My Personal Shopping Rules

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When shopping for clothing, it is so easy to get off track. Maybe you need a new pair of trousers, but by time you leave the mall you have several bags and none of them contain a pair of pants. It’s also easy to get off track when it comes to your personal style. You are a hopeless romantic who feels at home in ruffles and flounces, but after some pressure from a very enthusiastic salesperson you find yourself at home with a very structured severe black sheath dress.

My Personal Shopping Rules

I have found the best way to stay on track is to have a list and take it with you. I have a small note pad I got at a drugstore that I keep in my purse. I date the sheet and write my shopping list. I never toss the list because looking at old lists help you remember not only what you own, but the style of your wardrobe and life. These lists for me are like a mini journal of my life – a list including a bathing suit and flip flops in August, a cocktail dress in December, silver shoes for when I was a bridesmaid in a wedding, a new pair of jeans to celebrate a weight loss.

In this little notebook I not only keep lists of what I need, but also what I believe. What fashion “rules” do I hold for myself? Each woman’s “rules” will be different. At first you may not know your personal style, but you do know what you will NOT wear. Making this list will help you leave the mall or boutique with only purchases that make you feel good – be it more ruffles instead of structured shapes, or leather instead of lace. Here is my list of fashion “rules,” ones that over time I have felt fit me, and fit many other women.

1. Color over Neutrals. Color makes me look thinner, as though I have a better complexion, am younger. Color makes cheaply made clothing look more expensive. When I feel glum, putting on a bright cheery color automatically makes me smile.

2. Never Let Lingerie Show. I was raised to never have a bra strap or panty line show. Trends come and go where it seems acceptable to have lingerie peek out of sweaters, jackets, and blouses. I have never succumbed to those trends and never will. On top of that, if an item requires a fancy-dancy backless/halter/strapless/zero-gravity bra that I do not already own, I won’t buy the garment. And if an item requires me to pin, tape, suck, squish or cover up part of it to make my current lingerie work, again I won’t purchase.

3. Prints to a Minimum. I am not a prints person. When I start buying printed items, I start finding I wear those items less often – so rarely they are not worth their purchase price. Prints are memorable, less able to be coordinated with multiple items in my closet, so they are purchased sparingly.

4. I Don’t Go to Cocktail Parties. This is something I have to say to myself on a regular basis. I am constantly drawn to sequins, beading, shimmer, shine. I love cocktail dresses, silky camisoles, contrast outfits like fitted tee with ball skirts and cashmere turtlenecks with sequined minis. However I do not have a lifestyle for such a wardrobe. I go to places that warrant such attire maybe twice a year, so I try to get my bling-fix in necklaces I can wear to work as well as play, and fun clutches and purses that I can use to jazz up my arsenal of LBDs that can work for a day wedding or that unexpected cocktail party.

5. Accept it, Your Arms, Breasts and Calves are Not Standard Size. It’s exhausting, frustrating, and demoralizing to try to zip up tall boot after tall boot, try to wiggle skinny rigid jeans up past my ankle or have a short-sleeved oxford or shirtdress fit over my limbs and bust. Even when I was a size 4 I couldn’t wear such items because my calves, breasts, and arms are just bigger than fit models. This doesn’t mean I am unattractive or deformed, it just means I should wear other items. And I have to remind myself that even if I can fit it, if it feels tight and awkward, it will look tight and awkward.

6. Don’t Buy it If It’s Not Comfortable. I am not one to live in sweats, and I despise when people tell me they buy items purely because they are comfortable. However I don’t believe in pain for the sake of style. There is a happy balance. I won’t wear something that restricts my arms, pulls on my back, won’t let me walk three blocks to and from the Metro to my office, forces me to suck in my stomach so that buttons won’t pop, when I take it off I have marks from where the item zipped or cinched.

7. You Aren’t a Girly-Girl. Yes, I am occasionally drawn to calico prints, ruffles, lace, flounce. A romantic blouse, a vintage-inspired dress. Then I get it home and realize I have no shoes, no jewelry, no other wardrobe items to work with it. I have to change my makeup, I need to change my hair, my purse doesn’t fit with the look. Instead of reinventing the wheel, don’t buy the wheel.

8. You Hate Black Purses. This is a weird one, and one I have learned over time. Black makes sense – I wear a lot of black and colors that look great with black. Most of my pants are black, shoes are black. However every time I buy a black purse I don’t like it for some reason – it’s too stark, it’s too somber, it’s too wrong. I currently own two black bags – a casual shoulder bag for day and a satin clutch for night. Both are collecting dust and are constant reminders for me to not make that mistake again.

9. Loose Items Don’t Make You (or anyone) Look Smaller. When I am between two size, I often catch myself choosing the larger one because I fear the smaller one will make me look like a sausage. The thing is, usually the smaller one fits, and the larger one is loose. Loose is comfortable, loose is safe. However, loose makes my unusually large arms look larger, my bust look bustier, my tummy look as though it’s wrapped in a diaper. As a petite woman, fit is of the utmost importance – a dress that is too long in the torso will make a hump in my lower back, show my bra under my arms, cause pants to droop in the rise. Slight adjustments – going with the smaller of two fitting sizes, choosing petite will make me look slimmer and make my clothes look more expensive.

