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Summer Outlet Shopping: The Survival Guide

Aside from hitting the beach and afternoon drinking, one of my favorite summertime activities is outlet shopping. (Especially when Woodbury Common Premium Outlets–East Coast mecca for discount luxury shopping–invites a bunch of bloggers and me on a Real Housewives-like stretch limo ride to retail therapy. #ballin!).

From the way things looked over at Woodbury this past Saturday, about a bajillion other people were enjoying their favorite pastime, too–shopping the usual suspects of high street brands (J. Crew, Gap, Theory …), plus a serious roster of luxury designer labels, like, Balenciaga, Marni, Chloé, Prada and (a still-known-as) Yves Saint Laurent. As you can imagine, hordes of wild-eyed consumers were hopped on bargain hunting energy and a serious will to spend, spend, spend.

While this may sound somewhat intimidating, there’s a method to getting the most out of your outlet-shopping mission. Here’s your Survival Guide to managing the madness:

1. Plan Your Route Before You Go

This is crucial. Print out a map of the outlet beforehand and highlight all the stores that are a must-see. There’s no time for casual browsing (i.e. time wasting) in a massive complex.

2. Do Your Research

This is especially important for scoring those high-end designer deals. Before you head out, do a Google search of the past few seasons’ looks (at least). You'll have your wish list and you’ll know exactly what looks you're seeing on the shelves. (But, of course, many of you obsessives know exactly which collection that gold Tribute heel is from.)

Keep an eye out for the prices online so you have a comparison–sometimes end-of-season sales in-store and sample sales (if you're lucky) will offer better deals.

Also, be aware that many brands produce collections made specifically for the outlets. Meaning that these styles never actually hit the regular retail floors and you’re not scoring a Spring 2012 off-the-runway look. I mean, if it’s cute, it fits and the price is right, who cares, but it’s just good to know what you’re buying.

3. Be Timely

Get there when the outlets open. You’ll beat the crowds and those pesky nightclub-like lines (eh hem, Tory Burch) that quickly form outside popular outposts.

4. Prepare for the Elements

Load up on the SPF in the summer and layer strategically in the winter. No sense in struggling with eight layers of bulky clothing every time you hit the dressing room. I also advocate shoes sans laces in any season to make for speedy shoe fitting.

5. Pick the Right Wing Man/Woman

Just because someone is great to go drinking with, that doesn’t mean he or she is your shopping soul mate. Who wants to waste precious deal-seeking time waiting on a meandering, indecisive shopper (the worst) or spend the day visiting brands you have no interest in.

On the flipside, it's key to have a trustworthy friend to give an honest opinion on whether that dress really does indeed make you look fat. That said, there’s nothing wrong with separating and meeting later. That’s what texting is for.

6. Expect More

Don’t just settle for the already discounted outlet price. Hold out for the additional percentages off. This is how you score a pair of Nicholas Kirkwood platforms for 75 percent off or go home with a See by Chloé leather skirt for $95 (oh yes, I did). Check the outlet website to see what stores are having further mark-downs–you can always plan your trip around those extra special occasions.

7. Go for Quality Over Quantity

While some people leave the outlets with a car full of $15 tee shirts, my end haul tends to be a maximum of maybe three medium-sized shopping bags carrying premium, designer (and, usually, plush leather) items. While my spoils may seem paltry in comparison, the difference is that I probably saved thousands of dollars in total and the items will last me for years. I’m still wearing my Spring 2009 pewter strappy Balenciaga wedges. Those are the best deals in my opinion.

8. You Snooze, You Lose
One of the wisest things mom taught me is if I see something I like while shopping on vacation, I should buy it immediately because I’ll probably never come across it again. (I’m sure she regretted that immediately, but that’s another discussion.) This rule holds true for the outlets, too. Plus if you’ve done all of the above, you’re making an informed purchase, right?

That said, while official policy in many stores is to not put items on hold, sometimes if you ask nicely, a sales person might make an exception.

9. Make a Vacation Out of It

Call me crazy, but the day doesn’t have to be all about shopping. One of my favorite things to do at Woodbury is to have lunch at the non-food court restaurant Positano Grill for one reason: they serve booze. Nothing like sipping a glass (or two) of chilled sauvignon blanc while taking a little retail breather.

Ready to hit the outlets? If not, maybe the below pic will change your mind. (July, baby!)

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