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?