Five common shopping mistakes to avoid if you want better style

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Friday, November 11, 2016
#1 Getting blinded by the brand
Buying based on brand without considering whether the actual piece would be just as amazing under a lesser-known label is one of the biggest mistakes that I've made in building my wardrobe. Building a brand that has the power to drive mindless purchasing decisions is the ultimate goal of any marketer, but we should have the opposite goal in mind as consumers. 
I purchased a pair of (second hand, but still expensive) Chanel flats that I ended up regretting for a couple of reasons, but mostly because they remind me of my susceptibility to brand names. There are so many other ballet flat options that are just as good in quality, but I bought mine for the logo rather than because they were remarkable and unique. That is fundamentally tacky and sort of hypocritical: tacky in that buying for logo means that I wanted them because I wanted to be associated with the fanciness of that brand, and hypocritical because I am not fancy and write an entire blog about making mindful purchasing decisions.
#2 Falling in love with the deal
Picking up things that I wouldn't be willing to buy if they cost me full retail price is one of the biggest traps I've fallen into, and this past year of cutting back has helped me to recognize this. Any item that we purchase should have a purpose in our wardrobes, yet I've spent so much money on items that aren't great, don't fit in, or are redundant with other things that I already own. It pained me to look at all of the waste I've generated by accumulating things that were a "really great deal" that I mindlessly picked up while shopping for sport. Going forward, I won't enter any retail establishment unless I have done an assessment of my wardrobe, considered the gaps, and made a list and budget.
#3 Not being honest about your lifestyle
My lifestyle is 80% travel, 10% recovering from travel, 5% casual social get-togethers, 2.5% dinner parties, and 2.5% fancy events. My wardrobe should be built with that lifestyle in mind, heavy on the versatile business professional pieces sprinkled with casual items and a select few dressy items to reserve for the 2.5% of my time spent at fancy events or black tie weddings.
I've recognized that the items that get me the most mileage are the ones that I can wear to work, or casually at home. My old habit of impulse-purchasing high heels, fancy skirts and beaded vintage blouses was not supporting my lifestyle needs, nor was my oddly large collection of Madewell chambray shirts.
#4 Forgetting that you have options for better quality and prices
Impulse purchasing a polyester-blend sweater from Topshop for $100 that will look worn and old after the second wash does not serve me or my wardrobe. Teaching myself to think about where I can get a similar style in cashmere or 100% wool (like on my favorite online retailer eBay...) has helped me build a better quality wardrobe overall. (And I've been tossing those cheap, overpriced items all year...)
#5 Losing sight of your purpose
We all have a purpose in our purchasing decisions, whether it is to push the boundaries on your style, fill gaps in your wardrobe, or become more mindful about what you're buying. This mistake is really hard to avoid, even when you're consciously trying to stay focused. Even though I publicly committed to a self-induced challenge to not buy anything for a year save for second-hand, I struggled with this one. And I write this guiltily thinking of those who have joined me (Ivanka...) and hope for your forgiveness.
While traveling for work in the spring, my black heel broke and I was without a substitute or the ability to find a suitable second-hand store. In pure desperation, I dragged my friend Ashley (who is conveniently also a 9.5 shoe size) to Nordstrom, forced her to buy a pair of black heels on her own credit card, wear them for a day, then sell them back to me for $5 less. It was a low moment, and I am ashamed for letting myself get off on a technicality. However, it was a true test of friendship as there are not many people who would accept such outrageous demands. (Thanks, Ash!)
And, I took a lot of liberty with my birthday gifts, all attributed to my husband Wes and his incredible taste in women's clothing and full support of my style choices...
Ok, that's all I have! I'm sure there are many other shopping mistakes that we make, would love to hear your thoughts on any that you've observed in your closets!
4 comments on "Five common shopping mistakes to avoid if you want better style"
  1. Aw, girl, don't be so hard on yourself! As a fellow Catholic, I understand our inbred tendency to beat ourselves up anytime we falter but I think it is important to keep things in perspective :) You've been doing an outstanding job overall, and for me personally you continue to be a constant source of inspiration whether it comes to narrowing down my style and creating my own capsule wardrobe, or looking for alternative places to shop.

