Learning from Our Shopping Mistakes

Since the beginning of 2013, I have purged 150 items from my wardrobe!  These pieces – garments and shoes – have either been sold on consignment or donated to a local charity.   Hopefully, other people are now enjoying the wardrobe castoffs that were gathering dust in my closet.

Shopping Mistakes - Lessons Learned

Do you ever wonder, “What was I thinking when I bought this?”

While some of my purged items were previously worn and loved but no longer fit my body, lifestyle, and personality, many others were “wardrobe benchwarmers” that should never have been purchased in the first place.  Since I’m making good progress with paring down my wardrobe and cultivating a wardrobe that better suits my needs, I want to make sure not to repeat my past mistakes.

Avoiding Our Purchasing Blunders

Today’s post explores the concept of shopping mistakes, how we can zero in on our common purchasing errors, and how we can avoid repeating the same blunders in the future.  While I use my wardrobe as an example, my hope is that the concepts will be applicable to many of you.

I encourage you to take a few moments to identify the types of mistakes you make when shopping, as they may be very different than mine.  If you’ve managed to overcome your purchasing errors and have tips for those of us who still struggle, please share your insights in the comments section below.

Over Half of My Castoffs Were Shopping Mistakes!

Those who have been reading my blog for a while know I love data and statistics, so I took some time to calculate a few facts about my 2013 castoffs:

  • 43 items (36 garments, 6 pairs of shoes, and 1 purse) were never worn!
  • 24 items (21 garments and 3 pairs of shoes) were only worn once.
  • 38 items (31 garments and 7 pairs of shoes) were only worn two or three times.

In total, 105 of the 150 items (70%!) I’ve purged from my wardrobe since the beginning of this year could be called shopping mistakes!  Since this is such a high number – more than two-thirds – I’d like to better understand why I made these errors and how I can avoid repeating them!

Searching for Patterns among the Mistakes

So I delved deeper… I looked for some key patterns among my 105 “mistakes” to see if I could shed some light on the situation.  I decided to look first at the proverbial “low-hanging fruit” – and I didn’t have to look very far!

Consignment and Sales

It’s become increasingly apparent to me that when I’ve bought things on sale or at resale shops, I’ve tended to make a lot of mistakes. So I did the math and here’s what I learned:

  • Of the 43 “never worn” items I purged from my closet this year, 28 were purchased at consignment stores and 13 were bought on sale. A full 95% of my never worn pieces fit into these two categories!
  • Of the 24 “worn once” pieces, 6 came from resale shops and 8 were purchased on sale. Over half (58%) of the worn once items were consignment or sale buys.
  • Of the 38 items that were worn only a few times before being let go, 9 were consignment purchases and 15 were sale buys.  That’s almost two-thirds (63%) of this category!
  • Overall, 75% of my shopping mistakes came from resale shops or was bought on sale.  Yes, a full three-quarters of my mistakes fit into those two categories!

After reaching the above conclusions, I almost didn’t need to search for other patterns among my shopping mistakes.  Clearly, I haven’t done well when shopping at consignment stores or at sales.  Fortunately, I have mostly stopped engaging in these types of shopping.  While I definitely overshopped last month, only two of my twenty-one purchases – a necklace and a bracelet – came from a resale store. Five items were bought on sale, but these pieces were all listed on my shopping priority list and likely won’t become “benchwarmers” as a result.

Lifestyle Issues – A Life that’s Not Mine

Another big motivator of my shopping mistakes was buying for a lifestyle I don’t have.  I used to buy things “just in case” I might need them someday, including dressy garments and shoes for going out and business clothes for potential networking and speaking engagements.  Most of these “someday maybe” pieces were purchased at resale stores or on sale.  I’d reason that the price was good and the items might come in handy one day.

Sadly, most of my “just in case” buys ended up being mistakes.  I continued to not go out very often, and when I did, the occasions were mostly casual in nature.  And I didn’t go to many business events, either.  The professional events I did attend usually called for “business casual” attire rather than formal blazers, stiff skirts, and patent pumps.  A few times, I did wear the dressier garments and ended up feeling out of place in the casual Southern California business atmosphere.  “Just in case” didn’t bear true in my case and 24 such items have been purged from my wardrobe during 2013.

