At the beginning of 2016, I made a vow to only buy
10 articles of clothing this year (not including basic necessities like underwear and socks). I thought this would make me a smarter shopper, but I somehow found myself still regretting purchases. A pair of too-small shoes made its way onto the list; I felt compelled to buy a dress because it was part of my New Year's resolutions, and I haven't worn it once.
So in light of a new year and a blank slate, I decided to ask three personal shoppers how to never make those same mistakes again. How can someone who loves fashion keep taking risks, while minimizing mistake purchases? How can I make sure I love — and wear — every item I buy this upcoming year?
Ahead, we've compiled the 30 major shopping pitfalls that personal shoppers see all the time. After this month of likely overspending, we all need this.
Don't Go Shopping Without A Budget It's easy to give yourself a limit when you're just shopping for one or two things. But if you need multiple items, those price tags add up. That's why it's important to think big picture and calculate how much you're willing to spend on new clothes, total. “Have a number you know you’re not going to go over,” Valerie Halfon, 32, of Shop with Val says. “It forces you to get the things that will work in your closet versus the things you just like." It also puts your options in hyper sharp focus. If you only have $100 left to spend and you have to choose between a new pair of boots or a pretty skirt you'll only wear three times, the choice is easy. "It’s certainly great to get things you like because they’re pretty and the price is right, but when you do that over and over again you’re not getting the things you need in addition to the pretty things," Halfon says. Keep your focus on what you need, which brings us to point two...
Do Make A List Of Priorities The biggest piece of advice we heard was to "shop with intention." Don't just go shopping because you want anything. Go shopping when you know exactly what you need, and how much you're willing to spend. "Make a list of trends you want to incorporate into your wardrobe, and key pieces you need," Natalie Tincher, 33, of Buttoned Up, says. Then, rank them in order of importance. "That way, if you see something online or in-person and you’re tempted, you can pass it more easily and think, Let me hold on and wait for that perfect piece that’s number 3 on my list," Tincher says. She also recommends making a list of priorities, like comfort, style, or longevity. Would you give up style for comfort? Long-lasting quality for trendy items? Trends for ease of dressing? One easy way to figure out what your priorities are is to think about what you always wear, and then unpack why. "What elements about these pieces make me wear them?" Tincher says. Then, don't buy the same pieces again, but learn how to play within the areas you're comfortable. "If you love wearing neutrals, then play with texture, instead," she says. "Because if you buy a bright pink top, you’re not going to wear it, and that’s how you waste money."
Don't Go Shopping Without A Good Bra A good bra can transform your figure and make ill-fitting pieces suddenly fall just the right way. So if you haven't been fitted in a while, it might be time to invest in a good bra before buying anything else. "We encourage people to have a bra fitting prior to doing a styling session, and I think it’s pretty common for women to purchase a cheaper bra or not know what their bra size is," wardrobe stylist Rebecca Frey, founder of Seek New York says. "Those mistakes with bra shopping can really affect the way all your clothes fit."
Do Allocate Budget For Layering Pieces Just like a bra, camisoles and layering pieces can transform your wardrobe. "These can add versatility, and extend the number of options for how you’re going to wear a piece," Frey says. "So buy good layering pieces in your basic colors — black, white, nude, gray. Those are good investments to have in your wardrobe."
Don't Be Afraid To Try Something New Just because you know what you like doesn't mean you can't discover new loves. "If you limit yourself to only a few stores, you’ll feel like a walking billboard," Halfon says. "So I try to encourage shoppers to step outside their comfort zone, try new stores, colors, designers, and styles. Don’t give yourself too many rules about what you can and cannot do." This means trying on items you never thought you would like — just because. After all, the worst thing that could happen is you don't like it. "Don’t be afraid of different," Halfon says. "You may be drawn to a lot of things that are very different from what is in your closet, and we might see it and think, Oh, that’s not me. But it’s important to get rid of that concept and try it and see if you like it."
