim shorts and a J. Crew belt that meld the disparate romantic blouse and down-to-earth boots into a seamless whole.

At $32.75, the boots are the most expensive thing we’ve picked out all day, but it works; the entire outfit totals at exactly $100 before tax. We’ve done it; and not once,
but twice.

Shopping for the Kids

We decided to head to Longmont to check out a place I’ve heard good things about for kids’ clothes. Fall is back-to-school time, and for most families, that can mean a new wardrobe for the kids; it seems like the Colorado summer sun can fuel growth spurts that add inches and change last year’s too-long pants into this year’s high-waters. But whether your child is in need of a entirely new look through true need or just a desire to look super cute for the first day of school, it’s no reason to blow your budget.

ShopKids consignment in Longmont seems unassuming from the outside, but inside, we realize it’s a veritable treasure trove of clothes, toys and baby gear. Unfortunately, the selection is mostly for kiddos a little under the school age, but we dive in and quickly find some amazing bargains for a stylish little man heading into first grade. He’ll be the envy of all the children in a Kenneth Cole faux leather jacket (and mom will be the envy of all the mother’s when—and if—she confides it was only $15).

But there’s not much here for the older set, so after a quick restorative lunch, we head back to Boulder and hit up Marshall’s. When we arrive, I expect a traditional discount department store, but what I’m met with is anything but, proving that discount stores serving higher income areas will always yield better bounty.

Jill dives head first into the juniors section, pulling out armloads of cute clothes that are on trend.

“The key is to buy the trendy stuff someplace like this,” she explains. “Save the big bucks for things that will be in style for a long time.” We sort through the stacks, editing judiciously, and end up with a cute plaid tunic top (hitting two trends at once), a pair of skinny jeans, and a pair of slouchy gray boots that I would pretty much love for myself. And we still manage to come in under $100.

Weary but extremely fulfilled, we load up the car and head for home.

Bargain shopping is an art form, not a science; some days shoppers will surely score big, as we did, and other days they’ll strike out. But for the savvy shopper with the right attitude, the super steals are just waiting to be made.

Click here for more of Jill Jone’s smart shopping tips.

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