And how to buy better.
In my anti-overhaul article earlier this year, I talked about unlearning the bad habits that lead to having a wardrobe full of unworn—or worse, unwearable—stuff. But, I didn’t go into detail about what those bad habits are.
Truth be told, we could all use a little help when it comes to shopping and building our perfect wardrobe, but, we can’t all use the same help, because we’re not all the same kind of shopper, nor do we all have the same pain points when it comes to our wardrobes. Luckily for you, not only do I not judge, but I also don’t believe in universal, shallow fixes to diverse problems.
My goal is always to meet you where you are in your personal style journey—wherever that may be—and to help forge a path to a true personal style that is as unique as you are, rather than inundate you with potentially useless or redundant “rules.” Instead of scolding you for your less-than-great shopping habits (some of which I probably share because nobody is perfect!), I’m going to tell you what to do now to improve upon what you already have and set you up for a better fashion future. Read on to figure out what kind of shopper you are, what that most likely means for your wardrobe, and how to fix it.
Note: If none of the following shopping styles fit you, congratulations! You’re probably a healthy shopper.
The Impulsive Shopper
You see it, you like it, you want it, you buy it…all within about ten seconds. Unfortunately, lots of thoughtless purchasing can lead to a thoughtless wardrobe full of pieces that don’t fit together and that we just don’t wear, or, even worse, actively hinder our personal style journey by never giving us the chance to learn what we actually like in favor of what’s simply available.
Fight The Impulse
I know, I know: easier said than done. The first objective for you will be to make it harder for yourself to mindlessly buy. That means deleting shopping apps, taking your card information out of your Autocomplete settings, and unsubscribing from all those promotional texts and emails (try unroll.me to make it easier).
Moving forward, you’ll have to re-train yourself to understand your needs vs. your want-right-nows vs. your want-forevers, especially if you find yourself frequently forgetting your impulsive online purchases and barely recognizing them when they arrive. My best but simultaneously easiest and most difficult tip to overcome impulsive shopping addictions is to simply wait.
There’s nothing wrong with window shopping, in fact, I encourage it. But, window shopping doesn’t always have to lead to window buying. One of the simplest ways to ensure you're buying things you’ll like long term is to just see if you’ll forget about it if it’s not in your sight for a couple of days or even weeks and—more importantly—to pay attention to what stays on your mind during that time. If it’s in your thoughts, it’s worth being in your closet. If not, well…
The Compulsive Shopper
Aww, you’re having a bad day? Why don’t you treat yourself to some new shoes so you’ll feel better? Wait, you had a really good day? Well, why don’t you treat yourself to some new shoes to celebrate?
It sounds silly when you read it, I’m sure, but, for a lot of us, that’s the approach we have to spending our hard earned money: it’s emotional, not need-based or even really want-based (outside of just wanting to spend some money), and typically ends with a closet full of “you deserve it” treats and not a lot of substance.
Revamp Your Reward System
In the great and timeless words of Linnethia Leakes: I said what I said! Consuming, or, specifically, buying clothes, shouldn’t be your only enjoyable past time, and you definitely shouldn’t give into the urge to buy a new dress, blouse, and bag every time you have a good or bad day. That said, there’s nothing wrong with rewarding yourself for a job well done. The issue arises when both every minor success is celebrated with a purchase and purchases are used to cope with sadness. Over time, this pattern can literally change your brain chemistry to where you’re getting less and less of a dopamine rush and having to compensate more and more until your little treats evolve into massive hauls or splurges.
Instead of recognizing every little milestone with a random purchase, create a plan for acknowledging your bigger goals, along with a wishlist. For instance: if you’re a writer, instead of buying something to celebrate every chapter of your novel, maybe expand that to every time you wrap up a major plot point, or when you’ve met bigger metrics like 50,000 words. Space out your goals, and build your wishlist according to how “major” they are, so that they’re proportional to your accomplishments.
For those of us who “sad shop,” figure out something else you enjoy that you can buy or stock up on in advance of a bad day and indulge in when you need a pick me up. For me, it’s sheet masks and hot chocolate. You can also switch to experiences instead, like taking yourself out to dinner or to a movie where you get the added bonus of finally being able to wear some of those past purchases.
