Cheap thrills: Clearance racks are full of things you want to buy

Posted Jan. 30, 2009, at 6:46 p.m.

Growing up, I had this friend who wore the best clothes — patterned harem pants, slouch boots, off-the-shoulder sweat shirts and stacks of jelly bracelets. In fourth grade, she even had a real bikini. It was like she stepped off the set of “Flashdance.” We were young, it was the ’80s and I thought she could not be cooler.

My mother had an entirely different opinion of her wardrobe: “She looks cheap.”

In retrospect, Mom was right (was she ever not?). And to this day, I avoid anything that “looks cheap” like the plague. These days, however, cheap never looked so good.

Just last week, I popped into Target and bought an adorable Massimo skirt for $4.98 and a sweater coat for $8.74. Oh, and the clearance racks are now organized by size, thanks to the women’s department gurus.

But it doesn’t stop there. Even stores that normally have crap on the clearance racks are starting to warm to the idea of price slashes. At Gap last week, I grabbed a gorgeous pair of lined, cuffed dress pants — the kind that never go on sale — for $22.99. If I remember correctly, there used to be two racks of clearance: one for tops, one for bottoms. Maybe it’s a sign of the times, but the store now seems to have a whole clearance area. I took full advantage of this, buying a $10.97 turtleneck sweater, as well. I’m waiting for my favorite striped lace-trimmed sweater to drop below $30 before I bite. At this rate, it shouldn’t take long.

In New York two weeks ago, I bought an entire suit at Ann Taylor Loft for $45. If that’s not chic on the cheap, I don’t know what is.

Usually, prices like this are reserved for Marden’s, T.J.s and Marshalls (though suits at the latter usually hover in the $80-$100 range). At department stores and boutiques, when prices dip this low, it usually means there are three size zeroes left, the only remaining blazer is canary yellow with jeweled buttons, or the print is heinous.

But the exact opposite was true during a recent trip to the mall and surrounding stores. At Sears, I found boots I would actually wear for $30. At Bath & Body Works, they were practically giving stuff away.

At Kohl’s, I saw men’s dress shirts for $12.99. And the sales have been rolling at L.L. Bean for months now.

A girl could get used to this. Under normal circumstances, I’d be complaining about the economy, but I have to admit: it makes shopping a lot easier on the wallet. Yes, retailers always try to clear out their stock after the holidays. But the sales started before Christmas this year, and I don’t remember clearance like this.

Even better, discount stores have finally woken up to the fact that inexpensive doesn’t need to equal ugly. The Thakoon for Target skirts and dresses are absolutely adorable. The Simply Vera by Vera Wang offerings at Kohl’s are a favorite of fashionistas everywhere. Even Walmart has gotten into the game with a line of shockingly inexpensive suits and professional clothes designed by Norma Kamali.

By doing this, stores have not only made high (or higher, anyway) fashion available to the masses, they’ve done something I never thought possible: proved my mother wrong.

Sometimes, it’s OK to look cheap.

ShopGirl would love to hear from you! Send questions, comments or suggestions by e-mail to: kandresen@bangordailynews.net, by U.S. mail to Kristen Andresen, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329, or by fax to 941-9476. For exclusive online shopping tips, visit http://shopblogbdn.blogspot.com.

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