The Anatomy of a $60 T-Shirt Purchase

Rag & Bone The Classic Tee in Heather Grey

If I told you that buying a T-shirt was a 12-step process, you’d probably think I was a maniac. What is there to think about? You just drive to the nearest store and grab one that fits you and your budget.

Snap decisions like that can totally work out from time to time. Like when I impulse-bought a Dries Van Noten weekender bag and five years later still love it. Or that time I bought a $500 JetBlue flight pass within hours of seeing the deal, and flew to a new place six weekends in a row.

Impulse buys aren’t necessarily bad at all.

Impulse buys might even be your main MO for shopping. Every time I’m walking around the city there are more people carrying around multiple shopping bags than without. But when it comes to clothes, I’ve realized that the way I shop isn’t necessarily the norm. I could shop all day, but 99% of the time will rarely buy anything on the spot. Like, ever. It’s like delayed gratification, but times 10.

Call my industrious method crazy, but in general, I don’t think we consider our purchases nearly enough. If everybody did, then would decluttering be having a moment right now?

I’m totally a proponent of shopping slowly. This past week I bought a Rag & Bone T-shirt, and it took me about two months to buy it. So I thought, what better time to go over my exact process when making a purchase? I could list out a general “how to,” but those aren’t nearly as fun as seeing how things go down in real time.

Without further ado, the making of a purchase (kind of like MTV’s “Cribs,” but for shopping).

*****

Over the summer (yes, two months ago!), I was walking with my friend when we passed by the Rag & Bone window. As someone who lives in simple clothes my eyes immediately zoomed in on the little grey T-shirt hanging in the window. Without even touching it I could tell it was a thicker cotton and was well-made.

Rag & Bone The Tee in Heather Grey
Image credit: Saks Fifth Avenue

Me: “Well, that’s a cute shirt.”
Friend: “Do you want to go in?”
Me: “Nah.”

I didn’t feel like shopping then; I would investigate it later. I also will never buy things right away because:

  • Things will almost always go on sale
  • I like to be deliberate about what I’m adding to my closet

1. Add It to My Pinterest Board

Whenever I see something that catches my eye I add it to my ‘2017 Wishlist‘ Pinterest board. I create one for every year because I like having a visual of all the things I want in one place. So I pin the T-shirt to the board and then I move on with my life, because the $85 price was high enough to make me pause. Yes, buying more expensive stuff is the ultimate impulse-buy killer.

2017 Pinterest Wish List

Sometimes I’ll go back to look at the wishlist and am horrified by Past Me: “What was I thinking with those Adidas shower shoes?”

Being horrified sometimes is a good thing. Not everything you add to your wishlist is something you should buy. When we see things that spark our fancies, a lot of times it’s because it appeals to our emotions (Pretty! Shiny! Something a “cool girl” would wear!). And when we’re thinking emotionally it’s not fun to think about how well a pair of Wizard of Oz red heels is going to go with our existing outfits.

2. Shop Online to Compare Prices

I do most of my shopping online, and then I go check out items in person after I’ve done my vetting. Three reasons why:

  • I’d rather do anything than shop in New York City. With stores teeming with tourists, loud music and long dressing room waits, shopping at a brick and mortar store is the definition of stress.
  • I’d rather spend my free time doing other things. Shopping online you can cover a wider range in less time: I can check five stores in a span of 30 minutes.
  • I’d rather earn points for buying things I would buy anyway, and you can only do that online.

After Googling the shirt I find the shirt in the same color and size is available at Bloomingdale’s, Saks and Barneys. Bloomingdale’s doesn’t have free shipping, so they’re out as an option.

3. Research Alternatives

If it’s a basic item like a T-shirt, there are lots of versions of the same thing. So I need to check and make sure I’m getting one that best suits my criteria. I have a very specific idea for what I like and what I don’t. In this case, I look at:

ATM The Schoolboy Crew – The wrong shade of gray
Re-Done The 1960s Slim Tee – Adorable, but the sleeves are a little too short
Everlane Cotton Scoop Neck Tee – Too long and the fabric doesn’t seem to drape nicely

I prefer boyfits when it comes to T-shirts, and for those who think “all T-shirts are the same,” well, you are wrong :). I’m confident that the Rag & Bone version is the one that fits my criteria best.

