You've unwrapped every single present. But there are still a few things on your list that you didn't get. Must be time to hit the post-holiday sales.
Along with those half-price boxes of Christmas cards and rolls of wrapping paper, the stores are filled with clothing bargains. From winter coats and sweaters to suits, ties and shoes, shoppers should be able to beef up their wardrobes at discount prices.
In economically uncertain times like these, consumers aren't just looking for great buys, though; they're looking for real value. Most people have a few fashion disasters lurking in the back of their closets, purchased simply because they seemed like such steals at the time.
"I've been a victim of that a lot of times," admits Audrey Guskey Federouch, professor of marketing at the Duquesne University School of Business and Administration in Pittsburgh. "You see it, and you figure, 'Oh, I'm going to buy it because it's on sale.' If you're not going to use it, it's not really worth the money, even if it's 75 percent off."
But today's shoppers aren't spending like they used to, even when they see a sale rack. "In the past, people used to stock up on things," says Dr. Federouch. "If you saw something on sale, sweaters or whatever, at one-third off, you'd buy a couple of them. Now I think people are just buying one."
Linda Scherr, co-owner of the local clothing boutique Rococo, agrees. "I've found with our customers, they're being cautious. They're making sure that every purchase they make counts," she says. "A customer who in the past would walk in and buy five outfits might come in and buy three. They're being very particular about what they're buying."
"The consumers are all looking for something on sale or off-price merchandise, and selling regular price merchandise is somewhat of a challenge today," says Tony Barbato, Hamburgers' vice president of merchandising for menswear. "How long this is going to last, I really don't know. It's something we have to live with right now."
If you're feeling the cash crunch, how can you be sure you're getting a good buy at the post-holiday sales? Start planning before you hit the stores, suggests Jane Gabor, image consultant and co-owner of About Faces. "Study the closet before you go shopping," says Ms. Gabor. "Pull the things out thatyou really, really are using, and ask yourself, Why do these things work? What do they do for me? Why do I get so many compliments on them?' "
Determine what colors you look best in and what shapes complement your particular body silhouette, says Ms. Gabor. "The psychology behind that word 'sale' alone is a turn-on. But once you have learned about yourself and what is a good investment for your particular look, you'll have a little more self-control."
Naturally, it's always worth scanning the sale rack for the basics. "A black skirt, a white blouse, turtlenecks in cotton or in wool, classically styled trousers in basically any fabric or any color or any pattern that appeals to you," says Joanne Mattera, Glamour magazine's senior editor of fashion features. "Those kinds of things just don't go out of style."
If you're buying now, think about what will still look good next fall. "Anything now on sale in the whole neutral palette will be great for next year. We're going to start to see a lot more neutral colors for next fall," says Nancy Chistolini, Hecht's vice president of creative merchandising. "A long pleated skirt would also be a good buy that will be valid for next year."
Fashion-forward folks may be able to spot items that customers rejected this year, but will be right in style in a few months' time. "Sometimes a particular style just doesn't catch on," says Rococo's Ms. Scherr. "I've had years in the past where short skirts didn't sell. Well, this year they sold like crazy. But almost every season, there will be a certain type of body that is contemporary and new, and you'll bring it into your store, and the public just isn't quite ready for it yet. That'll land on the sale rack."
Keep an eye out for trendy pieces that can update the clothes you already own. "The fun and the fashionable should be a little cheaper," says New York retail consultant Christian Gilbert, president of the Fashion Service. "In effect, you're not buying clothes at that point for longevity or investment, you're buying for a little bit of humor or a little bit of frivolity. That screaming lime green blazer should cost $75, not $900."
But while fads may be fun, remember that certain styles may already have run their course. For instance, last fall's zippered jackets are still good bets, says Glamour's Ms. Mattera, as long as they're nicely tailored and not too extreme. "It's when you have that scuba styling with the huge, big, plastic zipper, and the zipper pockets and the zippers on the sleeves, that really just says 'trend' in neon lights," she says.
Don't forget to check the accessory rack. "Sale time is the time to stock up on accessories like unusual earrings, scarves, evening shoes, something a bit extravagant," says Ms. Gabor. "Sale time is also the time to try a new color in an accessory, like bronze, gold, silver, hot fuchsia, lime green or olive green -- something that may not scream practicality,' but will give zip to something you already have."