My friend Sara and I were shopping the other night. It was one of those friendship forging experiences--not because we weren't friends already, but because shopping reveals some fundamental things about a girl's attitudes about herself, her priorities, her personality. It was a night to remember. Also, we got a 1000-piece Klimt puzzle. All's right with the world.
Anyhoo, as we trolled the mall I shared some of my shopping philosophies, whether Sara wanted me to or not. She told me I should blog them--probably to get me to stop talking about it long enough to let her buy some shoes. So, at the risk of plagiarizing every person who's helped me learn to shop, here's the extended version of what I blathered to Sara.
My Rules For Shopping.
1. Know thyself. This isn't about knowing your style preferences—those are changeable, and may determine where but not necessarily how you shop. This rule is about knowing your personality, habits, strengths and weaknesses. Do you procrastinate? Are you a details person or a big picture person? Are you a planner or spontateous? Do you mentally juggle with ease, or is your mind occupied with one thing at a time, in the present? Are you decisive or indecisive? Impulsive or hesitant?
You need to know these things because you need to understand how you relate to shopping and the boundaries necessary to being clothed appropriately and having money left over for bills and such. You also need to be aware of how shopping affects deeply personal issues—body image, social position and relevance, lifestyle (especially when the one you have and the one you want don't match), age (in our beauty-obsessed culture in denial of death), money (put your money where your mouth is, actions speak louder than words…). You may already know shopping, say, makes you feel like a pile of crap. And you know that shopping makes you feel like crap because all overweight you wants is to look sleek in that vintage pleated mini-dress, but instead you look like a pear wearing a smashed paper fan. How often do you lose the smashed paper fan and buy a tent instead, in an impulsive fit of of self-loathing? How much clout and internal space are you willing to give those feelings? How much more do you pay attention to them than to your true dignity as a human, or to what your clothes say about you to others, or to how your wardrobe relates to what you want out of life? Knowing the emotional and social underpinnings of why you buy what you buy will help you sort out your shopping style—and develop and stick to good shopping habits.
Even the less dramatic factors make a big difference in successful shopping. For example, if you're a procrastinator, don't buy something close to what you want and keep looking with the intention of returning thing A later—because you won't return it, and then you will have spent twice the money you needed to, or you'll have clothes you don't really want. Don't even make that an option. Enjoy the freedom of preventing situations that don't fit your natural habits.
2. Set goals and keep them in mind. It's pretty easy to either shop with a wandering eye or avoid shopping entirely—which can mean buying things you never actually wear, whether out of impulsive desire or frustration and inexperience. Keeping in mind what works for you, set specific goals for shopping: where and when you will shop, a budget, what you need. To set good goals, you're going to need to pay attention to why you set the goals you do, and what methods you adopt to achieve those goals. If you want a total wardrobe overhaul but you don't have $10,000 dollars handy, you'll want to prioritize—a good suit for the upwardly mobile, comfortable yet stylish clothes for the mom whose only time for herself may be getting dressed. Do whatever it takes to keep yourself aware of your goals: make lists if you're impulsive or absent minded, shop with budgeted cash if you're watching your wallet, shop with (carefully chosen!) acountabili-buddies if you're indecisive or you need help staying committed to your goals—or if shopping depresses you. Eventually these goals will become second nature, and your shopping will be more effective and a more positive experience.
3. Consider clothes an investment, and don't settle for less than what you want. Don't settle for cheap imitations of what you want—get good fabrics, for example, that match your lifestyle. Don't buy silk if you don't go to the dry cleaners, unless you really think you can incorporate that habit. Don't buy a lot of high heels if you can't walk in them, unless you're really committed to learning (and anyone can! but not everyone wants to). But watch your intake of the polyesters, the acrylics, the plastics. They don't feel as good, they don't look as good, and they don't last as long as natural materials. You're only going to want to replace them next year—the opposite of an investment. You're giving yourself an errand. If you're buying something you'll wear all the time, like a pair of basic ballet flats, get a version that will last, like real leather with comfortable soles instead of something plastic. And buy for your life—if you love suede shoes but you live in Seattle, you really need to get the good rain shoes, not the suede kitten heels. If you can only get one, you will regret the suede, I promise. And don't buy something that doesn't look right, even if you like it and it fits your criteria. Every body is different, as is every piece of clothing. You need to find the chemistry between the two that produces the best look and fit for you.
Be diligent in finding what you want (especailly difficult for the anti-shoppers, but truly worth it in the end). Don't spend your money, your effort, or your future on something that doesn't fit your needs. Keep in mind that leaving a shopping trip empty-handed because you didn't settle is a success!
Also, be diligent in researching clothing—fabrics, styles, fits. Get to know your body-type (not just what you consider your flaws) and understand what styles suit you. It's true, the fashion industry is generally not kind to those not shaped like models. But no matter who you are, you really can find clothes that look actively good on you, and reflect the self-respect you deserve and the personality and values that define you. Not to be a walking advertisement, but TLC's What Not To Wear is really a great show for understanding shopping in general, and this rule in particular. Many of us can't afford most of the clothes on the show, but you'll pick up a lot of insights about clothing, style, shopping, and what is worth spending money on.
Extra tips, especially for those new to shopping:
- Do not buy cheap shoes. Even if you don't regret it now, you will after four hours of wearing them, or after a lifetime of bad shoes when the bunions set in.
- Try to avoid marathon shopping, whether you love it or hate it. Visit your favorite stores briefly on a regular basis, sticking to your budget and list. Shopping does not mean purchasing; but those visits will familiarize you with your options. After trying on similar boots at three different stores, you'll know which ones feel right.
- Pay attention to sales. That doesn't mean running out and shopping every sale you hear about. It means finding out the sales of the stores you already shop. And don't neglect the clearance racks, or thrift stores and vintage stores. I have friends who look like a million bucks, even when they're casual, cuz they get lovely, good quality stuff affordably by exclusively shopping clearance racks.
- Learn to sew, or go to the cleaners for alterations. This will help update older items that still have some life in them, or adjust new items that need a little help. If you're feling really adventurous, you can experiment with dyeing—anything can go black, and white can go anything. Research your options before you act.