4. Look for a Cheaper Version

You never know what kind of gems you’ll find on eBay, so forgetting to check eBay is a mistake. It’s not uncommon to find new items on there that are still being sold in stores. So I see if there are any sweet deals for a brand-new version with tags. I find one…but the seller is from Peru. I shy away from sellers who aren’t in the US, because it’s harder to track the packages that way. I don’t want to risk buying something I can’t track, so that’s a bust.

5. Wait for a Sale

My next option is to wait for a sale…because I know there will be one. I just have to be patient. Since it’s a basic shirt, it most likely sells well, and items that sell well don’t get marked down. So that means I have to wait for one of the big three Friends and Family sales: Shopbop, Bloomingdale’s or Saks. These sales usually are a set percentage discount that applies to almost everything on the site. In October, guess what? Saks comes out with their 25% off sale! With that promo, the T-shirt would now cost $63.75. It’s time to get serious.

6. Research How It Looks on a Real Body

Now I go into mega-research mode. As you may know, retailer photos are super deceiving. How many times have you went onto Gap.com, thought something looked amazing on the model, took it home, and then it looked like a sack in real life? Gap and J. Crew are notorious for that. For that reason, I don’t trust retailer images anymore. Plus, most people aren’t built like models. We can’t just put on a potato sack and look good.

To find non-retailer photos, I search Google Images as well as hashtags on Instagram. Sadly, no dice.

7. Look for Real Reviews

I check some of the reviews on the retailer sites and most were 4+. That’s a good sign. Then I Google the T-shirt name to see if any bloggers have written about it. My friend, Newinspired, has a review (with pictures!) that gives it the nod of approval, so that’s a good sign.

8. Try It On in Person

So now for the real test. Because of the aforementioned reluctance to shop in person, I’ll only go try on an item in person if I’m seriously thinking of buying it. I also always like to take pictures so I can ask a few trusted advisors their opinion (like my friends on Instagram :)).

Rag & Bone The Tee in Heather Grey

9. Justify the Purchase

I have two grey T-shirts…but I don’t love them. How do I know? Because I have a white T-shirt that I always reach for because I feel great in it. How much you care about something shows in your actions. The grey H&M and Old Navy T-shirts? Those are buried at the bottom of my closet. And if you let your stuff stay buried in your closet you probably don’t care much about them. This T-shirt would be bought to replace those two sub-par shirts, which I’d just donate.

Then I ask myself, “What happens if I stop liking it?”
This is an important question. If I’m going to buy something impulsively I have to know that I’ll be able to resell it. But if I’m going to keep it, then I’m going to be much more selective in my criteria. Since T-shirts tend to wear more quickly, reselling isn’t really an option. I’m fine with that , but the key thing to note is that I thought about the consequence.

10. Check Shopping Portals

Now I’m gearing up to pull the trigger…but not before I check to see if I can earn extra points by shopping at Saks. I check out Cashbackholic to see which shopping portals are offering the most points. Cashbackholic is not always 100% up to date, but it’s a good first step. Saks is 5% cash back if you shop through the Chase portal. I also check my Chase Freedom and Discover It cards to see if there have any other promotions I can stack on top. Chase is doing 5% cash back on department stores. 10% cash back is a pretty sweet bonus!

11. Pull the Trigger

Now I log into the Chase portal, click on the Saks affiliate link and get taken to the Saks website to check out like I normally would. Total: $63.75

12. Move Item to ‘My Closet’ Pinterest Board

After I buy the shirt, I move my pin from the ‘Wishlist’ board to the ‘My Closet’ board. I use this board to track all the things I buy.

And that’s my system! Maybe my process seems overly complicated and painful, but sometimes I think a little bit of pain is a good thing. If I had to choose between being thoughtful and spending less, or being impulsive and spending more, I’d always go with the former. I should note, that being thoughtful about purchases doesn’t mean that it will be a perfect addition to your wardrobe, which is a different story, but your financial goals will be a lot happier.

Your turn: Do you have a process for deciding what to buy? Or do you struggle with impulse buys?

