Friday, March 9, 2012

How To Work A Shopping Plan

This is part two of a two part series: read part one here.

Before you hit the stores, you need to have some idea of a budget. An overall budget, what you are willing to pay for any particular item, weekly allowance - some kind of structure. I have no advice on how to develop useful parameters for yourself. I do know that without these types of limits you will drive yourself, and your bank account, straight round the bend. Anyone with useful ideas or links to share on this topic, please speak up in the comments!

The online store. Even if you do not plan to buy anything from an online store, i find them a very useful tool for avoiding overwhelm and planning my shopping strategy. Online shops allow you to research what's out there before you go to the physical store, with it's smells and lights and loud music and time limitations. You can browse at your own pace, without the pressure of a sales assistant. And in my own case, my eyes need time to adjust to what's in the stores. Previewing stock online is an easy and convenient way to let that adjustment happen.

For instance, you can bookmark a likely looking piece and revisit it several times over a few days. This allows for time to let ideas on outfits percolate up from your subconscious, as well as for more subtle deal breakers to become apparent. Most importantly, i find, this time allows me to see how the needs and wants i have identified 'mesh' with the items actually out there in the real world. Especially when i'm not finding what i am used to wearing, it takes me a while to see the possibilities in different pieces. If i see the items online, then let the images float around in my mind for a few days, when i come back to them i have a much better feel for how these pieces could work in my own closet and lifestyle. I also find it helpful to read online reviews of an item and/or manufacturer to get a feel for whether or not a piece will work.

You'll also get an idea of which stores are more likely to have what you want in stock. Often, you will find exact pieces that you want to try on. In this case, find out (online or by phone) if the item is in your store in your size range. When you get to the store, go straight to that item (sales assistants can help here). I love shopping this way as it really reduces the amount of looking through inappropriate items. I can get to the try-on phase long before i'm too overwhelmed to make sensible decisions.

In the store. What do you do with your list when you are in the store? Here's the short answer: use it to weed out all items which do not meet your own specifications as quickly as possible. Then, and only then, spend time and attention evaluating individual pieces. 

Here's an example to break it down. Let's say you want to find a light to medium colored, structured feeling blouse in a cut and fiber which you can wear well in the heat.  Thus, in the store, you want to eliminate as efficiently as you can any item which is:
  • not a blouse
  • darker than a medium tone
  • made of a fiber you won't wear in the heat
  • not structured
  • priced higher than your budget

I like to flip through clothing on hangers, using my fingers to feel the fabric as my eyes scan color and the obvious styling features. I know a lot of people are looking for anything attractive about clothing when they shop. With this method, you are looking for qualities you can use to quickly eliminate pieces that don't fit your specs. If a blouse doesn't fit your color requirement, on to the next one. If the fabric is inappropriate, you're done with it. The same with your personal style and figure flattery priorities - if the garment does not fit, you're done with it. On to the next. If it's over your budget, move on. Done right, this will greatly reduce the amount of clothing you need to evaluate in very short order.

The underlying principle is that clothing needs to fit your own individual, well thought out criteria in order to earn and deserve your attention. Your task is not to figure out some convoluted, baroque method by which that cute designer dress (which doesn't fit, is in a color which bears no relation to anything else in your closet, in a fiber which makes you itch) will 'work'. Clothing is auditioning for the privilege of working for you. You don't have time to waste on the ones that you know will never work out. On to the next!

Only remove an item from the clothes rack for further inspection if it has already passed on every specification you can see. Taking a red top off of the rack will not turn it blue. Holding a wool coat up to the light will not magically transform it into a linen tunic. Do not distract yourself! Save your attention for pieces which meet your criteria. These pieces can come into the dressing room with you to see if they fit and flatter (which is another topic for another day).

When i first experimented with shopping this way, i got scared. I eliminated so many clothes so very very quickly! How in the world could i ever find anything to wear this way? Sure, this way i could find those few pieces i really loved much more swiftly, but......maybe i was missing something great!

The truth was that i've always only found a very few pieces i loved anytime i've gone shopping. I quickly realized that this new approach really freed up my time for doing other wardrobe tasks - sewing and designing, creating new outfits, learning how to cut my own hair, researching trends and style advice online, keeping my closet organized so i knew what i actually had, researching online and brick and mortar stores which stocked items worth my time, blogging.....tasks which upped my style quotient much more and more reliably than time spent shopping. The truth is that i've found no benefit in spending hours and hours shopping just to shop. I wasn't going to find what wasn't there.

For many people, beginning to shop in this manner takes a leap of faith. You need to trust the method and you need to trust yourself.  There's no magic - you just have to try it and see if it works.  You can try 'baby steps' to start if it just seems too radical.  Try this method in a store you don't care for. Or go through a store using this method, then go through again using your usual methods. Afterwards, compare the results and judge if the extra effort of the old way yields better results for you. Another idea is to try this method out wherever you happen to be - just tell yourself you're 'practicing' and if you want to you'll go over the store using your usual methods later.

I rarely experience any qualms when i shop this way. But then, i've been at it for many years now. And i've seen how much easier it is to dress, and how much more i love my clothing, when i approach shopping in this manner. I am able to really make the connection between all the thinking and planning i do and the way it informs the choices i make on the showroom floor, because i've seen it time and time again through working this method.

We've all heard that we shouldn't shop for groceries when tired and hungry - we'll just make impulsive, expensive purchases. Wasted money, wasted time, and you don't get proper nutrition or satisfaction. Shopping for clothing when you don't have a handle on what you need and want will lead to the same regrets. I've found that using these techniques can help battle these influences. True, i don't get so much of the 'high of the buy'. On the other hand, i love most of my clothes, shoes, and bags; they work for my lifestyle so i get to wear them all the time instead of simply staring at how gorgeous they are in the closet; i'm not fussing with returns all the time feeling guilty about spending money on things i never wear.

