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How I shop for clothes

It might seem a bit strange to devote a whole post to the act of going shopping. After all, all you really have to do is go to a few shops and make sure to bring your credit card, and voilà, before you know it you are shopping! I think you have gathered by now that this is not quite my style of doing things, though. Let’s face it, I’m much too anal for that. I try to avoid bad purchases the best I can, and I try my best to go for quality over quantity. My goal is to have a closet where everything has a use and fits together – shortly put, a closet where everything looks like it belongs to the same person. This usually requires a bit more planning than just leaving my house, credit card in hand.

What do you like?

First of all it is good to have a grasp on what things you like and what types of items you feel comfortable in. Maria’s Defining Style posts are immensely helpful, and I really recommend setting aside an afternoon to follow her worksheet. I promise you it is worth the time and effort.

Collage of simple, minimalistic outfits

What do you lack?

OK, so I already know what kinds of items I like and what I generally tend to go for. The next step would be to take a good hard look at my closet and find out what I need and what gaps there are that need to be filled. There is no point in shopping if there is no real need, after all! Let’s use last week as an example – my trip to New York City is coming up in not too long, and from a quick glance at my wardrobe it became clear that it was not entirely prepared for a hot and humid big city summer. For some reason I don’t feel comfortable wearing shorts on these kinds of trips, and I’m not big on summer dresses, so I would largely rely on skirts and light tops. My tees were not quite up to par either, so I made a mental note to look for a few of those as well.

Where to look?

Now I know what I need, so the next step is to figure out where to look. This is where I look up the usual high street stores’ websites to see if they have what I’m looking for. This way I will also find out if they have any sales going, which I will make sure to make a mental note of. I’m not very thorough here, but if I for example know that I need jersey tops then I will find that section of the website and see if there are any that catch my eye. After all, there is no point going to the store if they don’t have what I am looking for!

Time to shop

It might be worth to notice that I am now at my 5th paragraph and I am yet to enter a single store. Don’t worry though, we are getting there! By now I will have a good grasp on what I need and where I want to go. If I know exactly what I want then I will stop by the store(s) after work, but ideally I wait until the weekend. You see, my absolute favorite time to shop is Saturday mornings right after the stores open and until about noon. The stores will be practically empty, the atmosphere will generally be pretty calm, and the sales assistants will have time to help me, which is always good! I make sure to be clean and fed and wearing comfortable clothes. You don’t need to wear that itchy sweater or unruly bra, trust me, and you can’t find that perfect pair of jeans if your blood sugar is plummeting. Now I start looking for the things that I am after. The first thing I will gravitate towards after I have found the right kind of items (say, the jersey tops section) is color. Do they have the colors that I like and that I know look good on me, and that I know will go with the rest of my wardrobe? If you have trouble with this I would advice you to hop on over to Maria again and read Deciding Your Skin Tone, because this is really helpful. I’m cool-toned, and I love black, gray, khaki and navy mixed with strong jewel tones, so the colors that I go for will look something like this:


Now, if I am lucky enough to find the item that I need in a color that I like I will start to get grabby – that is, I will start scrunching the fabric between my fingers and checking labels. What kind of fabric is it? How is the general fit, does it look like it will suit me? Does it look like it will wrinkle easily? Does it attract dust? If it already looks dusty while on the hanger then WALK AWAY! This is not a drill, I repeat, WALK AWAY! Nothing good can ever come of owning such a garment! Also, is the fabric synthetic or natural? Will it breathe in warm weather, or will it get clammy and potentially cause sweaty pit-stains? Will it keep me warm if I need it for winter, or does it just look warm? Will it make my hair electric and drive me crazy? The label will also tell me if the garment is likely to shrink during the first few washes, so spending a few extra moments to read the labels can spare you from a lot of headache! I also give the seams a good once-over. If they look flimsy and weak then trust me, it is not worth it.

Only buy what truly works

By now I will probably have left the store altogether because the first things I looked at weren’t up to par. Don’t worry, this is completely fine! It means that you have standards, and that is a good thing. You don’t need to buy expensive things, but you should buy good things. This is your money you’re spending after all, you worked hard for it and you shouldn’t hand it over in exchange for things that aren’t perfect for you. I just go to the next store on the list and try again. Eventually I will end up in a dressing room with a few good picks, and my initial pickiness will make this experience a thousand times easier. This is where fit comes into play. Does the garment actually look good on me and my body shape? I like to bring a variety of sizes with me, both because it is hassle to have to leave the dressing room to look for a different size and because you shouldn’t let the number on the label dictate what you try on. Sure, you might usually be a size 10, but that top might look really cool in a slightly oversized size 12 – you never know until you try!

