My guide to bargain hunting

Perhaps Stacy and Clinton would not agree with this approach, but then again nobody’s handing me a card with $5,000 on it and telling me to shop my heart out.

I am also no fashionista. I own more black pants/shorts/skirts and Gap favorite tees than anything else. But I think I have a pretty good grasp on flattering shapes, fit and structure. And I do love to shop.

When my mom and I shop together, we’re looking for bargains. Her favorite place to shop is NBC – Name Brand Clothes, where everything is half of half of the original price. And sometimes less. This store is not for the faint of heart. You have to dig through racks for hours. You have to examine everything for holes, droopy buttons, stains, wrong sizes etc. And some days you may go home with nothing, because they just don’t have a good selection. But every once in a while you hit the motherlode, and it is so much fun.

That’s what happened last week, when we went to an NBC store in Kansas. The store was brimming with cast-offs from department stores all over the country. They even had stuff from White House Black Market. We were supposed to be looking for clothes for my rail-thin sister, but while my mom and her friend scoured the racks for Megan I started grabbing things for myself. Mwahahahaha.

I really hit the jackpot on these dresses. Considering I go to 3 or 4 weddings every summer now, I was more than happy to take them home. Each one was only $15 or $20, including one from Nine West that still had its original $134 price tag.

I also got this adorable 3/4 sleeve jacket.

And some strappy Bandolinos to go with my dresses.

The grand total for all of this, plus a ruffled cardigan and a stretchy athletic top was less than $100. If you added up everything I got plus everything Megan and my mom got, it would still be less than what I paid for one dress and one capelet at White House Black Market the last time I shopped there. Score!

There are definite limitations to the bargain shopping, though, so I thought I’d put together my list of rules I try to stick to when buying clothes at a place like this:

Don’t go in looking for very specific things. If you need a pair of skinny jeans in a certain size and color, you’re probably better off going to the Gap and paying full or maybe somewhat discounted price. A better goal would be something like “dresses” or “long-sleeved tops”.

Don’t shop only in the size you wear. At outlet stores, items may be slightly off-size, which is why they didn’t sell. So if you wear medium, you might take a run down the small or large aisle, just in case.

Try on everything. You can literally shop with a cart at NBC, so throw in anything and everything you think you might like and try it on. Many things I tried on fit surprisingly well, and some things that looked perfect on the racks turned out to be all wrong. Don’t waste time over something that doesn’t fit. Just move on to the next item.

Check for flaws. Many times we’ve gotten home with our bargains and found a broken zipper or a tiny tear. This is the risk you take with outlets, so be careful. At the same time, if you find a fabulous jacket and it’s missing a button but has an extra one, it just might be worth a 5-minute fix at home.

Find out which night of the week they restock, and shop the next day when they have the best selection.

Be ready to shop out-of-season. I might not have a chance to wear all of my summer dresses before summer ends, but that’s OK. There has to be some give-and-take in saving 75% of the price.

Don’t buy something just because it’s cheap. Some items, and probably a majority of the store, are there because they’re just a little bit too trendy. Take a run-through of everything you like before you buy it and ask yourself if you’re really going to wear it. It’s not a bargain if you spend the money and let clothes sit in your closet all year.

So, go forth and bargain hunt. And please tell me if you have anything to add to my list.

Big Hair Ball

At the last minute I scored a free ticket to a local event that I always heard was cool, but had never actually experienced myself, the Big Hair Ball. It’s a fashion show, where wildly huge themed hairstyles are the stars. It’s sponsored by the Des Moines Art Center, so a lot of the artist community — hairstylists, makeup artists, fashion designers, etc. — comes together to make it happen.

The lighting caused some of my photos to blur, but I thought it actually looked kind of cool.

The show also featured something I never thought I would say existed, Des Moines’ burlesque group, St. Vitus and the Taxi Dancers.

I have to say it was a little weird seeing people I’ve interviewed on much different topics dance around in their bras, but what the hell. It was a great show.


Loving: impromptu tablecloth

When I set out my blue vases I felt like they just didn’t quite go with the table runner I had on the table. But I remembered that in my craft room I had some unused fabrics that might look better, and it turns out this Amy Butler yellow/gray pattern was a surprisingly good match. I just folded the edges in to hide the unfinished parts.

Loving: blue vases

I found these at an estate sale last week.

They were sitting in a box on the ground, and I scooped them up before anyone else could notice. The grand total of everything I bought that day, which included two boxes of taper candles, some milk glass items and a clock, was $7. Score.

Loving: floral scarf

This is yet another item that I bought (at the Gap) for a photo shoot at work and then ended up keeping for myself. But really. How can I shop all the time and not find things that I would want to see in my closet?

Loving: Yarn basket

I was starting to feel like a bag lady with all of these plastic Michael’s bags full of yarn scattered all over the house, so I found this great basket to hold the yarn instead. I got it for half price at JoAnn Fabrics – only $10!

I’m also very excited about this year’s Snow & Graham calendar. I’m actually thinking about cutting up last year’s version and making it into cards. It would be a shame to see it go to waste.

Earring organizer

One of my goals this year was to be better accessorized (hey, I aim high), so I purchased a lot of earrings. And then I realized I had nowhere to put them. At least not somewhere I could see them out on display and grab a pair in the 10 seconds each morning I’m actually focused on earrings.

So, I made this.

It’s basically part 2 of the jewelry rack I made a few months ago out of a wooden box painted white with patterned paper glued inside. This time I used the top of the box and a piece of pink paisley inside. Cup hooks hold the earrings.

It took me a while to figure out how to hang the thing. I wanted a backing on it so the cup hooks that had poked through the back wouldn’t scratch the wall. That ended up being more trouble than it was worth, so what did I do? I covered the whole back with duct tape.

Then I bent a piece of thin wire, wrapped each end around one of the sticking-out hooks and hung it. Not the greatest solution, but it works.

Loving: antique ring

This belonged to my great grandmother. My grandmother gifted it to me, and I have to say that after having it cleaned and resized (it was so small it only fit on my pinkie) it was great fun to watch it sparkling on my hand.

Loving: desk calendar

That evil is at it again, tempting me with adorable office supplies. The past couple years I’ve just found a printable desk calendar online, printed it out on cheapo paper and put it in an old CD jewel case.

But when I saw this guy, I had to have it. It’s made by Night Owl Paper Goods in “Owlabama”. Ha!

I bought some of their postcards earlier this year at a local bath and body shop, and they were too cute to send so I framed them.

Loving: green coat (and shoes!)

I think me and this adorable wool coat were just meant to be.

I saw it in a Younkers ad and cut it out, thinking I would go check it out when I had some money. When Erin came up for my birthday we had a thrilling shopping spree, and I think the best moment was when she spotted me trying on this coat and from across the room and yelled something like “you have to buy that!”. You can’t tell from it on a hanger, but it’s fitted and shapely and has two hidden pockets (an essential for Iowa winters). The price tag said $260, but after a little wheeling and dealing involving my Younkers card, I think I paid $125. Nice!

And just yesterday, after I balanced my checkbook and realized I hadn’t done too much damage, I spotted these at Famous Footwear.

Could I resist?