Strategic Shopping:Make the Most of Your Time and Money

You don't have to be clueless when you shop! We can't all have a closet like Cher's. [This article is the second in a series about Sociology of Style’s 4-part wardrobe and image program: closet cleanout, strategic shopping, smart styling, and maintenance and storage solutions. In this article, we’ll address how to shop strategically after you’ve purged your current wardrobe.]

So you went through your closet, made a lot of edits, and vowed never to make the same mistakes again. But now what?  Now that you’ve gained some perspective on your past purchases, what works, and what doesn’t, it’s time to put a plan in place for strategic shopping, so that when you bring new pieces into your wardrobe, you can maintain your newfound balance without having to start over again next year.

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During your purge, you probably got an idea of what pieces worked for you and why. In addition, you probably also saw patterns that didn’t work – trendy pieces, a tough fit, impulse buys. Now that you can see your remaining wardrobe more clearly, take time to assess it and what it needs. Do you have any dresses or skirts that need the appropriate top or shoe? Same goes for pants – some may need specific heel heights to work. Are there any basics you are missing, like a well-fitted classic white button down or a nude pump? Take stock of what your closet needs and start a wishlist.

If you love a certain pair of jeans, look into other pieces from that brand or something with a similar fit. If other items in your wardrobe haven’t stood the test of time, maybe that brand is one to avoid next time you go shopping – so mentally prepare yourself to spend a little more for higher quality. Make a list of what you’ll be looking for so that you’re prepared on your next shopping trip.

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Ask The Right Questions When Shopping

When shopping, ask yourself: “Do I have something like this already?” This can be a common trap we fall into – buying the same things over and over. Try to pick pieces that you don’t already have, which will add diversity to your choices.

“Can this be worn year round?” Versatility will give you the most bang for your buck. While having pieces that are strictly for summer and winter is ok (and inevitable), pieces that can be layered, worn alone, and match a variety of what you already own will  keep your look streamlined and clutter to a minimum.

“What in my closet will this go with?” If you’re buying a piece that would only require you to buy more pieces to match it, it’s likely something to skip. (Special occasion pieces would be an exception here). “Can this be worn for more formal occasions like a job interview or a date, as well as for more casual days?” Again, with versatility: it’s nice to not have to pass  over pieces because they are too formal or too casual. If something can be both dressed up and dressed down, it’s a keeper. “How much wear will I really get out of this?” Overall, you may love something, but it just might not be realistic for you. If you develop a personal buying rulebook and stop to evaluate before you buy something, you’ll be amazed at how many mistakes you can avoid.

Go for Quality Over Quantity

This is an old saying, but it’s true for a reason. We’ve all been there: you spend a bunch of money and get 10 cheap things, and chances are, you’ve thrown them out one or two years later. If you spend the equivalent amount of money and get 2 or 3 more expensive-but-great things, chances are you still have them for many years to come. Try this and see if it rings true for you; while there is nothing wrong with cheapies here and there, high-quality pieces that may cost a little extra tend to go the extra mile (and not break down). That doesn’t mean you can’t follow the sales and look for a discount – just don’t compromise on quality.

Summer is the best time to spend less on clothes and shoes, since items are more exposed to sweat and dirt this time of year, and the fabrics tend to be less expensive. Things you should spend money on? Good basics, especially in winter, like sweaters, pants, coats, boots, and bags – anything that requires a really good fit and quality craftsmanship so that it will last you for years.

Lastly, if you need something to wear for a special occasion but know you probably won’t ever wear it again, employ a service like Rent the Runway, which allows you to rent designer pieces for a fraction of the cost. This way, you avoid accumulating extra pieces in your closet and save money.

Above all else, you should love everything that you buy. If you try something on and your immediate gut reaction is “yes!” and you feel great in it, it might be worth listening to. If you spend too much time in the mirror trying to make something work from every angle, and just feel generally so-so about something, that means it’s time to move on and keep looking.