Fall Shopping: Six Steps to a Wardrobe You Love Without Overspending

Fall Shopping: How to Avoid Overspending

Fall is right around the corner and instead of shopping for sweaters and boots I’m on the hunt for a pair of sandals. For next summer. What the what?

Here’s the thing: I have enough sweaters and I don’t think I need any boots. I’m what you’d call, a Season-less Shopper, which means I shop for items that I want no matter if it’s the right season. For example, this summer I looked for a pair of black sandals, but I never found any, so instead of settling for a “good enough” pair, I bought nothing. I survived the summer without the sandals, and so the search continues.

It’s hard not to shop.

Everywhere I look I’m being told that this thing and that are fall’s “must haves” or that these are the 6 items “all stylish girls wear.” Stores and magazines are relentless about getting me to spend money on clothes I’m supposed to wear for only 3 months and then throw away. Some of these marketing campaigns are genius, and I admire their creativity. But I don’t necessarily have to buy into it.

Still, the standard shopping cycle seems to be buying 5-10 pieces per season, which equals 20-40 pieces of clothing bought a year. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Some people truly love clothes. But what if you’re tired of wading through all the clothes you have? Or you feel like you’re constantly buying stuff you don’t like? Or your wardrobe doesn’t make you feel like the best version of you? (Because it totally should.)

If that’s you, then I have an idea: approach your wardrobe like an actual, ongoing project. Something that’s assessed, has requirements, and is maintained. Something that’s planned. The core principle is shopping proactively versus reactively. I think you all can relate when I talk about reactive shopping. Like when you get a wedding invitation in the mail and your first thought is, “Oh, crap, I gotta go buy a new dress.” Or when you have a job interview coming up and you realize you don’t have a professional-looking tote bag (Hello, that was me). It’s those ‘Oh, crap’ moments that usually result in a pile of clothes you don’t wear.

Shopping with a big-picture plan has its benefits:

You buy less. Having a list of items ahead of time will help keep your shopping focused. And as the years go on, I buy less and less every year because I’ve found the “right” items.

You stop shopping in a panic. So, your friend’s wedding invite comes and you don’t stress. You already have a dress to wear hanging in your closet. Same with your work tote for job interviews. You’ve planned for it ahead of time.

You save money by shopping off season. Instead of buying a bathing suit in the peak season, I’ll find a deal in the late summer. Same with buying winter jackets post-Christmas.

Most importantly, by developing your own rhythm for when and how you shop you’re reclaiming control. When’s the last time you felt in total control of your wardrobe, and not the other way around?

Without further ado, here’s my six-step shopping strategy to minimize overspending:

1. Understand and Assess Your Style

I’m convinced that 80% of over-shopping could be solved by truly understanding one’s personal style. Otherwise it’s way too easy to fall prey to whatever’s cute or pretty.

How can you tell if you know your style? Here’s my 30-second test: Can you describe your style in a sentence?

Having a laser-focused style comes in handy to combat impulse shopping. For example, a few months ago I was walking around the city and I saw a pretty dress in a Banana Republic window. It was a strappy, floral print sundress with an asymmetrical hem. I thought it would be really nice for weddings and I wanted to try it on. But then I thought: wait, but I don’t like wearing strappy dresses or tops. They make me feel too exposed. If you think about it, there are common themes to the clothes you love to wear and feel great in, so making an effort to identify what they are can really help curb buying stuff that’s wrong for you.

If you need help nailing down your style, Caroline from Unfancy has an excellent wardrobe planner. It’s meant for a capsule wardrobe, but I found it useful for general wardrobes, too. Download, print and play!

free printable wardrobe planner

As a shortcut, figure out the commonalities for the clothes you love to wear and the ones you never wear. I went through the exercises myself and here’s what I wrote down for two of the pages:

Wardrobe Planner - Pieces I Hate
Pieces I Love (Click to enlarge)
Wardrobe Planner - Pieces I Never Wear
Pieces I Never Wear (Click to enlarge)

By the way, I sent my completed wardrobe planner results to my e-mail list, so if you’re not already on it, join up and I’ll send it right over.

2. Create an Overall Vision and Make a List

Then look at your existing wardrobe and identify the gaps that are missing. Think of it like putting together a puzzle. How do the pieces fit together?

Here’s a guideline for what your closet should consist of: Michael Kors once said your closet should be 70% meat and potatoes, or staples, and then 30% dessert, or sparkle and shine. Start your list focussing on your staples. You have your basics that you’ll wear again and again. For example, since I walk a lot, sneakers are a MUST, and I wear them almost every day. Focus on getting the staples right and buying them once, then you can go all out on the dessert pieces.

