Let’s talk about Last Chance, shall we?
Shopping at Last Chance is not like shopping at Nordstrom at.all. If Nordstrom is the cool older cousin we so desperately want to emulate then Last Chance is the loser, train wreck of a relative we all disdain publicly but secretly sort of like.
There is not a grandfatherly gentleman tickling the ivories as you ascend the escalators and walk onto a beautiful gleaming floor or browse racks of carefully curated collections. Rather, you will walk down a fairly steep set of stairs or descend into what feels like the bowels of the earth down an ancient escalator or dim elevator and walk onto a dingy tiled floor to browse what feels like chaotically organized rounders stuffed to the gills with one offs, cast-aways, damaged goods and overages.
There is not a series of clean, well lit, private dressing rooms for trying on clothes or fluffy couches upon which to alight when trying on shoes. There are no handsome men in suits to bring you shoes and whisk away your discards. Rather, there are four curtained stalls in which you can try on clothes while trying to decipher what something actually looks like in the terrible lighting or there is an open concept room to try on clothes where you will enjoy slightly less terrible lighting and the joys of trying to squirm in and out of clothes in a room full of strangers. (Oh, the horrors!) There are a series of mirrors scattered throughout the store at which women will teem to try on shoes and a series of red trash cans in which to toss the shoes that no amount of love or wishful thinking can save!
There is not a restaurant at which you can sip tea and eat delicate sandwiches after a strenuous day of trying on designer goods that a very helpful salesperson pulled for you. Rather, there is a snack kiosk at the top of the escalator where you can purchase any manner of stale, preservative laden goodies after pillaging through mounds of seemingly haggard designer goods.
I’ve scared you, haven’t I? Let me restore some hope by telling you why you should give Last Chance a chance and how to navigate some of its negatives to maximize your shopping and avoid some common pitfalls of novice or less experienced LC shoppers.
First, Last Chance is seriously this side of heaven for people like me, and I dare say, people like you, dear reader! If your budget looks anything like mine (two teacher household with two small children) then your clothing allotment is minimal while your fashion sensibilities are endless. I would love to peruse Nordstrom and pick up whatever my heart desires, but that dream is never going to come to fruition so long as I remain in education. So while I love to browse Nordstrom, I rarely purchase anything there because it’s simply out of my budget’s comfort zone. Last Chance, however, always fits my budget and these days rarely disappoints! And even if you have a fairly large clothing budget can you really balk at saving over 50% off retail on designer goods? I didn’t think so!
Below you will find some tips and tricks to make your first and/or next LC excursion more successful than the last.
There is no guarantee you will find something when you go, so be patient. The designer score will come! I am sure it’s clear that walking into Last Chance is not like walking into a normal retail store and being fairly certain that there will be at least one item you wish to welcome into your fashion fold. I cannot tell you how many times I have driven to 19th and Camelback only to hop into my car and hour or so later without a single thing to show for my “dumpster dive”. Trust me, though, patience will pay off. For example, I had been hunting and hunting for a fun and affordable sequin dress to wear to events. Everything I could find in a regular retailer was either way out of my price range or cut for a teenager’s body. Every time I went to Last Chance I scoured the racks for one, but I kept coming up empty-handed. Everything was either the wrong size or missing sequins until one fortuitous trip when dresses were an additional 75% off. On that particular trip I found a Tory Burch sequin dress from the fall 2010 collection and bought it for $25. Seriously…take a moment to celebrate that victory with me, will you? That dress retailed for $895 and I bought it for $25! (And there wasn’t a thing wrong with it!)
Do not go with the idea you are going to walk away with a particular item made by a particular designer. It simply doesn’t work that way. If you are searching for something too specific you will be disappointed every time, but if you have a general idea of what you would like to add to your closet then you will be far less disappointed. You may not ever find those glittery Miu Miu pumps from the Fall 2011 collection, but if it’s glittery heels you are really after you will more than likely find a few pairs from which to choose!
Go with a specific dollar amount you are willing to spend rather than specific items upon which you would like to spend that money. For example, set a $200 limit and see what you find. On a recent LC trip $200 could have garnered me the following items: Marc by Marc Jacobs purse ($90), Rebecca Minkoff purse ($70), Tory Burch spring 2011 dress ($20 as dresses were an additional 40% off ), and a pair of Me Too flats ($18). Not a terrible way to spend $200 and certainly would get me further than $200 would have at Nordstrom; in fact, the only one of those items I could have purchased at Nordstrom with a $200 budget would have been the flats!
