Pamela Parisi (front, center) leads a tour group on an...

Pamela Parisi (front, center) leads a tour group on an Elegant Tightwad shopping excursion. Credit: The Elegant Tightwad

Like most avid shoppers, I love a good deal.

So when I saw a discounted shopping tour of Manhattan's Garment District on sale at, I knew I had to grab it.

After scheduling my trip about two weeks in advance (tours are for 12 people and often sell out), I headed to the meeting spot on 39th Street and 7th Avenue Monday morning to see what Pamela Parisi, the "Elegant Tightwad" could show me about bargain hunting.

I set out at 10 a.m. with a group of women ranging in age from 16 to 60-something from Georgia, New Orleans, California, Canada and Ireland, all united over the chance of finding some fashion steals.

But how could such a mixed group shop together and all come out satisfied? Parisi assured us there would be something for everyone.

My skeptical attitude subsided as the elevator doors opened to our first showroom, that of designer Elizabeth Gillett.

The room was filled with beautiful scarves arranged by color, with beachy wraps and dressy shawls in between. Gillett herself helped the shoppers tie and adjust various pieces, sold at wholesale prices for less than half of their retail values. Most scarves were $30, while they sell at Neiman Marcus and boutique stores for $75. 

As I looked around, I realized Parisi's promise was already coming true. (She has been running these tours for a decade, after all.) The busty middle-aged woman from Georgia looked just as happy as the funky teen from New Orleans.

Above: Scarves catch sunlight from outside while hanging in designer Elizabeth Gillett's Manhattan showroom.

Next, we walked over to Anni Kuan's showroom, where there was a sample sale going on in addition to a Fall 2012 preview. Sample pieces were even below wholesale prices, and fall items were available for pre-order and August delivery.

On hangers her coats and dresses looked simple, but Parisi encouraged everyone to try things on. (We were warned ahead of time to wear undergarments we didn't mind baring in front of others, since most showrooms don't have designated fitting rooms.)

Once again the designer was in house to help, and, since Kuan's clothes are all about the details, having her teach us things like how to tie her jersey dresses made all the difference. 

Above: A coat from Anni Kuan's Fall 2012 collection.

Our third stop was the JSong showroom. "This isn't your grandmother's embroidery," Parisi told us before we entered. 

With funky fringe skirts, bold patterned tops and a one-of-a-kind party dress one shopper couldn't wait to show off back home in Southern California, browsing JSong was fun even if it wasn't particularly my style. By now we had all become personal shoppers for each other. "You could wear this to work," the shopper from Canada suggested to the girl from Ireland as she held up a suit jacket.

Above: Orange fringe shorts at the JSong showroom.

At our next showroom, Julie Brown, we dug through boxes of dresses, skirts and tops to find cute retro patterns and fun summer colors. Dresses that retail from $147 to $312 were available to us for $65. The majority of Brown's samples were size 4, so for the first time on our trip some of our plus-sized shoppers had a harder time. No one seemed to mind too much, and it turned out they would have an advantage at a later showroom.

Above: A fun pattern on a Julie Brown party dress. 

We stopped for an iced tea break before our fifth stop, as I realized this was an excursion only cut out for real shopping enthusiasts. I was one of the youngest on the tour, but more than two hours of walking, shuffling through racks and trying on clothes had passed before I knew it and my body was starting to ache. Lucky for me, "shop til you drop" is part of my regular routine.

The next showroom was small, and prices were higher (though still greatly discounted). German designer Heike Jarick was excited to show us her collection of top quality jackets, dressy tops and workwear. A pair of hot pink high-waisted shorts ($100 at wholesale) and a beautiful red raincoat caught everyone's eyes. She told us the material she used on that piece was just an experiment and never actually made it into her collection in stores. We all told her she should think about making more.

Above: Designer Heike Jarick said this top in all green was one of the top sellers from her Spring/Summer 2012 collection. 

In stark contrast to the others, the second to last showroom we visited was a huge space  filled with racks from various designers. Parisi reminded us to look closely, since in showrooms almost every piece is different. We spread out, as some went for $30 to $50 jeans and others tried on printed tops for $20 and summery tunics. 

Above: Inside the largest showroom of the tour.

Finally, although our 4 p.m. ending point had passed, Parisi took us to our last showroom. Here fur coats sold for a fraction of retail prices and spring trenches were $50. A special display of bracelets was brought out, too.

Above: Fur coats at wholesale prices.

Most of us were ready to call it a day, but our loyal tour guide handed out her "extras list" as we left, with nearby sample sales for the rest of the week. We gave her our email addresses in hopes that she would continue to bestow her wise frugal advice upon us before lugging our shopping bags home. 


The Elegant Tightwad offers a variety of shopping tours multiple times per week:

The Garment District Diva Trek, $90 for four hours

The Accessory Adict Trek, $45 for two hours

The East Village Bargainista Trek, $44 for two hours

The Uptown Consignment Crawl, $60 for three hours

What to bring

Bring cash. Some showrooms do not accept credit cards.

Wear comfortable shoes and clothing that is easy to take on and off. Make sure you put on undergarments you're not embarrassed to strip down in.


You'll get access to designer showrooms not open to the public. Prices are cut dramatically and some pieces are one-of-a-kind. You'll also get to shop with guidance from the designers and your tour guide, and you'll have the opportunity to pre-order from some collections that are not yet in stores.


Four hours of intense shopping is not for everybody. You must be willing to dig through racks and sometimes boxes. Spaces can be small and crowded, and showrooms are not for the shy; you'll have to change without proper fitting rooms.

For more information and to book, visit

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