When I was growing up, I remember engaging in back-to-school shopping and then as-we-needed-to-replace-things shopping, not sport- or bordom-shopping as many of us (myself included) do now. My mother made a lot of my clothes through middle school, and although we did shop at Jacobson’s sometimes (a higher-end department store in Orlando when I was growing up), we spent more time scouring the racks at SteinMart, Marshall’s and TJ Maxx so my mother could buy her Liz Claiborne petites at a discount.
As you can probably tell, my mother is absolutely a brand-loyal shopper, as is my father. So no wonder I am too; we tend to stick with brands we can count on to fit our bodies and our aesthetics, and that we know will stand the test of time. We hardly ever paid full price for anything though, growing up, but we always took very good care of our clothes, and never had a lot more than we needed.
Through high school and college I honestly didn’t pay a lot of attention to my clothes. I was very heavy and just wore what I needed to to cover myself. I loved the t-shirt I wore CONSTANTLY that said “life is too short to wear uncomfortable shoes” with one of my many pairs of Birkenstock sandals, of course, but I really never thought about what I was wearing, certainly not as much as I do now.
While I was going to graduate school I worked at Starbucks and taught pre-school full-time, so I wore very toddler-friendly/casual clothes all the time. Then when I started working for the Israel Economic Office in 1998 I added in more “work” clothes, but didn’t need very conservative attire. I guess that was when I started thinking about my clothing more, and how what I wore portrayed me as a person and as a professional.
With “professional” work, I finally had more money and discovered the “joy” of shopping for clothes. I had also lost some weight at that point, and liked dressing my new-ish body. I got into significant credit card debt (Nordstrom & Neiman Marcus credit cards…) buying for my new body, started feeling overwhelmed financially, gained weight again, and couldn’t wear my clothes anymore. Which of course started the cycle of having to buy more clothes to fit my ever-changing body; from 2000 to 2014 I lost and gained the same 50-75 pounds 4 or 5 times…
In 2004 I started Grechen’s Closet, and the rest is pretty well documented. I became obsessed with shopping, finding pieces I wanted at the best price, and discovering new designers. Lots of things were changing in my life and I went through bouts of emotional shopping, ending up with too much stuff, and having spent WAY too much money.
Finally in 2014 I started paring back and writing about my experiences for The Minimal Closet.
Now, I have fewer clothes, and a more tightly edited wardrobe, and I try to be much more thoughtful about what I add to it. I thought when I pared down I wanted to have a “capsule” wardrobe, dress in uniforms, shop only once every season, buying only the “perfect” things that would last forever, never having to buy anything ever again.
I’m more realistic now, and understand that I love trying new things too much to stop shopping, or to think I can find “the perfect” pair of jeans and then quit looking. I always want to play with new styles and shapes to see what they’ll do for me. I love to see what’s new and explore designers who are trying to change the industry. And there are SO MANY.
I did shop my share at H&M and Zara, but I never really bought too much into fast fashion, thanks in part to my upbringing and appreciation for quality, craftsmanship, and lack of desire for something new every week. Now, I try to focus more on slow fashion: pieces with a story and people behind them, people I can see and learn more about.
And I’ve found myself gravitating much more towards wanting to buy a few things at the beginning of a new season – or end of the last, because I’m bored with the weather and itching for something new, instead of spacing things out. It’s a bit like creating a “capsule” wardrobe, but not…
Honestly, I’m still not very organized when it comes to clothes/accessories shopping. I’m not great at preparing a budget, although when I do have one, I stick to it. I don’t shop with lists, but I do have a pretty clear idea of what I “need” or want at any given time. And since I have fewer clothes, I know what I do have, so I can avoid buying duplicates (something which I did often before my wardrobe was organized – mostly without even realizing it).
As I’m fond of saying now, this is a journey, not a destination. I no longer think I can achieve the perfect wardrobe full of the perfect things. I don’t want to, anyway. What fun would that be?
I am always amazed at how much I’ve changed over the years, both in terms of my style, and otherwise. I wouldn’t have thought I’d be where I am now, when I was in college, or in graduate school.
Maybe now I’m coming back around full circle? to the way we shopped growing up? Are things moving back in that direction? There really wasn’t fast fashion in the 70’s/early 80’s, so it may be more natural for those of us who grew up then or before to embrace the idea of shopping more deliberately and thoughtfully than it is for those of us born in the 80’s.