Know your body type

Speaking of body shape, it is really helpful to get familiar with yours. Again I am sending you over to Maria and her How to Dress For Your Body Shape, because well, that girl knows her stuff. Me, I am a tall and slim pear-shape with a small chest and long legs. This will dictate the kind of silhouettes that look the best on me – for example I know that a skater skirt with volume and a nipped-in waist will give me some extra added va-va-voom, that tops should not stop at the widest part of my hip, and that I should make sure that tops don’t look droopy and sad around the general boob area. I also know that I favor skinny jeans and that these look best on me with a long and slightly slouchy top, and the fact that I usually wear flat shoes means that I like to wear a shorter skirt to avoid looking frumpy. However, a summer skirt means bare legs, and with the added possibility of wind I would rather go for a longer length than risk flashing innocent bystanders. It makes sense, but these things are easy to forget – trust me, I have flashed a bystander or two before!

Marilyn Monroe in a white dress

Sadly, it was nowhere near this elegant.

Be smart, but don’t play it too safe

I also like to make sure than the garment works for more than just one season, unless I am shopping for tropical temperatures/arctic mid-winter. Sure, that floral linen skirt might be pretty, but a cotton polkadot skirt will look a lot less out of place in spring and fall. This makes extra sense when you live in a place where summer lasts a grand total of four hours every year, like I do. I also tend to avoid über-trendy things, but a trendy version of a classic can be fun – say, a denim shirt with some extra sparkle sewn onto it. Classic “forever” items are great, but too much classic can get a bit boring, after all. Speaking of boring, this is a trap that I often fall into because of my super-conscious shopping habits. When I only go for things that I need I tend to overlook the fun wildcards that would give my wardrobe an extra boost of energy, as they are a bit harder to plan for. I am trying to get better at this though, and if I stumble across something unplanned that really catches my eye I always make sure to grab it with me and try it on.

In the dressing room

At this point I am in a dressing room with a pile of clothes that I have tried on in front of me. I will probably have sorted them into piles that I have mentally named “no way”, “maybe” and “oh god, yes”. This is where the two final questions come into play: “does this fit my budget”, and “can I mentally build at least 5 outfits around this item from things that I already own?”. If not, or if the garment needs other secondary garments to work, then it will have to be really spectacular to justify buying it. I don’t want to go sweater shopping and end up having to buy shape wear and a new pair of jeans just to make that one sweater work, because come on, who has time for that. That is crazy talk. Then, if my garments have passed all mental and physical tests, I will finally shimmy over to the register and pay for these new additions to my wardrobe!

 A few notes at the end

  • I love to buy silver accessories on Etsy and eBay. You might have to wait a couple of weeks until you receive your orders, but the items will often be a lot cheaper than in stores, and the sheer variety of items is huge. Plus, you are much less likely to run into someone wearing that same pair of earrings.
  • Speaking of silver, I tend to stick to silver-toned metal when I shop. You know, cool coloring and all.
  • I’m not a shoe girl, but when I do buy them I make sure to buy quality leather shoes. This way I know that they will last a long time when I find a pair that I like.
  • I am, however, a handbags kind of girl. This is where I have made my biggest wardrobe splurges. Great bags make me swoon, and as long as I can justify them within my budget I am all in.
  • I’m a sucker for basic jersey tops, and if the fabric, color and fit is perfect then I don’t care if I own 10 similar ones already. I wear them all the time, which means that they wear out a lot faster than my other clothes, so it makes sense to me to invest whenever I stumble across a perfect one.

23 thoughts on “How I shop for clothes

  1. This post is perfect! It is really nice to see that someone else than me is picky when in stores.. my main problem with shopping though is that I often do it online and somehow the pickyness declines online… but so far this year not a single bad purchase so I know what I’m looking for ;)

    • Crap, did I really forget to answer comments in this post? I guess that’s a testament to how busy/knocked out I have been, haha! I don’t think that has happened before :P

      High five for only making good purchases, that is terrific! I do a LOT of browsing online, especially at asos. Thankfully Asos “remembers” the things I have added to my cart for 90 days, which gives me plenty of time to mull things over. I add and remove things all the time, but I can’t remember the last time I actually ordered a piece of clothing from them :)

  2. Oh I really should start following some of these procedures myself, especially when it comes to paying more attention to the quality of the clothes I buy. I don’t know how many times I have bought tops I loved only to have them shrink in the first wash, even when I follow the washing directions to the letter..

    • I hate the first wash shrink, it makes you feel like you just threw your money out the window. Especially if there was no warning on the label :( If I see “May shrink up to 5%” or something similar on a label I walk away, no matter what. If I don’t know exactly how it will turn out then I’m just not interested.