Image: The Luxe Strategist

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  • Ms. Kiwi @ KiwiAndKeweenaw.com

    It’s crazy how many clothing items I’ve bought just because they were super cheap. Inevitably I never end up wearing them since they don’t fit right (there’s a reason they were on clearance). That’s quite a thorough process before buying, I’m sure it helps make sure you actually love what you spend your money on!

    • Yeah, I’m pretty sure all my “cheap” impulse buys ended up being a bust! When it comes to more time-boxed situations like thrift stores and sample sales, all bets are off by my every day shopping method is pretty much on lock!

  • While my process is a bit more fluid, I am a very slow shopper. Now. Emphasis on the now. In fact, I haven’t shopped except to replace something since I started my blog. But even then, I am slow. This fall/winter, I’m going to do a bit of an overhaul once I finish this MinsGame challenge. Like you said, I have too many pieces that I just don’t reach for. Aaaaaand I really should learn to share my closet with my husband.

    • Wait, you started your blog like, two years ago? Well, damn, why aren’t you getting publicity for your shopping ban? I’m fairly certain my husband has more clothes than me. And I’m also fairly certain there may be a guest post about his Kondo experiment in the future.

  • Miss Mazuma

    Love the strategy! Mine is similar but I do #8 first. If it doesn’t look good I can skip the rest. Also, Gap and Old Navy images suck. Of course, it doesn’t help that most clothing retailers clip the clothes in back to fit the model perfectly. You just can’t win!! 🙂

    • Thanks, yeah, 12 steps really isn’t so bad because it’s all really spaced out. I would do #8 first, too, if I didn’t live in NY. Going to check things out in person is a total process. And agree, retailers lie soooo bad and can’t be trusted!

  • I’m not sure if I have 12 steps but I definitely take forever before I make a purchase. I rarely go into stores anymore, it’s just too much of a headache and there’s always this “disappointment” when I leave a store empty-handed. I have learned though that this is definitely a good thing. I loved going through your shopping thought process. Seriously, buying a t-shirt and one you want to wear is a lot more complicated than it might seem. I did go through a phase where I had too many t-shirts and none I really wanted to wear. They were the ones with the v-neck and super long torso (at least for me). And now, I have one t-shirt that I really like…it only took me ~26 yrs to find it haha. The Rag & Bone tee looks so luxe 😉

    • I know how you feel about that “dejected” feeling, like you somehow wasted a trip. Thankfully, I’ve learned to look at it as a positive thing, like, OK, at least I didn’t spend any money.

      I think people forget how hard it is to find something simple. Everything is so overdesigned these days! Like, I want a striped button down shirt, and now they all have like pirate ruffles on them. That’s fine and all, but I want one that’s simple!

      I went through a phase where I had too many T-shirts, and most of them were from American Apparel when that was in, haha. At the time, I didn’t know anything else was really available. I didn’t realize that there were ones you’d love to wear until I actually found one. I treat it totally differently from all my other shirts, ha!

      • I totally agree with the lack of simplicity these days. Or rather how hard it is to find something that’s simple but looks good and at a decent price point. I was looking for a white shirt recently and it took me way longer than I wanted. Good thing, I can shop multiple sites at one time.

        I definitely remember those American Apparel t-shirts. They were always so long on me and you’re right, I just never knew that there was anything else out there. There used to be brands that people exclusively shopped at for “cool clothes” but that’s definitely not the case anymore. I like the way that time has changed things…that it’s no longer about brand but finding what works for your style.

  • Hey Isabel,

    Thanks! The final price was 25% off and the $63.75. That cash back points I don’t really count since I simply hoard them right now, and mostly use them for travel. If I used them as a statement credit or actually moved the $ to my savings account that would be a different story! Great question re: dry cleaning. I think I’m rare in that dry cleaning doesn’t really turn me off. I just won’t dryclean it that often 🙂

  • ying

    I’m going to borrow that idea of using a Pinterest board to track my wishlist. Do you have an y recommendations for a nice white v-neck tee? I have so much trouble finding one that isn’t too long, too see-through, too low-cut, etc. etc. At this point I am willing to fork over a lot of money to find that perfect white v-neck.

