My Grown-Lady Shopping Rules

Top tips to create a closet you love.
clothes hanged on clothes rack

Editor’s Note: ‘My Grown-Lady Shopping Rules’ first appeared on the blog on 9/10/14, and it’s one of the most popular posts in the archives. I’m re-posting with a few updates that are more relevant to my style and shopping habits in my mid-30’s.

I love looking back on these posts of ‘yore, and I hope you do, too! 

This post contains affiliate links denoted by a ‘*’. I may earn a commission from the retailer if you make a purchase from these links.

From the day I learned to dress myself, my style M.O. was “look cute.”

I’m not saying I always hit the mark. I went through a short phase of wearing boys boxers under giant JNCO jeans in middle school. But as I got older, my style philosophy shifted to “look polished/effortless/put-together.”

When I was 28, I reached maximum frustration with my wardrobe. I was three years into blogging daily about what I wore, but couldn’t define my personal style. So one holiday weekend, I took everything out of my closet, evaluated every single piece, and officially purged all the bad shopping decisions of my twenties. It was the grand finale of many closet clean-outs. I’d spent more than a decade in a cycle of buy/wear/toss. And I couldn’t figure out why I was never satisfied with my stuff.

The Epiphany

During that Labor Day 2013 Purge to End All PurgesI got the moment of clarity I so desperately needed. The trick isn’t filling a wardrobe with a whole bunch of random inexpensive stuff. The magic happens when you create 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 possible with my limited budget. I rummaged through clearance racks, shopped at outlet stores and fast fashion retailers, and gave zero consideration to an item’s 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 more mindful about my purchases. To achieve that goal, I gave myself a list of grown-lady shopping rules.

I’m not perfect, and still fall into occasional bouts of impulse purchases and overspending. But following these rules completely shifted 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 those shopping rules — born in 2013 but still followed today — that I use to create a closet I really love.

My Grown-Lady Shopping Rules

Is it on the list? 

I keep a mental list of the pieces I think are missing from my closet from season to season, and try to stick to that list when I’m shopping. The benefits are two-fold: it prevents me from distractedly buying a bunch of random stuff; and it helps me maintain an updated inventory of what’s in my wardrobe.

What’s the quality and composition? 

When you start to pay attention to garment construction, you can spot shoddy pieces that may fall apart after the first or second wash. I pay close attention to construction (like stitches, fabric weight, and tailoring details) and check the tags on clothes the same way I check nutrition labels on food. I avoid polyester, acrylic, and other synthetic fabrics that pill, hold onto odors, or are itchy/hot/uncomfortable to wear. Instead I stick to items made from natural and/or durable fabrics that are easy to care for, like cotton, lyocell, tencel and rayon.

When it comes to shoes and handbags, I buy real leather with very few exceptions.

Does it fit? No seriously, does it fit

Not to be confused with, “can it zip?

I’m petite and curvy, and at 35 years old, I finally have a good grip on what works best for my frame. For instance: as much as I love the look of shift dresses, I’m much better off in tailored and wrap styles. I feel best in tops and sweaters with some drape and breathing room. Also, curvy-fit jeans that sit higher on the waist are my friend, whereas super-tight skinny jeans and cropped pants of any kind are my sworn enemy. And finally, while I don’t believe there’s an age limit for mini skirts or short shorts, I avoid them because they make me feel self-conscious. (There’s nothing worse than tugging/adjusting your clothes all day long.)

After you figure out how to dress your body, shopping becomes so much easier! And in my experience, when you feel great in what you wear, it translates to more personal confidence overall.

A note: Most of us don’t have bodies that perfectly accommodate clothes right off the rack. If it’s in your budget, taking your clothes to a tailor for customized alterations is a game changer. (I don’t do this myself, but I have friends who swear by it.) But if that’s not feasible, YouTube is full of great tutorials to do it yourself!

Can I buy it secondhand?

This is a relatively new addition to my shopping rules! Last year, I fell in love with Poshmark, a website for shopping and selling secondhand. When I want a specific piece — like my favorite vintage-inspired designer jeans* — I head there first. I have great luck finding unworn pieces with original tags for BIG discounts.

What’s the cost-per-wear?

Ten years ago, if you handed me a $100 gift card, I’d fill a bag with as many items as I could, like a contestant on Supermarket Sweep. (Did you know the old episodes are on Netflix? So much 90’s nostalgia!) Now, I’d put it that $100 toward a wardrobe staple — a great leather jacket*, a pair of classic 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 all comes down to cost per wear (or CPW). If I impulse-buy a clearance top for $20 and wear it twice, my CPW is $10. But if I splurge on a classic leather tote bag for $200 (this one is my all-time favorite*) and use it almost every day for a year, my CPW is around 60 cents. The investment piece wins.

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.

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.


I know this post is a long one, but I hope you find it helpful! Let me know in the comments if it inspired you to create some shopping rules of your own.

Photo by Ksenia Chernaya on Pexels.com

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88 Comments

  1. 8.17.20

    Interesting post!! These shopping tips will help me. Thanks for sharing.
    https://www.couponsfilter.com/

  2. 2.19.19
    Simone said:

    Love this post! Great tips for all!

  3. 2.18.19

    These are such great rules to shop (live) by!

    http://www.poutineandprada.com

  4. 7.17.17

    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!

  5. 7.31.15

    Great rules – I really need to follow them more often!

  6. 7.31.15

    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! stolenbysara.com

  7. 7.30.15
    alcaspar said:

    #4 is such great advice!

  8. 6.2.15

    Reblogged this on thevalueofbeing and commented:
    Fantastic blog post! Exactly the information every woman needs to know, especially when we are dealing with a small budget and a big love for fashion!

