First, here's what I got:
I am so excited about my coat, since I've been shopping around for a new one for a while now and think I got a great deal considering the quality of the garment compared to what I was wearing (and paid $120 for originally). I'm also in love with my new sweater/blazer since I struggle to find jackets that fit in the bust and this one makes me look quite trim and tall(er). I was returning a sweater I got for Christmas since my boss got the same one and we already look similar enough, but think I'll wear this piece a lot more anyway. Pretty exciting, eh?
Now for the tips. I learned a lot from my mom, who is known for her amazing clearance finds, and find that the following strategies work really well for me:
Shop in store
Unless you have a free shipping code or a large order, you'll get a better deal in person once you add on $8 to get the item you found online. I tend to use websites to scope out things I want, and then "visit them" in person and hope for a markdown.
If you only go to a store on Saturday afternoon once a month with everyone else, you won't have much of a chance of scoring that one piece from the previous collection that just got returned and marked down because I'll have already scooped it up on Thursday.
Shop during the work week, if you can
Shipments often arrive on Mondays and Tuesdays, which means to make room for new stuff the staff at your favorite stores will be doing markdowns during the week before the new merchandise hits the floor before the weekend shoppers arrive. If you show up during the week, you'll get first dibs.
Keep an open mind
If you walk around looking only for black pants, you'll be unlikely to find exactly what you want in a single afternoon. However, if you're constantly looking at sale racks then you will have a chance at scoring some $11 pants in your size. I know that some consider this behavior to be counter-productive, but while I may have bought pants without being in dire need of them, I saved $69.
Constantly shop for gifts
I'm known to come across great deals on jewelry and accessories (which don't take much room to store) and buy in bulk, then distribute the items as birthday gifts throughout the year. Banana Republic is one of my favorite sources for cheap jewelry, I get to appear as though I've spent a lot when in reality I sometimes paid about $7 for something that was originally $49. I know this is controversial too, and that sometimes the items aren't returnable, so I only do it for friends I know very well and are sure to like what I choose for them.
Be open to alterations
I look cute in pants hemmed right above my ankle bone - I find it very Audrey-esque. However, because I'm only 5'4" I almost always have to have them hemmed. That means it doesn't matter if I buy short, long, or regular length since it's all getting chopped off anyway. If the 34" inseam pant fits on the top and are on clearance, I'll pay $7 to cut them off and wear the heck out of them all year. My favorite jeans were intended for someone much taller, but I scored them for $11 at Gap and then hemmed them for a grand total of $20. If I weren't hopeless at threading my sewing machine, it would be less.
Find out where the markdowns live
I'm lucky to live in a large city, and most stores I shop at have several locations within a 20 mile radius. I am not shy about chatting with salespeople (I used to be one) and will flat out ask if there's a store where the clearance goods get shipped to. Often, a retailer will keep full-price merch in an affluent location where it's likely to sell faster, and send the markdowns to a store with room for them and the traffic to move it quickly. Gap and LOFT both do this in Dallas, and those are the locations I hit most often (I'm lucky that I work 3 miles from 2 malls).
I know all of this makes me seem like a total shopaholic, and maybe it's true. But I spend a fraction of what others do on a lot of things and clothes make me happy. :) Hopefully this was helpful for those who asked. If you have anything to add, do tell in a comment!
P.S. There's one more thing I'm excited about. I decided that I'm going to attend the Texas Style Council blogger conference in Austin this March! Look at me branching out! If you're local to Texas (or willing to travel) please consider joining us. I'm pumped!