Cheap Chic: Shopping In New York City On A Budget

Do you have a classic case of champagne tastes, beer pockets? Or in my case, as I don’t drink beer, champagne tastes, prosecco pockets. Let’s face it; appearing highly fashionable in this city on a working gal’s salary can be a challenge. And the abundance of splurge/steal-type magazine articles that list $700 dresses as “steals” are really just not helpful, nor are they realistic.

Over the years I’ve managed to amass a collection of well-made designer staples, hot of-the-moment items and vintage masterpieces. All without breaking the bank. So let me break it down for you. The secrets to being a savvy shopper are simple. Always have your eyes open, be prepared to buy off-season (trust me, trends are not flipping very quickly in this economy) and to never, ever (unless in the case of fast-fashion) be willing to pay full retail price for anything. And of course you have to know where to shop. I want to share with you some of my favorite shopping spots in New York City for landing affordable, eye-catching gems for under $100.

Fast-Fashion Chains:

435 7th Avenue @34th Street

Whoever started calling this “disposable fashion” is out of their mind. I still have pieces that I bought 10 years ago, when this gem of a store finally landed in the States. The 7th Avenue & 34th Street store is my favorite location. They carry a lot of “test” pieces not found in other locations. And their undergarment section in the basement is just heavenly- please don’t ever pay $68 for a bra at Victoria’s Secret. I’ve gotten several items here recently that get tons of attention; hip, slouchy black leather shorts, similar to ones you would see from Alexander Wang and sophisticated camel-colored leather tee-shirts, reminiscent of the leather tees Celine sent down it’s Fall 2010 runway. And it’s THE go-to spot for tights and leg-wear.

580 Broadway between Prince & Houston
101 Fifth Avenue between 17th & 18th

These are my two favorite Zara locations. A little more luxe than H&M, Zara is internationally known as the go-to shop for sophisticated, fashion-forward pieces on a budget. You can wear their pieces in New York, in Rome or in Buenos Aires and still be amazingly chic. And their end-of-season sales are phenomenal. Everything that was offered for $79-$99, instantly gets marked down to $29. Don’t ever miss a Zara sale! I just recently picked up a white faux-fur, shag jacket, which looked similar to Karl Lagerfeld’s current collection for Chanel, for $99. Couldn’t wait for this item to be marked down!

139 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn

I have yet to check out the new Harlem location, so the Atlantic Center location is still my go-to spot. Target’s Go-International Collections, featuring the hippest designers (Rodarte, Thakoon Liberty and most recently Tucker, to name a few) is a step above all other designer collaboration projects. And highly affordable. Get there the morning that a new collection hits the racks and fight it out with the city’s most competitive budget fashionistas. It’s one of my favorite sports! I am sad that Isaac Mizrahi no longer has his own line with Target. But their Merona line offers gorgeous, well-cut, quality-made dresses for an average of $39.99.

478 Broadway at Broome

Let’s make one thing clear- Topshop is not an “affordable” store. Whoever marketed it as such is a liar. However, their sales are very much worth visiting. Scooping up dresses originally retailing for over $300 a piece by some of my favorites in the British fashion scene- Kate Moss, Christopher Kane, etc- for a mere $50 a pop is well worth the stop-in. Their designs tend to be a bit more edgier that other fast-fashion retailers. And their jeans fit like a second skin. I grabbed myself a pair of white skinnies with a 36-inch inseam for only $40 during their last sale. Oh, and for any soon-to-be-mommies out there, they have the hippest maternity clothes you’ll find anywhere.

Designer Discount Stores:

Century 21
472 86th Street, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

Yup, that’s right. Skip the overcrowded, overly picked through downtown location and take the R train out to the end of the line. The Bay Ridge Century 21 is an outer-borough goldmine full of high-end Italian labels, such as Pucci, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Marni and many, many others. And their designer jean section always has a little something for everyone. Take a walk one block up to 87th Street and hit their shoe and home goods store. Definitely the place to score some unique luxury designer bedding when you’re next looking for an update.

