From time to time, we get reader questions that are focused on shopping – what to buy, where to shop, etc. And unless I know you personally (or have some idea of your taste, body type and what’s in your current wardrobe), it’s a tough question to answer.
However, I realized that since having kids, my methods for shopping have changed drastically. I tend to shop online (where I can google to my heart’s content while the kiddos are sleeping), and I tend to do better when buying all at once – meaning I shop once in the fall, maybe once in the winter, and once in the spring/summer. Pre-kid, I was picking something here and there up almost constantly. These days, I don’t have the time (or the budget). And the few times I have tried to spontaneously shop post-baby (without doing my homework first)…the item typically ends up hanging in my closet, unworn. UGH. The WORST. Money and time wasted.
So….here’s what I would recommend to mamas needing to shop. I’ve tried to keep things easy, but this process takes some time. Plan to give yourself a couple of weeks for the planning, shopping, final selection, just thinkin’ it over, and returning.
1. Know ThySelf
Do you know your own style? Do you know what you like? This Mamas, is number one. I don’t care what the trends are….know thyself first. If you need some help determining your personal style, we came up with a quick and dirty method to determine your personal style last Spring. Keep some of your fav style inspiration handy…just take a cell-phone picture or try sites like Pinterest (here’s a snapshot of my current pin board for Fall).
Once you have a good understanding of what you like, take a quick look at what you need. My method is simply this:
Pull on your most worn outfit – include everything: shoes, accessories, bag, etc. Ask yourself: What could make this more wearable?
That’s it. You’re done.
Want more explanation on this point? Ok. While looking at your most well-worn outfit, try asking yourself some of these questions:
- Does this outfit need to be warmer as the nights cool? YES? Add an interesting cardigan (maybe nordic? maybe cable knit?) or a cute hat to your list.
- Do you find yourself wanting to wear this outfit more often, but something is in the laundry from over-use? Maybe it’s time to get a few more.
- Are you happy with the outfit, but bored? YES? Try switching out the boots and bag for something more current, add a of-the-moment scarf (see M’s tips on adding flare to basics for some rockin’ ideas).
- Is the outfit just looking old? YES? Replace the denim/shorts/dress/whatever and add some new accessories.
That really is the core of this exercise: Understand what you almost always wear….buy new things that make it better. You’ll be happy with your closet and look great. Success!
If you have more time, follow this same process with a few more outfits. Try on what you wear to the park, to brunch, to work, to date night, to playgroup, the outfits for lounging around the house. How happy are you with these outfits? What you “need” is partly defined by what you wear the most often and how happy you are with your existing outfit.
Be sure to write down your “needs”.
2. Establish Your Plan of Attack
‘Cause this is battle, people.
We have so little time, once the kiddos come, that I strongly recommend you spend a few precious hours looking online before you start shopping. Scope out your major retailers and see if they have anything that looks interesting to you.
Also scope out online catalogs and lookbooks, etc.
Come up with a reasonable budget.
I strongly encourage shopping online. It takes less of your time, and the selection is virtually unlimited. Keep the following in mind:
- Shop online at places that offer free shipping and free return shipping. My favorite online retailers are:
- All of these retailers will ship out a free return label. Anything you don’t want put back in the box, slap on the return label, call UPS for a pick-up. So. Stinkin’. Easy.
- When in doubt, buy multiple sizes. This can be scary. Why? Because hitting the submit button on a $2,000 order when all you want is a pair of jeans is scary. So is your husband’s face when/if he sees the credit card statement. But you need to order enough so you find the pair of jeans that makes you OVER-THE-MOON excited…instead of “these look OK….I wish they were a bit smaller/bigger/different color/whatever.” It’s easy to get bogged down in returns when you buy and return in onesy, twosy fashion. Buy big, return once.
If you’d rather shop in person….
- Wear your favorite outfit, do you hair, wear makeup, get all spiffed up. Bring your inspiration photos and a shopping list to help keep your focus.
- Once in the dressing room, ALWAYS try on and ask yourself this: Do you LOVE it? Do you LOVE it more than you love your favorite outfit? If the answer is no….proceed with caution. (If you don’t love it while looking your best, you sure aren’t going to love it on mornings when you have dark circles and spit-up in your hair.)
- Be prepared to leave empty handed. (That’s what chocolate is for.)
4. Try EVERYTHING on at home
Why? Because if you don’t like something while wearing your hottest jeans and high heels….you probably aren’t going to like it while wearing your slouchy boyfriend jeans and flats.
Start a return pile.
You now have a bunch of clothing you’d like to keep. Go through again – are you SURE you’ll wear it? Try them all on again with other well-worn pieces from your closet. If a new item doesn’t easily go with the clothing you wear all of the time…it may not be as versitile as you hoped.
Be realistic. One of my clients had the cutest preppy style, and so many of her outfits were DYING for a blazer. And she loved blazers – she had a closet full of them. The problem? She found them too constricting to wear around the kiddos…which was, uh…most of the time. It was time to give up on the blazer dream and go in another direction. (We found sweater blazers and soft moto jackets instead).
5. Final Selection
If you’ve managed to find everything you were looking for and stay under budget, then you probably aren’t a woman. Most of us are going to have to cull. One of my favorite tricks is to check Ebay, especially for items like boots, bags, and accessories. For example, I’ve needed a pair of cognac colored boots for a while….and just scored a pair of Veronica Slouch boots on Ebay for $90…saving myself at least $200. (Little known fact: I rock at buying on Ebay. Here are all of my Ebay Shopping Secrets.)
Lastly, check the price online – see if you can find your item cheaper somewhere else. Also call the stores and ask when it’ll be on sale.
When in doubt, pair down to the nicest you can afford for something you’ll wear the most often. That date night dress? Unless you guys are hitting the town several nights a week….I’d probably move that to the bottom of the list, or at least look for something very budget friendly.
And please: don’t settle for anything less than true love. You want your heart to beat a little fast. If you’re not thinking, “Yay! This is perfect!!”, then return and keep looking. Unless all of your clothing was lost in a fire, you won’t freeze to death while waiting to find that perfect sweater. It’s always easy to get distracted by “new”…but if that’s the only thing that attracts you, the item is destined for the giveaway pile. Focus in, laser-like, on only what you love.