My Grown-Lady Shopping Rules

Since the day I learned to dress myself, my style M.O. was to “look cute.” (I’m not saying it was always successful; there was a very unfortunate JNCO jeans phase in my adolescence). Now that I’m getting older, that’s shifted to “look polished/sophisticated/put-together.”

A year ago, I purged my closet of all the bad shopping decisions of my twenties. It was one of many closet cleanouts; I’d spent years in a cycle of buy-wear-toss and couldn’t figure out why I was never satisfied with my stuff.

During that Labor Day 2013 Purge to End All PurgesI got the moment of clarity I so desperately needed: the trick wasn’t filling a wardrobe with a whole bunch of random inexpensive stuff; it was creating a well-edited collection of great stuff.

For so many years, I equated good style with having lots of options and never wearing the same outfit twice. So I bought as much as I could within my [limited] budget: I rummaged through clearance racks, shopped at outlet stores and fast fashion retailers, and gave zero damns about quality or fit. I wasn’t invested in my clothes because I tied their worth to their value; which wasn’t much.

After that last cathartic closet cleanse, I promised myself that going forward I would be much more mindful of what I purchased. And I have been. In the last 12 months I’ve completely changed the way I think about shopping and my style: I have a better grip on what works for my body, I’m not afraid to splurge on quality basics, and I understand the value of keeping things super simple.

Here are the self-imposed rules I’ve followed to create a closet that I really love on the same budget I’ve had for years:

1. Is it on the list? One of the things that’s helped me the most this year is keeping a mental list of the pieces I think are missing from my closet from season to season, and sticking to that list when I’m shopping. The benefits are two-fold: it keeps me from buying a bunch of random crap, and helps me keep an updated inventory of what I have.

2. What’s it made of? When you start to pay attention to garment construction, you can easily spot shoddy pieces that will fall apart after the first wash. Now I check the tags on clothes the same way I check nutrition labels on food. I won’t buy shoes or handbags unless they’re leather (I always have great luck finding both on Hautelook), and I try to find things made from natural and/or durable fabrics that are easy to care for, like cotton, lyocell and rayon.

3. Does it fit? No seriously, does it fitNot to be confused with, “can it zip?” Here’s what I’ve figured out as a 5’3″ hourglass: as much as I love shift dresses, I’m much better off in tailored and wrap styles; curvy-fit jeans that sit higher on the waist are my friend; super tight skinnies and cropped pants of any kind are my worst enemy; I should avoid mini skirts and shorts with less than a 4-inch inseam; and I feel best in tops and sweaters with some breathing room. Once you figure out what’s most flattering for shape, shopping becomes so much easier!

4. What’s the cost-per-wear? Five years ago, if you handed me a $100 gift card, I’d buy as much as I could with it, supermarket sweep style, and end up with a bag full of things I’d probably only wear once or twice. Now, I’d put it toward a staple — a great leather jacket, a pair of black suede pumps, or a little black dress — that I can wear lots of ways for years to come. At the end of the day, it comes down to cost per wear. If I impulse-buy a clearance top for $20 and wear it twice, my CPW is $10. If I splurge on a versatile black romper for $80 and wear it 25 times, my CPW is around $3. So romper, FTW.

It took me a while to get over my obsession with more is more, and realize that it’s better to have a few pieces I really love than a lot of pieces I just kinda like.

5. Will it play well with others? When I’m shopping for clothes, I stick to mostly neutral tones and pick just a few printed statement pieces. I used to do the exact opposite, and I ended up with a closet full of mismatched patterns and colors that didn’t work together. Now I can easily remix my favorite pieces and put outfits together quickly.

About Keira Lennox

I'm a small town girl from the sunshine state with an affinity for bookstores, beauty counters and unfussy style. I spend my days running my flower shop, and my nights blogging about what I love and what I wear. (Or watching Netflix and drinking wine.)

85 thoughts on “My Grown-Lady Shopping Rules

  1. Great ideas! I have only in the past year found the styles that work best for me and I’m definitely having to watch the age thing as I just turned 44. Yikes!

  2. I obey the same rules and I’m all for cost-per-wear. As we grow older it’s definitely important to invest in quality pieces with great cuts and that are more timeless!

  3. Good advice! Whenever I see an expensive wardrobe piece, I always try to calculate the cost-per-wear. It’s the best way to know if you’re investing in something worthwhile, something you’ll get real use out of.

  4. Fantastic and true advice! Staple quality basics are a for sure smart and satisfying way to shop. Such a true comparison to food shopping or eating better I love that.

    Just started following you and really like set up of your blog..clean, pretty, and organized! What theme are you using if you don’t mind me asking? Looking forward to your posts :) xx Alanna –

    1. Thanks, Alanna!

      I use the Twenty Fourteen theme, with the custom design upgrade so I can play with the CSS. I think of all the WordPress themes I’ve used over the years, this one is my favorite. It’s clean and easy to customize (with or without the upgrade) and gives you lots of places for additional content (sidebars/footer/featured posts).

  5. Ha.. I love “does it fit”… As I have recently retired my 20s and now entered my 30s… I have definitely found it true that it is now time to purge my “look how trendy I am 20’s clothes” and dress a little more fitting for this phase of my life!! Easier said than done though!!

    1. It is easier said than done! I’m making myself feel better about the transition by buying myself some special timeless pieces (still on sale, of course).

  6. Thank you for this post!!! I love the CPW concept and I think you’re exactly right – saving up to get quality staples makes so much sense. Clothes are their own investment of sorts. I guess we just get carried away when we see the word “clearance.” Anyway, thanks again for a thoughtful post on being fashion savvy.