“Close but No Cigar” in Terms of Color or Fit

Another pattern I noticed was my tendency to “settle” in terms of color and fit, especially when faced with a “good deal.”  In all, 45 of my shopping mistakes fit into this category.  One example… I’m not really a fan of pastels or brown, but I had several such items in my closet because I liked the style of the garment or shoe and “the price was right.”  Unfortunately, I never was able to embrace the color, so more “wardrobe benchwarmers” were born.

The same thing held true for pieces that almost fit, in particular tops with sleeves that were an inch or so too short. I fell for the saleslady’s compromise of “you can just push the sleeves up” and bought more than a few “close but no cigar” garments.  The too short sleeves always bothered me and pushing them up didn’t really work, as I had to keep doing it all day long as gravity took hold.

Still Making Shopping Mistakes in 2013!

While the majority of my shopping mistakes took place prior to this year, I have to admit that ten items that came into my wardrobe during 2013 have already left.  Since I’ve been working so hard to turn my bad habits around, I feel it’s particularly important for me to analyze these recent buying errors.

2013 Shopping Mistakes

‘Fessing Up… These are My 2013 Shopping Mistakes

Analyzing the 2013 “Terrible Ten”

Here’s a list of my 2013 shopping mistakes, along with a brief analysis of why I made each particular error (items listed in the order in which they appear in the photo, from left to right by row):

  1. Pink long-sleeved tee:  Bought in February using store credit after a return.  The sleeves were too short, but I liked the color and the exposed zipper in the back.  I wore this top once but found the sleeve length annoying. I should have left this garment in the store and saved my store credit to use later!
  2. Green and black striped long-sleeved tee:   Same issue as above.  I have a thing for stripes (you might have noticed) and I let that and the low price cloud my judgment on this top.  Proper sleeve length is important to me and I never should have settled!
  3. Black brocade double-breasted coat:   I ordered this coat online in January after ordering and returning several other coats that didn’t work out.  I’m often between sizes with coats and only the smaller size was available. The shoulders were too tight, but I opted to alter the coat instead of returning it.  The tailor did his best, but there just wasn’t enough extra fabric allowance to make the coat fit properly.  I wore it only once and finally consigned it after months of it gathering dust in my closet.  I definitely should have returned this coat!
  4. Black straight skirt:  I bought this skirt in April in my ongoing quest for the “perfect black skirt” (at one point, I had nine black skirts, most of them unloved!). While this skirt fit me well, the 100% polyester fabric was far too static prone for me to wear it.  I didn’t spend much money on this skirt, so it’s not a huge loss, but I am now committed to buying better quality fabrications in the future.
  5. Black and white coat:  I ordered this coat in February after loving it on a style blogger I follow.  After a few questions to the blogger revealed that she and I were about the same size, I risked purchasing the coat online for $40 as a “final sale” item.  Unfortunately, it seems my shoulders are broader than the blogger’s despite our being the same height and wearing the same size.  Since I couldn’t return this coat, I tried to salvage it via alterations, but it ended up being a case of throwing “good money after bad.”  The coat’s material was also itchy and uncomfortable and I ended up taking this unworn garment to consignment just this past weekend. Lesson learned – don’t buy “final sale” items online!
  6. Southwestern print cardigan:  I bought this cardigan in March during a shopping trip with my mom.  Both the saleslady and my mom raved about this piece when I tried it on, so I bought it even though it wasn’t really my style.  I tried to make the fit less boxy via alterations, but I just never loved this garment.  Although I should have never bought it in the first place, I definitely should have returned it when I realized it just wasn’t me!
  7. Printed Desigual bag:  I allowed myself to be seduced by a brand name and a low price when I bought this purse earlier this year on consignment.  I loved the artistic print so much that I neglected to fully examine the construction of the bag.  Sadly, the design was somewhat clunky and unworkable, so the bag was returned to consignment a month or so later.
  8. Grey cardigan-style jacket:    Another consignment purchase gone wrong, this one made in June.  While this jacket is comfortable, it’s too baggy and I already own two other grey cardigans.  This item simply had no place in my wardrobe, so it also went back to consignment later in the summer.
  9. Brown slingback sandals:  I thought these sandals would be a nice addition to my summer shoe wardrobe. Even though I’m not a big fan of brown, it can be a versatile shoe color to own, plus these shoes were available for just $12 on consignment. Unfortunately, I didn’t “test drive” them enough in the store.  During their maiden voyage two weeks ago, I had to keep re-adjusting the straps as they slid down my heels.  With no buckles for adjustment, I had little choice but to donate them (consignment didn’t want them!) after only one wear.
  10. Red and black print skirt:  This is my most recent shopping mistake, as I bought this skirt (again on consignment) in July.  The skirt was a bit too large and a few inches too long, but I figured I could have it shortened and it would work well in my wardrobe.  Not so!  After it was shortened, it looked too wide, so I asked my tailor to take it in.  It still didn’t look right, so I had to donate it (again, consignment didn’t want it!) after throwing more good money after bad. Sigh…

