How to Shop for Clothes Successfully

Recently I’ve been thinking about how to shop for clothes successfully and the shopping strategies that work the best for me. A few weeks ago 40 Plus Style published a great article on how to avoid making costly shopping mistakes.  To avoid mistakes the author creates a series of  lists to help her while she shops.  One list outlines the sort of garments that work for her, another the looks and fabrics she wants to avoid, and finally another of items, trends and colors that will round out what is already in her wardrobe.  I love creating lists and I agree with her strategy. It’s a good one. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work all that well for me.  The best pieces in my wardrobe were all purchased on a whim.

How I avoid shopping mistakes

But before I continue I think it’s important to define what a shopping mistake is to me. In these photos I’m wearing a new outfit that I consider shopping success.  I love and wear each piece! As you can see from the colorful look I’m not suggesting that you only buy high-end simple-yet-elegant neutral garments made of Italian cashmere, although if that’s your thing by all means go for it. To me a shopping mistake happens when I shop for clothes and then rarely or never wear them. The more expensive the garment, the more serious the mistake.

But how do I avoid making mistakes without planning or creating a shopping strategy? It occurs to me that this is weird. After a lot of thought I realized that when I’m not looking for anything specific I only buy things I love. I make mistakes when I’m lusting after a trend or looking for something to wear to an event. In these situations I often settle for less than fabulous. Take the teal jeans I wore here. I bought them early this year.  At the time I was desperate for a pair of blue-green jeans. Instead of waiting to find a flattering pair that fit just right I purchased the first pair I found, which sit very low on the hips, creating the dreaded muffin top.  This means I can only wear the jeans with one or two blouses, which makes them limiting and therefore something of a shopping mistake.

How I shop for clothes successfully

I shopped for the outfit I’m wearing in these photos without a plan or a list.  I had some time, went to my local Nordstrom and collected a number of pieces that looked interesting.  I tried on everything and for each piece asked a few questions. One outfit stood out from the rest. I bought it, and now wear the jacket and the jeans constantly.  The blouse is a bit less versatile, but I do like it with white jeans or skirt. It was a successful shopping trip.

Here are the questions I ask myself in the dressing room

1) Does this make me look and feel fabulous? The answer should be instinctive and immediate.  If a garment makes me feel fabulous then it’s probably flattering to my figure and coloring.

2) Does it work with my lifestyle? I’m a mother, wife and a freelance designer. My favorite clothes take me to client meetings and dinner out with my husband, yet I also need casual pieces for family outings and running errands.  Really dressy clothes and suits have no place in my wardrobe, no matter how gorgeous they are.

3) Is it (insert price here) good?  I actually use that string of grammatically incorrect words in the fitting room as the awkwardness of the phrase makes the sentiment stand out in my mind. In general I like to spend more money on good quality basics and less money on frivolity and trends.

4) Do these clothes create an outfit? My number one shopping mistake comes from buying garments by themselves.  I go home, loving my new piece, and find it works with nothing in my closet.  To avoid this I focus on buying outfits rather than single pieces. (Clearly this strategy doesn’t work at mega-sales, consignment boutiques or thrift stores, but the prices are so low that I don’t usually worry about it.)  Often a single piece will play nice with the other garments in my wardrobe, but some things only works with the outfit I bought  it with.  That’s OK.  As long as I can wear a piece with something it won’t sit in my closet looking at me whispering “Whoops, you did it again.”

5) Can I wear a bra with it? If not, is the garment structured enough not to need one? Ok, this one is totally personal.  I will not wear clothing without a bra unless it’s designed with an internal support system. In fact, I won’t even try on clothes that clearly are not bra-friendly. Last year I purchased a rather expensive dress that does not allow for a bra.  It was my biggest mistake of the year, and it was not cheap. After that I said “never again”.

  • Jacket – Sanctuary
  • Blouse – Bellatrix
  • Purse – Hobo
  • Jeans – Not Your Daughter’s Jeans
  • Sandals – M Patrick
How do you shop for clothes?  Are you instinctive or are your shopping trips planned and strategic?

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42 Responses to How to Shop for Clothes Successfully

  1. A Brit Greek
    July 13, 2012 at 9:36 am #

    You look fantastic Heather, I adore that shir! Great post and useful advice/info. I’m with you on shopping mistakes – if you don’t wear it and it cost a bomb – that would be painful!
    I’ve been really good and not buying into fashion led trends so much… I already have everything I need. Perhaps key ‘trend’ pieces to enhance my wardrobe but thats’ it. – Ok I lie, I may give in to impulse purchases if I see something I reckon will be snapped off the racks! lol!
    Have a great weekend!
    A Brit Greek recently posted..Leather: 50 shades of Maximum Impact, Minimum EffortMy Profile

    • Heather Fonseca July 15, 2012 at 11:24 pm #

      Honestly I shop way too much, but I think I’ll calm down soon. There’s no room in my closet!

