This post was inspired by a conversation I had with a friend. She sent me a picture of a pair of pants she bought, and asked what she should wear with them to an event she was going to that very day. I believe it was this pair in the Bronze Glow.
Cute pants, but they definitely require a certain top to make a complete outfit.
I first suggested the obvious (to me) color choices — a light neutral top, such as white or ivory, or a coordinating top such as the one the model is wearing. Black or navy are possibilities, but may be too heavy for this time of year.
After pondering for a moment, I told her they strike me as a pair of pants I would pair with a printed blouse that has some of that coral/rust color in it. And that’s when it occurred to me that she had purchased these pants without thinking about what she would wear with them.
To clarify, I asked, “What were you planning to wear with them when you bought them?”
And she confirmed with, “No idea!”
I would never buy a pair of pants without at least some idea of what would wear with them, but I guess that’s a shopping strategy I learned somewhere along the way, and now I just take it for granted that everyone operates that way.
That’s got me thinking, I’m sure she’s not alone. Women must do that all the time. And as I thought about interactions in our Facebook Group and shopping with my daughters, there are quite a few “shopping mistakes” women make that make it harder for them to put outfits together and build a functional wardrobe that works for and not against them. And so, this post was born!
12 Mistakes You May Be Making When You Shop
These are in no particular order, and some may seem redundant, but they all address a slightly different mindset women tend to have when they shop for clothes. On the flip side, there are strategies you can employ that make shopping for clothes more efficient and successful, and who doesn’t want to save time and money?
Even if you enjoy shopping, but somehow seem to end up with too many clothes that you don’t end up wearing, this information might be helpful. At the very least, it’s food for thought.
#1. Buying an item when you don’t know what you will wear with it… // I don’t always shop with a plan or a specific goal in mind, but I always think about what I will wear with an item of clothing when I buy it. Otherwise, it go unworn, or it will create unnecessary stress when I go to get dressed, trying to figure out what to wear with it.
Even worse, this creates a domino effect where you end up buying more pieces to go with said item. That’s not always a bad thing; sometimes I do buy an item knowing I will need to purchase more clothes to complete an outfit, but I always think about it and understand those implications when I make the purchase.
#2. Not having a plan… // As I said, I don’t always shop with a plan. Sometimes I just go to the mall just to see what’s new and see where the spirit leads; in fact, that’s how I’ve discovered some of my favorite wardrobe items. (Looking at you, Mother Insiders…. I’m going on my 3rd summer with these, and they were a total impulse buy back in the Spring of 2021.)
But, know that shopping without a plan is a sure-fire way to eat up your budget on impulse buys and a good way to end up not having what you need to make complete outfits, or with too many clothes that don’t work for your lifestyle.
When I do make a purchase like this one, I take it home and try it on with items in my closet to see if it will work for me, and then make myself wear it or return it before the return window expires.
#3. Shopping the clearance rack first… // I’ve never been one to shop the clearance racks, and I thought it was because I’m lazy and don’t enjoy “the thrill of the hunt.” But then I heard Jen at Everyday Style School say, “The clearance section is the cause of your wardrobe problems, not the solution.” That was a lightbulb moment for me.
After all, clothes end up on the clearance rack because they didn’t sell well for one reason or another. You might think you’re getting “a good deal” but those purchases often go unworn, or you end up spending more on clothes to go with them… which makes them not so much of a bargain after all.
Not to say you can’t find a hidden gem on the clearance rack from time to time, but that’s not the place to build a functional wardrobe of quality pieces that you will love to wear.
#4. Buying something just because “it’s a good deal”… // This goes along with #3, but it’s a little different because you can fall into this trap in all sorts of situations, not just in the clearance section.
It’s not a good deal if you don’t need it, and if it doesn’t fit your lifestyle or your body type or your personal style goals. This is one of the ways so many women end up with “a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear.”
#5. Not shopping your closet first… // If you don’t know what you have when you go shopping, you’ll end up with too many items that serve the same purpose, which can be overwhelming when you go to get dressed for the day.
Be sure to shop your closet first, and if you don’t have an organized closet that allows you to see what you have, consider tackling that project before shopping for more clothes. And if you have done a good closet purge in a while, you may like my post, How to Purge Your Closet & Love Your Wardrobe Again.
#6. Shopping without knowing your measurements… // This applies to all types of shopping, but especially online shopping. I never cease to be amazed by how many women shop without knowing their ideal pants rise, inseam measurement, shirt length, etc. When you know these measurements, it eliminates SO many unnecessary purchases (and returns.)
See my post: How to Shop for Jeans Online: Denim Measurements & Fabric Composition for more information on that.
#7. Shopping for a specific occasion without the proper shoes and/or undergarments… // When you are shopping for a specific occasion, whether it be at the mall or trying things on at home from online orders, always be sure to wear a good fitting bra. In fact, wear a good fitting bra no matter what!
And always try on clothes with the shoes and undergarments you plan to wear with them, if you have them. You will get a much better idea of how the clothes fit, and what else you need to purchase to complete the outfit.
