The Scene of the Find

Missing name-brand bargains? Our shopping sleuth uncovers some Basement replacements


We saved over $450 on the above outfit by shopping at these stores

Even the thought of moving on from the discount heaven that was Filene’s Basement feels blasphemous. (Those inexpensive jeans! That 70-percent-off Fendi!) But since the iconic chain shut its doors nationwide in January, bargain-mad Washingtonians have had fewer sources for last-season DVF frocks and Pucci umbrellas. So, does the loss mean discount shopping in D.C. is dead.

“Filene’s had been plagued by financial problems for some time. I don’t think the closing means people have lost interest in discount shopping,” says Missy Frederick, retail reporter for the Washington Business Journal. “In fact, these types of retailers have done well in D.C. Plenty of options are still out there.”

Ever sale seekers, we hit the pavement in our Prada loafers (scored at 60 percent off, thankyouverymuch) and went undercover to find the most viable replacement for our late, great Filene’s. This meant surreptitious scribbles in our reporter’s notebook while scouring racks of marked-down clothing. And after stripping down in group fitting rooms and nearly wrestling another shopper to the ground for a Trina Turk blazer, we can confirm that the discount shopping scene in the cap city still has a pulse.

5. Ross Dress for Less

Old Town Alexandria, 112 N. Washington St.; Alexandria, Va.; 703-519-3840; four other area locations; Rosstores.com

Brand highlights: You’ll find the usual chain-gang suspects like Nine West shoes for $33, Calvin Klein dresses for $35 and Betseyville purses starting at $38. The home section is worth a glance: We spotted KitchenAid gadgets and Farberware cookware at 40 percent off.

Variety: Ross is like a restaurant that offers a lot of mediocre options when it should really just focus on being good at, say, frying chicken. We could have done without the weak hat, jewelry and sunglasses assortment if it meant a more robust clothing selection.

Organization: Merchandise displays sprawl a bit, especially in the shoe section. And at least one straggler from home goods could be found in every department. We’re looking at you, spaghetti spoon amid the slingbacks.

Best for: Sigh, nothing much. Aside from a collection of hampers large enough to outfit a frat house and some shower hooks shaped like Playboy bunnies (who knew?), there wasn’t much to see here.

4. T.J. Maxx

Friendship Heights, 4350 Jenifer St. NW; 202-237-7616; 20 other area locations including a metro center branch opening in April; Tjmaxx.com

Brand highlights: After shaking off the bleakness of Ross, the sitch improved at T.J.’s. We spotted Lilly Pulitzer make-up bags for $13 and Cynthia Rowley jackets for $60.

Variety: Is T.J.’s aiming to outfit an entire waitstaff? The repetitive clothing selection suggests so. There was one Willi Smith button-down we saw more than 20 times, and while that makes finding your size a breeze, it also sucks the excitement out of shopping. And what’s up with all the Jelly Bellies in the cooking section?

Organization: A woman at checkout told us new merchandise arrives six times a week. And judging by the over-packed racks and jumbled shelves, we believe her.

Best for: Cosmetics. T.J.’s earns beauty marks for impressive offerings like Shiseido skincare, Philosophy bath products and Chi blow dryers.

3. Marshalls

Columbia Heights, 3100 14th St. NW; 202-265-3402; 24 other local stores; Marshallsonline.com

Brand highlights: There’s no shortage of (read: yawn) Max Studio dresses, Michael Stars tees and Ralph Lauren bedding. You’ll find the occasional mega-bargain, like a $220 industrial-chic floor lamp on clearance for $44. (But don’t bother looking for it because we snagged the last one.)

Variety: T.J. Maxx acquired Marshalls stores back in 1995, which may explain the overlap in stock. Yet one area where Marshalls outshines T.J. Maxx? Housewares. If you need stainless steel pans, Italian glassware or ikat throw pillows in a hurry, you’ve come to the right place.

Organization: Plan on fighting crowds and waiting in line no matter the time of day. And keep your eyes peeled for those rare but glorious red clearance stickers: They’re lurking amongst the racks.

Best for: Shoes. The collection is so impressive you’ll wish you were a centipede. That’s partially because the C-Heights location boasts a Shoe Mega Shop (check Marshalls.com to find other sole-heavy locations), a much bigger and ritzier version of Marshalls already-notable footwear department.

2. Nordstrom Rack

Friendship Heights, 5333 Wisconsin Ave. NW; 202-697-4100; Five other area stores; Shopnordstrom.com

Brand highlights: You’re more likely to snag a sale “unicorn” here — one Rachel Roy blouse, a lonely Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress — than you are at other stores with more coherent collections. Just pray those polka-dot Marc Jacobs shorts come in your size.

Variety: Expect the same departments you’d find at Nordstrom’s: Savvy for edgier style seekers; Individualist for fashion-forward work wear; and t.b.d. for affordable trends. There are also shoes, intimates, bedding and luggage from the likes of Kenneth Cole for 40 percent off.

Organization: If you enjoy the thrill of the hunt, consider Nordstrom Rack your sartorial Moby Dick. We found a silk Kate Spade New York pencil skirt sandwiched between a sports bra and yoga pants in the active-wear section.

Best for: Accessories. Glittery fashion jewelry from Betsey Johnson, leather totes from Michael Kors, sunglasses from Prada and vibrant Moschino scarves at up to 40 percent off had us dreaming up thousands of street-style outfits.

 1. Loehmann’s

Friendship Heights, 5333 Wisconsin Ave. NW; 202-362-4733; Loehmanns.com

Brand highlights: Though it’s slimmed down over the years, Loehmann’s Back Room section still teems with high-end style steals. On a quick browse, we spotted a $750 Missoni sweater slashed to $224, a $1,225 Valentino blazer for just $260 and a $1,250 Love Moschino dress for — wow! — $94.

Variety: While Loehmann’s doesn’t sell home goods, the designer clothing selection makes up for it. And if you’re more roll-out-of-bed than Rodarte, you’ll still find Splendid tees alongside Badgley Mischka gowns.

Organization: Because it’s aboveground, the store proves a sunny and a pleasurable spot to wile away an afternoon. Shoes are displayed at eye-level and clearance racks are organized per department for a seamless shopping experience.

Best for: Everything. Ms. Loehmann, in this light, we’d swear you were our lost love, Lady Filene. The discounts on designer clothing are so steep they elicit eye rubs, and if you manage to leave without making a purchase, chances are you weren’t looking very hard.

Holley Simmons is the dining editor of The Washington Post Express. When she’s not reporting on local restaurants and tastemakers, you can find her sewing a dress from a 1950s pattern or planting a windowsill herb garden. Contact her at holley.simmons@wpost.com.
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Vicky Hallett · March 23, 2012