  2. Patricia
    July 13, 2012 at 11:17 am #

    I found time to come see you today, and I’m glad I did. This a great post! Even the most experience shopper should read this. We all have something we shouldn’t bought but don’t want to part with because it looked nice at the time, or we spent to much money. In addition, many people don’t like shopping because they don’t carry these questions with the mentally. As a result, they may try on things that don’t look good or get discouraged when the garment looks better on the hanger. Your helping people save time and money. Keep up the usual great content!
    Patricia recently posted..Fashion Friday Round Up July 9 to 13My Profile

    • Heather Fonseca July 22, 2012 at 9:17 am #

      Thanks Patricia! So glad you liked the post.

  3. Mary Jo
    July 13, 2012 at 2:09 pm #

    I love that shirt you’re wearing Heather. It’s such a good question and I’m just terrible at shopping–I always wait too long and then it’s either completely sold out or gone in my size or completely unavailable because I’m shopping in the wrong season, ie looking for winter clothes to take to NY when all the spring/summer clothes were already in the stores here…I tend to look for specific items because I already have most of what I need. So lately it’s been the white tee, white jeans, white skirt. Now that I have all that I’m moving on to a bikini–haha, I told you I’m super late in my shopping! Hope you have a great weekend!

    xo Mary Jo
    Mary Jo recently inspired: balthus, girl with catMy Profile

    • Heather Fonseca July 15, 2012 at 11:16 pm #

      There are still some bathing suits at Nordstroms but I know how you feel about shopping out of “season”. When I need things they’re no longer in stores. I think that’s one of the reasons I like consignment stores so much. They seem to have what people want right now not what we might want in three months.

  4. Jeannie
    July 13, 2012 at 8:48 pm #

    Heather, this is a wonderful post!
    I have to admit that I’m an impulsive shopper…no plans. I grab what pops for me. I need to be better about that.

    This outfit is so perfect, and you look gorgeous!
    Jeannie recently posted..Lovely LuauMy Profile

    • Heather Fonseca July 15, 2012 at 11:14 pm #

      You always look beautiful Jeannie. I think your impulse shopping is working for you!

  5. Alexis Grace July 14, 2012 at 8:10 am #

    Confession: I am in indecisive shopper. I hate buying something that doesn’t get worn, so I take forever to make purchases. Although, as I understand more and more about clothing the pieces I end up loving the most are the pieces that I buy impulsively. I guess, internally I have learned to ask several of these question.

    The blouse is beautiful!
    Alexis Grace recently posted..Beach BagsMy Profile

    • Heather Fonseca July 15, 2012 at 11:14 pm #

      Alexis you always look beautiful so I’m sure you’re doing something right!

  6. Sylvia
    July 14, 2012 at 12:30 pm #

    Lovely outfit Heather and thanks for linking to my article. This is a great outfit and you ask yourself some good questions. I try to use a combination of my list and these kind of questions to avoid shopping mistakes. I’m an impulse buyer as well, but tend to buy things that are not always practical. I need to limit my shopping mistakes!
    Sylvia recently posted..Be inspired by Advanced Style – a book reviewMy Profile

    • Heather Fonseca July 15, 2012 at 11:13 pm #

      I still make mistakes but my closet is getting fuller and fuller and I need to make sure that each piece that goes in is really fab. Thanks so much for the inspiration!

  7. Donna
    July 14, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

    Honestly I usually go shopping when I want to do something enjoyable vs. all of the “have to do” things. Those are the times I usually find a lot of good things that I need, fit well and/or are affordable. And that’s usually when I don’t have enough money to buy all of them. 🙂
    When I go with a specific thing in mind that I’m lacking in my wardrobe, then it seems I don’t find anything. *sigh* So if all of the stars align and I find something I need, that fits well, AND I can afford it, I grab it.
    I have learned that altho thrift stores are fun and have some great pieces at even better prices, I have to stay away from the “tops/blouses” section. I can ALWAYS find several tops that I like, are good quality, and fit well, and of course I can afford them, but I don’t NEED all of those tops!
    That, I think, is why your list of questions is so important. If it meets some criteria but not others, it can still be a shopping mistake. Great post, Heather! I might print it out and stick it inside my purse for future reference. 🙂
    Donna recently posted..Green and pink for a garden partyMy Profile

    • Heather Fonseca July 15, 2012 at 11:12 pm #

      “When I go with a specific thing in mind that I’m lacking in my wardrobe, then it seems I don’t find anything” that is me all over! I once spent three years looking for a denim jacket and I have looked and looked for a great pair of black pants to no avail. I’m so glad you like the post!

  8. DressCode:HighFashion
    July 15, 2012 at 4:27 am #

    The pastel jacket & floral blouse are fantastic! Awesome summer outfit (the pink lipstick goes fab with it – green and pink go together so well).

    I only ask myself one question in the dressing room: “Does it make me look great?”. If so I`m getting it. I also buy pieces that go with nothing else in my wardrobe, I let the pieces “find each other” over time in my wardrobe.