  9. 6.2.15

    I’ve only just worked this one out. Perfect blog!

  10. 5.31.15

    Reblogged this on fancythat1989 and commented:
    I absolutely loved this post from A Pretty Penny. It was just the push I needed to clean my closet that I have been saying I would do since last September lol

  11. 11.3.14
    Emily said:

    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.

  12. 9.18.14

    I completely agree!! I dont know how many people that seem to have a shopping addiction. But this article completely explains that. You buy a tonne of cheap random items, and then your never satisfied so you keep buying.

    I wrote an article about four rules to buy value instead:

    http://babytfashiondiaries.com/2014/08/06/shopping-for-value-4-rules-before-purchase/

    So loved reading this!! :)

  13. 9.18.14

    Love this whole outfit!

  14. 9.16.14

    I need to get a hold on that ‘cost per wear’ idea lol

  15. 9.16.14

    I am so guilty of the bad shopping habits! haha Love the list though! I think thats something that I need to stick to also! Jess

  16. 9.15.14

    Such good rules! I too am learning to live by these as I get older. Especially since I’m on a tight budget, I need to add pieces in more consciously.

    • 9.16.14

      I’m on a tight budget, too, so I totally get it!

  17. 9.15.14

    Reblogged this on annalissamarie and commented:
    This is such a smart idea !

  18. 9.14.14

    Reblogged this on thedirtydeedotcom and commented:
    This is the exact transition I need to be making right now. I need to start buying higher quality, more expensive items instead of cheap, fad clothing!

  19. 9.14.14

    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 – missaLAnnis.com

    • 9.15.14

      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).

  20. 9.14.14
    abbyhandt said:

    LOVE THIS! Always need to keep this in mind when shopping. Thanks for sharing :-)
    loveabby.com

  21. 9.14.14

    Great advice, definitely got me thinking, thanks for sharing!

  22. 9.13.14
    Laura said:

    This is great, thanks for sharing. I really love your writing style! Xx

  23. 9.12.14

    Reblogged this on THE NEW BLACK and commented:
    First, what an appro title for this post. Second, very smart advice for style-snipers of every age and stage! Clever!

  24. 9.12.14

    ABSOLOUTLY LOVED THIS WOW

    http://parisatasbihi.blogspot.co.uk

  25. 9.11.14
    beff2002 said:

    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!!

    • 9.12.14

      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).

  26. 9.11.14

    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.

  27. 9.11.14

    Great *_*

  28. 9.11.14

    cool but tooo much show off. sorryyy

  29. 9.11.14

    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.

  30. 9.11.14
    varellano said:

    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!

    • 9.11.14

      SO. TRUE.

      I’m on my feet all day at the flower shop, so shoes are super important for me now. What are your favorite shoe brands?

      • 9.11.14
        varellano said:

        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!

  31. 9.11.14

    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! :)

    • 9.11.14

      Accountability has been *everything* for me this year in getting my shopping under control.

  32. 9.11.14
    stefik12 said:

    Please read my fashion blog… http://fashtenn.wordpress.com/

  33. 9.11.14

    So going to have to use your tips

  34. 9.11.14

    J’aime beaucoup c’est trés joli! :-)

  35. 9.11.14
    vestitini said:

    I like it

  36. 9.11.14

    Hi! I nominated you for the Sisterhood of the World Bloggers award because I love your blog! Just look at my last post for the details. :) :D Also, very informative blog post!

  37. 9.11.14

    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?

    • 9.11.14

      It’s tricky, right?! The majority of things are way too long; if it fits my butt it doesn’t fit my waist; etc. What are your favorite styles?

      • 9.12.14

        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!

  38. 9.11.14

    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! 👛💳💻😍😍😍😍😍😍

  39. 9.10.14

    Love this color combo! :)

    xoxo Lacy
    http://www.polishedandpennywise.com

  40. 9.10.14

    I love these rules, and completely agree with them! Now, if only I could discipline myself to follow them :)

  41. 9.10.14

    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 :)

    • 9.11.14

      “You don’t even have to spend a lot on clothes, just spend it wisely.” Nailed it.

      I love your style!

  42. 9.10.14

    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.

    • 9.11.14

      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.

  43. 9.10.14

    Oh my god I love this post. Every tip is so valid and as of now I follow only rule 1. Lol.

  44. 9.10.14

    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
    Xoxo
    Michelle
    WondersReviews Recently Posted : [Dior]Addict Extreme;Rouge Dior Baume Lip Treatment; BackstageBlender[Review,Photos,Swatches]

    • 9.11.14

      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.

  45. 9.10.14

    I am beginning to realize quality is better than quantity when it comes to my wardrobe.

  46. 9.10.14
    sirwin17 said:

    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

    http://www.princessintrainers.com

    • 9.11.14

      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.

  47. 9.10.14
    lindsaybb said:

    Yes to paying attention to fabrics! As I’ve gotten older, I care ~so much more~ about this.

  48. 9.10.14

    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.

    • 9.11.14

      This is why I love style blogs so much. Try finding some blogs that focus on office style, like http://www.theclassycubicle.com. 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.

  49. 9.10.14

    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!

    • 9.11.14

      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. :)

  50. 9.10.14

    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! :)

    • 9.11.14

      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!

  51. 9.10.14
    Mel said:
  52. 9.10.14

    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.

    • 9.11.14

      Exactly! It really helps me stay on track and avoid impulse-buying a bunch of stuff I think is cute.

  53. 9.10.14
    Lisa Bates said:

    It’s awl about the PPdub! 😜

  54. 9.10.14

    Haha will it play well with others. Good call. I’m definitely the bad shopper that buys quantity over quality.