I do hope that’s where we’re headed: towards more conscious consumption, but I understand the hurdles to get over, especially the perceived high-cost of sustainable style.
But before I go on forever…do tell, how do you shop? how has the way you shop changed over the years? What’s your shopping history and how does it shape your consumption habits now?
sherry @ save. spend. splurge. says
I’m a waffler. I talked all about this in my post on Personal Style: Journey , but as I get older, I am not into H&M, Forever 21, and very rarely do I find pieces at Zara I’d buy and keep. Fast fashion is really not my thing and it was when I was younger with less money, but these days, I am really into recycling shopping — designer goods at consignment shops, or things that are already pre-loved. I feel less guilty spending money on something vintage (like a vintage Gucci clutch) than I would buying something new, and as a result, I probably spend more now, but I find really unique, interesting pieces.
That said, I love Winners. I just discovered how awesome it is. I’m probably going to avoid all retail shops now and just go Winners + Consignment 100% full-time.
sherry @ save. spend. splurge. says
Oh and the post I wrote about what I wore through my life is here: Personal Style Journey.
I don’t recall giving my clothing a lot of thought while I was growing up, either, even in the awkward high school years – I had been an overweight adolescent and progressed into fairly serious anorexia in my teen years, so I always felt ugly regardless of what I wore. College found me developing the bad habits that would characterize my shopping style as an adult – most of my clothing was purchased out of desperation at the last minute prior to an event for which I had nothing to wear, so I never really developed a cohesive wardrobe and found myself in the “nothing to wear” situation quite often. Like you, I’ve experienced fluctuations in weight that meant that most of what I did have didn’t fit for long, which led to more desperation shopping. Credit card debt ensued, and overall it became a source of stress for me.
As I got into my 30s, my weight stabilized more, and I began to get to know myself, I found myself developing a closet full of items that actually worked together and provided options for almost any situation I found myself in. I’ve gotten pretty good at determining what brands, styles, colors, and cuts work for me, and shopping became much more productive (and thus enjoyable). This should have been good news. The negative for me is that I’ve become something of an emotional shopper. I’m not around people much anymore – I work and take classes mostly from home, my close friends live far away and work schedules that tend to be opposite of mine, and I haven’t so much as been on a date with anyone in over a decade. Truth be told, I’m lonely a lot, sometimes I feel rather forgotten, and I never feel “pretty.” Some people eat their feelings; I buy mine cute outfits.
But, I’m aware of it now, and I’m working on it. Reading blogs like yours, I feel like there’s hope, and it’s very comforting to know that other people struggle, too.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some things to return. 😉
I started shopping for fun in law school and after, with my law school friend. Before that shopping was not a big thing for me. I lived in NYC and over-shopped at Filene’s Basement, Century 21 and Loehmans. (Fast fashion had just opened in NYC those days, but I never had luck at H&M or Zara.) I had all sorts of great clothes, tons of dresses, but many did not fit quite right and there were way too many. I also committed the mistake of buying the same thing in many colors (hello rainbow pile of cardigans). I had bins of extra clothes that never got worn. These all moved with me from NYC to Shanghai, where I spent the next 11 years and eventually tossed them all. In China I shopped less, but spent more on clothes than before. There were a few Hong Kong and Japanese brands of clothes I liked that were available in Shanghai, but they were pricey and forced me to be more mindful and think a bit more about what I needed. But I did have kids and started overbuying clothing for them… I traveled 1-2 times a year to Arizona on business trips and hit the outlets there, but I tried to plan ahead what shops I would visit and made a list of what I needed to buy, as I only would have a few hours free during the trip. Then I moved to Hawaii two years ago, now with three kids and a dog, and I paid for this move out of my own pocket. Despite having shopped a lot less in the previous decade, I still faced questions when sorting through my things for the move like why did I have 20 black cardigans, and why did I have three black wrap dresses that had not been worn in over five years. I really purged. I went from a walk in closet for just me to 1/2 a regular size closet, with a few special occasion items and business suits in my girls’ room (they have the walk in closet).