Go early; stay a while. Like any retailer, Last Chance restocks during the night and throughout the day. The earlier you can go the more product you will have to look through and the more likely you can score an amazing deal. Keep in mind, going early will not keep you from encountering the crowds as people often line up a hour or so before opening, but it will mean you will be amongst the first people to go through the freshly stocked store. If you have the patience stay for a while as the Last Chance staff is constantly putting out new product!
Dress comfortably. You are going to be digging through bins of handbags, looking through shelves of shoes, and combing through rounder after rounder of clothes, so dress accordingly. I suggest a comfortable flat that you can easily slip on and off as you try on shoes, a fairly skinny jean or legging, and a tank under whatever top you are wearing. The skinny fitting pant and tank will come in handy should you find something to try on. Remember the horrific dressing room situation I mentioned? Many women simply find a mirror on the floor and try on clothes over their own clothes. The tighter fitting your clothes are the better idea you will have about how something actually fits.
Inspect, inspect, inspect. As much of Last Chance’s stock is either returned or damaged items you have to take the time to thoroughly inspect every item for stains, flaws, rips, missing components, and irreparable damage. If you know how to sew or know a good seamstress then something like a small tear or a broken zipper are not reasons to skip over a good find. I have purchased many a BCBG dress at Last Chance for $50 that simply needed a $10 zipper replaced to add it to my extensive dress collection!
Have a plan of action. Last Chance has a general layout that occasionally gets switched up. Typically speaking, though, upon entering the store you will find handbags, accessories, and shoes to the right, women’s shirts, jeans, skirts, pants, and coats in the middle, and women’s dresses to the left. Kids are in the upper left corner of the store and men’s are in the back. Figure out where you want to begin and end up while there and then have a mental game plan for going through the store. Without it, especially for someone new to Last Chance or someone who fears disorganization, the store will seem very chaotic and you will promptly climb the stairs and run for the hills!
For me, I always start with the handbags. What can I say? I am a sucker for a great handbag. In years past it was a fairly hard task to find a really good quality bag at Last Chance, but given the recent economy the quality and quantity have drastically improved. I quickly look over the bags and if I am even remotely interested and it seems in good shape I toss it into my bag knowing that I will inspect it much more thoroughly later. (Note: I never use a cart in Last Chance as they are too hard to maneuver through the crowded rounders or down the narrow shoe aisles.)
Next, I head to accessories and shoes. Just like with handbags, if I find something I like I toss it into my bag until I’ve made my way through the shoes. My next stop is going to be dresses, so I find an available mirror and go through my current loot in order to free up some space. I try to narrow down to the handbags and shoes I am truly interested in and that are in the best possible shape. I will once more go through these narrowed down selections once I have looked through all the clothes.
After shoes, I head to dresses where I will look at all the racks, size small to large. I have found many a hidden gem in the large rounders that someone my size has casually tossed aside! Here, too, I pull anything and everything that appeals to my sensibilities and is in good shape. The deeper inspection will come once I start trying on clothes!
Once I’ve made my way through the dresses I will walk through the shirts, pants, skirts, and jeans section and grab anything that appeals to me. After completing that circuit, I then find another mirror at which I try on any clothes I found. During this trying on session is when I give the clothes a thorough inspection. I look for irreparable tears, broken zippers, and stains.
What I do next may seem redundant to a novice or casual Last Chance shopper, but I make another round, in the same exact order as before, through each section of the store. I don’t take nearly as much time digging through bins, shelves and rounders as I did the first time, but it is often on these second, and sometimes third and fourth, laps through that I find some amazing deals. (It was on my fourth lap that I found a mint condition Michael Kors watch for $35!) Once I’ve made a few more laps I take one last hard look at what I’ve collected in my bag and think about how those items fit with what I currently have in my closet. Sometimes this means I get rid of a few more items while other times I head straight to checkout!
I know Last Chance can seem an intimidating pit of pathetic discards, but it is definitely worth a second glance. I guarantee if you go frequently enough, retain some patience, and employ the strategies above you will have success! And if you are still scared to navigate the endless discounted inventory on your own shoot me an email or tweet and we can meet up! I am always looking for an excuse to head to Last Chance!
For those of you who have shopped there before, what’s your best Last Chance find?