I'm Only Buying 10 Pieces Of Clothing This Year—Here's Everything I Regret

Photo: Courtesy of Jessica Chou.
It started with a Michael Kors dress. Back in February, I caught wind of a major vintage sale at a store uptown and made plans to drop by. There, I tried on a slim sheath dress. You can wear that to meetings, my friend told me, and I was sold on the idea of having one of those Olivia Pope moments.

Half a year later, I have yet to wear that dress to a meeting. I've yet to wear that dress, period.

Even before that happened, I knew that I was spending too much money on clothing, and that dress was the last straw. So, sometime in March, after skipping over that dress for the umpteenth time, I decided that I would only buy 10 pieces of clothing for the rest of 2016 (previous purchases included). If I wanted to buy something, I had to want it enough to justify spending 10% (give or take) of my allotted clothing limit for the year. And, most importantly, I had to "need” it — it had to be a completely new item or style, filling a hole in my closet or serving a specific function to pair with the rest of my clothes.

In the last eight months, I've spent $378 on three dresses, two blouses, and two pairs of shoes. And I already regret three of those purchases:
1. A cheap tank top from Thailand. I wanted a sleeveless blouse to wear with all my skirts, but this version ended up being too flowy and layered to tuck in casually — and wearing it not tucked in makes me look sloppy. The fact that it was only $4 should make me feel better about it, but instead I just feel guilty about giving in to cheap buys.

2. The aforementioned too-fancy sheath dress that makes me feel like I’m playing a role. I thought I needed it because I felt like I should have a grown-up outfit, but the too-tight pencil skirt makes it difficult to walk, and the length requires — ugh — heels. That's $133 down the drain.

3. A pair of cutout flats that felt fancy, but still comfortable. It was supposedly “necessary” because I needed new summer shoes, and my old pair was on its last legs. I tried these on at a Chicago vintage store without socks, figured they felt fine, and plopped down $20 for them. But after they gave me half a dozen blisters within an hour, I gave up. I've been too scared to wear them again since.
Photo: Courtesy of Jessica Chou.
I thought setting a limit would help me make smarter, more informed decisions, ensuring that I thoroughly appreciate everything I spend my cash on. But when I looked at the three items I regret, I realized that my biggest downfall wasn’t just fashion FOMO. It was also my wishful thinking.

Instead of pragmatically buying based on whether or not I would wear something, I would instead get caught up thinking of the type of person who would wear a specific outfit, shoe, or top. This dress for badass-boss Jess. These shoes for vintage New Girl Jess. The fact that I had nothing like them existing in my wardrobe also helped me justify those purchases — but I didn’t really think of the reality. I would never have to wear that dress. My feet are actually a little too big. Peach is just not my color.

It’s this type of realistic thinking I’m starting to listen to. I’m starting to admit that, as much as I love the off-the-shoulder tops every girl in NYC is wearing, I’ll probably never wear one because I hate strapless bras. And while I love the look of culottes on my coworkers, I just prefer the ease and simplicity of shifts and A-line skirts. For some women, buying for a future self and letting clothes act as a gateway to trying out new sides of your personhood works for them; for me, it requires a budget that I frankly don't have.

Even more importantly, I’ve learned to redefine what I mean by “need.” I don’t need a new trendy off-the-shoulder top, or a dress to make me look more grown-up. I’ve found that through limiting myself, I only end up making justifications to buy things, making up reasons to get a new pair of shoes. Do I need it? I keep asking myself, when I should be asking, Will I wear it — a lot?

Of those seven items I've bought this year, I love the other four: a pair of brown flat sandals from the Bloomingdale's outlet, a Helmut Lang crop top and Theory shift from a sample sale, and yet another printed silk cutout dress, a secondhand Alice & Olivia piece to wear to a wedding. Only two of these truly fulfilled the “need” criteria — the sandals to replace broken ones, and the shirt to wear with everything. The two dresses, though? I definitely didn’t need them. But I love them, and they are heavily rotated through my closet.
Sure, I’m not wearing these items every day, but when I do pull them on, it feels special. I get just a little boost of confidence without a ton of effort, and I feel put-together and sophisticated, ready to take on the day. Even better? None of these new buys makes me feel like I'm faking it, pretending to be someone I'm not. In fact, they pretty much solidify who I am, matching what I feel to how I look. When one of my best friends saw me at the wedding in my new silk outfit, the first thing he said was, "That is a very 'Jess' dress." No modifier required.

A photo posted by Jessica Chou (@jesskchou) on

At my friends' wedding. I'm the one in the middle with the black patterned dress.

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