Do Remember The Brands You Love Let's be real, here: Sizing can change based on designer, brand, and cut. So when you find a designer that makes clothes that fit — like, really fit — take note. It also helps to shop at boutiques that reflect your style, Tincher says. "If they have good buyers that speak to you then that’s great," she says. "That’s where you'll find your special pieces...[and] a good place to learn new smaller brands."
Don't Buy The Same Items Over and Over I'll come clean: I personally have seven different white button-up shirts in my closet — but I wear all of them with the same black skirt. "I see people buying the same types of pieces over and over and not have the key pieces that they need in their closet to make those pieces work," Tincher says. "I had a client who had 10 striped shirts, but none of them were perfect, and she was missing everything else."
Do Buy New Pieces To Make Those Basics Look Different "Corporate clients are always missing a great blouse, and they all think they need a white button up shirt, but half of them don’t wear them," Tincher says. "So a lot of time they’re missing is a really great silk blouse, which can also work on weekends. Or they’re missing an interesting blazer as a layering piece." Of course, you don't want to buy an item so unique, you'll be limited to wearing it with a few select outfits. "I have a rule that whatever piece you’re buying, you want to have three different looks you can put together with it," Halfon says.
Don't Buy Everything Online It's easy to get caught up in sales and deals, especially when you just have to put in your credit card info and go. But just because it's easy doesn't mean it's worth your money. "A lot of women buy too many street style trends, wear it [only] once, and think, Oh, it was cheap, it was like $30," Tincher says. "But your cost per wear, then, is $30. But if you have a $100 piece and you wear it 10 times, that’s $10 per wear." This goes double for items bought online. Without having the ability to try things on, it's hard to say whether you're going to get the perfect fit — and let's be real — returning clothes can be a pain. "If you're good at returning things, go for it," Tincher says. "But if you're bad at returning things, don't shop online."
Do Buy The Staples You Love Online What should you buy online? Basics that you know will fit you like a glove. "You can get a lot of great deals online if you know the brand and style you want," Tincher says. "I know my size, cut, and color, but I don't want to pay full price." If you know exactly what you want, shopping online could make your life easier — and more affordable. But if you're walking into unknown territory (a different size, new designer, etc.), it might be better to browse the brick-and-mortar store first.
Don't Listen To Your Friends Or Sales Associates A shopping trip is definitely a go-to friend date, but part of the fun means you're allowing other people's opinions to influence yours. If you've got a problem with saying no and sticking to your budget, it might be a good idea to shop solo. "I have clients say, 'a sales associate talked me into it, but it’s not really my style'; or, 'my friend talked me into it,'" Tincher says. "Just because you have a friend in fashion doesn’t mean they know what you need."
Do Try Shopping Alone "People have good intuition, and you know yourself better than anyone else," Tincher says — which means, you know whether or not you'll actually wear something. Almost every professional shopper interviewed preferred to shop alone, and it makes sense — you can try on whatever you want, take as much time as you need, and not worry about swaying to anyone else's opinions. Of course, there is always going to be one opinion you can trust: strangers. "If a nice friendly lady who doesn’t know you and tells you how great something looks, well this person really doesn’t need to say anything at all," Halfon says. "That person truly means it. So asking a stranger isn't the best because they're put on a spot, but if they say something on their own? Then you know that’s a good opinion to take."
Don't Wait For End-Of-Season Sales Sure you can count on 25% off winter coats in March — but you're not going to need a coat in March. And can you really guarantee your size will be available in your dream jacket? "At end of the year sales, you’re not going to get the variety, and you’re buying pieces only because it’s a great deal," Tincher says. "But you don’t know if you’re going to want it next season." The best time to shop is actually early in the season. "I get a lot of people who call me to do winter shopping in January, but that’s the point where most of the options are depleted," Tincher says. "You start spring shopping in February and March, and that’s when you can start making your list and figuring out what you need." As for sales? Watch out for friends and family sales. "Saks, Bloomingdale's, [they] all have those and it’s current inventory at 25% off," Tincher says.
