How To Shop Smarter & Buy Less in 2020 - une femme d'un certain âge

Shopping Smarter In 2020 (& Beyond)

My favorite purchases of 2019. These are the pieces that I wore often, and/or predict will be star players in my wardrobe. Tips on how to shop smarter at une femme d'un certain age.

Shopping smarter and more conscientiously is a hot topic these days. I don’t know anyone who sets out to overspend, or wind up with a closet full of clothes they don’t wear. But it can happen to any of us to some degree despite our good intentions. We get sidetracked, we shop as a distraction, we get sucked into “just in case” purchases or fear-based buying. (✋Guilty on all counts here….)

Even the most conscientious shoppers will sometimes make mistakes. And I think mistakes can be a natural (and necessary) part of evolving our style and trying new things. We can learn from them at the same time we do our best to minimize them.

By “shopping smarter,” I also mean “more sustainably.” We can no longer ignore the environmental impact of the fashion industry. And the human impact of some chains of production. We want to save money, sure, but I think too often it’s easy to regard “cheap” clothing as “disposable.” The most sustainable thing any of us can do is to get the most wear out of what we have.

How To Shop Smarter, Without Sacrificing Style

Here are a few tips I’ll be using myself this year to shop smarter.

1) Shop Your Closet First

Start by making your closet a pleasant and desirable place to shop. Clear out what doesn’t serve you. That means getting rid of past shopping mistakes 😉either by reselling, consigning, donating, or setting up a swap session with friends. Then organize what’s left in whatever way works for you. (I organize by item type, then color.)

Once your closet is cleared out and organized, spend a few hours going through what’s left and try different combinations. It’s easy to fall into the habit of always wearing the same pieces together, so take photos or make notes of the different combos. (This will also help when planning a travel wardrobe.) Don’t forget accessories!

2) Identify Any Gaps

Think about your daily lifestyle, and what’s on your calendar for the coming year. Travel? Weddings, graduations, or other celebrations? What favorite pieces will need to be replaced due to wear? What do you regularly find yourself wishing you had on hand? Make list and keep it with you. When you shop, either in person or online, look for items on that list first.

(My “gap” items are: slim non-black trousers that can dress up or down, lightweight jackets, and warm weather tops with sleeves.)

3) Make A Budget

I’m often asked how much a clothing budget should be, or what percentage of income or overall spending it should occupy. I’m not a financial expert, so can’t answer that in any universal way. It depends on your life, needs, and priorities. Some years you may need to budget more, especially if you’re making major lifestyle changes or moving to another location. While I’m a fan of “reward programs” that come with some store and other credit cards, I’d always caution against incurring debt, unless it’s a one-time investment in a wardrobe required for work.

But no matter the amount, the act of making a budget helps make us conscious and helps prioritize purchases.

4) Choose Quality Over Quantity

As much as you are able, aim to purchase fewer, but better quality pieces. Think in terms of cost per wear, especially with regard to your wardrobe basics. Something that you keep for years and wear several times per season will often be a better buy over time than a fast fashion “dupe” with a shorter lifespan. Pay attention to fabrics and construction. Look for pieces that will easily combine with what you already have.

If you’re a fan of second-hand shopping, awesome! But keep quality, versatility, and longevity in mind. Otherwise you’ll wind up at the end of the year with another closetful of shopping regrets to be cleared out.

5) Keep A Purchase Scorecard

Many of my blogger friends have been doing this, and I’m getting on board for 2020. Keep a list of all purchases, and at the end of each season (or the end of the year) make a note of:

  • which pieces you wore most often
  • what you didn’t wear frequently but really came in handy on a few occasions
  • what wasn’t worn (and why)
  • any unforeseen pitfalls (e.g. fabric that pilled, a waistband that you constantly had to adjust, a color that just didn’t seem to work with the rest of your wardrobe)
  • any other metric you can think of that will help you evaluate purchases

My “Best Of” 2019

After my Red Leopard color consultation, I’ve had some shopping hits and misses, but I’ve found that when I stick to the colors in my palette, almost everything goes together. A few months in, I’ve become much more discriminating with my purchases.