    • Hi Ying,

      Glad you like the Pinterest idea! I think making any sort of list has value to help curb spending, visual or not. For v-necks, I like Rag & Bone a lot, and ATM Anthony Thomas Melillo looks nice, too. My favorite one is Isabel Marant, but her cuts are very inconsistent. I don’t mind a little see-through because I just wear a nice bra underneath 🙂

  • Eddie

    Hey Luxe!
    I’ve been eyeing a Stutterheim raincoat for the past 2 years and have not pulled the trigger. The coat is $295 and I used to live in San Diego, not very rainy, so I didn’t “need” it. Now I live in San Francisco and I do need a raincoat for the months to come. Barney’s just began carrying it, do you know if they have a store-wide sale coming up?

    PS As always, loved the post ! Ciao !

    • Hey Eddie,

      Good to see you 🙂 I actually was looking at Stutterheim not too long ago. They’re really cute coats! Not sure how picky you are about color, but they have an olive green one at Barneys Warehouse that’s 30% off. If not, they’ll have a storewide Thanksgiving sale, which will probably be about 40-50% off. However, I always wait for the Christmas sales to eke out the extra percentage off. So, on Christmas morning, Barneys will most likely have 50-60% storewide sale. That’s how it’s been in the past, but they’ve gotten more strict over the years. I would recommend signing up for the emails if you haven’t already!

      • Eddie

        Thanks Lux! I’ll weather the storm, literally, and wait for the Holiday deals. After reading your Canada Goose piece I was challenged not to pay full price for my next coat. Thanks again, have a lovely weekend !

        • Oh, that’s awesome, Eddie! I’m glad you feel challenged to find a better deal. I’m confident you’ll get it 🙂 Also, I’m fairly sure if you have a Shopstyle account they’ll tell you if the item you’re stalking goes on sale.

          • Eddie

            I’m totally waiting for those Holiday deals. I thought of your article when I went to Banana Republic two days ago. I tried on the blazer, loved it. I asked the the nice clerk a few questions and he suggested I come back in November during their friends and family sale and save significantly. Old me would have walked away from BR paying full price for a blazer I wasn’t planning on using until December anyway. Thanks Luxe !

          • Oh, BR has sales, like, every other day! I have no doubt you’ll be able to get that blazer on sale. And I love the idea of “Old me.” My husband has a lot of “Old me” moments, too!

          • Eddie

            Hahah
            Yes I love those moments! Thanks again Luxe !

      • Eddie

        Thanks Luxe, I’m totally waiting for those Holiday deals. I thought of your article when I went to Banana Republic two days ago. I tried on the blazer, loved it. I asked the the nice clerk a few questions and he suggested I come back in November during their friends and family sale and save significantly. Old me would have walked away from BR paying full price for a blazer I wasn’t planning on using until December anyway. Thanks again Luxe !

  • I’ve just started shopping for clothes again nearly 3 years since JuggerBaby was born and the slow way is the best way! I’d save things that I liked in my Trello, have liked several dozen items since pregnancy but most of them have been archived because they aren’t as great in person or after some time as I originally thought they were. Of course that doesn’t solve the original problem of needing a few new things, but I’ve saved a whole lot of money and closet space 😀

    • So you use the project management software to track your wants? If so, that’s awesome! I think the act of just “creating” the list is a way to curb impulse buys by itself. And yes, being selective is also a great tactic. I feel like I definitely don’t really “need” much of anything nowadays, but I guess it depends on what one considers a “need” instead of a want. For example, I live in NYC but I don’t have rain boots or snow boots, which many classify as a need. To me, they would be so rarely used they don’t count as a need. Instead I just wear a pair of all-leather mid top sneakers when the weather is bad, and I have no regrets.

  • For everything that isn’t underwear and activewear, I almost always buy used (exception for my suit because it was a pain to find something that fit). I usually trawl Poshmark and eBay for brands I like and favorite items that catch my eye. If I like something and it fills a known hole in my wardrobe, e.g. little black dress, I’ll try it on in person before purchasing. Or just buy it and cross my fingers/resign to reselling if it doesn’t fit.

    • I love buying used too, but sometimes you can’t find exactly what you need used so I end up resorting to new. I haven’t had as much luck with Poshmark but I think that’s because I don’t like the social interface at all. Sounds like you have a solid system as well!

