Should I buy this shirt? Click here to see the full size or to print.
I’ve written a lot of words about putting together a wardrobe that functions with fewer, but better, clothes.
I’ve come a long way from back when I had a closet with four different sizes but nothing to wear and a bikini older than most sixth graders.
I gradually reduced my wardrobe and identified why some clothes didn’t work for me so I could avoid purchasing mistakes.
I talked about how to put together outfits with the 3-piece rule: if you wear a two-piece outfit (a shirt and pants), add a third piece (try a scarf, cardigan, or jacket) to complete your outfit for a more cohesive look.
I simplified my style by wearing less casual clothing and making a “comfortably dressy” style that works for me.
One question I hear repeatedly is, “Where do you shop?” I don’t have one specific store that could be my style secret. It’s mostly about how I shop. This might be the lengthiest post I’ve written, but I want it to be a useful resource.
The first lesson I ever learned about shopping for clothes was to know your colors from the book Color Me Beautiful. It’s from the 80’s, but the color guides are still relevant as a starting point. Are you an Autumn who looks best in warm shades of rust, brown, and sage green? A Winter who looks vibrant in jewel tones? A Summer like me who practically lives in soft blues and grays? Or perhaps a Spring who looks best in fresh coral, cream, and camel? That’s just a start, but knowing which colors work best is what helps to narrow down clothing choices.
I only go shopping for clothes a couple of times a year, and I always look for something very specific.
What I spend money on: shoes, pants, undergarments
What I don’t spend much money on: shirts, scarves
How to avoid spending even more money:
1. Avoid stocking up for clothing insurance. For some reason we act like we’re going to run out of clothes. When I find something really great, I’ll wonder if I should get two. Most of the time one is enough.
2. Make a “What Not to Buy” list. (Know your weaknesses.) I know I’m always tempted to buy another white shirt in the summer or another gray sweater in the winter even though I really don’t need any more.
3. Use retailmenot.com for discounts on online purchases, or at least free shipping. The format is clean and easy to use to find coupon codes.
4. Keep track of your sizes. I keep notes in my address book about the stores I shop at regularly, and I always keep a note of what size I wear at that store. This helps me to remember when I wear a different size top or bottom than usual, and it saves time when I’m shopping online and can’t try things on.
I grew up wearing shoes from Payless and other inexpensive stores. Honestly, I didn’t understand why anyone would buy more expensive shoes when you could get cheaper shoes for so much less. I probably wore out my shoes every four months, and then I would go get a new pair. My upper limit for spending on shoes was about $40.
But then…one season I needed to replace my shoes again. We were about to go to Europe, and I was pregnant, and I desperately needed good shoes for my feet. I couldn’t find any cheaper shoes, so I decided to buy a pair of Cole Haan boots for $100. At the time it was the most expensive pair of shoes I had ever bought. I took them with me on the trip (they were the only pair of shoes I took since I like to travel light), and I wore them all the time when I got back. I wore them almost every day (except during summers) for the next five years. Those $100 shoes cost me $20 per year. Because they lasted so long, the most expensive shoes I had ever owned became the least expensive, and I saved a lot of time by not having to replace them each season.
Once you upgrade to better quality footwear, it’s hard to go back to wearing cheap shoes, or maybe it’s my age.
I only wear shoes that are both cute and comfortable. I always feel sorry when I see someone hobbling around in heels that are obviously killing her.
I’m partial to Clarks for sandals, you saw my red Spring Step shoes the other day, I have a pair of Naot shoes that are a little more dressy, and my boots are Lucchese which are made in El Paso, Texas.
You’ve heard that some women don’t realize they’re wearing the wrong bra size? I was wearing the wrong shoe size for a while. My feet actually shrank two sizes when I went gluten-free. If you’re having a hard time finding shoes with the right fit, be sure to get measured at a shoe store to see if your feet have changed.
When you buy jeans, it’s not about buying the right brand, it’s all about finding the right fit. When I shop for jeans, I always plan to add about $10 to the price to get them hemmed to the right length. Most people can’t find the perfect fit straight off the rack. Find a pair that fit perfectly through the waist and hips and then tailor the length. Jeans should feel snug when you first try them on, and they’ll loosen up as you wear them throughout the day. If they’re already loose when you first put them on, they’ll be saggy later.
Most people have too many pairs of jeans. If you can wear them a couple of times before washing them, and you do laundry once a week, you can make do with two pairs of jeans, or three at the most. I would rather spend money on two perfect pairs of denim than keep seven hanging in my closet that I sort-of like.