Now I try to buy only 1-2 new items a month. In January I take stock of what I have and make a list of what I might want to buy this year. I keep a list of my clothing purchases in a year and look back the next year to see what was a good or bad purchase, to learn. I also kept a clothing journal for a few months last year and it helped me see that I really only wear about 1/3 of my bottoms and 1/2 of my tops to work regularly. Finally, I think a lot about practicality, usefulness, fit and whether something is fussy or not 100% right. I am not a capsule wardrobe person, but enjoy my simplified closet immensely. I think the move to Hawaii (part of an overall life simplification) and living out of a suitcase for several months while our stuff was in transit really opened my eyes about how much I needed. Blogs like yours have also helped a lot.
I have also stopped buying too much for my kids, and they have enough, but not too many clothes. I take them shopping 2-3 times a year with a list of what we need, or sometimes let them pick from online (they like Lands End).
Grechen Reiter says
thanks for sharing your story! i too, find that moving helps me think about what i have and more importantly what i don’t need. when we moved from austin to dallas i got rid of most of my books, giving them to friends, and the library. i didn’t want to move them, honestly, but once i decided to get rid of them, i felt really good about it, more free, and never missed them at all.
whenever i travel, i pack VERY lightly and love how liberating that is. i have certainly pared down my closet a lot over the last couple of years, but i know i could do more. and i still make more shopping mistakes than i’d like to. but it’s getting better all the time! i know keeping a journal and lists would help a lot, but i haven’t been able to latch on to that habit yet. i guess the blog is my journal, sort of…
thank goodness i don’t have kids/babies to shop for, i KNOW i would get in trouble. there’s so much cute stuff out there 🙂
Grechen Reiter says
thanks so much for sharing alison – a lot of what you said resonated with me, i feel the same very often: lonely, forgotten, not pretty, etc. – being away from my family these last years has been very very hard on me, harder than i ever could have imagined, and probably harder even than i allow myself to admit.
and when you said “Some people eat their feelings; I buy mine cute outfits.” – that really hit me over the head…i hadn’t thought about it in a long time, but i DON’T feed my feelings anymore. i definitely used to (hence the weight gain/loss), but something has shifted lately, since i’ve become altogether more healthy, and i don’t WANT to suffocate my feelings with jelly beans anymore. i DO sometimes want to do it with new clothes though!! i have noticed that lately, sometimes, it’s enough for me just to browse for new stuff online, and not buy. if i spend long enough doing it i get frustrated with myself for wasting so much time that i forget what i was really trying to avoid LOL
Thanks so much for such a thoughtful and wonderfully written post. It really got me thinking about my own sartorial journey. Like you, I think I am much happier and comfortable now with my clothing choices, although this only happened in the past year. I’m ashamed to say I’ve always been a recreational shopper, even in my teens. But until very recently, I would buy things rather indiscriminately. My style has always been low key (no prints, neutrals, mostly black) but I would buy the same things over and over again.
Two things changed this past year.
1) I had a wardrobe consultant help me with a big clean out and gave me some great tips on my shopping habits and 2) I discovered your blog (and a couple others) which have REALLY helped me pin down what I need and love in my closet. I now really enjoy planning my outfits and daily dressing and while I have yet to kick my habit of recreational shopping, I only buy things I truly love. So thank you so so much for your inspiring posts and introducing me to conscious shopping.(I’ve discovered such wonderful brands through you!)
Kimi, Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair says
I really enjoyed reading this post, and it got my thinking about my own shopping habits. Growing up, I wasn’t much of a shopper; I went to the mall with my friends every once in a while and spent my money at fast fashion places like Wet Seal and Forever 21 (it was so exciting when F21 came to the mall!). I never had a plan for what I needed to add to my wardrobe; it was always whatever I wanted at the time. I had a dress code in high school so I only shopped for the necessities (no denim, collared shirts only). Once college rolled around, I had all of my high school dress-code-approved clothes and then a mish-mash of whatever I had picked up from the mall. My style was all over the place! Still, my shopping habits remained the same: not often and buying random items that looked cute.
Then I graduated college and started grad school. I had a real income and discovered ModCloth, so I went a bit overboard with the shopping. I don’t even want to know how much I spent in 2013, but it was not pretty. (I placed something like 30 orders in one year…and I never paid for shipping, so I always hit the free shipping threshold. Makes me sick thinking about it now.) I still didn’t really have a defined style at that point, so I was just buying whatever I liked at the time! It was bad.
I discovered blogs near the end of 2013 and thought it would be fun to start my own to document what I wore and kind of get out of the style rut I was in. A few months into blogging, I started a clothing budget, and I really worked on honing in my personal style. I bought a lot of not-great items that first year budgeting, but now I am much better at not overspending and actually buying pieces that fit my personal style. At the beginning of each year, I reflect on my best and worst purchases of the previous year. I was very glad to not have very many from this past year!