Although I didn’t keep a scorecard in 2019, I did take a look back at the pieces I purchased and picked a few winners. Referencing the image at top:

  • Left: I bought that leather jacket during the Nordstrom Anniversary sale. I was happy to find a leather jacket that was a) lightweight, b) one of my best colors and c) not a “moto” style. It was a big splurge even at the reduced price, but I’ve had not a moment of regret. Similar styles 👇
  • Top right: I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve worn that Madewell striped tee in the last few months. Here’s the same style in navy/white. (Also on sale.)
  • Bottom right: that Maje red sweater (similar) was one of the first pieces I purchased after my color analysis. It’s a good fit and great color! Also, those leopard sneakers (similar) have become my most often-worn footwear. They’re incredibly comfortable and always get compliments!

Do you keep a scorecard or evaluate your purchases periodically? What were some of your best purchases in 2019?

Stay in touch.

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  1. RoseAG
    February 5, 2020 / 4:06 am

    Yes, and experience has taught me to note where/when I purchased something.
    A few years back I had a health issue that had me going to the doctor with annoying regularity. On the way home I would stop at a couple of stores that were near the doctors’ office and browse around.
    Absolutely nothing I bought on those trips worked out. Was it the store, a place that wasn’t on my regular shopping beat or the situation? I don’t know, but I’ve saved myself money by not buying things from the retailer anymore. As these things go I have a different doctor (no slight to the original it was an insurance thing) who is close to Nordstrom Rack. I’ve had more hits than misses there.
    On the happy side, I have other things, not at all expensive, that I bought from street vendors while on vacation. They haven’t ended up in the giveaway bin. When I go on vacation I exercise judgement about street vendor purchases, but I am ready to say yes.

  2. February 5, 2020 / 4:14 am

    Great suggestions, one more to add which is to shop thrift or consignment stores — not just for the bargains but because it’s a great way for clothes to get a second life.

    • Ainsivalavie
      February 5, 2020 / 5:33 am

      Agreed! I have just discovered Poshmark and scored a beautiful 795.00 cashmere wrap in leopard for 100.00. In perfect condition too. Also a coral cashmere poncho ( appears never worn) for 30.00. Lots of very good deals on these sites…one woman’s cast off is another’s treasure!!

  3. Melissa Gill
    February 5, 2020 / 4:25 am

    I did my colors in 2019 also. It was hard at first to walk away from colors that weren’t in my wheel. Didn’t want to sometimes because I needed some new summer clothes. But I did. What I ended up with were things that I wore and wore. Those that I didn’t wear were purchases before the color wheel and they just didn’t go with what I created. What I have realized also is that the transition seasons blended perfectly into the next. Not buying pieces for the season but for the overall wardrobe makes a huge difference in what shows up in your closet.

  4. SueDC
    February 5, 2020 / 6:07 am

    What an inspiring message! You are so right about the link between over-consumption in our wardrobe, and impact on labor and the environment. I’ve been following your blog for quite awhile, and realized I should post to thank you for the positive ideas you publish every week. Your fashion advice and references are great (I’ve made a number of successful purchases based on your suggestions and links). But more importantly, I really appreciate your messages of fellowship, thoughtfulness, and personal adventure.

  5. Pink Azalea
    February 5, 2020 / 6:44 am

    I go through my wardrobe twice a year – spring/summer and fall/winter. As you mentioned, I look ahead for any occasions where I want to have something picked out to wear and get those covered. Last year I bought a red dress with short sleeves that I wore to a winter party with black sling backs. In the summer I wore the same dress to a wedding with colorful patent leather sandals. Our climate is mild and most clothes can be worn all year, adding layers when it gets cold. There are a few things that are strictly summer or winter, but not much. I recently did a closet clean out to get ready for spring/summer. I had two pairs of athleisure pants that were so comfortable, but did not fit well or flatter. In the past I would have kept them longer “just in case”, but since they were in good condition I decided to pass them on while they are still in style and might fit someone else better. I don’t keep a scorecard, but when I have a bag to take to the thrift store, I evaluate my giveaways to see what I can learn. Enjoyed your post.