  • GYM

    Wow this is elaborate, there was a real dissection of the detailed process of buying something. If I would have some something similar to you I wouldn’t have regretted my shoe purchase. That t-shirt material looks soft! Did you end up getting the larger size or the smaller size? I tend to be an impulse buyer (outlets, warehouse sales, Nordstrom rack) so I try to stay away from those now… Or I do a shopping ban every other month.

    • An elaborate “dissection” seemed like a good idea at the time (shrug). I ended up getting the larger size, but now I’m wondering if I should have sized down because T shirts tend to stretch out over time. My main shopping issues are sizing no doubt. Probably half the stuff I end up having to resell or whatever because of damn vanity sizing. Shopping at outlets seem more time-boxed for sure, because you’re not sure if the stuff will be there if you come back, so I can understand that. I think I’d kill it at a shopping ban!

  • Of course! Whenever I question a clothing purchase, sometimes I ask myself, “What would Newinspired do???” Haha.

    Not a fan of Shopbop’s new styling, because they aren’t a brand and don’t need to show personality with the models. I much prefer the stone-faced models they used to use with more straightforward poses.

    Oh no, re: those mules, maybe you can find a way to style and re-love them again? Although they do sound pretty cute… But yeah, I hear you on being influenced by trends online. Like I think the whole cropped straight leg jeans with the frayed hems thing is cute, but I know its time is going to pass. And I especially find handbag trends to be difficult to accurately assess. My Ps1 bag is ruined now because of our cats, but it had its heyday way back when. Next time I’m going to go for something more timeless and less recognizable.

    Oh man, I would have been happy to take that coupon from you, hehe. I’ve signed up for their emails now, just in case.

  • Glad there are other people out there as neurotic as I am about purchasing things. I read the hell out of 3 and 4 star reviews for anything I buy because I figure those are the “real” reviews. When it comes to high end buys, on average, I’m waiting about 1-2 months to get the lay of the land. I waited two months for the jesse kamm ranger pants, and in that time other bloggers were posting their reviews which saved me the hassle of trying to find the right size.

    • One star reviews are for bitter people and five star reviews aren’t discerning enough. Three and four stars are where it’s at! I feel like choosing to spend more on things automatically minimizes impulse buys. You just can’t afford to not be thoughtful about spending a lot of money and then have things end up being bad buys. I’m glad the Jesse Kamm pants were well-documented online. I find I trust real people’s opinions much more so than retailers. It also seems like retailers try to hide information on their sites, like where the garment is made, and the composition, etc.

  • I’m so late on the Pinterest board thing. I was gonna try Stitch Fix and they asked for a Pinterest board, I’m like “what – why, what’s there’s besides financial advice?!” Lol. Does the material of the t shirt matter to you? Like if it’s pima cotton vs cotton blend etc?

    • Oh, I was thinking of doing Stitch Fix, too! For research purposes. But yeah, I’d be too lazy to put together a Pinterest board for that, too. But you and I are like opposite on Pinterest; for me it’s more for eye candy, and for you, it’s for financial stuff. Good question re: material. Yes, material 100% is a factor. I try to stay away from cotton blends because I’m a purist 🙂

  • I agree that we don’t consider our purchases enough. For the past year or two I’ve been trying to reduce the amount of my impulse purchases. Like when I drove my boyfriend crazy when I asked him about copious amount of leather jackets for a year straight. I think he was happier than I was when I finally purchased one. Just so that I didn’t have to ever ask him again how the jacket looks on me haha. For expensive clothing items, I tend to wait for a year to finally decide to buy it. It’s a long time to wait but it usually end up being a good purchase.

    • Ha, my husband is like that, too. I’ll show him a bunch of vintage dresses and he can’t tell the difference between any of them…I’m a huge waiter as well. Some things I’ve seen on the runway and I’m only able to get them 6 years later! But the fact that I still want it after 6 years speaks volumes. With that said, I still get into trouble when it comes to sizing. Most of the things that end up being bad buys are labelled my size but actually fit 1-2 sizes bigger. Vanity sizing…

      • Chloe

        That’s what a tailor/seamstress is for! Better for it to arrive too big than too small 🙂

        • I’ll only do tailoring if it’s slightly too big. Otherwise I feel it’s too easy to mess up the integrity of the garment. Plus, getting things tailored all the time just adds up!

