As any fashionista can attest, keeping up with the latest styles can be costly. But retail experts say you can find many of tomorrow's trends on today's sales racks.
Spring shows, including New York's famous Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, which ends on Thursday, feature designers' fall 2012 collections. And while those styles won't be available for a few months, there are plenty of items currently on shelves that pros say will stay hip for the rest of the year. Indeed, at discounts of 50% off or better, buying trendy items from winter and spring inventory now could be a better deal than waiting for the full 2012 fall season to arrive. "To the extent that there's winter inventory left -- and with the mild weather, there's likely to be -- it's a great shopping opportunity," says Randy Allen, an associate dean at Cornell University's Johnson Graduate School of Management. In addition, spring clothes have been on racks for weeks already and could see markdowns as early as March, she says.
Of course, stocking up now for next fall isn't without financial and fashion risks. Discount clothing chains often create less expensive takes on runway designs just after the shows, but shoppers can't take advantage until they hit stores this spring. The long lag time between buying now and wearing in the fall means some clothes may no longer work or be returned -- if trends shift or your shape changes. And lightweight spring fabrics may make wearing those clothes comfortably in colder weather tricky, says Eileen Conlan, editor of sale-tracking site SheFinds.com.
Here's how to browse current sales with an eye toward the best bargains and longest-lasting trends:
Stock up on basics
"Fashion may change rapidly at the extremes, but the basic stuff doesn't go away," Allen says. Classic v-neck and crew sweaters, jeans and fitted jackets are good bets that carry little risk. In fact, ladylike tailored and preppy looks are both big for fall, says Marie Ivanoff, merchandising director for Ideeli, which hosts fast-ending sales on deeply discounted designer fashions and other items. "It's more an attitude than an item," she says, "so no need to shell out for more passing fads like pleated skirts to get the right vibe." Store clearance racks are likely to be full of such classic styles. Currently, Old Navy has up to 60% discounts on its long-sleeved "layering" tees, while Macy's Presidents Day sale offers up to 75% off sweaters, plus coupons for another 15% off at checkout.
Buy strategically for spring
Bright colors figure prominently in this year's spring and fall lines, particularly tangerine and neon yellow. If you look for trendy spring clothes that you can wear through the fall, you're likely to find better sales, says Ivanoff, especially after Easter. Subtler inclusions, like vibrant piping on a bag or accents on a dress, may be wearable even longer. Conlan suggests shoppers factor in fall weather. A three-quarter sleeve spring jacket, for example, might require longer gloves for October use. Trendy print pants might be unwearable if they're too lightweight. Right now, flash-sale sites may yield the best deals. Ideeli currently has up to 50% off bright spring dresses from La Class, while Gilt has similar deals on a showcase of spring jewelry by various designers.
Pick through winter clearance sales
Fall 2012 collections have their share of holdover trends from this past fall's designs, including velvet and metallic shoes and burgundy-colored everything, Conlan says. The deeper hue wasn't as popular with consumers last year, so it's plentiful on clearance racks. "You can get all of those burgundy and wine-soaked colors on sale, and be ahead of the curve," she says. Plus, shoppers can get in a few wears now before temperatures climb. Look at clearance racks as well as outlet malls, flash-sale sites and online discounters. BlueFly.com currently lists nearly 300 maroon, plum and other similarly colored items in its "up to 70% off" sale. Amazon's MyHabit.com has a number of metallic heels for up to 80% off in its current pumps showcase.