Do Be Picky — & Know When To Wait The problem with end of season sales is that you don't have as much variety. But if you're just looking for a cardigan that will only be in style for a season? It's not a big deal if you get something that's not exactly what you wanted. There is a time and place to be picky, after all. "You should be picky if it’s a leather jacket," Tincher says. "Be incredibly picky. You could spend $1,000 on that. But if it’s a crop top and it’s one shade off the right navy you wanted? Whatever. It’s fine."
Don't Buy Items That Are Too Small Or Too Big Here's something you shouldn't compromise on: your size. You know the drill — you find the perfect blouse, but they don't have it in your size anymore. So you opt for a version that doesn't quite fit right — and wear it once or twice before giving it to someone it actually fits. Even at 90% off the original sale price, an ill-fitting article of clothing is just a waste of money. This common mistake is usually made as a result of a crazy-good sale. The biggest pitfall Tincher sees? Shoes. "People buy shoes too small and rely on them to stretch, or they think, you know, it’s close enough. But you should always try the size up, just in case." In fact, Tincher recommends going up a half size for flats, especially if you're in-between sizes. And the best time to go shoe shopping? Late afternoon or at the end of the day. "Your feet swell, so especially if you're buying summer shoes, you should try them on in the late afternoon," she says.
Do Buy In Bulk, If It Works For You There will always be a few things that will be hard to find: the perfect pair of jeans, a comfy sweater that clings at all the right places, the wrap dress that doesn't have any awkward gaps and drapes. When you find those impossibly perfect pieces, and you know you'll be wearing them incessantly, it might be worth buying two or three. This also means shopping by trend — especially if they flatter your style. Maybe you don't need another white button-up shirt, but if " Greenery" just so happens to be your color, snatch up a few shirts and dresses while the color is in next season.
Don't Go For The First One You Try On Once you have a shopping list, buying clothes becomes a search for the perfect shirt, jeans, and shoes. But even if you've found a dreamy silk blouse that fits all your requirements on your first shopping trip, it might be good to put that on hold, and try a few more options. "The first piece you try on could be perfect, but you should try three or four options, just so you know the one you get is the perfect one," Tincher says.
Do Give Shopping Your Time Of course, rarely does the first shoe fit perfectly. So another key reminder? Shopping takes a lot of time — which is why personal shoppers have their jobs. "I really wanted a pair of leather pants, and I tried on every pair of leather pants in NYC, and I finally got a pair that was perfect for me," Tincher says. "But, it’s work."
Don't Buy Things You Can't Return A return policy is the best safety net you could have. "If you do buy it and it sits in your closet for a week or two, and you change your mind, you still have the option of returning it," Frey says. So if you don't have that safety net? You'll be stuck with whatever you buy, or you'll have to sell it secondhand for a fraction of what you paid.
Do Put Items On Hold Time is the best way to tell if you truly love something. "If it's a splurge, or a final sale, or some instance where you want to be really confident, the best thing to do is to give yourself 24 hours," Halfon says. "Give yourself a day where you put items on hold. That helps a lot of clients put things in perspective." So how do you know if something is an immediate yes, and something's a maybe? "If your body language was great, the piece made you light up and stand taller, that’s an immediate yes," Tincher says. If not, take a photo of the label and see if you're still obsessed with it 24 hours later.
Don't Go Shopping When You're Hungry Hanger is real, and it can definitely cast a different lens on shopping if you're impatient and annoyed. "If you can’t devote proper time to your shopping project you’re going to end up making rushed decisions," Frey says. "You may end up picking whatever is closest to you and not taking the time to try things on. So you’ll pick the easy option, not the best option." Eat first, then hit the mall.
Do Go Shopping Early The best time to browse brick-and-mortars is when there is no one else around — and that just so happens to be early in the day on a weekday. "If you have the flexibility to, I think the best time to go shopping is a weekday during the daytime," Frey says. "That way the stores aren’t crowded and they're not messy. That’s when the stores will be nice and clean and organized; the sales associates will be awake and helpful." Of course, not everyone can pop by Zara on a Wednesday at 11 a.m. Your next best bet? Waking up at 10 a.m. to get there early on a weekend, Tincher says.
