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!
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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.
During that Labor Day 2013 Purge to End All Purges, I 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