I often get asked what I save and splurge on when it comes to shopping and how I decide what to buy. Over the years, I’ve revised my approach to shopping and filling my wardrobe, and I feel like I’m finally at a place in my life where I’m being really thoughtful about what I buy and how I am putting together a wardrobe that works for my life and that stands the test of time. I find that putting together capsule collections (see my fall capsule collection and winter capsule, spring capsule wardrobe and summer capsule wardrobe) each season has been really helpful in helping me pare down what I’m buying as the weather and trends change every few months while filling in the missing pieces I need. But the thing that’s helped me the most when deciding what to buy and building a wardrobe that’s practical and that I actually wear is a list of questions to ask before buying clothes that I’ve come up with over the years.
I find that in the moment, I’m easily influenced to buy a cute dress I see on Instagram or boots I see a colleague wearing or a new pair of jeans that make the model look really cute. But for some reason, I have this habit of buying lots of bottoms and dresses and not the pieces I need to fill out my wardrobe like tops, shoes, jackets, etc. And in the past, I would buy something I loved but wasn’t practical for my life, body, or rest of my wardrobe. That’s why I’ve really relied on this set of questions to ask before buying clothes — they help guide me away from splurging on something that I love in the moment but won’t actually wear enough to get my money’s worth. Since so many of you are wondering how I choose between what to save and splurge on, I thought I’d share this list of questions to ask before buying clothes. I’ve found it really helpful in overhauling my closet and approach to shopping. Let me know what you think and if there are any questions you’d add.
What will I wear it with?
You want to make sure before adding something to your closet that you have shoes and bottoms/tops and accessories to wear with it. I still find that I’ll buy something and have no shoes to wear with it, and then I have to buy another pair of shoes, and soon instead of just splurging on a dress, I’ve bought a dress, new shoes, and a new bag. Sometimes that’s ok, especially if the other pieces fill a hole in your closet. But now, I’m a lot less likely to splurge on a top or dress or bottoms if I don’t have at least a few things in my closet I can mix and match it with, which helps me get more wear out of it and helps to justify the expense.
Will I wear it next year?
Speaking of justifying the expense, if it’s a trend or item that I only think I’ll wear for a season or two, I’ll go for the H&M/Zara version. It’s not worth it to spend a lot on a fleeting trend, whether it’s shoes or a dress. In fact, you won’t see me buying super trendy designer shoes and bags. I know you can resell them, but they won’t recoup the same value and they get dated super fast. I’m not that into logos and “it” bags and shoes anyway. I’d rather have a classic, well made piece that doesn’t necessarily scream where it’s from but looks luxe and stands the test of time.
Can I consign it?
This is a question I started asking recently and it’s really helped. Each season, I clean out my closet, donating a lot of the fast fashion and other items I no longer wear and consigning the designer clothes that I’m sick of. I then use the money I make from consigning to invest in the next season’s wardrobe. I feel much better about splurging on an item that I know I can consign in a couple years, so I try to stick to labels that places like The Real, Real and the Fashionphile take. For example, Ulla Johnson and Doen pieces tend to sell well on The Real, Real so it makes sense to invest in those dresses because I know I can wear them until I grow tired of them and the recoup some of the cost. Other brands may not have as much resell power so I may hold off on splurging on them. I also use this when deciding whether to invest in a pricier item at a Zara or J.Crew or H&M. I know I can’t sell these (I know some people have luck on sites like Poshmark and ThredUp, but I just haven’t found the time investment worth it for me so far. I also follow this rule for shoes. Rather than buying a $200 cheaper version of a pair I love, I’ll often go for the designer version (though I try to buy during a friends and family sale or from The Real Real) because I know I can resell them, whereas the $200 non-designer pair will languish in my closet for years after I stop wearing them.
Am I still thinking about it days later?
I once wrote an article for Glamour about only buying things that make you want to do a dance. I love fashion and get really excited about clothes. I’ll literally do a happy dance when I really like something I’m wearing like love it. If I don’t buy it, I’ll find myself thinking and obsessing about it days later. That’s how I know I should get it. If I keep thinking about how much I love it, I know it’s special to me, will make me feel good in it, and will be worth the splurge. This is one of the most important questions to ask before buying clothes IMO. You want a closet full of clothes that make you happy and feel good.
Does it fill a hole in my wardrobe (like do I always need brown ankle boots to wear with my dresses and are these them?)
When I get dressed, I’ll often spot the missing holes in my closet. And it’s often at the most inopportune times. For example, I need a pair of tan or brown shoes to go with my fall dresses in my closet. I never think of it until I go to get dressed and spend a half hour trying on every shoe I own and not finding anything that works. I try to make a list every time this happens so that when I do find a pair I love, I can jump on it. I find that when you’re shopping for a specific need in your closet (kind of like when you need a formal dress), you never find something you love or you end up spending more on it. As you know, I love to bargain shop, so I like to wait to find the shoes I love on sale or on The Real Real or until the perfect pair that I can’t stop thinking about come my way.
How often will I wear it?
This is an important question. Sometimes I will splurge on a formal dress that really can only be worn to a wedding or black tie event, but even when I do this, I think about whether I can wear this in a year or two since I like to spread out special occasion outfits. If it’s an item that’s really cute but not practical for my life as a working mom always running around, I won’t buy it. If it’s a great deal but I just know that it’s not comfortable enough for me to wear every day or I just don’t have enough in my closet to wear with it or it’s just not something I’m going to reach for on the reg, I won’t buy it. I try to go for items that I’ll wear at least a few times a month. Which leads me to my next question…
Is it a fleeting trend?
If it’s a fleeting trend, I know I won’t wear it for more than a season, so I’ll either buy it on the cheap (Amazon, Target, H&M, Zara, are some of my favorite sources) or I’ll skip it. I’m not a huge fan of trends. I prefer to wear what works for me and what I feel comfortable in, but I work in magazines and fashion, so of course, I like to dip my toes into them as much as the next person. But if I’m buying Celine or Brock Collection, it’s going to be a piece I can wear for years and years.
What is quality?
If the material or construction feels cheap, it’s not worth splurging on. That’s why I prefer to spend a little extra on designer items. The shoes and bags are made better. Same with jackets and jeans. So if it’s something I love and will wear to death, I want it to last through multiple wearings and cleanings. With that said, I love to buy sweaters from H&M and Zara. The quality is good and I can wear them to death without worrying if they get dirty at James’ soccer game or if Charlotte touches me with sticky hands.
Does the fashion math make sense?
This is one of the most important questions to ask when buying clothes. You want to make sure the fashion math makes sense aka the cost per wear. You can take an expensive item like a $1000 pair of shoes, and if you wear them 10 times, it’s a $100 a wear, which depending on your budget, may not be worth it to you. However, if you wear them 50 times, that makes them $20 a wear, which is a lot easier to swallow. I really stick to this when it comes to more expensive dresses, coats, bags, and shoes. It makes those splurges more palpable and keeps you from investing in something you love but just won’t wear.
So those are the questions to ask before buying clothes that have helped me transform my approach to shopping and in the process, made it so much easier to get dressed. Do you have any other questions or strategies you use when deciding what to save and splurge on?