When I go to the mall, intending to try on clothes, I make sure to fix my hair and put on makeup, and I try to wear shoes that are practical for the type of outfits I’ll be trying on. If it’s a special occasional dress, I might even bring along my favorite shapewear and throw a pair of heels in my tote.
I also recommend trying on clothes when you have your hair and makeup done and are feeling good about yourself. Otherwise, it’s easy to get discouraged and feel like nothing looks quite right.
#8. Buying multiples… // You know how it goes, you see that table full of the perfect basic t-shirt in a myriad of colors, and you start gathering them up. I could use this and this and this… and you get them home and put them in your closet, but you find that you don’t reach for any of them, or you end up wearing one over and over.
I’ve learned that it’s a lot more fun to get dressed when each piece of clothing in my closet feels unique and special, so now I’m very strict about limiting myself to one, MAYBE two of a specific clothing item, but only if it really is a unicorn. I thought I had this nailed down, but I fell back into the trap of buying multiples two summers ago with that ATM tee that I love.
I had the white one, which I wore ALL the time, and when I saw a bunch of colors on major markdown at Saks OFF 5TH, I bought it up in 4 colors. They were great neutrals – navy, black, olive, and the white (I wanted a replacement in case I stained the one I had) – but I just didn’t reach for them. They hung in my closet mocking me for months.
They made it through about 3 closet clean-outs (which I perform ruthlessly and often) because I felt guilty, and they were such nice shirts, but finally I admitted defeat and sold all but the white one. (That is the only one I wore more than once.)
I did end up staining the first white one, and I was SO glad I had a backup of this workhorse in my closet. So sometimes it does pay to buy a backup, as there is an exception to every rule, but you have to be very careful giving in to this one!
#9. Buying clothes that don’t work for your body type or the size you are right now… // If you don’t understand your body type and what looks best on you, stop right here and sign up for Adore Your Wardrobe or the Everyday Style School Dress Your Body Shape Masterclass. I’ve done both, and they’re different approaches, but I learned so much from each, it’s hard to even quantify.
Shopping without understanding your body type and what works for it and against it is like diving for a needle in a haystack… you have about a 5% of finding what you’re looking for.
Likewise, buying clothes in the wrong size because “I’m going to lose 5 pounds” is only going to frustrate you and make you feel down about yourself. Once you learn how to dress your unique body, the one you have right now, and you will find shopping and getting dressed every day so much more satisfying and enjoyable.
#10. Buying clothes that don’t fit your lifestyle… // What’s the point of having a closet full of clothes you love if you have nowhere to wear them? Stocking your closet with clothes that don’t fit your lifestyle is a waste of money and closet real estate.
As for me, I absolutely love cute “going out” clothes – date night tops, sky-high heels, flare jeans – but I rarely go anywhere that requires that type of ensemble. I’m also drawn to luxe fabrics and designer bags and shoes, and I often look wistfully at those items as I walk through the mall. But the fact is, I don’t live that life. Even if I can afford much of it, it makes no sense to buy it.
That doesn’t mean I don’t buy things I love; I just buy things I love that I will be able to wear. Because I rarely have the opportunity dress up, most of my clothing is very casual, but I still pay attention to fit and quality and buy clothes that make me happy.
Likewise, if you once had a job with a professional or business casual dress code, and now you’re a stay-at-home mom with triplet toddlers, stop buying business casual clothing, and instead, stock your closet with casual clothing that fits your current lifestyle.
In a nutshell, be sure to buy clothes that fit YOUR life RIGHT NOW, not the life you want to have… or the life you once had.
#11. Buying clothes that don’t match for your personal style goals… // This one piggybacks on #10. If you don’t know your personal style, I highly recommend the Everyday Style School Signature Style Masterclass. The Adore Your Wardrobe teaches this, as well. Ever since I took the time to come up with 3 words to describe my personal style goals (polished, modern & understated) I’ve gotten so much better at shopping for items that I actually wear. I also consider these words when I put outfits together, and reassess until I feel like it fits those three criteria.
It’s entirely possible to have clothing in your closet that works for your lifestyle and your body, but just doesn’t make you look like you want to look… and you just won’t reach for those items. So if you have a lot of things in your closet that you like and look good on you, but you can’t figure out why you don’t wear them, this might be why.
#12. Buying to fill an emotional need… // This touches more on mindset and the psychology of shopping, but it’s so important. We often joke about “retail therapy” but it’s a real thing, and it can be a real problem for some people. I just linked to two interesting articles, but suffice it to say, if you are shopping to fill an emotional need, you may well end up with a bunch of stuff you don’t wear.
If you do that very often, you’ll quickly end up with that infamous “closet full of clothes and nothing to wear.” And then you will feel obligated to wear these imperfect impulse purchases, even if they don’t really look good on you or work with the rest of your wardrobe, which just leads to more guilt and frustration, and more shopping… it’s a vicious cycle. Beware of shopping to fill an emotional need.
I’d love to hear your thoughts! Do you fall into any of these traps? Do you have any other shopping strategies to share?
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photos: Alison Cornell