We all tout the virtues of making a list before we go to the grocery store or planning our spending with a budget, so why not do the same for clothes shopping?

As an example, here’s what’s on my list for the clothes I reach for again and again (my meat and potatoes). The missing items I think I need are marked by asterisks.

My Wardrobe Plan

Then create a system to track the items you’re considering. I use Pinterest boards because I love being able to see everything at once.

3. Embrace the Idea of Just “the One”

When I first looked inside my husband’s closet I noticed he had 8 pairs of similar-looking khakis and 6 pairs of jeans that were the same cut but a slightly different color. I think this is a pretty common way to shop. When you don’t have a strategy or know what to buy, it’s easy to fall back on the familiar. So consider this:

Aim to buy just one item per category. For example, I only have 4 bags, one for each scenario, and that’s it.
Clare Vivier Clutch, Lotuff Tripp, Proenza Schouler PS1, 3.1 Phillip Lim 31 Hour Satchel

Or if one is too limiting, then choose another number that works better for you. The important part is to proactively choose how many you think you need of each item.

4. Shop a Lot, Buy Few

Don’t just buy the first item that you see or try on. Once I met my friend at Banana Republic to help him pick out a new spring jacket. He tried one olive green jacket on, which fit him alright, but when he buttoned it up, it bunched up strangely and looked super weird. He took it off and started making his way to the cash register. Wait, was he really going to wear a jacket that only looked good when worn open? I told him to try on a few more jackets, just to see. Lo and behold, he ended up buying a different jacket, one that looked good at all angles, opened and closed.

I understand some people want to get out of the store as quickly as possible, but you deserve a jacket that looks good when you button it up. And just grabbing whatever to get out of there is the fast-track to clothes you’re not going to wear.

Take the time to comparing and contrast by looking at at least two other alternatives.

5. Don’t Buy Just Because It’s Cheap

Here’s an expensive lesson I’ve learned: After shopping at H&M for years, I’ve discovered that I never loved anything I’ve ever bought from there. No single item I’ve bought there has ever made me feel amazing, and so the clothes were donated after a season. So I simply don’t shop at H&M anymore. This past summer I bought two T-shirts from Old Navy for $14. Guess how many times I’ve brought out those T-shirts to wear? ONCE. That $14 was a waste. On the flip side, I have an Isabel Marant linen T-shirt that I bought for about around $70, which lots of people would think is crazy for a T-shirt. However, I love seeing it in my closet and I’m always reaching for it. That seemingly overpriced $70 T-shirt has actually ended up being a great value.

Isabel Marant T-Shirt
Dear Isabel Marant T-Shirt, please don’t ever leave me.

6. Ruthlessly Edit

The secret that no one wants to tell you: your wardrobe will never be perfect. Ever. You’re going to make mistakes, and that’s OK. Sometimes you’re not going to able to resist the impulse buys, because come on, shopping is FUN. So it’s important to continually assess and purge every season or so. Note why certain items didn’t work for you and use that knowledge to make a better decision next time. If you have high-end stuff, I’ve got you covered on how to sell on eBay.

Recap

  • Don’t feel compelled to shop every time there’s a new season.
  • Make sure you really understand your personal style.
  • Create a shopping plan. What are your meat and potatoes? How does everything mix and match?
  • To avoid duplicates, try imposing limits to how many items you buy per category.
  • Compare and contrast different items so you don’t end up settling (ugh, the worst).
  • Don’t let price totally rule all your decisions.
  • When you make a mistake, find out why.

What about you? Do you have a shopping strategy? What’s on your list?

Feature Image: Unsplash

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  • Rebecca Whitcomb

    I’m really trying to start focusing on quality over quantity with my work wardrobe. Like you said in the post, I feel like the cheaper pieces never make me feel great and I struggle to pair them. I actually booked a styling appointment with mm la fleur for this weekend and am hoping to walk out with things I love. This post is a great reminder to not settle.

    • Hey Rebecca,

      Thanks for stopping by! I’m so super privileged I don’t have to deal with workwear at the moment (I can wear whatever to my current job), but I do remember it being a lot more stressful getting dressed in the morning. For workwear if you invest in the staples (blazer, etc.), you can definitely cheap out on the rest. I’ve seen a lot of mm la fleur ads on the subway. They look great and they’re solving a real problem–affordable workwear that actually is stylish. Good luck!

  • I’m a HUGE proponent of shopping for items in the off-season. One thing I slightly struggle with is having an appropriate amount of work clothes vs casual clothes vs date night clothes. But it’s hard because I’m at work for most of the week so I naturally gravitate towards work clothes, but then I have nothing to wear for a nice date night in the city, haha.

