8 Genius Shopping Strategies for the District Sample Sale

Seasoned pros share their tips for making the most of DC’s favorite shopping party.

Serious shoppers at the 2010 District Sample Sale. Photograph by Sarah Olin.

This Tuesday marks the fifth year of a Washington tradition: the District Sample Sale. The event brings together some of the most fashionable—and focused—Washington women to shop pop-up versions of local stores and boutiques at seriously discounted prices. While the browsing, nibbling, and socializing may last three hours, veterans of the event know that the best of the buying starts as soon as you walk in the door. To prep for the festivities before the lines begin at Mazza Gallerie tomorrow night, we asked the DSS host committee (and a few multi-year attendees) to share their tips for navigating the trenches in order to yield the best results possible for your time and money.

Rachel Cothran of Project Beltway
Attending since spring 2007

Do your homework. “Take a look at your wardrobe and think about what’s missing. Since a majority of the deeply discounted merchandise will be spring and summer merchandise, resist the temptation to only think about what you’ll wear this fall. Make a beeline for the stores that carry the kind of pieces you’re looking for. Go for the items you’ll potentially wear a lot or that are really special. The last thing you want is to get overwhelmed and just end up rifling aimlessly through T-shirts.”

Carla Cabrera of The President Wears Prada
Attending since fall 2008

Focus on one item first. “Keep in mind specific items you are looking for and go to stores that are most likely to carry them. The second year I went, I was looking for shoes, so I focused on those stores first. It’s valuable to have a plan; otherwise you may get lost in the excitement of cocktails and hors d’oeuvres and finish all your shopping for the night before you even get to the best shops.”

Casie Mace of WhippedSTYLE
Attending since fall 2011

Give yourself some spending room. “The partnering boutiques bring some really incredible pieces, and it’s nearly impossible to turn down their deals. Last year I scored everything from bracelets to the perfect spring dress to an amazing wool coat for the upcoming winter—and yet to this day I’m wishing I hadn’t passed on this gorgeous hunter green tote (we all know savers’ remorse hurts more than shoppers’ remorse). So whatever you’re budgeting, add a little more and be ready to shop it up!”

Rosa A. of RosaLovesDC
Attending since fall 2008

Get your bearings before diving in. “Study the map, identify the location of your favorite stores or whatever items (shoes, accessories, etc.) you are interested in purchasing, and develop a strategy. Trust me, once you get inside, it will be a madhouse, and having a plan of action is essential. Another thing that helps me stay focused: making my first stop the cupcake table. You will need the sugar rush to kick-start some serious shopping.”

Abra Belke of Capitol Hill Style
Attending since spring 2010

Dress smart. “You will be on your feet for hours. You will need to carry every purchase you’ve made while balancing a lobster roll on your forearm and a glass of wine on your knee. And you are going to need your hands free to flip through endless racks of goods. Bring a shoulder bag that doesn’t get in the way or weigh much, and wear comfortable shoes.”

Shannon Haley Stokes, cofounder of District Sample Sale
In attendance at all 12 events

Take a second look. “Before the last hour of the night, start over at the beginning and snag any goods that caught your eye earlier. If they are still available, it’s meant to be! My favorite purchase was a red MZ Wallace bag a few sales ago from Sassanova, scored in the last half hour of the sale. Total kismet.”

Barbara Martin, cofounder of District Sample Sale
In attendance at all 12 events

Don’t come alone. “Bring your best shopping friend who can help you scan the racks quickly; you can do the same for her. If you see something you adore, don’t hesitate—buy it then and there or you’ll regret it later. I still think of a killer Yoana Baraschi dress I found for $50 at Ginger—I flinched, and it was scooped right out from under me.”

Abbey Brandon of District Dress Up
Attending since fall 2011

Live in the moment. “Sample sales provide access to unique pieces that are not always available in traditional or online retail stores. DSS is the opportune time to have a little fun and experiment with bolder pieces such as bright coats or printed dresses. Be daring with your color choices, and opt for shapes or fits that have worked well for you in the past. Shopping is also an experience, so enjoy yourself, browse the racks, appreciate the clothing, sip a refreshment, and get social (in any order)!”

The District Sample Sale is happening tomorrow night (Tuesday, September 11) in the former Filene’s Basement space at Mazza Gallerie Chevy Chase (5300 Wisconsin Ave., NW). VIP admission (5:30 to 6:30) is sold out, but you can still scoop up general admission tickets (6:30 to 9) for $40.