10. If you Love it, Buy Two. I am not ashamed to own the same item in multiple colors. I have been known to buy the same trousers in threes – one in gray and two in black. No one is keeping tally, seeing how many different pairs of black pants you own. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I have the same wrap dress from Ann Taylor – one in solid black and one in a blue print. I have the same trousers from Gap – two pairs of white and one of oxford gray. Same with a pair of trousers from Semantiks – one in black, one in brown. When I worked retail and my employer expected us to wear all black I had five pairs of the same pants – they fit great, held up well after a long day, and could be thrown in the washer and dryer.

11. Unless it’s Formalwear or a Suit, if it’s Truly Dry Clean Only, Leave it on the Hanger. I have items in the trunk of my car that need to go to the cleaners. They have been there since Emerson was four months old. If I do actually get to the cleaners, I then forget the items are there and don’t pick them up for months. Many items (merino wool, synthetic fabrics, matte jersey) claim to be dry clean only, but aren’t. You won’t see me in much wool, silk, heavily embellished items or delicate fabrics. I don’t have the lifestyle for them. Not worth to buy if they spend most of their life in my car or at the cleaners!

What are your “rules?” What do you follow to stick to a wardrobe that fits not just your body, but your personality and life?

A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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  1. Just one comment: wool in general does not have to be washed. If it has no stains, leave it out for a night. It will clean itself.

    I general, if you have to wash a wool item, something has gone horribly wrong. Just make sure to wear something closer to skin (to avoid underarm contact, for instance) and avoid extra messy environments (I never wear merino wool or cashmere at home with a small kid, I always change to cotton which washes nicely).

    In general, very few things need dry cleaning. Formalwear, suits, as you mentioned. A few silk items. I don’t quite understand the american trend of dry cleaning white shirts (don’t they yellow in the process? Water is more gentle to cotton…)

  2. rules are invaluable! and you’ve come up with a great set. mine are some similar (10,11,6), some opposites (1,2,3,7).

    i’ve found it helps to have some ‘strictly inspirational’ shopping trips where you practice looking and not buying, possibly as part of a ‘no-buy’ period. you need to break the habit of ‘needing’ to buy every time you shop so that you only buy stuff that works for YOU.

    concentrate on defining your look BEFORE buying and really analyzing and figuring out what pieces will get you where you want to go, which pieces will give you the most bang for your buck.

    once i started getting SUPER STRICT with what i bought, i found that my re-mix possibilities went thru the roof and i had SO many more outfits! and with much less effort in the morning ; ) esp. if you have limited time or money, the more THOUGHT you put into your wardrobe the more benefit you’ll get out of your clothes. use that down time (on the bus, vacuuming, folding laundry, etc.) to plot and scheme.

    Great article!! steph

  3. I never had rules till I started reading your blog. I still can’t tell you how much you’ve impacted my life and how I see myself. For many years my rule was anything cheap that could be stained with baby poo/spit-up/greasy kid hands, etc. and then thrown out without feeling guilty that I spent alot of money on it. Now that my kids are older (14 and 11 but still boys with filthy hands sometimes), I am dressing more carefully, and well, nicer, with better quality items. I guess my general rules are to acquire the basics in my closet based on your list, and to throw in a few inexpensive yet trendy pieces each season. Also, as you said, I definitely go for comfort and well fitting but not shabby. As for cocktail dresses, I only recently bought a great dress for a special event in a few weeks but will also likely wear it at my neice’s wedding next year, so no waste there. Plus, it is REALLY comfortable and figure flattering. I’m so happy that materials are changing to actually be fancy but comfy at the same time. As far as purses, they are my weakness, and I used to always buy neutral, but no more. I just bought a fabulous red bag and got a cute summer one earlier that kind of goes with just about everything in my summer closet. Jewelry used to be plain pearls or necklaces but now I’m going for more bling.

    Thanks again for your posts. I look forward to reading them every day!

  4. Interesting…your rules are mostly the same as mine. Especially in term of lingerie showing, forgotten clothing being more flattering than loose (even,..or maybe even especially…open the not-skinny of us) and not buying much dry-clean only. My purse role is the opposite though. I LOVE the idea of colored purses..but I have several and I almost never wear them, with the possible except exception of the red one because red is almost neutral. I wear my black bag s a lot my rule is pricey bags need to be black, but if it is outlet or thrifted or just not expensive, then it can be a fun color. Thankfully, I bought my red Coach bag before I made this rule!

  5. What a smart post.
    I have issues with buying cocktail dresses that sit there unworn for ages until I finally have somewhere to go with it.
    In this case what I do is whenever a friend has a party to go to, I offer them the cocktail dresses in my closet.
    That way I feel they at least get to see the light.

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