> You’ve been eyeing pricey off-the-shoulder swimsuits for months. By early August they’ll be hitting the sale racks, with lots of beach time still ahead. With no major summer holidays after July Fourth, jewelry promotions are often plentiful. Hint: Arm cuffs and long drop earrings are au courant.
> And if fall fashion magazines have you jonesing for street-smart booties or a dreamy new handbag, Nordstrom feels you. The store’s once-a-year “Anniversary Sale” goes from July 22 to August 7, with sale prices on loads of the latest styles, including hip dresses, jeans, knits, men’s bombers, and retro sneakers. Afterward, everything goes back to full price until much later in the season.
> Admit it. Those flashy mirrored-lens sunglasses beloved by celebs have grown on you. As summer wanes, watch for reduced prices on all sorts of super-chic shades.
> With stores chock-full of the most covetable new fall clothes, bargains are hard to come by. However, great buys on past-season designer goods — think lust-worthy labels like Prada, Gucci, and Balenciaga — are available at high-end discount websites like Yoox.com and Bluefly.com.
> This month, department stores, including Lord & Taylor, and typically also Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Macy’s, offer friends and family discounts of 20 to 25 percent on many fashion brands. Originally private events for pals and relatives of store employees, the early-in-the-season sales are now available to everyone. Sign up at shopstyle.com to get e-mail alerts of dates and promo codes for friends and family and other major sales throughout the year at countless popular retailers.
> If you’re looking to replace those worn-out Levis 501s, denim promotions pop up now that back-to-school shopping is over. But for the current crop of cult-status styles, you’ll have to wait another month or two.
Here’s where economic and weather conditions factor in. If retail sales are way down due to consumer uncertainty and/or unseasonably warm weather (like last year), watch for some great markdowns on designer goods even before Thanksgiving. Of course, the biggest in-store sale day this month is Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. If you can’t stand the crowds, the same discounts are available online at many store websites on Thanksgiving Day. Look for more online deals on Cyber Monday, the first Monday after Thanksgiving.
> Now you’re talking sale! This is when the most high-fashion merchandise gets marked down, generally 30 to 40 percent. If you’ve been coveting a particular item, ask a salesperson to let you know when there’s a price reduction. It’s a service many retailers gladly provide. National chains also have access to inventories throughout the country to locate your size. (Another option: free sale-alert websites like shoptagr.com, where you can create a wish list of your fashion faves.)
> For second markdowns in the 55 to 60 percent range on designer goods, you can’t beat the day-after-Christmas sales, available online Christmas Day at most store websites. In past years, a number of high-end department stores have even extended their day-after-Christmas, in-store early bird discount to anyone shopping online on Christmas Day.
> Ironically, prices for coats and boots plunge with the temperatures in December and January.
Now that the holidays are over, evening and party wear gets greatly reduced (good time to buy your teen a fab prom dress). Men’s fall suits also get serious markdowns this month, and for all those new year’s resolutions to get fit, active and yoga wear are discounted to spur you on.
> Neiman Marcus holds its semiannual Last Call designer sale in February (and July), and many local boutiques still have enticing items at equally enticing prices if you can find your size. Outlet stores are the beneficiary of fall/winter overstocks and often have deep discounts during Presidents’ Day weekend.
> March is peak spring selling season for retailers, so markdowns are few and far between. But it’s a great time to try on the latest fashions and take note of the styles and the sizes that look great on you. (In-the-know shoppers photograph the tags.) That way you can compare prices online during sales and make quick buys.
> It’s friends and family time again. Note that while Nordstrom doesn’t offer this promotion, it does price-match other department stores when they carry the same item in the same color and size. The “price-match” is often automatic on Nordstrom’s website (and it offers free shipping and returns), or just call 888-282-6060 to order.
> After Easter, spring dresses usually get their first markdown, making room for lighter summer styles. And since there’s a rather short selling season for lightweight raincoats, they also go on sale by the end of the month.
> April and May are the perfect time to hit consignment shops. Many people with trendy wardrobes spring-clean their closets to make room for the latest styles (thanks, organizing guru Marie Kondo!). You can be the beneficiary of their quite fashionable, lightly worn castoffs.
> Spring clothes fill the sale racks this month, especially jackets, blazers, and knits that will be too heavy for summer wear.
> Memorial Day Weekend offers a bonanza in fashion markdowns, a particularly great time to buy a high-end handbag or evening dress.
> Athletic apparel and sneakers are also discounted just in time for outdoor sports.
Summer sales are in full swing, with spring goods taking second markdowns. Tip: Don’t cut the tags off a sale purchase for a few weeks in case it gets marked down again. Many stores will give you a price adjustment, but for those that won’t, just buy the item again at the lower price and return the original purchase.
WHEN A BARGAIN ISN’T A BARGAIN
Four simple commandments for smart shopping.
1. Check return policies before you buy. It’s easy to get swept up in the moment — huge savings!; the salesperson is exclaiming “It’s so you!” — but if you get home and realize it’s really not you and you can’t return it, you’ve wasted your money.
2. Don’t buy anything you can’t immediately make into an outfit with what you already own. Savings can evaporate when you have to buy something else before you can wear it.
3. It’s not how much you saved, but what you spent. Stop thinking it’s 70 percent off. Think It still costs $300! Is it a fabulous wardrobe-making item? If not, pass.
4. Could you save even more? Before buying anything online, plug the store name into the free app retailmenot.com to see if there’s a current promo code. You can often get 10 to 15 percent off or free shipping. (Retailmenot is the first shopping app to be given the Good Housekeeping Seal.)
Tina Sutton has covered the fashion industry for decades and worked as a consultant to national retailers. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.