  3. Ah Maja I love this post! You’re a lot more restrained than I, clearly, although I have to say that fabric is a real issue for me most of the time. I found a gorgeous wool cable knit sweater today which fit the bill BUT the fabric was a little heavier than what I was after and the wool not quite soft enough.

    Anyway, a superb read!

    • I love wools! Lambs and merinos and alpacas, oh my! I wish I could wear angora, but as I am allergic to bunnies they just make me itch and sneeze. Angora mix sweaters look so wonderful and snuggly in winter :)

  4. Nice post! I tend to follow a similar process when shopping – finding out needs, exploring online shops to see if the store’s style could suit me, then, when I need a few things, to justify the time spent there, I go out shopping for a few hours (usually with a friend and/or a coffee break to make it more pleasant).

    However, I tend to go shopping with general needs as opposed to one specific item in mind. I am so picky I know I’ll have a hard time finding it. Plus, since I don’t know much about brands, I tend not to know where to look.

    I agree with you that it’s way easier to go shopping when you have a clear idea of your taste and body shape though. I’ve had a new idea in mind lately – I have a pile of perfectly fine clothes that don’t suit me in terms of details, and I’m wondering about bringing them to the seamstress to alter them (for example I have a dress which print and fabric I love but never wear because it’s a bit too short, and I’m thinking about turning it into a top…)

    Anyway, thanks for this great post!

    • I love altering clothes! My parents gave me a sewing machine for my birthday a few years ago, and I can alter skirt lengths and jean legs in a jiffy. I actually have a dress that I think would make a much more well-loved skirt, I should make that my next project!

  5. Super-interesting post, as always. I’m so inspired I’ll have to write my own post about this, thank you so much for the inspiration <3

  6. I love sales. I agree that having a clear of idea what works for you makes it less of a danger when you go shopping – it’s exactly like that for me as well. I like pretty classic things so year after year, some item that fits the bill will pop up somewhere. Someone is always making a breton or a linen shirt or some cropped trousers. I don’t mind paying full price for stuff but sometimes I know it’s more prudent to wait until the sales come around.

    On the flip side, I find sales quite a good place for novelty things as well – trying something that I know might not be me but without shelling out full price for it. That’s how I ended up with a pair of red jeans…

    • Oh, I totally agree! I don’t always shop at sales, but I do make sure to check them out when I need something. I don’t mind paying full price at all, as long as the item is up to par :)

      I bought a pair of neon pink skinny jeans once, I wore them a lot! I wish I still had them, but they grew a whole size and had to be donated. I love bright jeans!

  7. Ooh really interesting and although there are some points we have in common such as looking at fabric content and black (fluff attracting) clothing – I am so much more random. I don’t often have something in mind because at the end of the day, I don’t actually need anything but I like to be seduced by nice displays and I love having a play in the changing rooms (on the days when I want to have a play). And on those days, I dress like the tattiest bag lady around because I need clothes which are easy to slip on and off and don’t need much fussing with. Ideally a light jumper and a pair of jeans with a pair of slip on pumps is best … and the obligatory messenger for a hands free/two hands available approach. It’s like me walking through Whistles and not looking for a white shirt and then coming away with one. I swear I was going in to look at a pair of shoes I didn’t need but thought I’d do a try on incase they came up in the sales. Usually I do a smash and grab as well as sods law it will have disappeared by the time I’ve made my mind up and gone back for it. I’d rather buy it and then do the obligatory return. I’m a lost cause aren’t I?

    • You really are a pro at returns Sue, but that’s a good thing! I really should have returned a few of the things I bought over the last 6 months – not many, but a couple is a couple too many in my opinion. And messenger bags really are mandatory, I wouldn’t dream of taking anything else than a cross-body bag :)

      Slightly off topic, but I really need to visit England soon. You are rumored to have the best high street in the world, aren’t you? I need to experience this amazing high street!

      • I have to say, I’m not 100% sure which amazing high street this is but it must be in London because it can’t be in Leeds where I shop. Where were you planning to go in England?

        • I’m not planning yet unfortunately, but as soon as I find someone who are willing to go with me I would love to visit London. I’ve never been anywhere in the UK! :)

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  9. Great post! :) Too many people I know shop by instinct, so it’s refreshing to read about the intellectual approach. Somehow, I imagine you to be some sort of shopping sniper…Calculations. Target. Ka-ching.

    I’m kind of in limbo right now…so dips in the blogosphere will be sporadic…Hope you have a fantastic time in NYC! <3

    • Hahaha, I do feel like a shopping sniper sometimes! It feels good to be picky. I can’t remember the last time I felt like I had “nothing” to wear :)

      And thank you! I am getting travel jitters already, which is a bit early. I am literally counting the days!

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