    I’m SUPER picky when I do try to buy something though- it has to fit almost perfectly and not wrinkle easily. I also have a new rule that it has to match with 3 existing pieces in my wardrobe that I already own- this increases the likelihood that I’ll actually wear it, haha

    Would you ever consider sharing some style boards on Pinterest? I feel like you’re always bringing up cool designer brands that are less mainstream.

    • Ohh yeah, in that planner thing I linked they have a little chart where you fill in all the activities that are part of your lifestyle. I think it’s pretty helpful and I saw that I have no business buying anything fancy, like, ever. Which is sad, but that’s how it is. I think actually there’s quite a bit of overlap between work, casual and date clothes! Many of the same pieces can be mixed and match, but then again, I always found a way to make my work outfits super casual.

      I love that you’ve recognized you shouldn’t buy anything that wrinkles. I do happen to have one shirt that doesn’t wrinkle and I actually reach for it a lot. And the clothes I have to iron? Not so much.

      I do have some Pinterest boards! They aren’t super filled out, but there’s a style one, heh.

  • I feel I had to describe my style it would be “Hopefully Chic Hippie” 😂. I’ve noticed that a lot of fashion out there in the last couple of years has been horribly ugly (in my opinion), so that’s helped me not buy something impulsively. I’m currently on the hunt for the perfect white t-shirt as the one I’ve got has started to yellow. I’m not convinced a perfect white tshirt exists, but I’ll keep looking!!

    • I never thought a perfect white T-shirt existed either, until I found mine! I take really good care of it, because I don’t like the yellowing thing. So right away after I wear it I hand wash it. I know that’s a lot of care, but that’s what I’m willing to do for a workhorse item!

      Hopefully Hippie Chic, I love it!

  • Alicia McElhaney

    I LOVE this post. My style is really classic (pencil skirts, white blouses, striped t-shirts & jeans, etc.) with occasional twists like clogs, bangles or an occasional “fun top” or “fun dress.” For fall I’m looking for a grey coat that hits mid-thigh, something in that dark emerald green I keep seeing on the runways, and blazer that is tan!

    • Oooh, I love jewel tones. Grey, dark emerald and camel is a RICH color story. And I love looking at the runways for style inspiration. I always think the designers themselves have better style than the models, though! And you can never go wrong with classic. Some of my classic stuff I’ve had for 8 years.

  • This is so weird…you addressed like half the things in my frugal fail already. (Sorry for the cliff hanger…I needed sleep but I wanted to do the post justice!)

    I’m a noob at this but when I skimmed the title I was like…”oh geez I have to plan by seasons? That sounds like homework.”

    I’m not a big shopper but I have a tendency to hoard – which I realize is absolutely wasteful in every sense of the word (#5 all the way). I really needed this…and maybe a list of designers that are known for continuous quality (because I know none at the moment besides Free People and…Lululemon? Are those good or just overhyped? Sigh…so lost!)

    PS. how important is laundering to you? How can you tell if a piece of clothing will survive being launder with…a smelly dog blanket for example.

    • Laundering is EVERYTHING to me. I think too many people expect more expensive clothes to be indestructible, and that’s just not true. I’ve noticed when I take better care of my things, they last much longer. If you want to know if something will last in the laundry you’ll first want to check the care tag. But generally, wools and cottons will shrink. Silk you want to hand-wash cold. Everything else should be fair game.

      With my method you actually have to do LESS work. Less shopping and less planning. Just shop according to your own rhythm.

      In terms of designers that are good quality, there’s no designer that’s awesome at everything. I’ll do a post about it in the future! But for now, look for natural fabrics like cotton, linen, silk or wool. They feel a lot better on the skin.

      Re: Free People, in college I used to go to TJ Maxx and buy FP stuff, then flip it on eBay!

  • Christina Bellevue

    Another wonderful article, Luxe! Thank you for the high-level strategies and very a-propos as I’m about to head to a mini-workshop tonight with Courtney Carver of Project 333! My favourite strategy is the “One” per category. This is something I’ve focused on a lot as I’ve been decluttering like crazy after reading Goodbye, Things. I love the idea of using Un-fancy’s workbook, and another great resource is Anuschka Rees’ book The Curated Closet or some of her free worksheets on her site. I find her material really helped me hone in on my personal and what I want to keep/buy and what no longer suits me. Keep up the fantastic articles, I feel like I’m getting a little treat every time they pop up in my inbox!

    • Hi Christina,

      Thanks so much for stopping by. I’m jealous of that workshop you got to go to! I think project 333 would be a snap for me! I haven’t counted, but I know it’s less than a 100, and I don’t have to store away clothes by season or anything. One of these days, I’ll do a full inventory just to see.

      I’ve never seen Anuschka Rees’ blog before, but it looks great and I just subscribed so I can learn more.