    • Lagatta de Montréal
      February 5, 2020 / 7:34 am

      I confess I’d keep at least one of those to do housework, but perhaps you have something else to wear for messy jobs that can stain or damage clothing.

      • Pink Azalea
        February 5, 2020 / 8:52 am

        Thanks and you are right. My clothes for messy jobs aren’t nice enough to give to someone else, but perfect for using at home. The donated pants look new and I hope someone will enjoy them.

  6. Linda Lennon
    February 5, 2020 / 7:15 am

    After retiring from a conservative, professional career a year and a half ago and then moving cross country to SoCal, I am still reassessing, discarding and arranging my wardrobe. Your opinion and blog has helped me along the way. Some of my best purchases were from the thrift shop. I took up golf and needed sleeveless tops (who knew golf shirts can cost as much as $100?!); I picked up a number of shirts for $3 to $7 each at our local second hand store. Since I golf at least twice a week that part of my wardrobe was my best purchases.

  7. Cinzia
    February 5, 2020 / 7:33 am

    I love clothes and can always find an excuse to buy something new. One thing I have learned to pay attention to is my immediate reaction when I try something on for the first time. If that first feeling isn’t one of delight, I don’t buy. If something has to be hitched up, pulled down, doesn’t feel quite right, doesn’t lay quite right, isn’t quite in my color wheelhouse, or is only “okay”, I pass.

    What’s difficult for me is resisting a current trend that just doesn’t work for me. I try again and again (and often BUY again and again) only to realize that the on-trend item is just not for me. As an example, I love sweaters but cardigans work so much better for me than jumpers (pull-overs), which are more popular recently. To make it more difficult, the long dusters also do not work for me. I can’t wait until normal mid-hip length cardigans make a solid return. Until then I am delighted to find the odd piece that works…

    Of course, I’m lucky enough to have a backbone of basics already. I am guilty of buying several of items that I cannot do without — such as the Eileen Fisher stretch crepe pants in black; my at-work heroes!

    • Lily
      February 6, 2020 / 8:32 am

      Cinzia, what you have written is perfect. If an item isn’t quite right in the fitting room, it probably shouldn’t come home. We’re all guilty. If I hike it up, If I pull it down, If I tuck it in. If I add some jewelry or a scarf… Comes back to Marie Kondo’s does it “spark joy”?

  8. Evelyn Liesching
    February 5, 2020 / 7:43 am

    One of my greatest goals in life is to not have a donations bag in my closet. I am attempting to be more purposeful when I purchase an article of clothing and ask myself: How often will I wear it? Does it work with my lifestyle? Do I really need it? Do I need to spend the money? I found myself locked into certain brands & whenever an email with a special offer would arrive in my I mix, I’d always try to find something, because it was marked down. I remedied that by unsubscribing from many websites! I now search for things I might need or want and that process helps me be more purposeful. I’m a work in progress! It’s not easy when you like clothes and you have purchasing power.

    • Marianne Clark
      February 5, 2020 / 8:46 am

      Beautifully said!!! I agree completely with you about loving clothes and having purchasing power – can be a bad combo…

  9. February 5, 2020 / 7:53 am

    I do informal evaluations. My “misses” frustrate me, as I try really hard to consider items before I buy. I completely agree with trying on pieces ahead of time to see what works. I will sometimes take a photo so I can remember what I put together. Also, on a coordinated wardrobe everything working together (pretty much), yes, it does! I know if I buy an item it will go with most of the things in my closet!