101 7th Avenue at 17th Street
2101 Broadway at 74th Street

I’ve stumbled past the Upper West Side location several times this month already, as they are having their annual Italian Designer Blowout event. The racks of Moschino and Blumarine in the windows have been calling out to me. Not the cheapest of the city’s designer discount stores but I’ve recently signed up to be an Insider Club Gold cardholder. So for $25, I get 10% off every purchase for a year, an additional coupon on my birthday week and I get period $25-Off-A-$75-Purchase coupons in the mail. So, I’ve already made by initial $25 back and have saved a bit more. And I’ve only been a member for 2 months!

Nordstrom Rack
60 East 14th Street

Look, it’s not the Seattle location, but it will do. I was anticipating the opening of the Union Square location’s store for the past year. Again, not the cheapest of the designer discount stores, but the sales are amazing. Off their sale racks I’ve picked up a beautiful Tory Burch pink and brown embellished A-line dress for $60, an Anna Sui orange and blue summer frock for $40 and splurged on an Alexander McQueen magenta satin formal gown for $280 (originally $3900!!). Perfect for my next black-tie wedding.

Secondhand Clothing:

Beacon’s Closet
88 North 11th Street, Williamsburg
92 5th Avenue, Park Slope

The staff can act a little too-cool-for-school but this carefully edited secondhand buy-sell-trade Brooklyn institution is the place to go to for designer clothing bargains. Recently I’ve found current-season Prada and Paul And Joe sweaters for $14 each and a Proenza Schouler sequin tank top for $29. You must be prepared to dig through racks- another one of my favorite sports. The prize will be well worth it!

Tokio 7
83 East 7th Street between 1st & 2nd Avenues

This East Village consignment boutique has been a long-time favorite of mine for the past 12 years. Not only do I come here to buy, I come here to sell as well. Again, very carefully edited, they are sure to carry only the hottest of high-end designer fashions. And anything that has been on the selling floor for over 30 days is automatically marked down an additional 25%. It was here that I snagged a Costello Tagliapietra dress for $60, the current season’s DVF denim jumpsuit for $100 and a gorgeous Marc Jacobs summer frock, with the tags still on it, for only $80.

Online Hot Spots:’s discount site carries the latest high-end designer fashion at a generous markdown AND if you sign up as a member you will receive their Friday e-mail blasts, offering an additional 40% off select groups of fashions. I just snagged a beautiful black silk Chloé blouse for $80. Everything ships from Long Island City so if you are ordering from New York City, you will receive it the next day. Returns are simple and a prepaid UPS return label is included with all orders.
Not quite as generously discounted as but I love the sport (yes, you’ve caught on, I consider shopping to be a sport) of racing to place items in my cart before other members have them on hold. And for every friend you get to sign up as a member, you will receive a $25 credit to your account. Which is very nice. Get a few friends to join and voila: a free dress!
I will admit that the wonderful service provided by Shop It To Me has put me in the hole more than once. So definitely be careful here. Here’s how it goes. Sign up on the site, select your favorite designers and select your size. Each morning Shop It To Me will send you an e-mail list containing images of all the clothing items that are available on sale at various online retailers from your favorite designers in your size. Make sense? Half the items in my closet that I’ve amassed in the past year and a half have come from this service. It’s brilliant.

So, I’ve given you a few good places to start. You also may want to check out New York Magazine’s weekly lists of sample sales, another good source of clothing bargains. Now get yourself shopping. Remember my golden rule: unless it’s fast fashion, never pay retail price. And don’t be afraid to shop off-season and put it away. Another tip: don’t wait until you get invited to a special event to go shopping for it. Always have something on call in your closet. Last year, after seeing a rack of $400 Betsey Johnson semi-formal party dresses for $50 each, I didn’t say to myself, oh but I have nowhere to go in these. I snagged a few, put them away in the back of my closet and this summer when the wedding invitations started pouring in, I already had a selection of fabulous dresses to wear. Happy shopping and happy saving!

*(Photo by Stella Levi)


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