Some Conclusions

This was a lengthier and more involved process than I thought it would be.  Congratulations to those who are still with me!  It may have taken longer than I thought to analyze my shopping mistakes, but I’m so glad I did.  My analysis confirmed a lot of things I already knew, but I had no idea I was making so many mistakes when purchasing resale items and things on sale!

I can encapsulate what I learned into the following few points that apply to all of us:

Resale and Sale Shopping:

  • When we buy things on sale or at resale stores, we’re far more likely to make mistakes.
  • If we choose to do these types of shopping in the future, we should only buy items that are on our shopping priorities list.
  • We would also do well to take a “power pause” before buying.
  • See my previous articles on resale shopping and avoiding sales mistakes for more tips.

Alterations:

  • Buying items that almost fit is a recipe for disaster!
  • If a simple alteration will elevate a garment to an “8” or higher, that’s great.
  • But we shouldn’t purchase low-cost but ill-fitting garments hoping to basically re-make them with the help of a tailor.

“Just in case”:

  • Purchasing anything “just in case” is never a good idea.
  • As I’ve mentioned previously (but didn’t always follow!), we should only buy things for our actual lives, not wished for, imagined, or potential life situations.

Be Selective:

  • “Close but no cigar” items should stay in the store!
  • If the size, color, or style is not quite right, just walk away.  It pays to be picky and hold out for what we really want, even if that means we have to leave a store empty-handed or pay more money for the right item later on.

Forgive Yourself and Move On!

I hope we can all make far fewer shopping mistakes moving forward.  If you’re like me and have made many, many mistakes, please try to forgive yourself, learn from the past, and vow to do better in the future.  We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it!  I definitely learned a lot through my analysis and I hope you found it helpful as well.

I’d love to read about your “lessons learned,” even if those lessons were learned years ago.  I learn so much from your comments and I know my other readers do as well, so please share!


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Comments

  1. Hi Debbie! Good post. I have also pared down my wardrobe quite a bit this year. I have passed along probably over 200 items. Some of those items were worn out. Some were too big or too small. The majority were bought on Ebay and didn’t ever fit well or something that I settled for. The good news is that I think I’m learning. I went shopping recently and I noticed two things that were very different. I need a pair of black pants. I have one pair that is too small and one that is too big. I tried on several pairs and two were almost good enough. I left them in the store and decided to wait until I could find exactly what I wanted. The other thing is this month I bought 4 tops, 1 sweater dress, and a pair of capris. This a quite a bit more than I have been buying lately. When I got them home I hung them up. I tried everything on. I was excited. I didn’t throw the bag on the bedroom floor with the other bags of unworn stuff. Now that I have fewer things I am happier with what I have and more selective on what I bring in. I am pleased with the amount of money I have been spending and the number of new things coming in. The only thing I need to work on is the returns. I’m glad I don’t keep it because it wouldn’t get worn, but I need to not buy it in the first place!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I am having a similar experience, Tonya. I am being far more selective about what I buy overall and am feeling increased gratitude for what I have. I also need to work on the returns, but even that is improving. Congrats on the excellent progress you’re making! I know you’re an inspiration to me, and a testament that Dr. Benson’s program really does work. I still plan to do all of the exercises, but not all will be posted on the blog. It’s a time-consuming endeavor, but well worth it!

