Friday, September 28, 2012

Shopping Mistakes I've Made

A couple of months ago I mentioned how I was cleansing my closet from a bunch of "mistakes" I'd made along the way.  Since then, handfuls of emails and comments have trickled in from you guys asking what those mistakes were because you wanted to avoid them too.

So, today I'm opening up to you all the reasons I wasted a bunch of money on the wrong pieces.  Embarrassing.  (Not really, don't worry.  But sad, yes.)  In exchange for exposing the skeletons in my closet, I'm asking you to take these to heart so that you don't waste money either.  Deal?  (And of course, ice cream or boba is always a welcome thank-you gift.)

Before the Mistakes
I started this blog in June 2011 to help me rework my wardrobe and my style.  If you've read the Building a Remixable Wardrobe Series you might recall me saying that I was in a "jeans and cute top rut."  While my friends still thought my jeans-and-top outfits were cute, I had a collection of clothes instead of a workable wardrobe.  I also wanted to look slightly more sophisticated and adult-like but not too over the top for my very casual lifestyle.  (I mean, quite honestly, I wear a jersey dress with a belt and get asked why I'm so "dressed up.")

In reworking my style I experimented a lot, resulting in a lot of purchasing mistakes.  Through all that experimenting and trial and error I discovered the stuff I talk about in the BARW Series, but I was left with a lot of unworn clothes and a hole in my pocket to show for it!  And who likes wasting money?  Not moi.

So, let's talk about why I was buying the wrong stuff.

(source - image on left)

Not Specific Enough
First off, I did not have any guides like "How to Shop for Remixable Pieces" when I was making all of these mistakes.  If you use guidelines like that or anything that you've come up with on your own to guide you as you shop, then you're already 10 steps ahead of where I was.  I did have a list of items I was looking for, but that list wasn't specific enough.  My list looked something like this:
  • black blazer
  • skirt in a bright color
  • chambray top
So, I found a black blazer for $30 that fit well and looked great with jeans.  Hooray!--except when I tried to wear it with anything besides jeans.  The cut of the blazer was such that it was pointy at the bottom and slightly longer, going past my hips, and when I tried to wear it with shorts, skirts, or dresses, the blazer's pointy edges made the outfit look awkward as it just didn't work on my frame.  (The same blazer, however, looked great on Hannah's body shape with skirts and dresses.)  Dissatisfied, I searched for its replacement.  

Nowadays, my list would be very specific, like this:
  • black blazer 
    • rounded edges, hits at mid or upper hip, rounded shoulder pads vs winging out
    • works with skinny jeans, floral a-line skirt (or teal pencil skirt), and floral Target dress (based off of criteria in Shopping for Remixable Pieces from BARW)  
  • a-line skirt in a bright color
    • knee length or just above knee, sits at natural waist
    • can tuck a shirt into, can pair with _____, ______ and/or _______  (The blanks would be either a few different tops I wear often or three staple tops for different occasions, also from Part 2 of BARW.)
  • chambray top 
    • hits mid hip; holds structure under a sweater
    • pairs with floral dress, partially tucked with a belt and jeans, looks good tucked into skirt

This seems picky and anal and might not be your cup of tea.  I just cannot personally stand to see in my closet two very similar items next to each other--one being the bad purchase that I *sort of* like and the second being its replacement.  I cringe at wasted money.  I've learned my lesson the hard way--be picky on the front end.

Lesson: Make a List!
I do suggest you make some sort of list, even if it's not as detailed as mine.  This detailed list helps me stick to my guns.  My guess is that many of us can be "emotional shoppers," where our emotions take over logic.  During those moments when my emotions scream so loudly that all reason and logic has shut down, my list is the sanity check.  

Compromising on Fit, Style, or Quality
Aside from just not having a framework for what I was looking for, sometimes even when an item matched the specific descriptions on my list, I might have compromised in other areas like fit, style, or quality.  I usually compromise for two not-so-good reasons: 1) I give into the lie my emotions are telling me that I "NEED" some piece RIGHT NOW, or 2) price.  Many times I have bought an "almost it" version of what I was looking for rather than a this-is-so-perfectly-amazing-that-I-cannot-wait-to-wear-it version because the former was cheaper.  Sometimes this is okay, depending on what you're compromising on.  If it actually doesn't fit well or I don't love it and am not dying to wear it everyday then that means I will probably never wear it, which means no matter how much cheaper it was than the other version, I just wasted money.  

Also, beware of quality.  Now, I'm not one to preach on clothing quality--I shop at Target, Forever 21, and Old Navy for crying out loud.  But there are some things that are obviously going to fall apart with its thin and frail material, shoddy stitching, or material that seems like it will pill upon washing.  You might have seen the note on Where to Buy My Closet Staples that I've had to replace my mustard cardigan because the Target one I bought last season has pilled.  My H&M cardigans were $2 less and have been lasting for 7+ years through lots of wash and wear!

Lesson: Don't compromise just because you are scratching that itch to buy something or because something is cheaper.  Something can be cheaper without you having to compromise, like how my H&M cardigans were cheaper and better.  And sometimes you might just have to pay a little more for something that you will wear a billion times until forever.

Doesn't Fit My Lifestyle 
You may have heard me say before that I really wish I worked at an office and could wear pencil skirts everyday.  Kinda like Kate.  (--whose blog you need to visit, btw.  I think her blog is one of the best kept secrets around.)

I bought pencil skirts for the "maybe somedays" and splurged on an extra thick coat for the "what if" days (as if I'd ever need one of those in San Diego!)  Dumb stuff like that.  I sold two pencil skirts that still had tags that I had never worn but bought for the "maybe someday" and because they were only $20 each.  "But it's such a great deal!"  Well, seeing as how I never wore them for over 2 years, I wasted $40, which is a bad deal.

Hadn't Defined My Style
The last big thing that caused me to buy the wrong things was that I hadn't done good research to figure out what style I wanted.  I read style blogs to help me evolve my style, but the ones I was looking at made me try to be someone else and dress cutesy and frilly and eclectic.  Like the kind of person that frolics in fields.  Those people looked super cute, and that's why I was drawn to their outfits, but that is not who I am.  I'm not one to frolic.  If you are, that's cool, but I will let you frolic while I make a fast beeline to where I'm going.  I am blunt direct and sarcastic, though you may not be able to hear that through my blog.  (I try not to scare you guys away.)  And in clothing I like straight, clean lines and geometric prints...so why was I buying frilly stuff?!?!

I ended up with clothes that I didn't want to wear because, while they were cute, they didn't feel like me.

Research Your Style
My suggestion is to research your style.  Use Pinterest to create a board of looks you like, or clip pictures from magazines and make a look book.  Then, rather than looking at an individual outfit that you pinned and trying to get that exact item to put together that exact look, broaden your scope and look for general commonalities or themes from the photos you've collected.  That was the big mistake I made.  I looked at individual pins and rushed to get a shirt that I liked to recreate that outfit, but overall, the shirt didn't fit my style.  My pinboard has a lot of stripes and blazers and not a whole lot of jewelry, bows, or frilly things.  Analyzing my own pin board helped me to have a better grasp on the style I was going for.

There are a few other mistakes I've made while shopping, but those are the big ones.  And this post is getting a lot longer than I expected, so I will stop talking and leave you to curate your pinboards!


  1. This is all such good advice!

  2. Love this. Such excellent points! I also fall victim to trying to buy clothes that make me someone else. I finally bought the StyleBook App which is totally amazing and I can put all my "inspiration" photos from you, other blogs, Pinterest, Polyvore, and everywhere else right in one place (better than Pinterest because you can separate them into "Work" and "Casual," etc., rearrange by color or season or whatever and they're right there on your phone!) so that really helped me to figure out what I like and what my style really is! It also helps me get dressed in the morning. I am totally wearing one of your exact outfits today (jeans, orange shoes, red blazer, pink shirt, blue agate pendant - yep I wore the red blazer!)), so thanks!! (PS - I work in an office so I do have to / get to wear pencil skirts every day. And I long for the days when I could just wear jersey dresses and jeans!! We all want what we can't have I guess!)

  3. Katie@Paisley Print ShoesFriday, September 28, 2012

    Thanks for this post!! This is really helpful for me as I am starting to work on building a reworkable wardrobe. (Thanks to you, I just bought a colored cardigan at Target for 50% off and I've already worn it 4 times!!)

  4. This is amazing advice and I definitely have made similar shopping mistakes. Sometimes I buy clothes without trying them on (when I have the opportunity to) and I don't know why I keep doing this. I think it is more important to have something that looks nice rather than just buying it because it is 80% off... when you find something that fits and is 80% off sweet... but that rarely happens!

  5. This is such great advice. Especially the part about not buying clothes because you like the look on Pinterest. If you are not a "go out and frolic" kind of girl then those looks are great to appreciate but not for your closet. Great post!

  6. Great post with fantastic advice!

  7. Trisha Morrissette WalkerFriday, September 28, 2012

    Great post. I've been cleaning out my closet lately too, and it makes me sad to see piles of mistakes... but it feels so great to get that stuff out of there so I can see the things I love and wear all the time.

    Hey, this is going to sound cheesy, but I wanted to thank you because you've really helped me go from a closet of one hit wonders to a closet that does all the work for me. And I love that you wear the same clothing in different ways--that's so much more realistic than blogs that show new outfits all the time. I don't need outfits. I need clothes that I can wear. Seeing you work your closet gives me ideas for working mine. I never knew getting dressed could be so much fun.

  8. Absolutely excellent insights as usual, Miss Audrey! I'm on a personal style definition quest right now (and am pretty pleased with how I'm doing) but am determined to figure out how to make fewer of these mistakes in the future. There are always going to be some, since I like a deal or get confused sometimes, but I'm using the types of evaluations you discuss to first do a serious closet cleanout (no keeping things for "maybe somedays" - they're just filling up my closet and distracting me from my true personal style - and causing a little guilt!). I think if I can conquer not compromising and quit giving in to the "need it now" or "it's a better deal" temptations, it will go a LONG way. And a Pinterest overhaul is on my list of things to do too!

  9. Thank you for being practical! Your blog really stands out among fashion blogs because instead of just saying "buy this piece here" (which is the most "help" I've gotten elsewhere) you break down the background and explain how this works! So helpful to me. Thanks!

  10. I love the tip about defining your own style using your pins! I'm really bad about describing what I like, but I guess Pinterest helps with that.

  11. Thanks for this post. Unfortunately, with me rebuilding some of my wardrobe too, I've run into some mistakes. Buying cheap shoes that mess with my arches, fall apart quickly, and only go with one or two outfits. I purged the other day, right before getting the cognac boots. It was a whole trash bag full of shoes! Crazy. The other problem I've run into, even though I've read the BANW series & printed it out, is not write down a list. I have left stores empty handed though if it's "almost-but not quite" right. So, at least I'm being more selective. My stripe dress shrunk too--guess it's not supposed to go in wash or dryer. But at least I know what I want to replace it with.

  12. This is a great post, Audrey. I think your last point is the best. It can be hard for people to look at their own wardrobes and be able to research what they wear because there may be flaws, but with something like Pinterest around, which makes it so easy to encapsulate a whole aesthetic on just one page, it's much easier to assess and consider what a person really likes and wants to wear instead of what they already have to wear. Having such a strong visual resource can be really helpful when trying to define a style!

  13. I love that app! Especially since it's like remixing stuff in the palm of my hand, without being in my room. I remix first & then see if it works irl after.

  14. Great advice, thank you! One thing I find frustrating is when I find something I like that fits my wardrobe but it doesn't even survive the season. Any brands that you have found that hold up better than others - and a still reasonably priced? I am running into the cardigan issue right now. I need new cardigans every season it seems like!!

  15. This is an awesome post! I'm going to pin this so I can share it with my readers as well as refer to it when I need a reminder :-)

  16. DID I WRITE THIS POST?! haha, seriously, Audrey, I feel like we live parallel lives. j/k. I've totally made the exact same mistakes in the past year.. buying stuff that looks good on other bloggers but doesn't fit into my lifestyle (why would I need nude pumps when I don't wear pumps at all?) and also buying things that weren't quite "perfect" - like the white blazer I looked everywhere for and then bought the first one that kind of fit the bill... and now I don't like how it fits because I would rather have more curved edges.

    I think being involved in the "blog world" blinded me from my own personal style. I started buying things just to have the latest "it" item or color, started hunting down things that every other blogger had because I felt it was a closet staple when it really wasn't. I think in the past few months though, I've started to be more conscious of what I buy and try to think, "if I were to NOT feature this on my blog, would I still want to buy it and wear it?"

    Great post as always, Audrey! :)

  17. jennifoundinmyclosetFriday, September 28, 2012

    Great advice...I need to start making lists!!

  18. Haha. Parallel...except for those two kids you have. And yeah dude, blogs can be so helpful and also totally jack up your budget because you're constantly inundated with the latest "it" thing that most people in real life don't care about haha. I have such a love-hate relationship with that aspect of blogs.

  19. This is wonderful advice Audrey! Thank you so much for writing this post. I unfortunately have made my own mistakes that end up costing money which is annoying considering that I'm on a really tight budget. I will definitely be keeping these tips in mind in the future!

  20. Great post! I think my problem is mostly compromising in some way. I need to be patient and wait for just the right item, rather than buying something "close enough". Because "close enough" isn't, and I end up not feeling good in those items and donating them after a wear or two.

  21. I seriously adore your blog. I have made the "But it's such a good deal!" mistake - buying something I would never wear just because it's on sale - so many times that I've lost count. I console myself that I'm doing a good deed for whoever gets it as my hand-me-down, since she won't have to spend the money that I already spent on her behalf.

    Thank you for being such an awesome fashionista I can read along with!

  22. I really love your blog, and this post in particular. I'm turning 30 this year, and I wanted to update my look a little without spending too much. Your clean, classic style is just what I've been looking for! You've inspired me to buy some necklaces and belts in fun colors, to start to improve on my normal tshirt and jeans look. But I love your message about really being mindful of your purchases, so you don't waste money and time on stuff that isn't quite right. Please keep the posts coming! Great job :)

  23. Thank you Audrey! I love your blog because your ideas are for practical everyday wear, and not expensive. It's helping me so so much. You are awesome :) ps where's a better boba place...I feel like I'm getting too old for TapEx. Lol

  24. Awesome post - I am currently at the early part of the same journey you've been on, and more than happy to learn from any of your mistakes! Keep up the good work, it's so good to be able to follow the blog of somebody really practical and casual. Like you there's lots of blogs I love the style of, but they don't relate so well to me as a stay at home mum - but I find heaps of things from your outfits that are just so relevant :)

  25. Great tips! Thank you for sharing your journey. I'm at the start of mine, and I love the idea of a more detailed list. I will also take a closer look at my Pinterest boards to zero in on what is my style. :)

  26. I've been going through my closet a lot too and noticing these rookie mistakes! I am soooo impatient. I want what I want and I want it NOW! It's tough to slow down and realize what I have, what hasn't worked and what I can wait for.

  27. the domestic fringeFriday, September 28, 2012

    Oh, this is good advice. I need it! I make mistakes all the time. I shop clearance and tend to buy something because it's cute and cheap, not because it goes with lots of things or is useful. That's definitely a fail on my part. I need to really think more about my wardrobe and make that list.

    Thank you for the advice!

  28. I've really been enjoying your blog since discovering it about a month ago. And I'm pretty sure you've revolutionized my approach to getting dressed in the mornings! I'm enjoying working with what I've got, and I've discovered the amazingness of belts. I want to belt everything! =) Thanks for your great tips and casual approach. I especially love that you're admittedly someone who doesn't want to spend a fortune on your wardrobe. People like me who are on a super-tight budget can relate to that. Keep it up!

  29. I have noticed that instead of everyone buying capris, finally they seem to have trended. But many women are rolling their jeans and I am sure there is some science behind rolling them. I.E- skinny jeans, etc. