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Braving the Outlet Stores on Black Friday: Expert Tips for Making it Through the Day

Woodbury Common, Black Friday 2010

As shoppers prep for Black Friday, designer outlets are likely on their agendas for the day.

But how can you work the crazy-busy outlet sales without leaving frustrated?

By beginning to prep now, that's how. PremiumOutlets.com—the website behind New York's Woodbury Common outlets, Los Angeles' Desert Hills outlets and dozens of other high-end retail centers across the country—is already listing Black Friday weekend sales info, meaning you can start mapping out your attack immediately. And by signing up for the company's (free!) VIP Shopper Club, you can score exclusive coupons and insider tips for braving the big day.

One thing's for sure: you better get there early. "While all our centers open at midnight, most will actually have stores opening at 9 pm [on Thanksgiving Day]. Shoppers show up earlier and we want to be ready," says Michele Rothstein, Senior VP of Marketing for Premium Outlets. Keep checking the site to see when your favorite stores will unlock their doors.

Where to stop first? Rothstein names Coach and Polo Ralph Lauren as the two stores that generally draw the largest crowds, so aim to be the first in line.

Another tip: many outlets fill their racks with merchandise you wouldn't see in their company's main-line boutiques. "There's a term that many labels use: MFO, or 'Made for Outlet,'" explains Lucky Fashion Assistant Leigh Gill.

The MFO tag can be good or bad. Sometimes, it's an item originally produced for the main store, but sent straight to the outlet instead. Other times, it's a piece that was produced especially for the outlet (which can mean the quality is not as great as you'd imagine it to be.) To avoid faulty purchases, just make sure the piece looks well-made: check for straight seams, sturdy fabric and rich colors.

Desert Hills Premium Outlet, Black Friday 2010.

Rothstein adds that it helps to literally localize your mission. "Book a room at a nearby hotel if you're traveling from more than an hour away," she suggests. "It's so much fun to truly 'shop 'til you drop' knowing a comfortable hotel room is [nearby]." There are often special deals at these neighboring accommodation (such as the Hampton Inn near Woodbury Common Premium Outlets, where an all-night shuttle to and from the mall is provided).

When it's time to hit the stores, it's best to dress in layers and pack plenty of sustenance in the form of snacks and bottled water. "And please," begs Kathy Spencer, savings guru and author of How to Shop for Free. "don't forget deodorant."

A final caveat: shopping logic often takes a backseat to the thrill of the hunt, so watch yourself. One glaring Black Friday mistake, according to Lucky Senior Fashion Editor Elle Strauss, is snatching up a seemingly well-priced item when it's completely wrong for your shape or style. "Don't buy anything you'd have to have seriously altered," she cautions. "It'll just sit there, taking up valuable real estate in your closet." She names Bicester Village designer outlets in Oxfordshire in her native UK as a favorite destination and has snagged amazing deals at their Mulberry outlet in particular. "Just be prepared to compromise," she says. "Outlets might not have the exact item you were looking for, but they could offer something similar—in a different color or finish."

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