  2. Ah! And I have had the exact opposite experience. I have come away with only five consignment store items this year, but they are all in heavy rotation. I have no problem leaving the store with cash instead of using up a store credit, and never impulse buy, no matter what. I have been lucky enough to come across the exact thing I have been looking for, in the case of those five.

    Lessons learned, I quit buying stuff I wasn’t sure of on the internet, thinking I could always return it. Even “free return shipping” is never really free, what with time spent repackaging and sometimes obtaining a return authorization, plus time and gas money spent schlepping said package to the post office or UPS or some other shipping service. I have never understood how people could be so cavalier about this, buying several of something with the intention of returning all but one. But that is just me, I know.

    Fascinating post, as always.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Consignment store purchases CAN be good, Roanne. I am doing far better in that regard now that I’m willing to leave empty-handed and am shopping with a list. Buying on the internet can definitely be problematic and the hidden costs you mentioned need to be part of the equation. People often forget that our time is valuable and it’s not all about saving money! Congrats on your consignment shopping success! I hope to have no such shopping mistakes next year (and far fewer during the rest of 2013).

  3. So, my lesson learned (of many) is one that I don’t think applies to you, Debbie, but perhaps does to some of your readers. I buy only what fits my current body size — no buying small items that might fit me if I lost weight, or buying sizes I used to wear, up or down, or buying the size whose number I like but the item doesn’t actually fit, or hanging on to items that fit me five years ago and that I might one day squeeze back into, etc. For someone whose weight fluctuates, I think Stacy and Clinton have the right approach — buy a small number of high quality clothing items that fit the body you have today. If you lose weight, you won’t want to take five-year-old clothes out of storage to wear – you will want to shop for a few new pieces of high quality, current style, and perfect fit clothing.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I do fluctuate a bit in weight, Elizabeth, and I used to fluctuate a lot back in my eating disordered days. I know a lot of people have many sizes in their closets and that can lead to a very cluttered situation. Stacy and Clinton’s advice is sound. Have you noticed that at the end of “What Not to Wear,” there are usually 40-50 new items purchased with the $5000? I’m sure the person has TONS of variety and looks great all the time. No need to have a huge wardrobe like I have, that’s for sure. At least I’m moving in the right direction…

  4. I identify strongly! My mistakes are all similar to yours and for the same reasons, and for same casual lifestyle. All of the “what if I go somewhere” pieces that were never worn. While I do attend a number of work-related events times have changed and the dress code is casual now. Plus we don’t need as much as we thought we did. The majority of my errors over the past few years took place shoppings sales and I have made it almost a rule to never shops sales unless it is an items on my “needs” list. For example I brought two tank tops on sale recently because it is hot and I need them, and I have worn them both and love them. I have very little luck with consignment stores because apparently I don’t seem to notice flaws until after I get home and wear the item. I also have to be careful about buying too far ahead of seasons because often times once summer or winter finally arrives I may or may not truly need or want the item. So for me what works best is to have a small collection of clothing, edit frequently, wear everything, give away what isn’t working out, and pay full price for three or four new things every winter and summer. But I must be ruthless, limiting myself to only things I am 99% sure I need and will wear. I also don’t have a budget, instead I make sure I only buy what I need, and I never, never, ever shop for fun anymore. Just the same as I would never go to the grocery store simply to browse, I no longer browse at clothing stores. To be honest I don’t have an addiction to shopping so limiting myself and changing my behavior was easy. Actually it was a relief to stop wasting so much time shopping. What I needed most of all was to break was my cycle of shopping sales, thinking I was a good and thrifty shopper, and ending up with way more clothes than I needed.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I love your grocery store analogy, Terra! No, I wouldn’t browse in a grocery store (although I have enjoyed visiting grocery stores in other countries just for comparison’s sake). I’d like to get to the place you describe – buying a few new pieces each season to meet genuine needs. Sales shopping is often problematic. It CAN be done well, but sometimes it’s best to just pay full price and get what you really need and love!

      • I’m also somebody who is too easily seduced by 70% off and have ended up with items that don’t fit or I didn’t even like just because they were cheap! What I do these days is I only buy on sale what I would have paid full price for. So for example, this August I bought two skirts that I had seen in the stores before the sales and really loved, but didn’t have the cash at the time to get them as they were slightly more expensive than what I would normally spend on a skirt. When they went on sale for half price I got both of them and they were definitely good purchases I don’t regret. This strategy really works for me because by the time I buy these items I’ve had plenty of time to make up my mind and I know I won’t fall out of love with them quickly.

      • Update: Well, clearly I’m still a work-in-progress because when I pulled out a pair of shoes I bought last winter, planning to wear soon, now I wish I had not bought them. Wrong color and does not go with much else I own. What was I thinking?

        • Debbie Roes says:

          We’ve all been there, Terra! Can the shoes be dyed? I just had a pair of brown boots dyed black and I know I will wear them more now. Just an idea in case maybe the shoes could be salvaged. If not, there’s always eBay or consignment – and of course learning from your mistake, forgiving yourself and moving on 🙂

  5. Today I came home from work and discovered several packages awaiting me. Last week I ordered some Lands End boiled wool jackets because I “need” some mid-weight coats, and they were 30% off. Once those came I realized they weren’t my colors even though online they did appear as such. I returned those in person to Sears (25 minute drive for me) and called LE to exchange for 2 different colors. Those new colors appeared today and I do like them on me so I’ll probably keep them. Hubby doesn’t like one of the colors though. I also had 3 Soma dresses arrive today, 2 of which were only available online. I usually love everything about Soma dresses and the ones I already have are wardrobe workhorses but I didn’t like the fit or the color of any of these. They will all be returned soon, in person. Again about 25 minutes away. Also have 3 Eddie Bauer shirts from online ordering which will be returned because I hate the collar on them. Obviously I just need to quit ordering online. Period. Easy to say but harder for me to do. I am still a work in progress.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Thanks for sharing your recent experiences, Kim. I can definitely relate to the online shopping woes. We shop online to save time, but then we often end up spending MORE time doing returns and exchanges. There are no easy answers, though, because shopping in person can also be overly time-consuming and lead to impulse buys. It used to be that brands would be more consistent and we could easily order what we know will fit us, but sadly things have changed such that we never really know what we’re gonna get (makes me think of Forrest Gump’s line about life being like a box of chocolates). We are all works in progress, but seeing the problem is often the first step toward change.

  6. When I look at the thumbnails of these items, I see random style, pattern, and color: black skirt and brown shoes? Pink top and red and black skirt? Southwestern print and stripes? To me, this is way too random and chaotic for my 100-item year-round capsule wardrobe. I avoid patterned high-ticket items like outerwear, cashmere sweaters, and purses regardless of the price or fit — too limiting. I don’t always eschew patterned clothing. Two of my best-loved skirts are patterned: one is almost a tone-on-tone black and gray brocade-like — not shiny — fabric, which I recently bought on sale at a national retailer (75% off original price); and the other is a very muted black and white glen plaid-like tissue-weight Italian wool skirt that I bought in the mid-1980s and still get rave reviews when I wear it. It’s a “timeless” article of clothing purchased on sale (but still pricey) at a discount retailer; I knew when I saw it I would wear it forever. I shop sales and resale shops almost exclusively these days, and I have made some great buys to round out my wardrobe. I look for quality in construction and fabric, not just color, price, and condition. I don’t listen to other people’s opinions when I shop — I just follow my own sense of style. I also consider WHY the item is on sale (too horrible a color?) or in the resale shop (a funny bunching at the neckline?)….

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Sounds like you’ve learned a lot over the years, Dottie. Your advice to follow your own sense of style rather than listening to the opinions of others is very good. And we would all do well to examine things before we buy then and ask questions about why things are on sale or at a resale shop. Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with an item, but it’s always good to ask questions and take time to consider things before we pull out our cash or charge card!

