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How to stay ahead of fashion trends, for less

For shoppers watching the runways, spring may be one of the best times to hunt for fall fashion bargains.

Spring fashion weeks in New York, Milan and other cities provide a window into designers' lines for fall, and experts say many of the trends parallel what's in stores now as well as on the clearance rack.

"There's already lots of spring merchandise coming in," said Connie Wang, senior global editor for Refinery29.com. "All of [last] fall's merchandise should be on sale."

Take shearling coats, which pop up on the runways at Coach, Alexander Wang and Ralph Lauren, among other designers.

"It's the one coat every trendsetter will own this fall," said Jeanine Edwards, editorial director of SheFinds.com.

Sites such as TheOutnet and Gilt have on-trend takes for as much as 70 percent off, such as a $2,250 3.1 Phillip Lim jacket reduced to $899.

Other easy clearance buys, per Edwards' and Wang's observations: Large-patterned plaids, hemlines that fall between the knee and ankle, and deep green or icy blue hues.

But while shopping clearances can yield better prices on pieces you'll wear for several seasons, it can be financially risky.

"Buying six months ahead, you aren't entirely sure what trends are going to stick or not," Wang said. Splurge on a hot item that doesn't make the cut, and you may not get enough wear to justify even a lower cost.

"Don't spend a lot unless you're excited about how it looks on you," she said.

—By CNBC's Kelli B. Grant. Follow her on Twitter @Kelligrant and on Google.

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