    I can SO relate to all of the mistakes pointed out above! I've made all of them and some over and over (#2, namely). But this year was different in that I started out with a strong motivation (wishing to end my support of the unethical practices of the fashion industry as depicted in "True Cost"), which forced me to think seriously about making reasonable and sustainable choices going forward. The shopping ban was helpful in that it gave me plenty of time to figure it all out. Now, did I do everything perfectly these past 11 months? No. For instance, I could have been a bit harder on myself and asked for fewer items on my birthday, but given the year-long abstinence I gave myself a pass and just stuck to my new shopping rules: Quality over quantity, classic vs. trendy clothes, replacing old pieces, and filling a REAL gap.

    I also wanted to comment on #1. My aversion to branding has been steadily growing over the years and at this point I am no longer willing to pay more just for the "privilege" of wearing ANY logo, no matter who the maker is or how much I love the product. In fact, the more I move away from playing the brand game, the stronger my resolve grows. (Please understand that this is a purely personal decision and not a judgment of anyone else's choices.) I find that there are plenty of fine, quality brands out there that don't mark their products in such a visible way and those are the ones I will be focusing on in the years ahead.

    Thank you, as always, for giving your readers something to think about.

    1. Ivanka, thank you so much for reading and commenting! And, for suggesting True Cost months ago. It really has helped me to stay motivated and given a bigger purpose to this little challenge. You are so right about Catholic Guilt!!!

      I've been feeling the same on brands - that I want to buy to fill a gap, and get the best fit and quality I can afford. It really makes me think about whether I will browse / casually shop in the future. As much as I love J.Crew and TJ Maxx, they were the sources of MOST of what I donated because I do so much impulse shopping there...

      Have you given any thought to the first thing you'll buy in 2017???

  2. Sorry it took me so long Colleen!
    I can relate to all these mistakes you talk about, and thank you for being so honest! I must say though, I do not follow the brand names, which is a big thing for Asians---they love brand names. I don't do that mainly because I don't really care about the names, long as it's good value and good quality, and I don't have that kind of money. I really cant bring myself spend more than 50 for, say, a Tshirt. Like Ivanka said, you can find good quality goods with very reasonable prices nowadays. I feel lot of people(at least the Chineses) chase the name brands so that they can show off, that should never be the reason we spend money.

    I also agree so much with the #2, I cant tell you how much stuff I bought simply because it's a good deal. I am slowly but surely learning to ask myself everytime before I pay: do I really need it?

    Hey, it's the end of the 2016! which means your year of no buying new things is almost over. Do you have any plans for next year? I would really love to see what's on your shopping list :)

    Happy holidays to you my sweet friend!

  3. Hi Colleen!

    I enjoyed your blog and wrote comments, but it seemed disappeared :(

    I agree what you said here, especially #2. I rarely buy clothes at full price, but I also buy alot what I don't need just because it's on sale.

    I actually don't really care for name brand that much. It's pretty rare for Chinese. Most of them just love name brands and would be happily pay a ridiculous price for a logo. I find that absurd. Like Ivanka said, you can find great products that aren't necessarily known name. For me, good quality and good price are more important.

    Now that 2016 is almost over, have you thought about your shopping list for 2017? and have you calculated how much you have saved this year? I am so curious to see. I have reflected this year and realized I have yet again failed, in terms of buying less...oh well, never too late to start right? I wonder, when you say no buying new things, did you mean NEW THINGS strictly? so used items from vintage store or 2nd hand stores don't count?

    Sometimes I don't even feel that excited while I go shopping, it's more of a habit. I don't really need anything, and I know very well that I will get bored soon after I wear that new top/dress.

    I can't promise I will do a "no buying new things" in 2017, but I will try from month to month. I will think of you and read your articles while I feel weak.

    Happy holidays dear! and stay warm!