How To Shop Nordstrom Rack

I’ve noticed as this 30 Days challenge progresses that a ton of my clothing comes from Nordstrom Rack.  The problem with Nordstrom Rack, though, is that it can be extremely overwhelming.

When you go into a place like Ross, you’re greeted by orderly rows of clothing with handy signs indicating large categories like “Juniors” or “Petites.”  Cute little cards welcome you to the “Pants” and “Knits” racks.  The shoes occupy a small, organized corner of the store.  Dressing rooms limit you to 6 or so items.

Throw three Ross stores in with dozens of designer brands, an army of suburbanite moms, and Peeves the poltergeist, and you can begin to imagine what Nordstrom Rack is like.

Instead of tidy rows, the Rack has hundreds and hundreds of round racks, the kind you hid in when you were four and wanted to freak out your mother.  These are massed together under vague descriptors like “Women” and “Career” which may or may not have anything to do with the clothes beneath.  The signs on top of the racks can say anything from “Skirts – S-M” to “Juicy Couture” to “Just Off The Truck! Designer Jeans.”  If you tried to explore The Rack the way you explore Ross, it would take literally hours to see everything.

Another tricky thing about the Rack is figuring out which items are going to stick around for a while and which are only going to be there for a couple days.  Staples like camisoles, layering tees, and underthings are guaranteed to be in stock.  There will probably always be a variety of shoes, a rack full of sweaters, and tons of dresses – the challenge is figuring which season will show up when.  You may be able to find a trendy pair of over-the-knee boots in the middle of winter, but if you’re looking for some summery silver wedges for your wedding (cough), you might be out of luck.

So my friend was understandably wary when I said I wanted to go to the Rack because she knew about the hordes of shoppers and the disorganization, but she came along and explored the shoes while I poked through the vast women’s section.  Towards the end of our expedition, she came up to me with a hopeful look on her face.

“There’s a rack over there with cardigans for twelve dollars…is that one of their staple things?  I’m not sure if I should get one now or come back.”

I went over to look, and sure enough, they were the same three-quarter-sleeve cardigans that I’d picked from over the summer, still available in a huge assortment of colors, still cheap.  I think my friend may be a convert, but in case she (or anyone else) remains unconvinced, I thought I could impart my wisdom with the world.  You too can shop successfully at Nordstrom Rack without totally losing your mind!  It may take some practice, but these tips should help.

1. Arrive at opening.  You won’t have to worm your way around a thousand other shoppers, and you won’t have to wait in line at the fitting rooms.

2. Know your brands.  Take a look at the Nordstrom website and make a short list of the brands and styles that catch your eye and fit your budget.  I know I like Halogen (affordable business-casual), Max Studio (fantastic jersey dresses), Semantiks (investment-level business wear), and Classiques Entier (pretty much anything as long as it’s on sale).  When you arrive at the store, seek out those brand names on the little cards.  It’ll make your search much quicker and increase your likelihood of finding a purchase.

At the very least, know which brands to avoid. Discounts at the Rack are excellent, but that doesn’t help you much if the original price was $500.  If you’re not in the market for a trendy hundred-dollar top, avoid brands like Vince, Free People, Tehari, etc, that have high starting prices, and just don’t even touch the racks with those labels on them.

3. If you don’t know your brands, know your section.  Your nearest Rack hopefully utilizes the same departments it has in the main stores.  If you’re looking for a new shirt for work, look for signs that say “Individualist” or “TBD” and go from there.  If you want a blingy, expensive new top for clubbing, try “Savvy” and a brand like Juicy.  Or just use your eyes if you need something more general (cardigans, work slacks, etc).  You get the idea.

4. Shop from the outside in.  The newest stuff will be placed along the walkways.  These items will be seasonal, the most current styles, and most importantly, there will be lots of them so you’re more likely to find your size!  This could help you whittle down your list before you have to plunge into the battle zone that is the main sales floor.

5. CHECK THE TAG FIRST.  Say you’ve finally spotted a silhouette or color that you think you could really love.  Stop!  Don’t even take a second look before you check the price.  This is the Rack’s last great weapon – the surprise tag ambush.  You could stumble upon a shirt that was originally $58 and is now $13 (like I did this weekend), or you could find a dress that originally cost $300 and now costs over $100 (like I also did this weekend).  Nothing is worse than spotting a fantastic item, falling in love, and then discovering it’s four times your entire monthly clothing budget.  Check the price before you allow yourself to fall in love.

Similarly, be extra careful in the shoe department.  Theoretically there are supposed to be two sections, designer and non-designer, but these usually overlap.  This weekend I fell under the spell of a pair of stunning gold Jimmy Choo sandals that cost $200 (originally over $600).  I would never have seen them if they were in the designer shoes where they belonged.  Alas, poor clothing budget – I knew you well.

Seriously, guys, it’s worth it to know your way around the Rack.  If you live in the Portland area and want some practice, I will so totally help you.  It’ll be a field trip.  A scientific expedition, if you will, in the name of frugality and better-quality clothing.

Has anyone else had great luck at Nordstrom Rack?  Share you success stories in the comments!

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6 thoughts on “How To Shop Nordstrom Rack

  1. There’s no Nordstrom’s Rack (or Nordstrom, for that matter) anywhere near where I live, but I did once go into a Sak’s Fifth Avenue Off 5th store, and was incredibly intimidated and went back to the Gap where my people are.

    • Holy cow, I didn’t even know a place like that existed! That would be really intimidating. Honestly, having been in both Nordstroms and Saks, I find Nordstroms to be far less scary. The super-expensive designer section kinda keeps to itself, and yes the salespeople will still be able to detect your lack of purchasing power and judge you, but not nearly as much as the dudes in Saks did.

      The differences in department stores is probably a regional thing, too. I don’t think there are any Saks stores at all in Washington. The Seattle area got its first Neiman Marcus about two years ago, but for the most part, Nordstrom is about as schmancy as the Pacific Northwest gets. Plus the Saks I went to was in Palm Springs, so the judgmental yuppie factor was probably hugely magnified.

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  4. So I just stumbled upon this when I (frustratingly) Googled “Why in the hell is Nordstrom so expensive.” Then I saw you were in the Portland area (which is why this probably popped up for me). Anyway, thanks for the advice. I am braving the Rack soon.

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