Going to NY, NY soon? I am. Here is where I am going to go…

For Designer Bargains, Step Into Their Closet

Published: April 7, 2010


ON a recent foray for new spring clothes — a sundress, slouchy pants, a nautical-inspired top or two — I was determined not to break the bank.

Katie Orlinsky for The New York Times

EYE-CATCHING At Fox’s in Mineola, N.Y., a Lafayette 148 cardigan ($89).

But I was also determined not to kill an afternoon trying to unearth something special from the jammed and chaotic racks of big-box discount chains like Filene’s Basement and Century 21.

The solution? A 40-minute train ride from Penn Station to Mineola, N.Y., where tucked alongside the tracks like a greasy-spoon diner is an under-the-radar shop called Fox’s. Devotees, myself included, typically learned of the small chain through friends and family who live in the area. For more than 20 years, locals in the know have been flocking there to snap up designer clothing at prices often better than those of popular discount fashion Web sites.

Take the Pucci ballet flats that cost $295 on the Italian fashion emporium Yoox.com. They were $139 at Fox’s last week.

Or consider the Alice & Olivia knickers that are typically $275. The Fox’s price tag was $89.

And those JPK Paris crossbody handbags that cost upward of $150 at the likes of Nordstrom? They were $69 at Fox’s.

That Fox’s is modest in size and is frequented by regulars makes it feel more like an old-fashioned dress shop than a discount warehouse.

Another reason for that are the experienced sales staff members — they are friendly yet not overly solicitous.

What truly sets the chain apart for me, though, is that it does not simply stock excess merchandise from manufacturers. Fox’s buyers travel to Europe and hand-pick fashions for the stores. Many of those labels are not carried anywhere else in the United States, with the occasional exception of a few boutiques here and there. So over time, you can amass an unusual (and relatively affordable) wardrobe with pieces from places like Israel and France. Shipments arrive daily.

But you need not travel to Long Island to shop there. Fox’s has 14 stores, 9 of them nearby, in Brooklyn, Queens, New Jersey, Connecticut and Westchester. (Details are at Foxs.com.) I kicked off my spring shopping at the Mineola outpost at 80 Main Street, a short walk from a train stop reached most easily by the Port Jefferson line.

At Mineola, the merchandise is divided between a women’s clothing shop and, across the street, a boutique with handbags, jewelry and shoes. This is the chain’s flagship and one of its more mellow stores; I’ve heard the Brooklyn shop is bustling.

The clothes at discount chains are not always seasonal or trendy, yet Fox’s is usually attuned to fashion’s mood swings. Indeed, the staff said the clothes and accessories are always current. In the winter you’ll find furs, not swimsuits.

A pervasive trend, ballet flats, were offered in enough colors to fill a Crayola box. There was a $29 silver pair from DKNY, and $39 bejeweled styles by Redfoot that fold up to fit in your purse in the event you want to change out of high heels on a dance floor. (The “Sex and the City” shop at HBO.com is selling the shoes for $64.99.)

There were also those ubiquitous open-toe booties. A pair by Candela, a brand sold at Saks Fifth Avenue, were $69 at Fox’s. Sweet peep-toe pumps, by Rock & Republic, were $98.

Affordable and eye-catching accouterments, like sequined wallets from India ($19) and chunky glass-and-metal necklaces ($24), dapple the space. Aqua bags — on the pages of nearly every fashion magazine — were plentiful. A turquoise Whiting & Davis mesh and Lucite clutch was $79; the same bag on Buy.com is $200.

Willpower and a paucity of size 38 Pucci flats enabled me to exit the accessories shop with my money still in my pocketbook.

That lasted until I walked across the street into the clothing store.

Fox’s strength is not necessarily its offering of everyday basics but rather its rotating selection of European fashions, and brands like Tahari, Calvin Klein, Free People and Michael Kors. (A note to the label-conscious: sometimes the tags are cut out of the clothes, a tactic employed by luxury brands to preserve their prestige. But consider it a fashion I.Q. test. In some instances I have been able to identify the brand based on the cut, the distinctive remnants of the label or my having spotted the same item in a department store.)

I entered the fitting room with a few items from my list and many more that simply caught my eye, including a $79 Isaac Mizrahi dress for QVC that the television shopping network is selling for $131. (I have a weakness for voluminous tulle skirts; however, this one was so frothy it transformed its wearer into Thumbelina.)

Fox’s does not limit the number of items allowed in the dressing room, and while that’s a plus, it appears such generosity comes at a cost. The stalls are without curtains. In the end, I bought black men’s wear-inspired pants and a periwinkle striped sundress with red accents, both unfamiliar Parisian labels.

Fox’s accepts only cash, checks and debit cards, which in another economy might be an annoyance. In this one, though, it’s a way to stay frugal. And note the three-day return policy. If you need more time because, say, you live a $13.50 round-trip train ride away, ask and a staff member will give you a week or so by making a note on your receipt.

I have yet to return anything. Sometimes, it’s good to think outside the big box.

A version of this article appeared in print on April 8, 2010, on page E8 of the New York edition.

April 9, 2010. April.

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