We love practical and easy, don’t we? I don’t know about you, but I am drawn to “3 steps to do this” or “5 steps to do that books.” Somehow, knowing there is a fairly short list of things I need to do in order to have the desired result feels, well, encouraging. So, in the spirit of getting right down to it, here are my 10 simple steps to becoming a smart shopper.
Step 1: organize your closet. Let me warn you right off the bat. If you are looking for quick and easy, step 1 might seem a bit daunting. If I’m being honest, it is totally OCD, but I am completely convinced it will make getting dressed in the morning so much easier. First, go through your clothing and separate out everything you haven’t worn in a year. Next, separate your tops, pants, skirts and dresses into different areas of your closet. Then, separate your winter items from your summer items within each category. At the end of this step, you should have all your tops together, all your winter pants together, all your summer pants together, and so forth. Last, organize each section by color using the ROYGBIV acronym for the colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Complete the rainbow by putting your greys and blacks after your purples and your whites and creams after that. Now, go back to the items you removed in the beginning. Put all your classic items like black blazers, white blouses and black pants back into your closet unless they are out of date. Donate the rest. Whew….sit down and rest a bit.
Why, you ask, did I have you go through that arduous process? Because now you can clearly see what you have. If you have 20 short sleeved shirts and only 2 long sleeved ones, you know you need to balance out your wardrobe a bit in this area. If you have 8 hot pink tops and no neutrals, you may want to shop for some great basics that will work with more things in your closet. Make sense?
This leads us to step 2: make a shopping list. Once you know what you need to shop for, write it down on a list that you keep with you all the time. Shopping trips happen at unexpected times while you are waiting for an appointment or when you have a few extra minutes. Keep that list with you so that no matter when you shop, you can check it and stay focused on what you need rather than wandering aimlessly through the store waiting for something to catch your eye.
Step 3: shop with a color palate. This step also requires some work, but not to worry, I have a handy video that will give you a great start. Shopping with a color palate will focus your shopping in amazing ways. It will help you say “no” to items that you love but are in a color that is not flattering on your skin. It will also help you have the confidence that when you get that item home, it will go with something else in your closet, including your accessories like purses and coats.
Step 4: know when the best sales happen at your favorite boutique or store. For most of the industry, January and February are sales months for winter and July and August are sales months for summer. Early markdowns happen in December and June as well. Start checking back frequently in late December and late June to get the first chance at the best items. If you wait to the end of the sale season, most of the great buys will be very picked over.
Step 5: use the store perks. If your favorite stores have a layaway program with no fees, this is a great way to shop early in the sale season and put the items on layaway so you can pay for them a little at a time. Does your store of choice have a rewards or loyalty program? Make sure you are utilizing it and maximizing your shopping budget.
Step 6: shop for quality and not quantity. Nothing is a great deal if you never wear it! Don’t buy just because it is on sale. In fact, when you consider the cost per wear of an item, in many cases you are better off to spend more on something that is higher quality and will last longer than less on something that is poor quality and will fall apart. Check out my blog about cost per wear to learn more on this topic. To determine quality, look at the button holes; they should be bound and not raw with clean edges and no hanging strings. Next, examine the seams; they should lay flat with no ripples or bumps. Then, look at the stitching; good quality items have 8-12 stitches per inch. If the item is patterned, look at where the pattern comes together at the seam. Does it match or is it askew? The higher quality items will match the pattern all the way around the garment. Last, look at the hems; a quality hem will be double stitched and will not be visible from the outside of the garment.
Step 7: shop alone. I know, I know….you’re thinking that you need that teenage daughter or friend to tell you the truth about how something looks. Who can trust a sales associate, right? Well, speaking from personal experience, you can trust a good sales associate, especially one you have built a relationship with and who knows you and what styles and brands you like. The problem with your teenage daughter or friend is that oftentimes their advice to you is based upon what they feel is a good style for them. It is difficult for most of us to disassociate what we feel is stylish for what actually looks good on someone. This is where a professional comes in who has been trained how to help you shop. At the end of the day, you are the one who has to wear what you take home. Shouldn’t you be the one to decide if it’s right or wrong?
Step 8: buy a complete outfit rather than pieces. Nothing is worse than buying something amazing at the store only to discover that you have absolutely nothing to wear it with when you get home. Worse yet are the various orphans in your closet that you were sure would match that pair of pants but didn’t and so just hang there…waiting. You can avoid this scenario by buying an entire outfit from the start, including the accessories needed to complete it. After all, good dressing isn’t just about the top and bottom you are wearing; it is about the complete look with the appropriate shoes, accessories, handbag and coat. Not sure you agree with me? Have you ever seen someone put a Columbia parka over a dress? Sadly, I have.
Step 9: focus on building your basics first and then add the trends. Make sure you have the bones of a good wardrobe – one or two pairs of black pants, a black blazer, a black skirt, and several nice blouses or tops that can work back with all of your basic bottoms. Then begin adding other neutrals like browns and navy, all according to your color palate. Make sure you have a nice casual coat and a nice dress coat. Be sure you have shoes that coordinate with your wardrobe and are appropriate for dressing up or work. Once you have this foundation, you can start spending money on trends like cold shoulder tops, embroidered bottoms, and the like.
And finally, step 10: don’t wait for sales to get your workhorse pieces. There are items in your closet that wear out the fastest because you wear them the most. Your basic black items are usually among these. Don’t settle for less than wonderful on your workhorse items. These are the things you splurge on to get the absolute best quality you can afford. At the end of the day, quality = longevity. The better quality fabrics and workmanship of higher priced items will hold up in the washing machine and will with stand wear much better than cheaper items. Spend your money where it counts. For these pieces shop in the prime season so you get the best selection of sizes and the most choices. This means shopping in March and April for summer items and September and October for winter items.