      It makes my day to know my e-mails are a treat! And good luck with the decluttering–I’ve found that when I start seeing clutter around the house my stress level goes way up.

  • Such a helpful post! I am definitely guilty of buying things because they’re inexpensive or on-trend and then donating them not long after. This season I am trying to be more intentional and mentally dodge all the articles that tell me what to buy for the season. I like those things for inspiration but when you really know what works best for you, the filtering in and out is so much more effective. I think another part of figuring out your personal style is knowing the difference between what you like and what you like on yourself…if this makes any sense. I still get bummed that things I like don’t end up being things that I like on me…it could be poor fit or just doesn’t look right for whatever reason. So now to work that out, I am trying to figure out the elements I like and attempt to find it in something I would actually wear. I’ve been gathering a mental list of things that I need to buy and it seems like I mostly need the dessert pieces…I have so many sweaters and basics that whenever I want to jazz something up, I come up short. Will definitely be keeping this post in mind for future shopping.

    • Thanks, Sophie! You bring up a good point, which is knowing your body type/what looks good on you, and sticking to that. You don’t know how many times I see something look good on a tall, skinny model and look like a potato sack on me. For example, I like some Levi’s jeans, but they are always too big for me, no fail. So I think I have a sense of which brands will fit me best, but I only know that because I’ve shopped a lot.

      I do buy some things with the intention of selling them, but I buy them knowing that’s my plan.

      Dessert pieces are so much fun!

  • I have a pretty well-defined style that I call “Just The Basics”. Neutral/earth tone color palette: black, navy, cerulean, cream, olive, and rust. Solid color pieces and just-slightly-funkier-than-normal patterned textiles. Clean, basic cuts, though no skirts. Mostly cotton and silk for breathability and ease of maintenance, with the occasional “performance” polyester thrown in.

    I’ve always valued simplicity and comfort, but it took me a while to realize I could have both and also care a little about the fashion too.

    I shop only when there’s a very well-defined hole in my wardrobe. On average I probably spend around $250 per year on clothes, including accessories. Right I’m looking for bottom pieces, which I generally dislike and put off buying since I’m a very short, extremely pear shaped, and so not much fits: black linen trousers, yoga pants, nude hosiery, and navy athleisure slacks. Open to suggestions!

    • It sounds like you have your style on lock! I also am not a skirt person, unless they’re super mini. I’m small so knee-length stuff isn’t going to fly in terms of proportion.

      I feel your pain on bottoms. I have the most difficulty shopping for that category, too. For yoga pants, I like Outdoor Voices because they have different lengths (3/4 and 7/8). Usually yoga pants pool at the bottom for me, and it’s not worth hemming them. They might be a bit over budget, though. Gap also has navy pants in different lengths: http://athleta.gap.com/browse/product.do?cid=1059471&pcid=1059471&vid=1&pid=868912022

      Linen trousers are nice, but would wrinkle soooo easily.

  • I feel like I learned so much about you through your unfancy planner! I love how obvious your strong sense of style + lifestyle is. My favorite note is “Things that require specific shoes –> not versatile”, I think this is a really nuanced fashion/wardrobe note that is SO important. At least for me, this was never obvious and I’ve definitely bought one too many outfits that worked only in heels (which I can’t wear/don’t choose to wear).

    I still haven’t mastered the off season shopping, but thankfully now that I live in SF, the weather is the same 70% of the time so it’s all just one giant season, and I don’t have to think so much about it. #6 is the best tip! It takes so long to accept that we just change over time and things we loved just don’t fit the same or make us feel the same when we wear it.

    • Haha, oh no, my secrets are OUT of the bag! But yeah, I always thought you could tell a lot about somebody by what they choose to wear. Yeah, I’ve fallen into the trap where I’d find a pair of pants with a cool silhouette, like slouchy chinos rolled up, and then realize I’d need to buy a pair of shoes to match with them (heels). That was never a good buy for me. It’s much better for me to just buy stuff that all mixes and matches, with a couple wildcards thrown in. And when I do buy random stuff I make sure it’s something I can resell later.

      I always get skeptical about achieving the “perfect wardrobe”. Like you said, our tastes (and bodies) change over time. I used to dress up a lot when I was younger and hitting the bars, but now that I’m married, everything is more about comfort. Although I did tell my husband I want a date night this week so I can wear my heels!

  • I’ve been really feeling the itch to refresh my wardrobe this fall. I did buy a couple of items online last week (just cheap stuff) so I’m hoping they work out and satisfy my shopping desire for now.
    Your wardrobe plan looks perfect…we have very similar taste. I love all the neutrals!

    • Thanks, Sarah! I definitely don’t have mainstream taste so glad there’s someone else out there who appreciates!