Celine Ouaknine admits she has a lot of shoes: 350 pairs of high heels. And that doesn’t even tally her flats and sneakers.

She has so many pairs of shoes that she keeps the majority of them in storage because they don’t fit in her Los Angeles apartment. The daughter of a shoe manufacturer, Ouaknine began amassing her shoe collection in her early teens when she realised her passion won her popularity among girls that once bullied her. Her first pricey pair: $350 black velvet Miu Miu wedges purchased in 2004.

“It’s just really cool to have a shoe everybody wants,” said Ouaknine, 32.

She also owns a collection of 15 or so high-end handbags that include Fendi and Prada.

Ouaknine, currently a senior designer for US-based apparel fashion company Titan Industries Inc, is luckier than most collectors since she is able to get a tax break on her purchases because they are considered a cost of research and development.

But you don’t have to work in the industry to be able to afford the fabulous $785 black patent leather Gucci pumps that Anne Hathaway wore to the Oscars in 2014 or that £1,370.00 ($2,293) red leather Chloé shoulder bag you’ve been staring at through the Harrod’s window.

You may have to put aside a dream of owning a Louis Vuitton handbag that retails for hundreds of thousands, or the most expensive purse in the world, the Mouawad 1001 Nights Diamond Purse, which is made from 18kt gold and coated in 4,517 diamonds, costing $3.8m. But brand names such Chanel and Hermés are well within reach— if you know how to buy smart — even though they can cost thousands.

How to buy it

While a classic bag might be costly, it could be a wise long-term investment, said Meaghan Mahoney Dusil, chief executive officer of the Purse Blog Network. The Hermés Birkin is known to skyrocket in price after it’s been purchased because of its scarcity, celebrity appeal and quality.

If you simply can’t afford what Kim Kardashian is carrying; there’s likely a stylish bag out there in your price range.

“Traditionally, the classics include Chanel, Hermés and Louis Vuitton, but there are so many more,” Mahoney Dusil said.

To get those bags and shoes for less, befriending sales associates and fashion industry moguls can help you snag exclusive discounts and invites to VIP sale events.

Loyal relationships with boutique or department store staff might inspire them to set aside new or reduced-price items once they’re familiar with your taste, said Ouaknine. This may take a few consistent purchases from the same attendant, though. Being a store regular is also the easiest way to get signed up for email newsletters that offer deals.

Ashley Spiker, author of fashion blog Shoerazzi, said she follows her favourite sales associates on social media because they regularly post spontaneous deals.

Ouaknine said the 30-day return policies of department stores like Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue make them preferential over smaller boutique stores, which usually only give store credit. What’s more, Ouaknine said understanding the shopping habits of department store customers has saved her money.

“At places like Nordstrom, the customers are slow to get on trends, so high fashion shoes go on sale quickly,” for instance, Ouaknine said.

Buyers remorse does happen. Mahoney Dusil recommends closely inspecting a bag’s leather, hardware and stitching to ensure its quality. If you want to get the most out of your investment, opt for sleek designs in basic colours instead of loud colours you won’t wear as often or that might go out of style, Mahoney Dusil said.

Designer outlets in Europe, such as the Prada outlet in Montevarchi, Italy, are another way to buy into the luxe fashion life without busting your bank account. If you’re a non-European Union resident, shopping in some European countries including France allows you to get a refund upon departure on value added taxes (VAT) charged on most goods and services. The refund documents must be prepared by the merchant then presented at customs when you leave the country.

If you prefer armchair shopping, online auction sites such as eBay and the international Runway Bidder sell second-hand design brands for significantly less than retail as do online discount sites like Gilt and Rue La La. Designers also have their own websites. Spiker said she found a pair of Brian Atwood shoes that normally retail for $1,500 on sale for $150 on his website.

When you shop matters just as much as where, said Spiker. Worldwide, look out for end-of-season sales between June and July as well as December and January. Sample sales, where designers offer 20% to 80% off “sample” merchandise lots that were created in limited sizes for fashion shows and demonstrations for store buyers, are also a good bet. The term sample sale is also used to refer to overstock warehouse sales.

Companies including DailyCandy and 260SampleSales send out notifications about upcoming sales, which are usually held at hot warehouses, stockrooms or basements without fitting rooms that are crowded with eager shoppers. Even if you arrive early, expect to wait in line for several hours.

The fine print of ownership

If you consider a bag a potential investment — and think you might try to sell your prized Birkin or Fendi one day —preserve their quality as long as possible by storing them correctly. Don’t hang bags, for instance, because it can stretch the strap. Instead, stuff items with bubble wrap or tissue paper to maintain their shape, and store them in their accompanying drawstring dust cover in a dry environment.

Take time to prove the item’s authenticity. Robert Treves, chief operating officer of Bag Borrow or Steal, an American company that rents and sells pre-owned handbags, said poorly installed zippers, imitation logos and low-quality leather should be the easiest counterfeit giveaways. “They are never going to duplicate the real deal because the craftsmanship is amazing and it’s worth all the time they put into it,” Treves said.

Companies like Authenticate First offer a pre-purchase evaluation service for items sold through private sellers and consignment shops or on eBay. The service requires serial numbers, photos and a link to the listing, and costs about $7.50 pre-purchase and about $15 for already-purchased pieces.

In someone else’s bag

Handbag rental is fairly common. Bag, Borrow, or Steal offers month-to-month rentals of varying price tags, including insurance and maintenance. “With renting, you may not have saved a lot of money versus purchasing a new item, but you get the opportunity to wear what you want, when you want,” Treves said. The Chanel Classic Jumbo Flap retails for almost $5,000, but you can rent it on the site for $500 a month.

What renting can’t get you is the added bonus of face time while shopping. Connecting over a mutual love for shoes, Ouaknine said some of her best friends are managers of boutiques she visits.

“Maybe the relationship starts out as a superficial relationship, but then it transitions. That’s the power of shoes,” Ouaknine said.