I’m now also much more inclined to spend more on fewer but better pieces instead of going the fast fashion route. I own very little from H&M or Forever 21 now. I really want to start buying more ethically, but my income isn’t quite at the place I’d like it to be for that (especially because I know myself; I enjoy shopping a little bit every month and my budget will definitely disappear a lot faster buying only ethically-made products).
Anyway, thank you so much for writing this post! I enjoyed reflecting on how my shopping habits have evolved over the years. 🙂
Jennifer Rinaldi says
Oooh, I love thinking about this stuff, and reading other people’s stories! I used to buy seasonally — I still feel the pull to reassess my wardrobe each fall, something about that “back to school” feeling makes me think I need to reload everything in my wardrobe. Remember how before “fast fashion”, you had to buy clothes for the upcoming season when they were in the stores, or everything would be gone? I definitely did a lot of panic shopping back in the day. Then I had a phase of buying less but more frequently at places like Zara and H&M, but the quality and fit was always disappointing, so I stopped doing that. I also Marie-Kondo’d my closet at the end of last summer, so I have been pretty happy with less, but I can see as warm weather approaches, I really need to fill some holes in the wardrobe. I prefer to shop in person rather than on line, but I struggle to find the time to actually go out and find stores / brands I like! So where I’m at now: I need more stuff, but I’m reluctant to add to my closet unnecessarily, so I need to clear some mental space to do some thoughtful shopping. For me though, it would be ideal if I could buy less but more frequently so I could avoid having to load up!
I’m a child of the 60’s, so my upbringing was a lot like yours: We shopped seasonally, essentially for our new school clothes, and added as we needed new things…mostly shoes for growing feet! My dad was a teacher then school principal and my mom stayed at home with 3 kids under age 5 so we had enough but not “extras.” We’d go to the new mall in Madison, but I’d hear “NO” a lot and it was difficult to accept because I loved fashion, just like my beautiful mother. She had an on-going “secret account” with her mom and for awhile, as a young adult, I picked up that nasty habit as well as the deep well of credit card debt.
I find it a never-ending battle with my willpower to fight the urge to buy something new every week. I don’t NEED anything, but I WANT it, like a spoiled 2-yr old. I think for me, technology and having access to constant images of beautiful things is too much temptation. But it’s too hard to pull the plug! It’s a hobby, a passion, and I find it enjoyable keeping up with my style and fashion movements (“trend” really doesn’t suit me).
Thankfully, I’m not drawn to fast-fashion anymore (although I’ve gotten some jeans I wear a LOT from Old Navy because they fit me) but now I want the good stuff. I know my style and which brands fit my body, and I make fewer mistakes. And I don’t have easy access to a mall anymore, which is good. On the other hand, I DO have access to pricey boutiques that are not a part of my experience. Yes, I find things on-sale, I’m good at that. And the iPad is always nearby….
Step one: A reasonable budget. Step two: Cut up store credit cards. Step three: Plan the wardrobe (which I’m good at!) and weed out the excess (um…not so good!). Now, take action. Whew! I hadn’t intended to spill that much, but, it’s time to hold myself accountable. Retirement is looming!
I hope it’s ok if I say something, because your comment really moved me, Alison. I’m coming to terms with being an emotional shopper, too. I’m forcing myself to combat the loneliness by getting a full-time job and doing things more often with friends. Take the first step, whatever that may be for you…it’s scary but you won’t regret it!
Grechen Reiter says
thanks for sharing val – i think writing things down helps A LOT, with accountability, and otherwise, (obviously – i share everything!!), so hopefully it will help you to have put it down “on paper” LOL
i struggle with easy access also – more easy access online than in person, although here in dallas i have access to pretty much anything and everything i could imagine. i’ve learned over the last few years to temper myself though, that and just not using credit cards helps a lot. when i do use credit cards, i get in SERIOUS trouble, but with cash, i know my limits…
at least you’re good at wardrobe planning – that’s one thing i still have a hard time with – for myself anyway. i can do it for others, no problem 😉
I’m a sharer, too…obviously! But I’m going for the accountability here, not the tell-all! 😉
Since I started my new full-time job, I’m finding fewer packages are arriving at our front door. This could be a VERY good thing!