  7. Great post! Very thought provoking, as usual.
    Some things I really ought to remember when shopping–
    What is the fiber content? I tend to be pretty warm, so I try to avoid fabric that doesn’t breathe. When I remember to read the label. Ahem.
    Never buy pants with a zipper online unless you have an identical pair already. Yoga pants seem to have a more forgiving fit; I have purchased too many pairs of jeans that were a disaster.
    Never buy shoes online unless you have a pair already. I have assorted foot issues and really should not ever buy shoes I think are cute and might work. They won’t.
    If there is a major sale at a favorite retailer, you don’t need to go (Debbie covered this already in her Nordstrom anniversary sale). I had to remind myself of this yesterday, and also remind myself how I tend to round up purchases online, have things sent to the store and buy more clothes while I’m there picking up my order.
    Buy what you need, not what you want. It is ok to replace things that have worn out that I wear all the time.
    Thanks again for this post–very much appreciated!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Very good suggestions, Katt. Like you, I can’t buy shoes online. I must try them on my fussy feet! I tried buying shoes online and ended up having to do returns. Not fun… The best thing you said was, “Buy what you need, not what you want.” We would all benefit from taking that wise advice!

  8. Hey Debbie,

    I just love your detailed analysis posts, they are so interesting. And your insightful introspection and the progress you’ve made is just fantastic. Enjoyed reading about it!

    Personally, it took me a long time to figure out “buying for the life I have now”, which is full of health challenges and domestic duties. It was hard to break out of the corporate-wear habit. However, I find the “close but no cigar” particularly tricky. Sometimes I must hold onto, or even buy, an item in this category because I have a real need. And the item gets worn because it takes so long to find a replacement I actually like. I have to make-do and settle a bit. And sometimes, I won’t know an item is destined for this category until I actually start using it – then it’s too late to return. (Conversely, sometimes an item I wouldn’t have expected turns out to be a dearly loved workhorse!) Some amount of experimentation seems unavoidable, so I do find certain amount of maintenance shopping to be helpful in staying ahead of this curve, and I try to realize there will still be mistakes from time to time. I try to find the balance and I feel like I do my best. I also tend to stick to mid-range prices and even do some thrifting to help mitigate this issue. That seems to help both in managing the budget and releasing items without guilt when needed.

    Your blog is helping me to internalize a mindful, thoughtful approach to dressing and wardrobe management; a “perfect” or “finished” wardrobe is inspiring to think about but is frustrating and unrealistic to achieve in practice.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I’m glad you like my detailed analysis posts, Claire, and that my blog is helping you to be more mindful about your wardrobe and shopping. Yes, the “close but not cigar” issue can be tricky, especially when we aren’t aware that we may be settling. Some mistakes are hard to avoid. If I’m at all unsure about something after I get it home, I try to wear it around the house a bit to see how I feel. Of course, that doesn’t always do the trick, but it has saved me in at least a few cases. With newer styles or types of garments, going the thrift route can be a good way to go. It allows for some experimentation without great expense. We’re all still learning, but we DO get wiser as we go 🙂

      • Yes, giving things a test wear around the house can definitely help! I have run into more problems as my health challenges have progressed though – the issues are more subtle, changeable, harder to detect, newly emerging. One day can be so different from the next, in terms of pain and flare ups. For whatever reason, a garment may feel good one day but not the next, something may fit comfortably one month but not the next. It’s a moving target that affects every facet of life, really. It takes a significant amount of energy to manage and keep up with it. Which is probably why it’s so helpful to work on the nuances here. 🙂

        Oh, I meant to include a link to another article that’s helped me with this –
        http://youlookfab.com/2012/08/06/the-six-piles-of-closet-editing/
        I guess for me, the”close but no cigar” category is more like what Angie calls the “Temporary Keep” pile (I think of it as “Keep for Now”) – she gives a really clear explanation of what place this category has in wardrobe editing – how it helps to bridge the gap and keep the closet functioning as you search for suitable upgrades.

        It can feel somewhat contrary – I don’t necessarily love the thing I’m wearing but I can still appreciate being able to wear it – I recognize it fills a need and I’m glad to have it for what it is, if that makes sense.

        • Debbie Roes says:

          I can definitely relate to your challenges, Claire. I too find that I like wearing something one day and not so much the next. It can be difficult to decide what to buy and what to keep when comfort, fit, and suitability seem to be moving targets.

          Thanks for sharing the link. I love Angie’s blog and remember that article! It’s a good one and I wish I would have included it in my closet editing links post. I definitely have some “keep for now” items that I’m holding on to until I find suitable replacements. Many of my pants fall into that category. If I only kept pants I absolutely love, I can’t imagine how many (or rather, how few!) I’d actually have! But I have to keep searching for suitable replacements even if it’s not the most enjoyable thing to do. I think having pants I love would go a long way toward helping me to love my wardrobe.

  9. Ah, the settling issue! Been there, done that. I finally decided that all the effort of returning stuff that wasn’t quite right was way too much trouble, so now I only buy stuff I know will work and are “right” from the get-go. As I’ve gotten older, I find that there are more things I want to do with my time than hang out in crowded, poorly lit stores searching for the elusive perfect garment. I’ve pared down my wardrobe to essentials plus a few fun items so I spend less time managing my clothes and more time wearing them! There’s nothing that I don’t love and love to wear again and again in my closet.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      It’s great that you’ve learned what works best for you, Dottie. Sometimes that can take a while and some of us are still defining our personal styles and learning what works best for us. Some experimentation (and the associated mistakes) is often necessary to hone our personal preferences. I think most of us want to get to the point where we spend less time managing our clothes and more time wearing them!

  10. I have made all of the mistakes you mentioned and it took me a while to figure them out! If only I had known these things years earlier. Now, I have a workable system of shopping only at a very limited number of stores where I know things have fit me in the past. I like to scan the websites every once in a while when I know I have a need for a particular item. I identify the pieces I like and then I start waiting for the coupons and general sales that come on practically a weekly basis. I use them to buy the items online in my size (or two sizes if I’m not quite sure) and try them on at home so I can evaluate them against the clothes I already own. I am ruthless about returning items if they aren’t perfect – at this point I have no embarrassment about walking into the store and returning everything. My style is a bit boyish gamine and I wear a very limited palette of colors so my focus is almost completely on fabric and fit. Buying online makes a ton of sense for me because I’m not surrounded by clothes, I am not distracted by mannequins, I don’t venture near sales racks, so I can be focused on the items that fit my style.

    • I like your point about ruthlessly returning items. I think this is key if you’re ordering online, or if the magic mirrors in mall stores affect your perception of how an item looks on you! Readers’ willingness to return items and their experiences doing so would make a great blog post (hint, hint)!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Sounds like you have a great process for buying new clothes, Alice! I definitely think it can simplify the process if you have a defined color palette and only shop at a few stores. I’m working on getting to that point myself. Too many choices can be overwhelming and discouraging, both when we shop and in our closets! As I’ve decreased the size of my wardrobe and brought less in (although there’s still too much of both), things have gotten easier.

      Elizabeth, you raised some good points about “magic mirrors” and willingness to return items. I’d love to learn more about how people feel about returns and I agree it would make a good blog post. Adding it to the list!

  11. Alice — I also use your purchasing strategies when I buy replacement garments. I too have a limited color palette that has worked for years and years and a specific style of clothing (feminine/classic) that I’ve honed over several decades. Because of the decisions I’ve made about my clothing, there may be some years where I buy almost nothing because there is nothing available that I need in my colors or style. For example, among all the autumn colors available this fall are some gray garments, so I will plan to replace my gray pants. To that end I am saving up my monthly clothing allowance so I have a goodish amount to buy a classically tailored pair of gray pants that should live in my wardrobe for 4-5 years.

  12. Deborah (Deby) says:

    Even though I have been taking a lot of clothing to consignment stores these past months, I seldom buy anything there. The main reason is I see too much “fast fashion”, or clothing that is a tad too formal for my lifestyle. There seems to be very little middle ground in my size.