Don't Rely On The Tailor Yes, a tailor you trust can transform an ill-fitting skirt into the A-line midi of your dreams. But some alterations will either be crazy pricey — or just impossible. "That’s where you talk to your tailor and know when it can or can’t be altered," Tincher says. And, remember to mentally tack on an extra $8 (or $20, or $50) when you're shopping, so you know how much extra you're going to be paying for a proper fit. Oftentimes, that might be enough to convince you to hold off until you find your perfect match.
Do Opt For The Extras When you're buying an investment piece, you're going to want it to last. So it might be a good idea to get a little extra at the very beginning. "Have the heels in your boots reinforced before you wear them; protect your leather on your shoes and handbags," Frey says. "Do things when you first get an item so you extend how long you can wear them. If you spend money up front, you might actually get a lot more wear out of your shoes and bags. So take preventative measures."
Don't Get Brand-Excited This is especially key when going vintage shopping, or sample sale shopping. "If you're vintage shopping and an item speaks to you, obviously get it. The fabrics and the quality they just don’t make it like that anymore," Tincher says. But she has seen many a shopper fall prey to high fashion brand names — even if it's not quite their style. "They get super brand excited. They say, 'Well it’s Chanel.' Just because it’s a certain brand doesn’t mean you should buy it." Figure out if you love it because it's a fit for you — or just because it has a fancy name.
Do Look Around Outlets And Sample Sales Sample sales and outlets are every fashion girl's savior, and you can find some gems there. But — important caveat here — just because the price is great doesn't mean the design is. "Sometimes [outlet] stores will sell things because they can’t sell it somewhere else," Halfon says, "And with outlets, some of the items are created specifically for the outlet. So the price draws you in, but you have to realize the quality and the merchandise you’re getting might not be the same." You might be getting a great deal — but there's a reason that fancy coat ended up at an outlet.
Don't Spend Too Much On Special Occasions As we've written before, you probably don't need another fancy sparkly dress for the holidays. So buying a new dress for a holiday party might not be the best idea. "If it’s a really special occasion — like your wedding — it might be worth splurging, but if it’s for a holiday party or something? It’s good to think twice," Frey says. Think about cost per wear. If you're just going to wear it once in the foreseeable future, then opt for a rental service instead.
Do Think About Making Your Clothes Last You've spent money on it — now take care of it. Use a laundry bag for your bras and underwear; handwash or dry clean your items that require it. This also means keeping maintenance in mind when you're shopping. "Dry-clean or hand-wash only items are fine if you can invest the time to care for them, but if you're busy or like to keep things as low-maintenance as possible, it's best to choose pieces that can be washed in the machine," Frey says. You wouldn't want to waste money on clothes that sit in a dry-cleaning pile forever, would you? The care tag isn't the only indicator of whether an item is easy to care for, though. "It also depends on the season," Tincher says. "For example, sweaters can usually be worn multiple times before being laundered due to the cool climate, but summer blouses and dresses often need to be cleaned after each wear, due to perspiration in the summer."
Don't Spend Too Much On Fads Off-the-shoulder dresses are everywhere right now, but in a few years, that $100 dress might just seem a little...dated. "I would advise not investing as much in trendy pieces as some of the staple things you’re wearing more regularly," Frey says. "Therefore you’re not stressing out if the cold-shoulder trend goes away."
Do Allow Yourself To Spend $ On Trends & Staples — Even If They're Not Perfect Sure you could spend all day looking for the perfect black bootie. But realistically, fashion will change. Which means it's okay to spend money on something that isn't quite perfect — if it's good for what you need right now. Say you're shoe shopping. "If it's something you’re going to wear for the next year or two, and they’re not the black pump you’re going to have for the next 10 years, get it if the price is right," Tincher says. Then, stick it in your stash for your next clothing swap or donation drop-off.