The Gleeful Return of the Sample Sale

Fashion

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The Comme des Garçons (CDG) x Dover Street Market (DSM) Super-Market-Market sample sale in New York City is something like a fashion eclipse: It only comes around once every few years, and when it does, a select group of people completely lose their shit.

The last time it happened, it was 2016. Discounts of up to 80 percent on CDG and other DSM-stocked brands reportedly drew around a thousand people waiting in line, including celebrities like Debbie Harry. Last summer, it finally returned—and it did not disappoint.

“I found out from my sales associate at Comme, and I was gleeful,” says Lynette Nylander, a writer and editor from London. Having shopped the “legendary” DSM sample sales in her hometown in the past, she knew what to expect. “I really took it seriously,” she says. She and model Paloma Elsesser met up beforehand for a proper lunch and took a car to the location to conserve their energy. “It was like, military,” she says. On the day they went, the sky was an ominous orange due to wildfires in Canada, and the following day New York governor Kathy Hochul issued a statewide air quality health advisory. “I thought that was really telling,” Nylander says. “Rain, shine, or literal apocalypse, there were people waiting.”

comme des garcons sample sale

Street style at the CDG x DSM sample sale.

WWD//Getty Images

The CDG x DSM sale is one of many that have drawn crowds in the last year—Khaite, The Row, and Manolo Blahnik among them. An overflow of pandemic inventory, combined with a pent-up desire to shop, get a good deal, and have a shared, in-person experience that oftentimes involves stripping down in front of a bunch of strangers, seems to have created the perfect sample sale storm. Once again, hopeful shoppers are lining up around the block and waiting for hours—or paying someone to wait in line for them. Unlike in 2016, though, TikTokers are ready to capture every minute of it.

“There was a week when I would get on TikTok, and the first three or four videos that it showed me were different random girls talking about The Row sample sale,” says Jess Graves, writer of The Love List, a newsletter about fashion and shopping. “It was as viral as a popular lip gloss, or RushTok.”

Today, TikTok only adds fuel to the burning sense of FOMO. Attendees will document not only their experience leading up to it, but also their hauls afterward. “It’s like a badge of honor,” Nylander explains. “Like, Were you there? Were you a part of this, or not? I think maybe that’s what people are into more than any individual item.”

comme des garcons sample sale

The thrill of the hunt at the CDG x DSM sample sale.

WWD//Getty Images

Even celebrities feel it. “I was in front of the mirror trying on a coat when I saw someone trying to edge in,” Nylander says of The Row sale. “And I turned around and it was Julianne Moore. I was flabbergasted. I just thought to myself, You don’t need to be here.”

Sample sales are the great equalizer, but they’re also an opportunity to grab something unique before anyone else can. “For me, the pull is not necessarily getting something cheap; it’s getting something that I missed out on, or something I’ve never seen before,” Graves says. The growing appeal of sample sales goes hand in hand with the burgeoning interest in secondhand shopping—and with cultivating a distinctive personal style in general.

At the end of the day, though, a deal is a deal. Writer and editor Kristen Bateman thinks discounts are less taboo now. In fact, they’re a point of pride. “I see people on TikTok who are like, ‘Oh, if you think the Ssense sale is good at 25 percent off, then you don’t know how to shop,’ ” she says. “Getting a good deal has become a competitive sport.” (Word on the street is that some brands are using them as a way to funnel unsold inventory, which makes for even more approachable prices.)

Bateman’s time at the CDG x DSM sample sale was a smashing success: She ended up finding one of her wedding dresses. Her only regret? “Not buying more.”

This article appears in the February 2024 issue of ELLE.

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Headshot of Emilia Petrarca

Emilia Petrarca is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer covering fashion and culture. She previously worked at New York Magazine’s The Cut, where she spent five years obsessing over everything from going-out tops to Anna Wintour’s lunch to The RealReal. Her work has since been featured in The New York Times, T Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and more. She also took *that* video of Larry David at NYFW. 

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