Seven questions to ask yourself before you buy that piece of clothing
A shopping manifesto for my past self
Whenever I needed to get dressed & go out, I would habitually find myself standing in the middle of piles and piles and piles of clothing, feeling like I had absolutely nothing to wear. After I started obsessively documenting my fashion choices on this blog, I was able to start identifying some of the pitfalls of my shopping habits — and started figuring out how to avoid them by asking myself these questions before I added anything to my wardrobe.
(TW: mention of eating disorder in #7)
1. What are my motivations for purchasing this particular piece of clothing right now?
I think that this process is especially important with online shopping and look-books: around the time I started receiving a regular, somewhat living-wage paycheck for the first time in my life, I would excitedly buy a lot of shit online — boo, brick & mortar retailers not carrying clothing in my sizes! — and would be almost universally disappointed when the clothing arrived, not necessarily because it was ugly or fit poorly, but because the clothing item itself wasn’t what I was responding to when I looked at the pictures of it online. I’d let myself get swept up by the advertising, the beautifully evocative images of the clothing on the models, the fantasies of the person I’d be — or be with — if I purchased those clothes.
My Achilles heel of advertising images? Indifferent coolness. Give me a photo of someone wearing an outfit with the attitude of a modern-day Morticia Adams, Natasha (of Natasha & Boris, nach), Danny Zucko or Shane and BOOM, I want everything about it madly, regardless of whether not the clothing is something I’d actually wear, have an occasion to wear or would feel comfortable wearing.
Once I started looking at the pictures of the things I wanted to buy more critically, I was able to take a step back and enjoy the images — yay for mood boards with no obligation to buy! — while being cognizant that buying those pants or that jacket or those super impractical shoes wasn’t going to make me into that person or give me their lifestyle. My closet is a whole lot less cluttered now, and I have more room for things I’ll actually wear and feel good wearing.
2. Will the garment fit you the same way it fits the model? Is it OK if it doesn’t?
This was an especially critical lesson for me and online clothing shopping. I’m in between a lot of sizes, and my boobs are of a size that off-the-rack clothing which would otherwise fit me does not begin to have enough fabric to contain my tits. This means that, say, a shirt that is draped and flowing on a size 00 model is going to fit my body very, very differently than theirs. Sometimes that’s OK; more often than not, it’s a sign to move on.
3. How will it work with the rest of my closet?
I wear a lot of red and burgundy and jewel tones; no matter how cute that pastel motorcycle jacket is, it’s going to be really, really difficult for me to find clothing in my wardrobe that I’ll want to wear it with. Conversely, I have twenty thousand black shirts; no matter how cute this one is, I don’t actually need another.
4. Will I be comfortable wearing it?
Beyond whether or not I’d be comfortable with the fit of the garment, is it something I’d be comfortable wearing out in public? I’m all for pushing my clothing comfort zone, but I want to do that deliberately, not accidentally. Constantly tugging or adjusting clothing because it feels wrong somehow isn’t fun. Like, boxy crop tops: I LOVE how they look on other people who have fun wearing them, but when I’ve tried them on, I feel like there’s a draft and I need to shut the front door, and I’m constantly tugging at the shirt, trying to move it down or tuck it in or somehow stretch it into a completely different top by force of will. No matter how cute I think they are in theory, they’re going to languish in my closet if I buy them, and again, I’d much rather have clothing that I’ll wear.
5. Am I buying it for the right reasons?
Not because it’s cheap or on sale, not because it’s a limited run, not because I’m trying to fill an emotional hole with fabric, not because I want to impress someone, not because it’s going to make someone else happy.
6. Can I afford it?
No matter how hot or flattering or on trend they are, going into debt over a pair of pants or sunglasses or shoes or whatever isn’t worth it. Likewise, making rent and eating are not discretionary budget categories; fashion is.
7. Is it in my size right now?
Ugh, this one is so hard to admit, and is maybe completely obvious to everyone but me, but just in case it’s not: I used to be a compulsive buyer of clothing that was too small — like, sizes and sizes too small, like, a size 00 when I was wearing size 8, like, too-small to get over my skull too-small — because I thought that having a closet full of clothing that I couldn’t get over my head would be motivation to lose drastic, unsafe amounts of weight.
HAH. HAH. HAH. Hah.
That way of thinking leads to madness. Like, literally, madness. Don’t.
After getting some professional help dealing with the worst of that nasty little eating disorder, I stopped wasting money buying clothing that was drastically undersized for my frame and body type; learning to let go of clothing just a size too small is still hard sometimes.
There are a lot of places that carry, say, a size 10 in an item I really, really like, but don’t have the size 12 or size 14 or size 16 or whatever size is appropriate for that particular retailer, because standardized sizing is a fucking unicorn, and I’ve been sorely tempted to buy the thing that’s a size too small because it’s impossible for me to completely tune out the media and the diet industry telling me that I’m going to lose 5lbs and be happy because of it.
The natural extension of this realization is: stop shopping at stores that purport to carry all sizes, but in actuality do not do this. My local H&M is the worst at this: technically, H&M manufacturers sizes 00 to 12, but in actuality, each time I’m there, the racks are filled with sizes 00 to 6, with a handful of sizes 8 and 10 and every once and a while, a single size 12. There’s nothing like standing in the middle of a store full of merchandise, realizing that there isn’t any clothing in the store that’s big enough to fit my body into. So why go there in the first place?
Also: a lot of this advice is extra critical to me because my yearly budget for clothes is less than $100. Buying something I won’t wear or that doesn’t fit or that doesn’t work is directly replacing my potential to purchase something that I will wear.
What about you? How do you keep your closet and your budget in balance?