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Friday, March 2, 2012

Lust and the Art of Zen Shopping

'I always say shopping is cheaper than a psychiatrist.' ~Tammy Faye Bakker

I don't have a fashion background. My degree is in Fine Arts and Painting, so my emphasis is on line, color, aesthetics and self expression rather than the hot spots where you're likely to find the latest 'it' thing at a rock bottom price. In fact, I'm pretty clueless as to what the latest 'it' thing would be.  I'm aware of basic trends, some fads and fashions, but that's where my knowledge of fashion ends.  My focus is on finding shapes and colors that will always flatter you and your proportions so that as fashions come and go you'll know what to embrace and what to avoid like the plague. What I do comes before you bring in the element of fashion.  When it comes to shopping, I apply some of the same principles.


Firstly a few general rules.  (I do love rules.)

1. Never buy anything that isn't one of your colors, period. There's no excuse to wear a color that's not great on you- there's just too much choice out there to justify wearing a bad color.  Get a good color, or get it in black, or have it dyed a good color or black. (Make sure the fabric is one that will take dye.) Never, ever wear an unflattering color. 

2. Don't look at the price first.  Decide if you like it, THEN look at  the price.  You may find you like the $60 jacket better than the $480 one.  (No, really. It does happen.)  Only buy what you love and what loves you back.

3. Do NOT buy it just because it's on sale. (Mom.) If you loved it before you saw the price, and the color, design lines, and general aesthetics of the garment love you back, then fabulous- you've scored. If it's a 'meh' on any of those variables, walk away. Fast. I don't care that it's 70% off.  It's 70% off for a reason. (Mom.)

And here's a suggestion rather than a rule, designed to expand your awareness and define and refine your standards (and to some degree spoil you for shopping at less expensive stores): Even if you have no money to spend, even if you really can't afford to shop anywhere but Goodwill and even then only once a month, go to higher-end stores.  Go as if you're actually shopping, find what you need, and try it on.  Note the fit, the cut, the quality of fabric and construction. Some things just aren't worth the money, some are. You'll quickly learn the difference. Oh- and if you're an impulse buyer I suggest you leave cash and credit cards at home.  If you REALLY REALLY REALLY love an item but just can't afford it, then write down the brand and the particular style or item number if there is one. Then give it your very best shot.  Look for it on eBay, google it, tell the sales associate that you want this item but have to wait until it goes on sale and see if they can estimate if and when that might be…the worst that will happen is that you don't get it, but who knows- maybe you'll find it on sale on eBay, or you'll  find some store via Google that's going out of business and is selling it for 70% off. This exercise will also help you learn to identify better quality items at consignment or thrift shops, should you shop there. Hopefully you'll become a bit of a snob about quality and fit.

Zen Shopping

When you walk into a retail store, whether it's Walmart or a 'By Appointment Only' shop on Rodeo Drive, know what it is you want and what your budget is; walk in with a plan and stick to it. Be it a plan for your entire wardrobe or just for one event, this helps prevent aimless, distracted shopping/money wasting.  Now, before you ever even take anything off the rack comes the real work.  When you zero in on what you're looking for, quickly scan the colors first; remember- if you stick with your carefully chosen 4 or 5 best colors and 2 or 3 neutrals you'll look your best and you know your wardrobe will always work together. (See 'Color, Glorious Color' 2/3/2012.) If you don't see it in any of your colors, move on.  If you do, next look at design lines.  If they aren't great, can they be altered? Do you like the garment enough that it'd be worth it? If not, move on. If it's got good lines or might be worth alteration, then look at the price. Finally, if that's agreeable, pick it up off the rack and go try it on. Oh- and take a couple of sizes in the dressing room to potentially save yourself a second trip. Sizing has become just an abstract concept these days, so place no importance on the number on the tag. Fit is what counts.

For successful thrift/consignment store shopping the rules change a little because they don't get new stock in on a seasonal basis with your choice of sizes and colors.  The approach is different. Be willing to go on a regular basis, knowing that most of the time you won't find anything, but dig energetically anyway and eventually you may be rewarded.  One day you'll walk in and just that day they'll have put out what appears to be an entire wardrobe owned by someone EXACTLY your size…and among many treasures, there's that ____ you've been unsuccessfully looking for the last year and had budgeted for $200, and here it is nearly new, for $20….exactly the right color, too…This is how I wound up with a brand new Bob Mackie beaded evening gown for $45.  Of course you'll still need to put each garment through the same line of questions as you would in the retail store before ever trying it on. In the end, if you have a winner, it'll probably be for next to nothing. Score!!

Shopping on eBay has it's own requirements as well.  First, before ever seriously considering buying, look at the sellers rating.  If it's lower than you'd like, read the feedback; the ones who gave the seller a bad rating will explain why, and you can proceed from there.  Also you can't try the item on pre-purchase, and some sellers don't accept returns. This is where I get picky about fit- for me to buy on eBay (or online in general) it needs to be adjustable, or stretch, or I need to know it's something I can successfully have altered.  Often the seller will list measurements, but my experience is that often these are misleading or just plain wrong.  This makes eBay more risky.  I say go with a seller who has a high rating (good reputation) and happily accepts returns.  

On a somewhat indelicate note: before bringing any used item that has cloth in it into your home, clean it or have it cleaned.  One doesn't wish to risk bringing in any tiny, unwelcome critters that are reluctant to leave. Over the past few years bedbugs have reappeared here in the States.

Be willing to make some mistakes.  Know that even though you've carefully determined your colors, laboriously clarified your best design lines and painstakingly defined your style, you will still make mistakes.  There it sits.  It fits all the criteria- it's one of your colors, the lines are perfect, it decidedly reflects your style, you may have even spent a pretty penny on it, yet you've had it for eons and you never wear it.  Maybe there's some element or variable that you were unaware of when you got it- you didn't' know then that you don't like this fabric, or it's a print that is ultimately unappealing to you, you can only wear it with shoes that you hate…whatever.  In the end it doesn't matter why- if you don't wear it don't reward it with space in your closet or dresser.  Sell it on eBay, give it to goodwill, give it to a friend; just give it up and make space to go out and find other things that you may fall in love with that will love you back.

One last word on the issue of budget- keep in mind the cost per wearing formula; total cost of the garment ÷ how many times you'll wear it = cost per wearing.  Example: you buy a beautiful, basic black skirt for $120, you have it for 3 years and wear it approx. 2.5 x per week = $0.92 per wearing.  You've also bought a cute $20 sweater which you'll wear 3 times and will then throw away because it 'pills,' which means it cost $6.66 per wearing…..not so cheap after all.  Spend wisely. When you buy quality you usually end up saving.

Happy Dressing!