The Buying Guidelines I Use To Streamline My Wardrobe
I have always loved clothes, fashion and all the shopping that comes with along with them. The mall was always my after school destination of choice, and I have always found flipping through the racks therapeutic. But shopping does not always mean buying.
I have talked a lot about how and why I try to keep my wardrobe manageable. Both for budget and space concerns and in an effort to minimise the impact my closet has on the good of the planet. But the bulk of this work comes down on the buying side of the equation; my shopping levels have stayed pretty consistent throughout my life.
If you knew how much I shopped you would probably be surprised by how small wardrobe actually is. It has taken years of constant practice and training, but I have honed my decision making skills, and these days I rarely make a dud purchase. To keep me on the right track I’ve developed a few rules and questions I ask myself to ensure I leave with something that is going to really add to my style.
1. Try It On
This seems painfully obvious, right? Why would you buy anything without trying it on first?
Well let me tell you friends, I have tried. I actually hate the fitting room portion of the whole shopping experience. So much to take off, not all fitting rooms have adequate storage for the things you are trying, the things you already have on, and the yes/no/maybe system. (stores take note! We. Want. More. Hooks.) And somehow I always end up hot, sweaty and bedraggled-looking. So there have been times in my life where I have thought “I’ll just grab this now, and if it doesn’t work I’ll return it”.
This is never a good idea. If you are seriously considering buying it, try it on. If the whole fitting room process seems too daunting, the product itself isn’t worth it. Everything you buy should be worth taking off your shoes and jeans for. Even when the shoes have laces and the jeans are skinnies.
2. Try It On With Everything You Came In Wearing
I realise that this seems counterintuitive when I just told you how much I hate taking everything off, and I’m not suggesting you try to wear two pairs of pants at once, or see how a swimsuit plays with your work blazer. But what you are trying on should work with the items you already have, and this is a great way to check.
Don’t just try the items for fit, see how you can style them. Put your shoes back on (yes, even if they have laces), wear a coat, tuck things, roll things, get an idea for how you are actually going to make it work for you. If what you’re trying on looks good with at least one thing you came in wearing thats a really good sign that it will be a good addition to your existing wardrobe.
Now obviously this doesn’t work one hundred percent of the time. If you’re shopping for special occasion items, or things needed for work or specific activities it gets a little harder. But it does pay to plan ahead. If you have part of the outfit already, bring it with you. If you’re looking for new work trousers and you wear a heel most days, bring them. If you’re shopping for a winter coat, and know you’ll want to wear a chunky jumper under it, wear your chunkiest jumper.
No item stands alone in your closet so don’t try anything on in isolation.
3. Does It Require Additional Purchases?
I have spent more money than I care to admit on amazing items that I truly loved that didn’t go with anything I already had. I bought things thinking, “I’ll find the right shirt” or “with the right pair of shoes this will be amazing.” And sometimes I would find the perfect thing and the look would come together. Or styles, either mine or the world’s, would shift slightly and suddenly something that was just a little off became just right. But if I’m going to be honest, more often these things would sit in my closet. Admired, but never worn, which is no way for clothing to live.
So the rule is: no buying anything that would need an additional purchase. This is one of the harder rules I’ve set myself, because it means I have let some great things go. But an item that creates a domino effect of consumerism is not smart shopping. If the piece genuinely can’t be worn with anything you already have, it’s not bringing anything to your closet.
4. 5 Plus Outfits
If I like something I start mentally planning what I’m gonna wear it with before I even purchase it. I like to mix and match as much as possible when it comes to my outfits, so I like to have a couple outfits in mind before I pull the trigger. My general rule of thumb is 5, but this can vary by item. However if I find my styling stalling out at one or two looks, I think really hard about whether or not I really need it. There are items that will make themselves worth it with only a few possible combos, but I find they’re very rare.
So the number may change, but if you can’t figure out anything to wear it with you’re back at rule number 3. Which means it shouldn’t come home with you.
5. Are You Excited!
First and foremost fashion should be fun and make you feel good about yourself. So even if you’re trying on what seems to be a basic closet staple, if it doesn’t make you feel good rethink it!
I like to be excited about my clothes. I love the feeling of getting something great and wanting to go home and try it on again with all the outfits I’ve been planning. Or getting something that is a bit more of an investment or occasion piece and not being able to wait for its first outing.
Between you and me, if you try something on that makes you truly excited, that changes the way you walk out of the fitting room, you can throw the rest of the rules out the window.
If you hold out for clothes that really give you a thrill, I honestly believe your whole quality of life will improve. There is no use in trying to deny the power that clothes have; rather than let the power control us, we should harness it so that it becomes ours.
6. Will I Wear It At Least 30 Times
I recently wrote a whole piece about how discovering Livia Firth’s “30 wears challenge” has changed my approach to shopping, and I am standing by everything I said in it. I have found that it slots very nicely into my other rules, and even covers some similar territory. Having an exact number is a great gauge to use. Wearing something thirty times is no small feat, so not only do you have to consider how much wear it will get, but how it is going to hold up. It will help you when you think about cost per wear and how far your dollar is actually going.
We can be distracted by something statement-y, or a gorgeous pair of impractical shoes. The items themselves might be great, but will probably only get to come out once or twice a year. So if you are going to wear something twice a year for the next 15 years, go for it! But if you can’t quite commit to the long game, really give it some thought before you make that purchase.
Using these rules as guidelines, and thinking honestly about each one as you try on different pieces will ensure that you are building a wardrobe full of things you love and will get lots of use out of. It may seem daunting to give shopping rules, but when you start feeling amazing about what you’re wearing and the time between the “I have nothing to wear” mornings gets longer and longer, it’ll be worth it.