There is fabulous merchandise to be bought throughout the year, but as a general guideline, the best merchandise is available in the first three months of a new retail season.
There is good reason for this. Fashion buyers have budgets called “OTB”, which is short for “open to buy”. When buyers have OTB, it means that they have money to spend. Buyers will spend more of their OTB at the beginning of the season because they would like to give items as long as possible to sell at full price. If items are unsold at the end of the season, they go into sales at a heavy discount, which means lower margins and lower profits. Since buyers are front-loading their spending, the beginning of the season is where you will find the biggest variety in stores.
Buyers are also likely to spend their budget first on the items they think are the best. So if the buyer has a good eye (and is targeting your style preferences) then you will also find the best merchandise in store at the beginning of the season.
Although it is a decade since I worked as a fashion buyer, my interaction with people currently in the trade suggests that in most buying departments this is still true today. And I find that I have a much better experience in stores, for myself and for my clients, in the first few months of the season. Note that some companies work on a completely different model that is much less dominated by seasons. Zara, for example, makes decisions about things like fabric at the start of a season, but during the season they rapidly respond to what they think is working best in stores and change the collection as they go. Unlike most retailers, their almost completely vertical operation allows them to react to customer purchasing trends in close to real time.
For new Spring and Summer collections in the Northern Hemisphere, the best merchandise is available in February, March and April. For new Autumn and Winter collections in the Northern hemisphere, the best merchandise is available in August, September and October.
If you are a die-hard bargain hunter, you’ll prefer to wait for end of season sales no matter what. If you shop eBay and discounted sites that sell season-old merchandise like BlueFly, Yoox, the Rack and Gilt, this shopping timetable does not apply. You have to scour those sites daily and snap up your size when it’s available.