Three Shopping Strategies You NEED Before You Spend Another Dime

Apr 24, 2014 | Style Tips, Wardrobe Shopping, Wardrobe Tips

One of my gorgeous clients recently confessed something to me: she hates to shop! And how clever she was to bring it up. The truth is, many women feel this way – they want to look good, but just can’t get out of the mall fast enough. Unfortunately, this often results in walking out the door with something you don’t really feel great about. The ironic thing here is that the more you avoid thinking about shopping or managing your wardrobe, the harder it gets. If you can commit to spending focused time on your wardrobe, the overall hassle and WASTED time and money will be greatly reduced. So without further ado, let me take you through my top tips for successful shopping that will put YOU in control of your wardrobe.
Whoa, there. Let's just take a deep breath before doing anything drastic - like buying a sequin moo moo.

Rule #1: DO NOT Shop Out of Desperation

You know this story. That formal wedding invite shows up and you mail your RSVP out right away with an inward groan about what you’re going to wear. Somehow, those six to eight weeks go by in the blink of an eye and you’re at the mall after work three days before the wedding with a two hour window to find a dress or go naked. Whatever zips and is made of satin is what you’re going to wear AND spend your money on. Not good. Ideally, you want to have the dress hanging in the back of the closet BEFORE the invitation ever arrives. Unless you never get invited to a wedding or any other event, you should always have a couple of formal options in your closet ready to go (and yeah, NOT the one you bought out of desperation last time, unless you lucked out and it looks great). If you don’t, you’d better start ordering options the minute you open that invite.

This doesn’t just go for formal occasions – have a fabulous winter coat and boots ready to go in August, a bathing suit in April (hint hint), and the knock-em-dead interview outfit right NOW. When you shop at the last minute, you are at the mercy of whatever happens to be in the store at that particular moment. When opportunity knocks, have a thrilling outfit ready to open the door in. In order to do this, you’re going to have to buy things when you don’t need them right then. In fact, it would be a great idea to start a running list of the things you always need at the last minute but don’t have. Then, when you do go to the mall, or better yet let your fingers take a stroll through your online shops of choice, you know what you’re looking for.

Those cute coral jeans you bought need a top to go with them!

Rule #2: Successful Shopping Starts at Home

No, not on your computer, though it’s prowess as a shopping tool cannot be denied. The heart of all successful shopping endeavors is in fact, located in your wardrobe. Moan if you like, but if you don’t know what you have, you don’t know what to buy. Get in there and get rid of everything there’s no question about whether you are wearing or not. If it hasn’t fit in years, was given to you by your horrible ex, or is so far off palette that two trains and a bus wouldn’t get it there, just get rid of it. If it was expensive, consign it or sell it online to get something for it, if that makes you feel better. If this is your first pass at a clean out, don’t try to make hard choices right now. A good trick is to flip the hangers of anything you’re iffy on, and set a calendar reminder to see if you’ve worn it in six months or so. Do try stuff on that you haven’t had on in a long time.

Once you have shaved a layer off the top of your wardrobe, get in there and make outfits. Start with the ones you already wear all the time, and include accessories and jewelry. Try them on in front of a full length mirror, and even better, snap a picture of yourself in each one. When you review them later on your computer screen, you will get the hard facts on what is most flattering. Push yourself to get a little creative to use as many of your pieces as possible.

Whatever you can’t put into an outfit probably falls in one of two categories: 1. Something you love but that doesn’t work well for you or 2. Something that can potentially be great but you don’t have the proper coordinating pieces. If it’s in category one – let it go for someone else to love. Otherwise, take a minute to brainstorm what you could get to complete your awesome item (a wide belt, a black waterfall cardigan, whatever it might be) and get it in rotation. Then get out that list you started earlier and jot down what you come up with – i.e. the things you actually need. If you found that some items are getting used and abused – for example, one skirt is the linchpin to 8 different outfits, think of adding a second similar piece to your list.

If the prospect of scouring the mall for hours looking for these specific items makes you want to puke, then here’s the part where you put your computer to work. You can just do a google search for what you’re looking for (leopard print booties) but I really love for it’s ability to scan loads of sites for just what you’re looking for. Just one thing that I can’t stress enough – when you shop online, shop places where you can return things. If you can find places that have free shipping both ways, even better, but resist the siren song of last chance discounts – that’s the second best way after shopping out of desperation to get stuck with a bunch of stuff you never really wanted in your closet.

As an aside, once you’ve spent all this time perfecting your outfits, don’t be afraid to repeat them often, especially if they are really practical for your lifestyle. Riff on the same idea, too – if leggings and boots with a tunic is perfect for your body and life, own several variations. Having fabulous personal style isn’t about being seen in a million different outfits and looks. Far better to have fewer choices and have them all be winners. After all, a fabulous outfit is one that highlights YOU, so you have no need to be trying to pull out loads of gimmicks.

I don't know about you, but this is MY idea of shopping 80% of the time... mmn, fuzzy blanket.

Rule #3: Be Picky, Be Patient

If you spend a couple of hours at the mall, and buy one or two things sometimes, or most of the time nothing at all, you’re being picky enough. Hold out for pieces that truly do something for you. If you know your season and image archetype, a lot of the work knowing what not to ever bother with will be done for you. If you’re shopping in real life, try everything on before you buy it. Including necklaces, handbags, everything! Don’t have the attitude that time spent shopping and not buying anything is wasted – it’s just a necessary component to getting in the drivers seat of your appearance and your wardrobe. If you must buy something at the mall and are striking out, make it a bottle of perfume, or a latte.

Like anything worth doing, having incredible personal style takes a little elbow grease and self discipline. A PCA and PIA takes a lot of the guesswork out of the equation and lets you get right to the business of curating a fabulous wardrobe to show up in the world as your very best self. Good luck in the trenches, ladies!

Your turn – Do you have any shopping strategies that save you time and money and keep you looking fabulous? Tell us about them in the comment section below!


  1. Great tips, Rachel! Thank you. I am noticing that it’s very hard to find anything with waist definition; I’m trying to figure out whether I’m dominant in yin, which I think I am but can’t find much to try out! Ah, well. I’ll keep pursuing this as I have time. I appreciate all your help!

  2. Great advice Rachel; my best periods of dressing have been when I’ve shopped “mindfully” and avoided the sale rails. Getting older seems to make it more difficult as well, especially on a low budget. One tip I find works – take a photo of yourself in something before you buy (the camera on smart phone), this often highlights problem areas or colours more quickly than staring at yourself in the mirror!

  3. Rachel, this is my favourite post on your site. I re-read this article once every weak! I really like the idea of repeating outfits that work and I love the trick of buying perfume or a latte … or my favourite lipstick, since I am going to use it up anyway.My best tips for shopping is:
    1. Keep a list of items you need – I keep a small notebook in my closet. It is a bit like groceries – sticking to the list keeps the costs down.
    2. Avoid sales (I have never found anything really good and really worth it on a sale – in stead I get frustrated and feel I must find something there – never works for me).
    3. Go through your closet at least once a year – and if something has not been worn in a year get rid of it. There is a reason you have said no so many times and chosen something else every time. (The exception would be cocktail dresses, red carpet gowns, diving gear and your wedding dress).

    • Really great input, AC! Glad this has been helpful for you. 🙂

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