If you want more of this type of wardrobe experience, i encourage you to give some of these ideas a try. As always, i will be happy to answer any questions you have about this, and i would be thrilled to hear any ideas which have led to shopping breakthroughs for you!  Thank you for reading!

Jacket: CREA, Nevada City CA - borrowed from mr. eccentric!
Top, Skirt, Necklace: own design
Socks: Sock Dreams
Shoes: Fossil Savana
Bag: Isabella Fiore


  1. I love clothes but I hate shopping. For most of the reasons you find the environment uncomfortable. I read that Sal of Already Pretty regularly can spend 7 hours shopping - gah! I'm happiest when I can spend under an hour. So I limit the stores I will go to. I also case them with a once over every now and then. I do much better when I don't have to perceive too many items too closely. I like to experiment with new ideas and I don't like spending much so I'm happiest with a few thrift stores I visit regularly, either weekly or monthly, where the stock doesn't change all that much. Makes it much easier for me to spot the new stuff plus in my favorite store they will pick out stuff for me and show it to me. And they're usually right, too.

    I like what you said about not trying to force something to work. What I've realized lately is that when something fits beautifully and I look good in it that it is me the clothes are showing off so I don't need to get too serious about the clothes. If I put on the clothes and they make me look good, I am still the same looking good me if I take them off again.

    I don't use the internet for specific shopping but I do use it to absorb the feel of what is out there. That seems to simmer on the back burner for me and then I tend to spot things that will work that way, over time. I'm also spoiled by the rock bottom prices in my favorite thrift stores.

    I purge my clothing continually and I learn from that what whole categories I probably want to eliminate considering. It doesn't mean I definitely won't get another such item, but I will remind myself that I generally have not been liking them. Or, I like them but I'm not liking owning them. Also I keep categories of items that I genuinely have enough of and don't want any others unless they are very special. I guess this is all my way of wanting to add only special items to my closet, at this point.

  2. I used to feel bad if I didn't find anything to buy while out shopping. I thought of it as a "failed" excursion.

    So I guess my breakthrough came when I changed my mindset and started thinking of these non-spending trips as opportunities to save my money for when something better came along. And something better ALWAYS comes along. Like you said, you have to trust that it will happen.

  3. "Taking a red top off of the rack will not turn it blue" had me laughing in recognition. Perfect! Thanks, Elle

  4. I like the comparison to grocery shopping. Lately, I have a very clear idea of my budget and a very short list of things I'm looking for, but I am so new to retail shopping. I need to spend more time pre-shopping online.

  5. Thank you Vildy for taking the time to leave such very helpful and insightful information!!!! it is great to see how you have looked inside to see what makes you happy and what works for you, and adapted that to your circumstances to come up with a system you like. That's absolutely key and so helpful to see how this ends up for different people.

    "I love clothes but I hate shopping." amen!

    "I read that Sal of Already Pretty regularly can spend 7 hours shopping - gah! " yes, it's difficult for me to imagine as well. Our culture is geared towards 'you're a girl ergo you love to shop' which makes it that much harder to find help with shopping more efficiently. Sal is so talented and good-hearted, but i get the feeling she is pretty perplexed when it comes to the leaner closet. Vive la difference!

    Ms. M, that is a fabulous point. Once you get over that mindset, wow does it change shopping! Thank you!

    heehee, TY Vildy! credit to mr. e for lending me his jacket :)

    Hello Elle! yep. the nutty things we think.... :)

    Hi Terri! pre-shopping online helps me enormously. It's also great if you can find a good shopper (on and/or off line) to help you sift through things and hunt down likely prospects. mr. e could give Sal of already pretty a run for her money - lord, he can shop!!! And he's found me some truly gorgeous pieces (my fluevog shoes, my tahari coat).

    Happy Saturday!! steph

  6. When my teenage daughters wanted new "wardrobes" usually I would do the following with them 2x a year. We would go through their clothes in every draw and eliminate what wasn't working. The factors to consider were:size (too big too little), style: (was it still in and therefore they would wear it)and identify the clothing orphans. After further sorting we would come up with a list of needs: tops, bottoms, outer wear, underwear etc. Shoes and purses were a separate budget. We would come up with the total number of items desired and put it in the equation, total budget divided by number of desired items. That way they knew how much they could spend on each item in order to keep on budget.

    What would happen as a result they would pare down the wants to a more reasonable number and keep within their budget. They are now in their 20's and still sort of do this inventory method.
    I kind of do this too so I identify what my real fashion priorities are.
    Maybe this is what everyone else is already doing but I thought I'd throw this in.

  7. We don't have many choices of stores here that carry nice plus size items so I am limited in the choices I have.
    I really enjoyed your very thoughtfully written post. You made some great points.
    I really like y9our outfit too!

  8. Just came across your site today. I saw the link on Citizen Rosebud. Love your style. I visited the Fluevog shoe site (I love shoes). Thanks for that post.

  9. Adrienne, that is just brilliant. i cannot say another word!!! the smartest part is how you set it up in a way that lets your daughters discover the tradeoffs (more things/less $$ each, vice versa) for themselves. i've done this at times when i had my own money, but when sharing funds the other person is generally not interested.

    Hi Debbi! thank you - i hope the ideas on really pinpointing what works for you maybe give you more confidence to try some online places to wide your choices?

    Welcome Style Agent 909! ah, Bella has THE BEST 40+ blogroll out there!! it's truly wonderful to see so many of us now, too :) Thank you - heehee, when i saw your username i thought, "aw, #($#$*#!! i wish i'd thought of that username - it's the coolest ever!" ;)

    Happy Daylight Savings! steph

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