  7. This is great advice! Thank you so much. :) That outfit also, the yellow and grey with those cute shoes, is incredible. I’m a 5’5″ hourglass (very busty uptop) so I relate. I’m in the midst of a big purge and feeling extremely anxious about how to buy new things and create a wardrobe that fits, is stylish and most of all reflects me and my personality. I already feel I have nothing to wear though so I guess it won’t be too hard, I just don’t want to make the same mistakes again and fill my closet with cheap clothes that don’t fit well and that I don’t love wearing. Thanks again for the great advice.

  8. CPW is my primary justification for shoe purchases. I am too old to buy ill-fitting, cheap shoes. My feet cannot handle it and in the end they do more harm than good. I’m with you on the quality-hunt!

      1. Indigo by Clarks, Born (especially Born Crown), Sam Edelman, Sanita (they have some adorbs clogs), Kork-ease, and TOMS for the weekend!

        Gentle Souls shoes are amazing, but still way out of my price range. I’m keeping an eye out for flash sales, though!

  9. Ahh! :D These are great. Once you read them written down, you realise how often you’ve talked yourself out of following important rules like these. Might have to print these out and pin them up! :)

  10. As a fellow short hour glass, learning to dress for my body type has been the most important lesson for me. Everyone always says they can tell if something is ‘my style’ immediately, but hey if it works right?

      1. It really is! My favorite thing to wear is a cinched waist dress with a fuller skirt. It’s super feminine and it’s one of the styles that I know will look nice no matter what. I have to be mindful when wearing anything super flowy (it looks less dainty and more maternity on me), and I usually pair them with super slim bottoms. If I’m not highlighting my waist, I’m showing off my shoulders or my legs. For me it’s finding a balance and highlighting my shape without going overboard!

  11. Reblogged this on and commented:
    I absolutely love this! I was once a shopaholic that bought stuff that I would end up never wearing but about 6 years ago when 8
    I became a mother I had to think budget and quality and I’m quite impress with what’s in my closet. Good read! 👛💳💻😍😍😍😍😍😍

  12. This post is so spot on. I have always been obsessed with a vintage look and have been drawn to more classic pieces. Though I looked more mature than my counterparts when I was in college, I still have pieces in my wardrobe from over 10 years ago. You don’t even have to spend a lot on clothes, just spend it wisely. I try to follow the rule of it you love it, you buy it. If you love something it will be with you for a while :)

  13. Awesome article! Now that my 28th birthday is around the corner in October, I feel the need to shift to owning higher quality clothing items versus getting cheaper stuff that looks sexy.

    1. 28 was such a great year for me; I hope it is for you, too! Good luck on your style journey. It’s been really interesting to see the way my style has changed over the last several years.

  14. Great post Keira ! I’m also more careful now when it comes to buy clothes.
    I dont buy lit of clothes now.
    I ask myself : is it timeless or a quick trend ? Would i still wanna wear it in 3 years ? When you hesitate, check the détails, they can tell you if it worth the splurge or not. If you dont hesitate, it means that it’s too lovely to leave it. Most of time my fall in love pièces are cocktail dresses. I collect them like treasors. XD
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    1. I wish I collected cocktail dresses; I need one for an event tonight and I’m sweating it.

      I love what you said about hesitating. There are some pieces that I just know I want immediately (love at first sight and all that :)). If I’m on the fence, I walk away to think about it. This has really helped me with impulse-buying; 80% of the time I don’t go back for the things I hesitated over.

  15. I agree with you 100%, except if an item is too big it can usually be tailored. Besides, most items can’t fit everyone’s body perfectly. When my sister did modelling, everything was tailored to her body and even the cheapest items looked expensive because of it. Love this post though <3

    1. You’re so right about tailoring. I wish I had the extra money to spend getting everything custom-fitted to my body; it makes an exceptional difference. There are a few pieces that I’ve splurged on to make them fit just right, and it’s so worth it.

  16. I am nearing 30 and I still haven’t figured it out. I can dress fun/funky/trendy, but when it comes to looking sophisticated, I just miss the mark completely. I work in an office, and have no idea how to shop to officewear. It’s frustrating because now I am at the age where I can walk in and out of a Forever 21, and not buy a thing because it no longer fits the looks I want to go for, or isn’t appropriate for the body I’ve grown into.

    1. This is why I love style blogs so much. Try finding some blogs that focus on office style, like She does outfits that are work-appropriate but still young and fun.

      Lately I’m really loving Loft; their pieces are affordable and fit well, and hold up for a long time. They have a great selection of work basics, like pencil skirts, trousers, and dresses that you can put your own spin on with shoes and accessories.

  17. This is awesome advice! I started doing this about a year ago. One of my other, personal needs in my wardrobe is that I try to buy high quality pieces that are ideally sustainably made. I limit my made in China fashions and buy brands like Steven Alan or Nanette Lepore (but let’s be real, all via eBay and used). It definitely means buying less but I’m much happier with my purchases!

    1. Yes, this!! I’m really trying to be more conscious of sustainable fashion as well. Thank you for the recommendation on the brands! I’ll have to knock the dust off my ebay account and check these out. :)

  18. Excellent advice, Keira. I started these similar rules when I was about your age (I am now 46). Happily, I now have a fabulous closet full of timeless pieces, some of which I have been wearing for almost 20 years! Quality over quantity means a girl alwasy looks her best! :)

    1. This is my goal!! I really hope that, going forward, the majority of things I purchase will be things I’ll love for a really long time. Thank you for the feedback!

  19. I like “Is it on the List”? Kind of like a grocery shopping list while clothing shopping. I am still working on my list of must haves for my closet.

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