  10. Patricia
    February 5, 2020 / 8:33 am

    I find myself in the unenviable position of having to replace my wardrobe due to losing weight. Yes, I’m thrilled to get rid of the extra pounds I packed on post-hysterectomy 20 years ago, but shopping isn’t really fun these days. Clothes are expensive, fabrics are cheap (in every price range) and selection is limited as most stores have the same lines. I’ve never shopped second hand but I’m going to try! There’s a great new-ish book called The Conscious Closet by Elizabeth L. Cline that I’m finding very inspiring. There is a thin line though IMO between stylishly *wearing vintage* and looking like you are just wearing your own out of date old clothes but I’m hoping to find that sweet spot.

    • Rondi
      February 5, 2020 / 8:57 am

      I was wondering if someone would bring up the subject of weight loss or gain. It only takes a few pounds for a piece of clothing to become too big, too small, or no longer comfortable. Sometimes weight can fluctuate due to medications, surgeries, or injuries that do not allow us to exercise. So I guess there is a certain amount of risk in making clothing purchases?

      • Jan Whichard
        February 5, 2020 / 8:30 pm

        I’ve been having my best clothes that I really like altered. Not cheap to do. I lost 30 pounds and lots of clothes had to go. Especially all the black “hide my body” Eileen Fisher bags. I still have too much black. So now that everything I kept and had altered is now hanging in my closet, I have dedicated myself to wearing everything and so I turn the hanger around after I wear an item. I can’t wear anything with a turn around hanger. I can see what I need to ditch now!

        This exercise gives me a chance to buy clothes I love in my color palette!


    • February 5, 2020 / 1:07 pm

      There’s second-hand, and then there’s vintage. Second-hand might be last year’s styles that somebody else decided didn’t really work out for them. Vintage could be from the 1950s or from the 1990s (and I still have plenty in my closet that I bought in the 1990s), or somewhere in between. You don’t want to wear too much vintage at once unless it’s on purpose. I met a very chic young Parisian who looked like she stepped out of the 1940s, down to her Lauren Bacall hairstyle in “To Have or Have Not.” She could pull that off. Me, no.
      Fabrics and patterns also are important. A 100% cotton shirt or 100% wool sweater will still look good, but polyester doesn’t age well, and it has gone through many iterations such that the vintage stuff will look like a costume for a period play. Solid colors and most stripes are timeless, but groovy swirls or sweet Laura Ashley florals are more fixed to an era; that could work for fun, or it could just look dated.

    • stephanie ashworth
      February 5, 2020 / 6:17 pm

      You might want to take a look at It’s online resale of couture items. They guarantee authenticity. I have had good luck with them. Plus you can consign your items with them.

  11. Anon
    February 5, 2020 / 8:46 am

    Good advice, Susan. Responsible stewardship of limited resources is the underlying current of 2020. We all have a role to play, regardless of personal finances. This extends to all facets of life.

  12. EliseB
    February 5, 2020 / 8:52 am

    Susan, This is a very thoughtful article with great ideas to keep in mind for all purchases. Seeing you dressed so nicely and appropriately is always inspiring. And the “buy less” message is equally inspiring. I also appreciate your comment about letting go of mistakes without guilt. Well said.

    Now, how about “A Trip to Provence with Susan”? Wouldn’t that be great?!!!!

  13. Nancy
    February 5, 2020 / 9:06 am

    Like you, I would have kept at least one of those for housework and laying around and Evelyn, I vadmire your goal of not having a donation bag. I would strive for that as well.
    What are your thoughts/have you heard experiences of people that have used stitch fix or other websites to create a profile and let the items come to you. Sometimes shopping can be exhausting and not fruitful. Have others tried this ?

    • Lagatta de Montréal
      February 5, 2020 / 1:30 pm

      Pink said she already had some old clothing for that. I keep those in a box separate from “normal” clothing.

      I do still have too much indifferent clothing, as well as gaps in my wardrobe.

