anta comes twice a year in Italy. For about eight weeks after New Year’s and again in mid-summer, budget shoppers can find usually-inaccessible Italian fashion goods cut down to size as stores unfurl winter sales. Prices are usually trimmed 30 percent to start. Later discounts can even reach the half-price mark, but waiting it out also means risking not finding the sizes and colors you want.
This year’s sales — they’re set by law — began on Saturday, Jan. 3, a week earlier than usual (Rome and Milan sales run 60 days from Jan. 3; Florence’s go through March 7). My Italian husband Germano and I had chills and a cough on Friday, a gloomy, rainy day, so we skipped our customary night-before reconnaissance mission. We did concoct a Saturday morning plan.
Germano set his mobile phone alarm for 8 a.m. We slept with visions of turning into stylish sugarplums.
Saturday brought more heavy skies thick with drizzle (it’s been the rainiest winter in decades). Car wheels splashed puddles on us as we donned our magic moped gear — plastic rain pants, rain jacket, wool scarf, leather gloves and silver helmets. We scooted to Via del Governo Vecchio in the center of town, parking on a tree-lined sidewalk. Meanwhile, panicked drivers circled, ready to pounce on vacant spaces.
Our first stop was “Poems” (details below), which sells the kind of bohemian chic Sienna Miller might wear. I limped to the store, leaning on Germano for balance; I had jogged too far a few days earlier and my heels hobbled me. But the store was dark. In the window was a paper sign with the scrawled words “Chiuso per inventario.” It wasn’t clear who doing inventory, since no was in the store.
But fashion Santa was still ahead of us.
We hopped on our sleigh to find leather work shoes for Germano. His brother had recommended a men’s shoe store called “Re Mishelle” on Via del Corso near Piazza del Popolo. All their shoes were displayed in the glass store window, making it easy to view the selection from outside. Hand-written tags showed the original prices, the discounts, the final prices, and remaining sizes. Very efficient.
Germano spied a snazzy walnut-brown shoe, handmade by Campanile for 50 percent off at €240. The price made me nervous. We agreed I should take a stroll around the block; Germano would pick me up after plunking down our millions. I tottered over the cobblestones around the corner to “Dress Agency,” the nearest second-hand designer store, where bored storekeepers leaned over the glass counter and watched shoppers pass by their window without stopping.
With a gloved hand, Germano motioned to me come out and on the way back to the scooter explained the shoe dilemma: “They had the left shoe in my size in the store window, but they can’t find the right one. They asked me to come back in an hour to see if they can find the other shoe.” Off we zipped to Via Cola di Rienzo, another main shopping street in the Prati section of the city near the Vatican.
We split up. I went to the women’s boutiques and he headed for the men’s stores. At “Liu Jo,” I waited in line outside the entrance. After 10 minutes, when several customers left the store with plastic emerald green shopping bags, the smiling saleswoman ushered me in with another group of three. I found a sassy above-the-knee blue dress reduced from €155 to €110.
Since the try-on line wound through the small store, the salesperson “Si, prego,” kindly let me change in the corner. I took off my sweater and put the dress on over my tank top, skirt, tights, and boots. Once on, I pulled off my skirt. The dress was adorable, but the blue mohair collar and short-sleeved cuffs were too itchy.
Germano and I regrouped in front of “Brian Cress,” where Germano noticed the same brown Campanile shoes that he had eyed at Via del Corso. The price was €220 instead of €240. Since they still had his size, he bought them on the spot. No need to bike back to the center.
We meandered through the nearby “Coin” department store, where Germano picked up travel-sized shaving cream, hairbrush, and kitchen sieve. None of these items were sale-priced. Nor did they run €220.
By noon we were home, cold and wet but happy. It was time for a lunch of hot pasta e fagioli.
Recommended sales strategies:
— Examine the lay of the land a day before sales start. Decide what you want and at which stores before the sales. This can help you map out a plan that allows you to buy the items you want on the first day of saldi.
— Beware of last season’s items. Some store owners use saldi to peddle last year’s unsold items at discount prices.
— For sales-day shopping, wear layers, so that in a rush you can try on items over your clothes without having to use the changing room.
— Prepare for next season! Most stores have a seasonal catalogue that shows all items. During winter saldi, summer season catalogues are usually available at the cashier’s desk. Italian catalogues are trendy and compact. They usually use one model to display an entire collection.
Stores along the way:
Poems — Women’s bohemian chic. Via del Governo Vecchio 10, Rome; tel: 06.6858.3900.
Re Mishelle — Men’s and women’s shoes. Via del Corso 526; tel: 06.361.0194.
Furla — Leather handbags. Via Cola Di Rienzo 226; tel: 06.687.4505.
Liu Jo — Hippy chic. Via Cola di Rienzo 188; tel: 06.687.4649.
Coin — Department store. Via Cola di Rienzo 173; tel: 06.3600.4298.
Franceschini — Classic men’s fashion. Via Cola di Rienzo 251; tel: 06.324.1830.
Dress Agency — Second-hand women’s designer clothes. Via del Vantaggio, 1b; tel: 06.321.0898.
Brian Cress — Classic men’s shoes. Via Cola di Rienzo 166; tel: 06.687.4067.