As a culture, we’ve been sold the idea that shopping is fun. We see glossy advertisements featuring a beautiful, tall, engaging group of friends having so much fun as they hit the shops.
While I can see how being with friends in the mall could hold the potential for a good time, putting together a wardrobe isn’t a recipe for hilarity. It’s more like learning to play pinochle with my grandma as a child. Fun was tearing around in a pack of cousins catching fireflies. Holding an enormous mess of cards in my little hands and trying to remember all the rules wasn’t fun; it was a satisfying intellectual and emotional challenge.
There is an adrenaline rush that goes with making a purchase. We all know people who get addicted to this rush and become compulsive shoppers. That, again, is not fun. It’s sad. As a community, the Mud and Grace women tend to have enough going on that we don’t need shopping to keep us entertained. Quite the opposite, we need to make time in our lives to buy what we need.
As you are piecing together the puzzle of your wardrobe, approach it as such. Take the time, focus and mental space to do your best work in creating an easy wardrobe. These tips will help get you started.
Save more than you need, spend less than you have
When you are serious about creating a flexible, effortless wardrobe, start saving money. You know your economic situation, and where you are likely to shop. Save accordingly. To save more than you need if you are heading to Goodwill, save a couple of hundred dollars. If you are heading to Bridgeport Village, save a lot more. I keep my shopping money in a separate account and fund it with freelance writing projects. I like to have money in the bank beyond what is needed to cover my wardrobe basics. That way if I see something that I really want that would fill a space in my wardrobe, I can buy it without a second thought.
On the other hand, don’t plan on spending everything. The problem with setting a budget is that people often spend everything they have given themselves permission to spend, whether or not they find the right pieces. “Do I need these pants? Not really, but I still have $80 left…”
Attempt (and I know this is hard) to take money out of the equation when shopping. Instead of thinking about how much something costs, or what a good deal it is, or whether or not you deserve it, think about where it fits in your wardrobe. Ultimately, you will begin to buy what you need, and leave behind what you don’t. The money you will save in not buying useless items will more than make up for the money you spend buying a full price pair of wool socks you wear for years.
Obviously, you should never spend money you don’t have. Credit card debt wipes out any peace of mind an effortless wardrobe might give you.
Set aside time in multiples
If you have some major wardrobe goals, you won’t achieve them all while dropping by the mall one afternoon between work and picking up your kids. Look at your calendar and find at least three separate times when you can go out, on your own, and find the items you need for your effortless wardrobe.
I prefer to shop alone when I have specific needs. I enjoy hanging out with friends pretty much anywhere, and that can include shopping. But if I want to spend 20 minutes in the dressing room trying on 15 different plaid shirts, I don’t want to feel like I’m keeping anyone waiting. If you are shopping with others, make sure they are either incredibly patient, or that you don’t have any major goals you need to achieve.
Take your style notebook
Don’t have one yet? Read more here The one must-have item for creating a wardrobe you love
Create a comprehensive list
In that style notebook you should have a list of needs and wants before you go. If you don’t even know what you need or want, do a little research before you go on a major shopping trip.
As you are compiling your list, think about the following questions:
What do you reach for?
When standing at your closet in the morning, what do you wish would appear before you? Are you staring at your stiff button downs, wishing a floaty blouse would materialize? Are you rummaging through a drawer of 5K run t-shirts looking for a simple black layering T? Put these pieces on your list.
What do you wear all the time?
Do you have a favorite outfit? What are the elements that make it so easy and fun for you? Look at the proportions, colors and fabrics, then search for clothes that can replicate the feel of this great ensemble.
Who do you want to be?
Often we go shopping with an image in our head of what we “should” wear, rather than what we want to wear. We think about what makes us look slim, what is “sensible.” We shy away from stylish things, not wanting to appear too flashy. Is that what we want?
Think long and hard about who you want to be in this world. Then go get clothes that are worthy of that woman.
Do you need shoes with that?
Every time you try on anything, mentally run through your wardrobe and make sure you have something to go with it. Orphan clothing items produce frustration and guilt. If you are going out on a limb and trying something new, make sure you either have the supporting garments to wear it, or plan to round out the ensemble in the immediate future.
Pushing yourself to try new things is great, and necessary. But don’t expect to go from a wardrobe full of yoga pants to a sequined mini skirt and go-go boots in one afternoon.
When trying a new style try to find it in a color and fabric that make you comfortable. Similarly, if experimenting with color, stick with a style you know.
Recently my neighbor texted me a picture of a woman wearing a salmon-colored leather bomber jacket. Wow! She looked amazing. But salmon colored, leather, and bomber jacket are all things I’d need to wrap my head around. By finding a denim bomber jacket, I don’t feel at all conspicuous when I wear it, but am still able to stretch my boundaries.
What you don’t buy is just as important as what you do buy
Think of your wardrobe like a packing list for a backpacking trip. You don’t want any extra weight. At any given time your closet and drawers should only hold clothing that you would be excited to wear today. Not buying an item that isn’t great is as much of a score as buying something wonderful.
You are going to make mistakes
When piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, you don’t automatically reach for the perfect piece every time (unless you are my mother.) You are going to bring home some items of clothing that don’t work in the long term. It’s OK, now you know. Make note of the things that don’t work in your style notebook and move on.
It’s not a race
Creating the perfect wardrobe takes time. It’s like gardening, a slow, rewarding process of cultivation. If you don’t find the perfect jeans this afternoon, there will be other opportunities. In allowing yourself the time and space to put together a great wardrobe, you are affirming your own self worth.
In the end, our shopping experiences should be far from the gregarious, adrenaline-and-espresso-fueled mall parties of the media. In future posts we will look more in depth at other types of shopping: on line, second hand, eco, dealing with sizing, and fun house mirrors in dressing rooms. But for now, take this synopsis with you on a quiet afternoon of finding a few pieces to for your perfect wardrobe.
Save more than you need
Spend less than you have
Buy what you need, leave what you don’t
Take your time.
*PS Am I seriously wearing pearls while drinking PBR on the dirt with a few thousand of the most tattooed Americans ever gathered in one place? I need to start working on appropriate accessories…