  • Slippers on a plane

    This might encourage me to finally sign up for Pinterest…

    And, thank you for this breakdown. I love that you’re as thoughtful about something seemingly as minor as a gray tshirt as for larger items. I, too, went through a lot of thought to buy a gray tshirt this summer– the perfect one for me ended up being from James Perse, which I got at a major sale at Bloomingdales. Then it appeared in white at the online JP sample sale, so I bought it without thinking and the white doesn’t do it for me at all. So, half success, half failure.

    I’ve also thought that thinking about purchases and figuring out how to get the best deal helps transform buying stuff into an experience, which may (or may not) make us happier.

    • I’ve also used an Excel sheet to plan what I want to buy, but I feel like the manual pinning kind of feels like adding things to a cart, and can help satiate that urge to buy. Also sometimes I look back at the stuff I pinned and wonder what I was thinking.

      Why is it the the simplest things are so elusive? I’ve also heard great things about James Perse. White is not my color either, and is why I chose a cream wedding dress over white-white. I do have a white T-shirt that I really love, and even though the color isn’t a slam-dunk on me, I still like the fit and how I feel in it.

      Interesting thought about the process of buying things as an experience. I once had to call ten Barneys stores because I wanted something that was sold out online, and that was kind of like a white-knuckle thrill ride. More than eight years later I still have the jacket…

  • Frugal Asian Finance

    Wow I didn’t know there are so many steps in buying a T-shirt! This is a great roadmap and guide. Usually, if I see something I like I either try to forget about it or buy it on the spot (which fortunately doesn’t happen often). Glad you like the T-shirt!

    • There are that many steps when you like to buy expensive stuff. Otherwise, I’d be broke 🙂

  • Switch the pinterest with evernote and take out the shopping portal (as we unfortunately don’t have something that awesome in these parts) and we’ve got almost the same routine! Drives my friends crazy, actually, but it helps me save + buy the stuff I really really want. So it’s all good!

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Oh, yay for shopping twins! I guess I thought the way I shopped was kind of abnormal. Because it always seemed like people I knew would go to a store, find some things that fit, and then go home with said items. That is 100% what I DON’T do. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I’ve found shopping that way rarely works for me.

  • Done by Forty

    I love the systematic approach to large purchases. Systems win over almost anything: willpower, impulse, either side of “Thinking Fast and Slow”, etc. Systems, systems, systems, yo.

    To put it into context, I’d wager the average home buyer doesn’t do as much due diligence on their six or seven figure purchase as you do on your sixty dollar purchase.

    • Thanks! Yeah, thinking systematically is just kinda how my brain works. I’d rather do a lot of work once to set up the system than fly by the seat of my pants every time.

      To be fair, most people don’t have the luxury of waiting around for two months to buy their home, but I appreciate the flattering comparison!

  • Wow. I must say, I’m a bit surprised that you would pay that much for a T-shirt. I thought the piece was going to wend it’s way through how you talked your friend into the realization that it was a want and not a need. My 2 core frugal rules are “Never pay more than $15 for an even t ticke or $50 for a pair of sneakers.” Very thorough process though!

    • I’ve realized my threshold for “too much money” is usually higher than most people’s. But because I’m very selective with what I buy I end up buying things that I really love and last a long time. And I don’t think I spend much more than folks who have similar interests as me and buy cheaper stuff in higher quantities. I don’t think I could find any event ticket here in NYC for less than $15! And $50 sneakers for me tend to fall apart pretty quickly. I wear mine really hard (I walk insanely fast), so they’ve gotta last.

      • Great points. I get it. Since I originally found your post on RockstarFinance, I just assumed a frugal stance. This totally works. I get it now. I like your process! Islander’s tickets hover around $10 for same day tix, and the sneakers…ya gotta be willing to go day-glo orange from the discount rack at DSW. lol. Possible, but not optimal. 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to reply.

  • Ha, when I was in college I used do the same thing–go to TJ Maxx, find brand name stuff and flip it on eBay! I know some people here in NYC who flip stuff from sample sales. Their reason is because lots of ppl don’t have access to sample sales, so if you do, why not sell it to them at a discount? I thought it was a pretty genius concept!