  14. Blyma
    February 5, 2020 / 10:07 am

    I am realizing more and more how much of my closet was a combination of black (guilty as a lifelong New Yorker until I moved to the PNW ten years ago) and colors that weren’t *quite* right. I adore scarves and over the years have made the mistake of buying lovely ones on sale – and then having them sit, unworn, for years. I had my colors done decades ago – I took my mother as a gift when I was a successful young professional – and somehow managed to ignore some of those lessons. And am noticing that as I age, black really is NOT my friend! I’m a summer – and have been looking at a lot of the colors you have been wearing. I did some ‘practice shopping’ yesterday – and it’s amazing how much more honed my eye is after these months of following you! And I’ve become much more discerning about fit and quality as well – although I always BELIEVED in those principles, having less of a budget turned me in a different direction. It’s becoming more and more clear that in addition to the ethical issues associated with fast fashion, being able to keep well made items for years makes everything much, much easier! Thank you for your honesty and letting us come along on this journey of discovery and exploration. It’s made me sort of excited about getting dressed for the first time in years.

  15. Sally
    February 5, 2020 / 10:41 am

    Hi Susan: any advice about how many of one favorite item one should have? For example I must have about 8 pr of jeans by now; 4 white tees, etc etc. Is the rule of thumb 2 of an item if it’s a favorite and worn a great deal?

  16. February 5, 2020 / 2:06 pm

    A very good article, Susan. I never thought of keeping a scorecard, but I think it’s a great idea. I always make a list of clothes and the brands when I travel and mark what worked and what didn’t. It’s been very useful. I never thought to do that on a regular basis, but why not?
    Sometimes I get sucked into buying things that are a good deal. My “hunter/gather” state of mind kind of takes over. Or, I just settle for something because I get fed up looking. As another reader mentioned, if you try on something and immediately think, “Oh wow! Love it.” It usually works. Shopping online adds the other dimension of having to send things back, especially when you have to pay return shipping. So even if it’s just ok, I often keep and try to make it work. I think I’m in the mood for another closet cleaning!

  17. Erin
    February 5, 2020 / 3:26 pm

    Another option to update an old outdated piece, second hand or vintage is to have the piece re-styled by a skilled seamstress. A dress could become a blouse. A shirt with sleeves could have them shortened or removed. A skirt could be refashioned depending on the shape. Like our grandmothers and great-grandmothers did in ages past. Repair. Reuse. Restyle.

  18. February 6, 2020 / 7:32 am

    Excellent advice. I think the biggest problem most of us face is we don’t act rationally: we don’t examine our closet, consider gaps… all the things you mention. Too much shopping is impulse-buying. But, in our defense, the whole system is set up for that. Sellers encourage our worst habits. Your post is good medicine to make us conscious on what we’re doing.

  19. Lily
    February 6, 2020 / 8:40 am

    I started keeping a detailed list of my clothing and accessory purchases in 2020. Brands, color, fabric, style, new/thrifted, price, the works. I was shocked by how much I have purchased/spent already. Room for improvement here.

  20. Jeanne J
    February 6, 2020 / 1:48 pm

    I started keeping a photo log of wardrobe purchases on my laptop a couple of years ago. It’s just a folder with photos in it, nothing fancy. I name the photos so that I can identify the manufacturer, color, and style name. The file date indicates approximately when I bought it. Since most of what I buy is available online somewhere, it’s typically easy to find a photo.

    My original purpose was to track how successful my purchases are, and be able to make adjustment accordingly. I was surprised to find out how much I learn just from quickly scanning the thumbnail photos, though. Apparently, I really, really like black shoes. 🙂

  21. February 6, 2020 / 3:46 pm

    As usual, great post! I use an app to track my closet and daily outfits and love evaluating the cost-per-wear of my items, times worn, etc. I have a great wardrobe that I love, suits all purposes and feels like me. There are still a few gaps, but I am on a self-imposed no-buy first quarter because I recently learned about the impact of two-way shipping from buying and trying. I want to be very thoughtful of that impact so I plan to take my gap list (down to 3 items) and actually venture into a retail shop (the horrors!) come April.

    • DeeDee
      February 6, 2020 / 8:23 pm

      Would you mind sharing the name of the app? This sounds like an interesting and informative exercise!

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