(Photo and print from Made by Sohn x HDH)
For the past 3 years, I’ve been on a lean closet journey, and it’s lead me to some “rules” about shopping, in an effort to curb impulsive shopping and invest in pieces I will truly love for a long time. Keeping costs down is also a big concern of mine, if I’m being honest. I’ve come up with these general guidelines to keep me on track when shopping. I call these “rules,” but they’re extremely loose–anything too rigid only inspires more stress, and there are exceptions to everything. It’s really just a start point to a more thoughtful shopping process.
Sit on it for a while. I have a private pin board where I stash away items I want to buy, and then I try to forget about them. If the item stays on my mind organically, then there’s a good chance I really want or need it, but more often than not, I come to the conclusion that it’s okay to let go of that want. Pinning the item gives me a mini-catharsis in itself, and it’s also a good way to visually stack things up against each other, and prioritize the best way to spend my money. It’s also really satisfying to go back in weeks later and delete pins that I no longer care about, knowing that I’ve saved myself. The exception to this rule is of course if there is a super time-sensitive sale, and it’s an item I’ve been looking for or watching for a long time, but even then I’ve technically been “sitting on it.” In fact, watching for discounts is a great way to force a waiting period.
Don’t be afraid of returns. I can’t tell you how many pieces of clothing I’ve ended up keeping just out of laziness or complacency. Forcing myself to go through with a return–even if I’ll lose the price of shipping or have to physically get my butt to a store–has been huge for me in keeping my closet full of only things I truly love. Just knowing it’s okay if something I invested a lot of hope in (clothes are emotional!) didn’t work out has been a mental breakthrough. I also have recently discovered Happy Returns, which offers complimentary return shipping to many retailers, including my beloved Everlane, at various locations around the country–usually located in malls or large shopping centers. It’s a super easy process and only requires you email address and the item you’re returning.
Try secondhand sources first whenever possible. There are sometimes risks to this (ie: quality concerns, no returns allowed), but Ebay is my first stop when I’m looking for a specific item, followed by Poshmark, Tradesy, and ThredUp (which offers returns on most items). I love using eBay’s followed search tool to alert me when something I’ve been looking for becomes listed–and it’s like a built-in waiting period to test how much I really do want that thing. SellTradeES is a great Instagram account to follow for pre-owned Elizabeth Suzann pieces. Slowre is a curated consignment shop where you’ll find cool independent brands like Eileen Fisher and Emerson Fry. And Etsy is my go-to resource for vintage.
Do some research. The ethical fashion world has grown so much over the past few years, and there are often a few different sources to compare when shopping for a specific piece. I like to weigh environmental impact, working conditions, and general transparency among quality, aesthetic, and price when considering a purchase. Again, I use Pinterest to help organize different things I may be comparison “window” shopping. If you don’t know where to start in the realm of responsible retailers, check out my constantly growing list here.
Don’t buy cheap shoes. Don’t buy overly expensive shoes either. The first part of this was one of the first rules I ever made for myself while doing my capsule experiments. It was so easy for me to see how my $15 sneakers from H&M stacked up against my Converse when I had a limited wardrobe. I made a commitment to invest in quality for shoes, knowing that what I wear on my feet needs to be able to take a good stomping. With this limitation, I also became really good at scouting sales on high quality footwear from brands like Emerson Fry and Marais USA. 😉 The second part of this rule–don’t buy overly expensive shoes–is a more recent musing. I invested in a pair of Loeffler Randall booties, on sale, of course, a few years back that would have normally run me about $500. I adore them aesthetically and they’ve served me pretty well, but I did realize that at the end of the day, shoes are shoes, and they still are going to wear out. Within 2 years, I had worn a hole through the leather at the seam of the inner sole, and the elastic of the ankle has snapped. Cobblers are an amazing resource to utilize, but it’s important to realize that even the nicest of shoes are going to wear out and will probably need maintenance. (My favorite cobbler is here, if you’re in LA). When I read that Jaime’s Acne Jenson boots had to be resoled twice in two years, I arrived at the conclusion that shopping at brands like Everlane, which offer competitive prices for high quality footwear, seems like the best idea for my wallet.
Don’t buy dresses. This is one I’ve really wrestled with over the years, and have even broken somewhat recently. It’s also a super personal one and maybe not applicable to you at all–I just don’t like wearing dresses (or skirts). But for years, I’ve always felt like I should have one in my everyday capsule, just for variety’s sake–or so my capsules will look more like other people’s. And when I’m shopping, they are the most appealing shiny pretty objects, and I just want them to be mine! It’s also really tempting to pick out something new for each special occasion event, so this rule is largely designed to help me temper that impulse. Right now, I have a solid green slip dress, a bodycon knit LBD, and silk separates that can be worn as a jumpsuit, so I’m hoping I can make these all work for whatever weddings come my way in the near future. (Although I am super tempted to snag a floaty French-girl style dress! I will be sitting on that one for a while!)
Consider neutrals first. Emphasis on “consider.” I swing both ways on the pendulum of loving neutrals and embracing color. I think you can totally have a super colorful lean closet, so this is another very personal guideline. I’ve just noticed that in the long-run, I can’t go wrong with neutral, while I tend to be hot and cold with particular colors, depending on season or mood. So if it’s a staple piece I’m hoping to wear for years to come, like a cardigan or coat, I tend to stick with neutrals.
Make do, mend, and maintain. I’m hopeless at sewing, but this is a reminder to myself that it’s always worth it to go to the tailer, dry cleaner, or cobbler instead of buying something new. I’m also trying to get better at taking care of my wardrobe so that they don’t need as much repairing. This means I might change out of nice clothes before eating a messy dinner and I’m careful when I zip up pants that any tucked top clothing is out of the way.
Another thing that’s really helped me alter my shopping habits is the mantra: “Comparison is a thief of joy.” And by this I’m referring to comparison to others’ wardrobes. I love clothes. They are something that bring me a lot of joy, however silly that may sound, but I have to stay focused on my personal style. That doesn’t mean I can’t try things out or be inspired by others (and I love peaking into the closets that so many of you out there are sharing), but jealousy ultimately takes away from the satisfaction that curating my own closet gives me. Staying focused on what feels good on and looks good to me is so important.
Ultimately, following these guidelines forces me to become more creative when shopping and dressing, and that’s all part of the fun. Hope you found something helpful in this, too.