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Shopping utopia: The secret world of sample sales

Erica Mayyasi is a Red Sox fan in Manhattan. After stints at various magazines she now works full-time in public relations, though she continues to write for a number of sites including her blog etsymay.blogspot.com.

Sample sales are popularly portrayed as secret, magical places where you can score designer duds for a fraction of the price. Contrary to popular belief, however, you don't have to be Mia Mason on Cashmere Mafia to shop at them--in fact, you don't even need to live in a major city. All you need is Internet access, because thanks to a number of fabulous sites, you can now shop like a fashion insider without being one.

Woman shopping online

These sites will give you the in to incredible sample sales, both in physical and online form:

Gilt has online sample sales of designers such as Alessandro Dell'Acqua, Zac Posen and Vivienne Tam.  The sample sales are each one day long, and merchandise--which is priced 50 to 75% off--goes quickly, so be sure to get there right at the start. Sales are limited to Gilt members, and membership is free but limited to referrals from existing users. Email membership@gilt.com for information. gilt.com

Another online members-only joint, Planet Lulu also offers apparel and accessories at 50 to 75% under retail prices.  Membership here is also free and requires only filling out a form. Lulu is only open a few days each month, so stay on the ball so you don't miss out on the savings! planetlulu.com

HauteLook is making quite the splash. Membership is free and open at this site, which has 12-48 hour online sales with offerings discounted up to 75%. Their Tracy Reese sale had dresses starting at $112 and shirts priced as low as $86. hautelook.com

The Art of Shopping's website includes both information on their upcoming physical sample sales, which take place in New York City, as well as a periodically open online shop. Their multi-brand sample sales feature goods at a 40-90% discount and have included brands such as True Religion, Ella Moss and Juicy Couture in the past. theartofshop.com

TopButton.com, a massive fashion and shopping site, has a database of sample sales including sales in New York and Los Angeles as well as sales and promotions on the web. topbutton.com

The popular DailyCandy.com e-newsletter and site has editions customized for 12 US cities as well as a general national version. Topics range from food to technology to shopping and sample sales are sometimes thrown in.  While you currently cannot sign up to receive only sample sale notices, you can sign up for DailyCandy Deals, which places promotions for DailyCandy subscribers in your inbox every Tuesday. dailycandy.com

This list is by no means exhaustive.  Fashion blogs, such as myfashionlife.com and thebudgetfashionista.com, often list sample sales, sometimes even providing invites to exclusive ones!  And of course the world wide web spans the world so be sure to Google "your location + sample sale" to see what pops up!

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