You never met a clearance rack you could resist, and the idea of buying something full price causes full body hives: You’re a Bargainer.
Let me clarify, as someone who has spent most of my life on the broke/poor side of life (and fashion), there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being on a budget, however, there’s a huge difference between getting something you really love for a low price, and getting something dirt cheap that you wouldn’t have bought in the first place: aka, buying something just because it’s on sale. Think about it: if you wouldn’t be excited about it without knowing the price, you’re probably not actually excited about it now.
Stop shopping “Price: Low to High!” Again, I understand being on a budget, but, when you shop this way, you’re not really looking for something you like, you’re looking for something you can afford and then subconsciously making yourself like it.
Your ultimate challenge will be figuring out what you really need, want, and value, and then getting it at a price that works for you. One way to do this is to commit to only browsing when there’s not a sale going on, and avoiding clearance sections (unless it’s a brand you already love). When you do find things you like that are out of your price range, add to cart and track them with a site like Add to Carrot, or bookmark them on a site like Lyst, Covvet, or even Pinterest to be notified when they go on sale. You can also set more broad searches on ShopStyle (such as “slouchy white boots” or “fringe leather jacket”) to be notified when anything fitting that description is available and/or discounted. And, don’t forget to keep extensions like Honey or Capital One Shopping on your browser to find discount codes so you can get your ideal price even lower.
You can/should also consider secondhand. You may have to wait a bit for the dress you just saw at Reformation to pop up on Poshmark, but resale is one of the best ways to get high-priced goodies for a fraction of the price, so you can build a great wardrobe for just a little more than the cost of fast fashion. Luckily, I have a guide for that.
The Trophy Hunter
You probably consider yourself an okay shopper: you don’t do massive hauls, you know exactly what you want, and you take care to purchase things you truly love. The problem is…you love hard…and you love big. And whether you’re a collector—focusing mainly on a few brands and designers that you adore—or just a bit status-obsessed—constantly splurging on big purchases to show off, you’re all about the major moment, the splurge, the covetable: You’re a trophy hunter.
Unfortunately, constantly moving from one gotta-have-it piece to the next can leave you with a lot of holes (or gaps) in your wardrobe, especially if you have a certain propensity toward statement pieces or accessories, allowing your more basic foundational garments to fall by the wayside.
I once had a client who had one of the most enviable shoe and bag collections you could ever imagine. She had a massive walk-in closet with floor-to-ceiling shelves populated with Balenciaga, Manolo, Gucci, Givenchy: all the major fashion houses and then some. She had an entire wall dedicated to high-end sunglasses and another for jewelry. For some pieces, she hunted for months, even flying to Paris, Hong Kong, and Dubai for a particular color or fabrication of a certain purse or shoe. However, step just three feet to the left of her dedicated section just for red-soled pumps and her clothes were…let’s just say, a little less lush.
She spent so much time and money on tracking down the very best luxury accessories, but lived in Old Navy. Her issue was not a lack of style or taste, but that she just didn’t really think to put the same care into her clothing as she did everything else because she didn’t get the same thrill.
Now, I’m a huge fan of the “high-low” method of dressing. A designer item here or there coupled with more affordable pieces is ideal. Within reason. But there’s simply no sense in carrying a $10,000 purse with $5 leggings. (I’d argue there’s no excuse for a new pair of leggings to even cost $5 but that’s another article entirely.) And my client agreed: because she had neglected to build a proper wardrobe, she found herself bored even by her most exciting pieces because she had nothing equally exciting to pair them with.
After we sat down and established what her style truly is, as well as what sorts of items she would like to wear, we were able to come up with the elements, colors, and silhouettes that resonate with her the same way a new Chanel flap bag (she had 20) did, and set goals for building a sort of reverse wardrobe: buying clothing to match the accessories, rather than accessories to match the clothing. It became the same sort of game of “hunting” these items down and making it so that the heels, purse, and sunglasses were just the frosting on top of a great outfit, not the whole cake.
You’re the type that goes months, if not years, without buying anything new, but, when you finally do, oh boy, do you go crazy. To be fair, you do wear what you own—often until it’s threadbare—but, you tend to find yourself so underwhelmed and bored by your clothing that by the time you’ve circled back around to your next shopping “burst,” you end up lost and unsure what your style really is. Not to mention, the wardrobe you splurged on last time is now obsolete.