    After reading of your mistake purchases, I was struck by the red/black skirt incident, because I remember your July post about purchasing it. I liked the color /pattern. But it sounds like you were having a “shopping moment” where you decided that even though the skirt didn’t fit, you were going to buy it anyway against you inner better judgement. If you are like me, you were probably attracted to the fabric first, style second, and reasoned you could fix it. The combination of the good bargain plus the belief that a garment can be “saved” is a powerful seduction when you feel the psychological need to make a purchase. The truth is, there would have been another woman out there whom that skirt would fit perfectly. You should have left it there for her to find and enjoy. This garment was not an 8 and you knew it intuitively from the start! You were not following your conclusions at that time.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      You are so right, Deby, that I didn’t follow my own advice when I purchased the red and black skirt! It definitely wasn’t an 8 because of fit issues. I did love the fabric and print, but it was at least one size (if not two) too big for me. I have made the “I can fix it with alterations” mistake too many times. I think that’s because I have a great tailor who has worked a lot of “magic” on my clothes. Unfortunately, some alterations are either not easy to do or not worth the price. I’ve had to learn some lessons the hard way, and that skirt (not to mention the two coats) falls into that category. If I would have asked, “Would you buy it at full price?”, my answer would have been no, so I should have left the skirt in the store!

      • Deborah (Deby) says:

        I am guilty of a similar line of thought– “its a good price, I can make it work”. Just the other day I purchased an enormous dark green leather work tote at TJX. It is a popular brand, the right size, and the perfect color. I even went back twice to look at it! When I got it home I still liked the IDEA of it, but the details were not quite right after testing my stuff inside. The leather was too unstructured, both front pockets had sharp edges on their magnetic snaps, and I didn’t think the lining was as good as it should be. I decided to take it back and look for a better quality bag in the same color– because I did see that as an accessory it coordinates beautifully with my winter wardrobe as a statement piece. In an earlier time, I would have kept the tote and “settled”, but I would have always been unhappy with it. Better to just not go there and find something more suitable to my needs. It was a good learning experience in that I discovered a color that I would like to include more of in my accessories.

        • Your careful scrutiny of workmanship, utility, etc. are critical to good purchases. I once found a gorgeous wool tweed skirt (famous brand) at TJMaxx — and I had been looking for a tweed skirt for several years. However, what really made the tweed pop was a subtle gold thread in the weave — so striking. The care label (always read these before leaving the store) said hand wash, dry flat. Now I thought the tweed could take the hand washing bit, but not the less fabulous lining. The tweed was too lose to work with out the lining. My other fear is that the gold thread with begin to disappear with washing. Even though the $100+ skirt was a “steal” at its sale price, I didn’t buy it because of the fabric care issues. Sometimes we have to ask “Why is this item on sale, in the consignment shop, or in the discounter store?”

  13. Diana Weber says:

    What I have not worked up to yet is paying full-price for a high quality garment. The “sales” hook makes it so easy to justify choosing a mistake. I have given away 3 carloads of clothes this past month. I do not sell them. I just give them to workers, friends, one almost a relative. In the store I deny how much I really don’t like the clothing, often shop when tired, buy it and mean to return it, lately don’t want to be bothered fighting the returns(lines, time, etc.) I am amazed reading this how much wasted money. Thanks for this post, so much, Diana in Louisiana

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Welcome, Diana, and I’m glad you liked this post. I have been victim to the “sales hook,” too, as you read, and I know it’s a difficult one for many people. What’s helping me is to ask myself if I would buy the item at full price. My answer more often than not is no, and it’s saved me from some recent shopping mistakes. Another reader says she asks herself why she WOULDN’T buy the item instead of why she would buy it. I’m going to try that one, too. I think the answers we tell ourselves may helps us to avoid the compelling nature of what we mistakenly believe is a “good deal.”

  14. In purging my wardrobe, I’ve realized I’m still buying for the style I had a decade ago (Birkenstock-wearing Boho). A paisley top will catch my eye, but I’ll never wear it because it’s just not “me” anymore. Fortunately, my best friend loves my cast-offs! 🙂

    • Debbie Roes says:

      This is a very powerful realization, Jamie! I think that many of us continue to buy for the style sense – or the lifestyle – we used to have. But we all grow and change, so it’s great that you’re seeing that now. And win, win for your best friend who’s receiving your cast-offs!

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