What is your shopping philosophy?

Woman with Shopping Bags
Image by Corbis.

Lately I’ve been thinking about how I make purchasing decisions when it comes to building my wardrobe. I’ve distilled the principles that guide my recent buying into the following:

1. If it can’t be worn to work, it isn’t a priority.

Before my current employment, most of my previous jobs had associated uniforms (scrubs or company polos/tee shirts.) Now that I’ve transitioned to a more traditional office workplace, my wardrobe is lacking age-appropriate, classic clothing. I’ve identified slacks, a button up and an easy outer layer like a blazer or a cardigan as my go-to every day look for work. So far, so good on acquiring well-fitting shirts, but the pants (or skirts! if I can find a good cut) and shoes department need more additions. As you can see on the blog, I only seem to wear the same two flats in the same style. The Cole Haan loafers are still a bit new and uncomfortable, so we’ll see how they ultimately break in and become a part of my closet.

2. Rather than buy three or four cheap pieces that don’t fit perfectly, buy the one that does. However, be mindful of the cost vs. value of the item.

Buy the thing that fits perfectly: I was guilty of not doing this in college. I didn’t like the way I looked, so I just bought things haphazardly attempting to follow trends but I wasn’t evaluating whether it was a good fit on me.Β I cringe now looking at the pictures of myself from those years, but I learned my lesson. It’s so easy to feel bad from your own general anxiety about the way you look (if you’re one of those extremely confident folks that never have this problem, good for you! I’ll get to that level some day.) Instead of adding to those feelings by buying ill-fitting clothing, I’m going to work with what I am and make the best of it.

Being mindful of the cost vs. value of the item: is that oxford shirt worth $80? To some, $80 is an ungodly amount to spend on a button down shirt, but now that I’m learning more about clothing, I can see how it could be a fair price. Construction, materials, fit, durability, comfort, and convenience are things worth paying for. Β The importance of these characteristics will vary from person-to-person, budget-to-budget. As a student, I thrived off the Target Mossimo and Merona lines (and I still do! I’m going to buy more Target pants!) They had decent shirts that fit not too bad, for $20 or even less if you found it on clearance. But those clearance aisles are a pain to dig through sometimes, and now that I’ve got a little more to spare, I’d rather not waste my time driving around hunting down items. The brands I shop the most at are fairly consistent at quality and fit, so I know the quality and fit of the garment I’m getting for the most part.

3. Only buy leisure/casual/special application clothes (e.g. exercise clothes) as needed.

I spend most of my time at work. When I get home, I’m in tee shirts and shorts or lounge pants (aka PJs.) I don’t need a whole lot of weekend-specific clothing when I end up dressing down my work shirts for casual purposes anyway. When I find something I like in a store and it’s not work-appropriate, I like to evaluate how often it will be used and its potential applications before making a decision. In my opinion, buying as the need arises decreases mindless spending (and temptation!)

4. Shop with a clear plan. Make your shopping trip focused so you get what you need. Here’s my standard operating procedure for shopping:

  1. List what you are shopping for that day: is it tops? a jacket for travel? pants for work? athletic gear? I write two or three things and I dedicate the trip to only those purchases.
  2. Determine your maximum spending amount BEFORE you get to the store: what’s your range? How much are you willing to spend on a certain item of a certain quality? My ranges will vary based on where I’m planning to do my shopping. H&M/Forever 21? I set the range at $70 total. That should get me at least 2 tops and a skirt, or a pair of jeans and a shirt, or one outerwear item. If you want to be more precise, include tax in your determination. Sometimes when I’m on a leaner budget I’ll use tax as the tipping point of whether I will buy an item or not. “If tax pushes it over $100, I won’t bite.”
  3. Research deals/coupons/sales for the stores you plan to visit. If you don’t know and you just plan to scour the mall, check your mail box (I mean the real one, outside your house) for flyers or get on mailing lists online for retailer’s discounts. I’m still learning this one slowly. I have friends who are much more savvy at power shopping, so I’m picking their brains so I can learn to be an even more efficient deal hunter (at least for the things I like.) It helps if you have a smartphone because you can cross-check pricing online or at other stores and ask to price match. I think price matching or bargaining has a bad rep here in the US, but it CAN be done if you are polite AND if you judge when and where to do it. I’ve only tried asking for price adjustments/matching at big department stores, not at luxury goods labels. Be smart, polite, and assess the situation before you ask.

I’m sure as my needs change, so will these principles. I’m curious to hear your thoughts: how do you prioritize your purchases? What is your overall shopping philosophy?

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