How to Shop the End-of-Summer Sales like a Seasoned Pro

Ten helpful tips for what stuff to seek out—and what to skip.

Knowing what to look for will help you make smart purchases at summer sales. Photograph by Yassine El Mansouri.

1) It’s probably best to avoid jeans.
Most summer styles, especially in the Washington area, are a lighter wash and looser fit. That’s ideal for our icky humid summers, but chances are you’re going to want something sleeker, slimmer, and darker come fall. And since you’ll wear them all the time, it’s worth it to pay full price.

2) Stock up like crazy on structured sleeveless tops.
The beauty of substantial tanks (like these 15 office-appropriate options) is that you can wear them solo now, and then layer them underneath under cardis and jackets come fall. Just avoid anything too hippie-looking and anything crocheted. Unless you’re an eternal bohemian who’s never in a corporate environment, you’ll get more wear out of patterned pieces and solids with a single bold detail.

3) Sign up for Shop It to Me.
This free service sends you personalized e-mail alerts when merch from brands you love goes on sale or if there’s a discount code floating around the Internet. It pulls from sources all over the Web, so it doesn’t matter if that Tory Burch tunic is discounted at Bloomie’s or Neiman’s—if there’s a lower price to be had, you’ll know about it. After going through many variations with the service, we recommend registering for a once-a-week e-mail alert about just two or three brands; any more and you’ll feel overwhelmed.

4) Know what trendy summer colors will work come fall and which won’t.
Mint green had a major moment this summer, but it’s going to look awkward next to the black leathers and rich oxbloods of fall. Less major pastels like salmon and muted rose are a safer bet, as they’ll match richer pieces. And as much as we loved neon pinks and yellows, tangerine has the most staying power; it pairs surprisingly well with charcoal gray, an always key color for cooler weather. Cobalt will also stay big.

5) Stick to sandals with substantial straps and heels.
Shoewise, the most common clearance items at end-of-summer sales are almost always strappy sandals. Here, we urge you to be realistic—do you honestly believe you can put away a pair of shoes now and not be tired of them by the time summer rolls around again? If the answer’s yes, then by all means feel free to ignore this next piece of advice. But if you’re even the teensiest bit skeptical, listen up: Don’t buy anything flat, or anything with lots of skinny straps (here’s a good example—you will not wear these in cooler weather). These, these, and these, however, are all solid bets—the thicker straps will look just the right amount of fashion-editor kooky over tights, and the substantial wedges and heels dress everything up a bit.

6) Definitely hit up J.Crew’s jewelry selection—and make sure to do it in store.
It’s the one place in the sea of bauble options that offers truly seasonless options. As in, they really do look just as pretty with wool sweaters as they do paired with strapless sundresses. Just be sure to do your browsing in person versus online. We’re not exactly sure why this is, but random in-store discounts and of-the-moment markdowns (which happen when the shops literally need to clear floor space to make way for new inventory) lead to surprisingly low prices. Thanks to this strategy, we’ve never paid more than $25 for a piece.

7) Do NOT buy things that are a size too small.
We know, we know—that adorable dress at 75 percent off seems like the score of all scores. But let us tell you something, friends: Fall is not the time to promise you’ll shed the weight necessary to fit into it. Because warm weather and calmer work schedules make exercise easier, August will likely be the peak of your physical condition. We’re not saying it’s impossible to do so, we’re just saying it’s more likely you’ll put on some extra padding once office stresses and wind chills pick back up. Moral of the story: Save shopping for your ideal size for when the end-of-fall sales roll around.

8) Just say no to high-low hems.
This was a tough call, but we think their moment is almost done. And since the style is all about showing leg in the front while staying covered in the back, you might look silly rocking one with thick black tights.

9) Pay special attention to your favorite brands right now.
Sure, sales are a fun way to experiment with new designers, but if you’re careful, they’re also a great way to score pieces you’ll wear forever at a steal. Check in frequently with the brands you find yourself buying the most (that’s where you’re most likely to find pieces you like, after all), and make nice with the sales staff, who will often let you know if something gets marked down further.

10) Be on the lookout for final sale notices—and then only order when you’re sure of your size.
A lot of heavily discounted summer merch comes with a key caveat: It’s not returnable. Be sure to check if that’s the case before you buy. And if you’re shopping online, we’d caution against ordering from a brand you haven’t tried before. Otherwise, you could end up with a very expensive mistake.

Sarah is the Editor-in-Chief of Washingtonian Bride & Groom, and writes about weddings, fashion, and shopping. Her work has also appeared in Refinery29, Bethesda Magazine, and Washington City Paper, among others. She is a Georgetown University graduate, lives in Columbia Heights, and you can find her on Instagram at @washbridegroom and @sarahzlot.