    …but I admit that I also have “weak days” where I`m just overwhelmed with wanting a piece so I fall for the “I`ll lose 5 pounds and then it`ll fit well” self-betrayal… :/

    Hope you`re having a nice weekend, Jen
    DressCode:HighFashion recently posted..Jil Sander F/W 12 Runway DetailsMy Profile

    • Heather Fonseca July 15, 2012 at 11:11 pm #

      “Does it make me look great” is a very important question. If it does, then it’s a winner.

  9. Arash Mazinani
    July 15, 2012 at 6:40 am #

    I agree with some of the choices you highlighted in the post. For me the number one thing I look for is a perfect fit. It doesn’t matter if it goes with other clothes in my wardrobe, it doesn’t matter how expensive or inexpensive it is. If it doesn’t fit right then I don’t buy it. Simple! Great fitting clothes that are inexpensive can look expensive because they fit so well.

    I then will move on to considering whether what I’m about to buy goes with other pieces in my wardrobe. In fact I need to make sure I can get at least 3 outfits from that one piece. I don’t like have items that I only wear one way. I want my wardrobe to be interchangeable, therefore my clothes have to work hard.
    Arash Mazinani recently posted..The Definitive Ladies Autumn Winter 2012 Trend ReportMy Profile

    • Heather Fonseca July 15, 2012 at 11:10 pm #

      Arash you are so right. Fit is so important but often something I overlook. Usually if it looks good it fits correctly, but often I just gloss over some flaw in the fit and then I regret it.

  10. Stacey - Total City Girl
    July 15, 2012 at 8:24 pm #

    I have convos with myself in the dressing room also! When I see I am trying to talk myself into something, I immediately take it off. I know if I don’t feel great in the dressing room, I won’t later at home.

    Love the jacket!
    Stacey – Total City Girl recently posted..Chip Chat: Deep River NY Spicy Dill Pickle ChipsMy Profile

    • Heather Fonseca July 15, 2012 at 11:09 pm #

      You’re so right! Dressing room light is usually really bad, so if I like it in there I know I’ll like it at home.

  11. Shermika
    July 17, 2012 at 6:32 am #

    I shopped for my clothes based on the look and the fit. It has to be comfortable, versatile enough (often from day to night), and make me feel great. I love your outfit…especially the cute little green bag. My favorite purchases are always dresses…they are so comfy and easy to wear.

    • Heather Fonseca July 19, 2012 at 8:03 pm #

      Thanks shermika! So glad you like the post and I know what you mean about dresses. I like them too. Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment too.

  12. Jamillah July 22, 2012 at 7:55 am #

    These are really great guidelines to shopping. I have a bra situation too! I do not by things that can not be worn without a bra. And the life style question is a great; I’ve had to add that to my life as my professional life has changed. It’s an important question!
    Jamillah recently posted..Smile File-Zombies, RUN!My Profile

  13. Anneka July 26, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

    Great post, and that top is to die for! I love your tips, but have one to add – can i throw it in the washing machine, or is it going to cost me a fortune in dry cleaning bills! Congrats on making the LALM list this week 🙂

    • Heather Fonseca July 27, 2012 at 11:51 am #

      Thanks so much Anneka! I agree with you about the dry cleaning. I hate to take things to be cleaned and it does cost a lot. Unfortunately I usually forget when I’m shopping, but it’s a tip to remember.

  14. Paula July 28, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

    Hey Heather! Congrats on your IFB nod! And thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting. I will be back soon–maybe in a little different way! TTYS Paula
    Paula recently posted..Gone Fishin’My Profile

  15. anne the SpyGirl
    July 28, 2012 at 6:48 pm #

    Congrats on making the IFB list!
    You deserve it.
    I enjoyed the post very much.
    anne the SpyGirl recently posted..DITTO (Sun)Glasses GIVEAWAY – Less Than 24 Hours Left!My Profile

  16. Di July 29, 2012 at 3:25 am #

    I cleaned out my closet (of things I have probably worn only once or twice) earlier this month. I won’t even admit how many items I took to Goodwill. argh. Great advice you are giving! I too love the bright floral shirt you are wearing and that you pulled the color green from it to match to your purse. Such a great looking summer outfit.
    Di recently posted..Casual DayMy Profile

    • Heather Fonseca July 30, 2012 at 9:08 pm #

      Thanks so much Di. I’m glad you found the article useful.

  17. Fashion October 15, 2012 at 11:12 pm #

    This is a wonderful post and its really an very useful advice as well as info….This outfit is so perfect, and looks so gorgeous!! I just love the shirt which can be used as a great summer outfit.
    Fashion recently posted..7 Things You Can Accomplish Without Leaving the CouchMy Profile

    • Heather Fonseca October 17, 2012 at 10:42 am #

      Thanks so much. I’m glad you like the post.


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