A darker rinse looks more dressy so you can wear them more places, and they don’t show spots.
It’s so easy to find shirts on sale that I don’t like to spend very much.
When I shop for shirts I look for washable knits that don’t require ironing or much maintenance. I like them to have some detail at the collar and a tailored fit. I usually ask myself, “Does this look more like a blouse or a t-shirt?” and since my style is comfortably dressy, I opt for the one that looks more like a blouse (but still feels like a t-shirt).
The shirt I’m wearing now (and in the next photo) is from Banana Republic, and it’s a soft knit, but it has a ruffled neckline that keeps it from looking like a plain long-sleeve t-shirt. It’s a winter shirt, but I bought it in early spring at an end-of-season clearance sale knowing I would want to replace a long-sleeve shirt this winter. When you only have a few clothes, it’s easy to identify what you need.
I’m at the point that when I clean out my closet, I’m cleaning out clothes that are worn out because I wore them so often, instead of giving away clothes that I never wore. My shopping list each season is based on what I need to replace. (This fall it’s a pair of jeans, a long-sleeve shirt, and socks.) Now that I’ve reduced my wardrobe to clothes I wear regularly, it’s less tempting to bring home a random shirt that I found on sale, or to even go shopping in the first place.
Where to Shop?
Remember that Friends episode when Rachel buys all her furniture from Pottery Barn, but Phoebe hates Pottery Barn? At the end of the episode their apartment looks “like page 72 of the catalogue. Oh look at that! The ornamental bird cage! Large!”
Just like you wouldn’t buy all of your home furnishings from one store, you shouldn’t buy your wardrobe from one store. You have to build your collection of clothes from a variety of sources, layering different pieces.
So where to go? Here is my experience and a few unapologetic opinions:
Banana Republic – I like to shop the sales racks for blouses, sweaters, and pants, but the clothes sometimes look better on the hangers, so I always try them on before buying. There’s no reason to pay full price because sales happen so often.
Gap – A great source for basic shirts (from the sales racks), but the dresses and pants never fit me. It’s an example of saving yourself time by knowing how the brand typically fits your body.
JCrew – When there is an amazing sale, it’s a happy day because the clothes I’ve bought there have been good quality. The clothes are so collection-centric though that I either find several things I like or nothing I want.
Discount stores like Marshall’s and TJMaxx – lots of blouses to bring flair to your basics
Department stores like Dillard’s and Macy’s – I don’t shop these much because I find them overwhelming, but here is where you get cashmere sweaters during the after-Christmas sales (which I guess now start four weeks before Christmas).
L.L.Bean – I guess I’d call this a source for sensible clothes for winter? I don’t experience much cold weather here in Texas, but my house shoes and tote bag came from here, and the quality is consistent.
White House, Black Market – the clothes fit me perfectly, but the boutique prices mean I only have a couple of pieces.
The stores I don’t favor:
Old Navy – I don’t know, it’s hit or miss. I had one favorite shirt that I bought there, but other clothes are lesser quality. The colors are more prone to fading than their Gap counterparts, and it’s definitely more casual.
Benetton – I love the look of the preppy, colorful styles and the sales are tempting; I just don’t like the fabrics. Many of the clothes have dry clean labels because if they go through the washer they’ll shrink two sizes and never be the same again.
Anthropologie – Inspirational, but the quality is just not there to justify the high prices.
H&M – the clothes look great from far away, but are not as impressive when you get up close and check the quality.
Thoughts on Thrift Stores
I love the idea of vintage, and I shopped at thrift stores often when I was in high school and college. I especially love vintage housewares, and most of our furniture is second-hand with charming imperfection. I don’t shop for second-hand clothes very much anymore, though.
When I used to shop at thrift stores, I ended up with a variety of clothes that were “almost-right” or “good enough.” Now I keep a small wardrobe with just a few carefully-chosen items, and I want them to be exactly right.
To me it’s worth spending a few dollars more to buy exactly what I’m looking for instead of hunting for the hidden gems. In my area, the thrift store prices aren’t that low compared to the price of a new garment at an end-of-season sale. Your results will be better than mine depending on your local thrift stores, if having more variety suits your style, and you don’t mind stopping by regularly to check for new finds.
It’s hard to buy new clothes that you’ll only wear for a couple of months, especially when maternity clothes are priced higher. Read this post at AlphaMom:
My 7 Must-Have’s for Comfortably Dressy Style:
- dark denim
- big sunglasses
- washable knit layers
Whew, that was a lot. Where do you like to shop?