How to find bargain fashion — and avoid buying junk online

Don't get duped by slick-looking websites
Posted at 10:53 AM, Jul 20, 2017

Everyone wants to look good without spending a fortune.

Unfortunately, in our quest to buy stylish clothing at deep discount, more and more people end up buying from slick-looking websites that disappoint or leave you with nothing at all.

Websites lead to big disappointment

Jennifer Elig is a mom looking for some new summer clothes.

She recently spotted an ad for great clothing at unbelievable prices.

"I was on Facebook and saw an ad pop up, and saw a lot of cute little shirts, and placed an order through the website," she said.

She ordered a blouse, but two months later, nothing had showed up. When she emailed the company, she got some bad news.

"They said it was stuck in customs, in U.S. customs."

It turned out the company was based in China, and they washed their hands of helping her any further.

"They kept telling me, 'It's your responsibility to make sure what we're sending you is allowed past customs,'" she said.

She's just the latest to be disappointed by discount clothing websites that turn out to be based in China.

In recent years, we've spoken with bridesmaids who ended up with ugly gowns that looked nothing like the photos and with women who ordered dresses that were so poorly made they couldn't wear them. And it would cost more than they paid to ship them back.

It's gotten so bad that Woman's Day Magazine has even warned women to avoid Chinese-based dress sites, although it can be tough to tell from the website that you are dealing with a company in China.

It recently listed eight online dress sites you should never order from.

So why risk an online rip-off, when you can find deals just as good at your local stores?

Deep discounts now at Macy's

Megan Fenno is a shopping blogger who writes a money-saving blog.

She says brick-and-mortar retailers have become so competitive, you can find stylish clothing for as much as 75 percent off, if you know where to look and when to shop.

Fenno starts at Macy's, in a department many women don't even know about because it tends to be tucked away.

"The Last Act department is part of Macy's stores where the merchandise is 75 to 80 percent off, sometimes more," she said.

Last Act is Macy's way of fighting back against mail-order fashion sites and clearance outlets like T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, and Burlington.

"You're going to find a lot of name brands like Marc Jacobs and Michael Kors and Calvin Klein," she said.

Like the old Filene's Basement stores, merchandise gets cheaper the longer it sits on the racks.

"The yellow tag means it is the final price; it is not going to get any cheaper," she said.

She spotted a Michael Kors pullover that was originally $92.

"It's now 80 percent off, so it's $17. That's a great deal," she said.

You'll do best, she says, when seasons are changing in the main Macy's departments and they need to make room for fall or spring merchandise.

If you have Dillard's department stores near you, Fenno suggests the Dillard's Clearance Outlet, which is almost like an entire Macy's Last Act store.

Discount fashion at Target

If the label isn't that important, Fenno loves finding clothing bargains at Target.

Here you won't find the big-name brands, but some of Target's fashion is just as good-looking, she says. And unlike clearance centers, you will find an item available in almost every size, and it will often be paired with matching bottoms or jewelry.

"You can find very similar clothes, great quality here at Target, that look similar to big designer names."

If you download the store's Cartwheel app, she says, you'll often get a deeper discount.

"The great thing about the Cartwheel app," Fenno said, "is that if you use it in-store, you can save 5 to 50 percent off the price you see on the clothing item." We watched her scan some costume jewelry and find another 10 percent discount.

She also loves Target's final clearance department, which sports 50 to 70 percent discounts. She says it is restocked monthly as Target changes their main displays.

"This time it's a dress. It was $34.99, and now it's $10.48." She spotted a pair of jeans. "They are $7.48. They were originally $24.99. That's a good deal!"

T.J. Maxx and Marshalls

Fenno loves shopping deep-discount stores like T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, but she says you have to go in open-minded and not be looking for one specific item.

There, she finds overstock and clearance from Express, Ralph Lauren and other quality brands.

But she says to save the most, you should know T.J. Maxx's tag system.

"The best thing at T.J. Maxx is to check the tags," she said. "The purple tag, for instance, means it is a true designer piece. A yellow tag means it is ‘as is' and a final clearance, so you are not going to get a better price."

If you ask an associate, they can explain the system more.

Elig is going to take some of that advice and said she's going to avoid too-good-to-be true websites in the future.

Fenno says there is no need to order from a questionable site.

"Shopping clearance, looking around and sticking to your budget are all ways that you can dress looking like a million dollars and spending almost nothing," she said.


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