There’s no use in “shopping less” if it culminates in you not having enough fun. While constant injections of massive hauls of new stuff is objectively bad (consult the next Shopper for more info on that), there’s nothing wrong with adding new things that you’re going to wear and love on a regular basis. Even adding one new item per month will keep you well under the 59 garments the average American buys per year, but the right choice can add countless new outfit options to keep things interesting.
When you find yourself in a rut of wearing the same things over and over, try adding a different version of one or two of your go-tos. Don’t worry, I’ll provide some examples.
Maybe you’ve gotten sick of the same jeans everyday: why not add a trouser or even a skirt that’s equally versatile? If you already wear the same satin skirt for every night out (you know, the one that started as a trend but is quickly becoming a classic staple?), add one in another color that fits in with your wardrobe. A stiff white blouse everyday for work can be alternated with a white satin blouse, or a new color or print.
You don’t have to constantly re-invent the wheel to keep it fresh, just build on what you already have in a way that makes sense.
Last, but certainly does not buy the least: The Hauler. You know who you are. Whether you’re constantly buying “20 dresses for $100” on fast fashion sites, loading up on full collections from your favorite designers every season, or buying bags full of clothes from the Goodwill every weekend, it doesn’t matter: overconsumption is overconsumption. I won’t get into how it’s bad for the environment. But, I will get into how it’s bad for your soul.
Change Your Mindset
I can admit, I used to be like you. For most of my adult life, I never quite had enough money to thrive, but still, I could spare a hundred or so bucks to load up on outfits at Forever 21 or H&M every month (I even upgraded to Akira, eventually). It wasn’t until I was packing to move across the country that I realized how much of my stuff I just didn’t care about. I had pieces that I liked and wore a lot—I’d even had to repair a few because I loved them almost to death—but, for the most part, I didn’t feel strongly enough about anything in my closet to take it into the next phase of my life. I purged what I could, packed a couple weeks’ worth of clothes—including all my favorite pieces (save a few winter coats I wouldn’t need) into my suitcase and paid almost $100 to ship the rest.
The rest never made it.
After I got over the initial shock of losing such a huge chunk of all the crap I’d worked so hard for as a 22-year-old in a new city, I immediately hatched a plan to get it all back. Except, when I sat down to do my favorite thing in the world—make a list—nothing sprung to mind. Outside of a couple of stand out pieces (a pastel pink coat I’d gotten on sale for $25, and a pair of mid-calf slouchy boots I’d nabbed from the Urban Outfitters surplus store for only $10), I couldn’t even remember what I’d had. I didn’t love anything in those boxes, so, once the clothes were out of sight, they were quite literally out of mind.
I had to ask myself: what exactly was the point of acquiring so many things I ultimately didn’t care about? Why was I spending my hard earned money on trying to get as much as possible, just to wear it a couple of times and forget about it?
When I was finally able to resume shopping, I had been shaken to my core: I couldn’t even pick out more than 2 or 3 things that I felt resonated with me, let alone the 10 or 20 I would hungrily grab before. All I had to do was ask myself: do I really want this?
You probably won’t have such a sudden and devastating life-changing moment like I did, but, I still implore you to ask yourself the same question for everything you’re considering purchasing. Do you want it? Do you like it? Will you get plenty of use out of it? Hopefully you’ll find yourself chipping away at your overstuffed shopping carts and getting to the bottom of what you value.
So, What Is a Healthy Shopper?
Simply put, a healthy shopper limits impulse purchases; has a (sometimes long, sometimes short) list and sticks to it; and doesn’t buy more than they can truly use. Spending excessively, or even not at all, are typically signs of something deeper, so the healthy shopper examines their habits regularly. We all slip up sometimes (I didn’t really need those teal knee-high boots I bought on a whim and also because they were too good of a bargain to pass up), but, there’s a difference between the occasional slip-up that’s easily corrected, and a bad habit that we explain away by claiming it’s not so frequent or so bad. It takes time to build a healthy relationship with money and shopping in a society built on making us spend as much and as often (and thoughtlessly) as possible, but, over time, you’ll find there is truly joy in not having to consume, and that will lead to the purchases you do make feeling that much more rewarding.