Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Buyer's Remorse, Part II

Today I'd like to talk about strategies for avoiding the dreaded buyer's remorse in our clothing purchases. I'll start out with a disclaimer: I'm by no means perfect when it comes to sticking to these strategies 100% of the time. Often I've discovered in retrospect that if only I'd taken one of these approaches, I probably wouldn't own this or that item that I'm not perfectly happy with. So I'll share these tips not only for you, but also for myself, so that I might better cement the ideas more firmly in my own head.

Having items in your closet that you regret buying is a curse. You paid for it, you're stuck with it, and you never wear it. Or you wear it out of guilt and feel awkward and uncomfortable when you do. Assuming you can't employ one of the strategies I discussed yesterday, you really have no option but to get rid of it and at least spare yourself the further misery of having it mocking you every time you open your closet. But here are some tools you can use while shopping that might help you to avoid making that regrettable purchase at all:

1. Sleep on it. Unless the item you're considering is the last one in your size and has sold out rapidly, chances are that you can go home and think about it for 24 hours and it'll still be there when you come back. Many shops will even hold an item for a day while you consider whether you really want to buy it. Even going away for an hour or two while you browse other shops can do wonders for your perspective. If it's an online purchase, put it in your cart and log off for a day. More than once I've found that the next day I don't even remember to log back on, and by the time I do remember a week later, the item doesn't seem that spectacular anymore. If you're still thinking about it the next day and are just itching to get back on the site and make sure no one has snapped up your treasure, then it's probably a solid purchase.

2. Make sure it fills an unmet need. No matter what, there will always be cute things in the stores. But the fact is that you do not need to have every permutation of every type of garment in every color, and that's a great thing to remind yourself when you're contemplating what could turn out to be a superfluous purchase. Just the other day I stopped myself from even considering an adorable navy dress, because I already have one. It doesn't matter that the dress I have is a casual jersey style and the one I was looking at was a tailored cotton one; I simply do not need two solid navy dresses, because in the end they're not really all that different.

3. A great deal is not always a great deal. Oh, if I could have only learned this one last year, before I got caught up in thrifting fever. I can't tell you how many things I bought because they were a 'great deal' that are frankly not all I could wish for. So before you snap up that $2.99 top, take a moment to ask yourself if you'd be so excited about it if it were full price. Would you even consider it then? Also ask yourself if it is really and truly YOU, whether it's as flattering as it should be, and if it'll be just as treasured as your favorite items. Also, does it fill that specific niche in your wardrobe? Several months ago I bought an adorable orange skirt for a few bucks at Goodwill, only to get it home and remember I've already GOT an orange skirt that I love. Why do I need another one, even for a steal of a deal? Buying things you don't need is still a waste of money whether the cost is $2 or $200, so apply the same scrutiny to sale and thrift purchases that you would to any other.

4. Make some specific rules. This relates to #2 above, and is an extra way to ensure unnecessary duplication in your wardrobe. I recently told myself that if I buy another coat, it can only be a navy blue one. Period. I will not consider buying anything else, because I already have more than enough coats. But more than once I've wished I had one in navy, and so right now that's my sole option when considering coats. This type of specific rule is far more easily followed than a blanket rule about shopping less or not buying any more shoes for awhile. There are going to be times when you come across something so wonderful and unique that you'll kick yourself later if you don't buy it. So buy it, and don't regret it. But having a few hard and fast, specific rules that will help to guide your choices is a great way to ensure that you don't buy something that's essentially already in your closet, which is a sure way to end up with buyer's remorse.

5. Be careful with lists. Believe it or not, I find that having a list of things I 'need' to buy actually promotes shopping for things I don't need. The problem occurs when I have something too specific in mind: I search endlessly and in vain for it, and out of boredom and frustration end up buying other things just to fill the void left by the item I can't locate. The other contributing factor is the sheer number of shops I'll hit in my quest for that perfect thing, which of course just exposes me to all sorts of other lovely things. So these days I try to avoid keeping any sort of a must-have list, except for exclusionary rules like I mentioned above. Telling myself that I can only buy a coat if it's navy blue is a whole lot more productive than scouring every boutique in San Francisco in search of the ideal navy coat. If you have problems keeping your shopping in check, then I think it's best not to let yourself become convinced that you 'need' anything too specific, because the fact is that many other items will probably fill the gap in your wardrobe just as well. So rather than tell yourself that you need a knee-length, red pencil skirt to go with a particular top, simply wear the top when you're out shopping and try on anything you think might go with it. It's great to have goals when you shop, but try to keep an open mind, too.

6. Set some price limits on specific items. For me there are some things that are only worth so much money, period. I don't care what designer label is slapped on it or how cool the graphic design is, a t-shirt is still a t-shirt, and there's only so much I'm willing to pay for one. There are other items that essentially have no ceiling (though of course I still nix things that I truly can't afford, or that just aren't worth the price), depending on how well it's crafted and how much I love it: coats, shoes, and dresses are all in this category. But I really draw a hard line for items such as tees, sweaters, and jeans -- tees and sweaters because they have a limited life span, and jeans because I simply don't wear them for much besides super-casual weekend outfits. Where you set that upper price limit is up to you, but sticking to it means that you won't end up with what you consider to be overpriced items in your wardrobe.

7. Don't be afraid to return it. For heavens sake, if you're contemplating a purchase that you're not wholeheartedly convinced you should make, take a moment to find out what the store's return policy is. Once you get your item home, try it out and see if you can wear it at least 2 or 3 different ways; this will ensure that you'll actually wear it and not leave it to languish. Finally, if you decide you don't want it, return it as quickly as possible. Waiting only increases the chances that you won't return it at all. I think it's great to go out on a limb sometimes and buy clothes that might push our boundaries, but it's also important to be realistic about what you'll have the guts to wear and what you won't.

8. How much do you really love it? Staples such as layering tees aside, you should LOVE the items you buy. Don't buy it just because you need to replace your ratty black sweater and this one is okay and you're tired of looking and it isn't really your size but it's on sale and oh well, it's good enough. No! It is NOT good enough. There are plenty, PLENTY of beautiful things out there and somewhere is the one that's just right for you. So please, don't settle.

9. Give yourself permission to buy without guilt. This sounds weird, but stay with me. You've found something wonderful that takes your breath away; sure, you can afford it but maybe it exceeds what you would typically spend on yourself, particularly for one item. But you've applied all the litmus tests I described above and you've made the decision that yes, you really and truly do love it and want it. So decide then and there that if you're going to go through with it, you will not feel one little bit guilty about it later. Allow yourself to relish in your treasure and enjoy it to the fullest extent. Decide that even if someone close to you were to make a snide comment about how expensive your item looks, you'll simply smile and say, "Yep, I treated myself this time." Unless you've already got a closet full of mink coats and designer gowns, chances are that you own a lot of sensible, carefully-considered garments and a few decadent ones. And shouldn't we all be allowed our moments of decadence? You only live once, and you might as well look fabulous doing it.

Hat: Parkhurst
Dress: an oldie from the 90's, shortened
Skirt: thrifted
Shoes: Sofft
Scarf: Banana Republic


Stephanie N. said...

You know you've written a brilliant post when your readers start sending it to their friends. Which I have just done, starting with my mom.

Sheila said...

Some awesome advice, Audi! Although I haven't had the organizational skills to codify shopping as you so artfully have here, I am pretty good about not buying things that sit in my closet. Solid post!

Oh, and you look adorable in this - how cute are those shoes??

Anonymous said...

Nice post!

Now a days lot of designs have arrived in to men & womens fashion style. But one of the key items every men & woman should have is a pair of jeans that flatters your figure and can be dressed up or down.

Anonymous said...

Just brilliant, Audi. And clearly some hard-won wisdom. ;)

Melanie said...

2. Make sure it fills an unmet need.

This is SO true! I have started trying to shop this way, instead of just randomly going shopping and hoping I find something that fits or that I like.

I have a general idea of what I'm looking for - tops to go with casual khaki pants or jeans, brown pants that I can match with existing tops, etc. If I only need 3-4 dressy outfits for church (since I can't wear skirts/dresses to!), then there is no reason to try on or buy cute dresses, even if they're cheap. Better to save that money towards something I really need and will get more use out of.

Eyeliah said...

I am so glad to be learning these things as I get older. Rule #2 is the newest for me, and I always make sure toask myself this now. No one needs duplicates! although I do have too many a line skirts. :-)

Mervat said...

I have thoroughly enjoyed your Buyer's Remorse posts. I have found that since starting a fashion blog I have become more wary than ever about the things I need and want.

And I totally agree with you on the last point. I recently purchased a beautiful jacket which though on sale (a third of the price) but was still a little more expensive than I liked. But, I had the sales assistant keep it aside for a few days. The very next day I took my first chance to go and grab it, asap!

mette said...

Thanks for the advice. Really needed. I do make bad purchases all the time. Some get returned, some I sell, some I give away as gifts, some go to charity and ( gulp )some even get thrown away in the garbage ban. I know I could do any of the things you listed, especially the- sleeping over a night -one, but I want to get something like right now! Well, it does make feel better, when I know that others have a similar problem,or else you would not have written about this. BTW, have you ever considered leaving the wide belts away? These few pics with no belts or just a skinny one, look so refreshing on you!

Anonymous said...

I like number Five about lists. Very good thoughts here.

Lorena said...

You know how they say "if you feel the priest saying the sermon was talking to you, it was a good preach" ?
Well, I loved your post ! So true... I felt like you were pointing a finger :)

K.Line said...

Even better than the last post on this topic. The idea that the "ill fated purchases" mock you from the closet - well, it's true! Gotta give it away so you can move on.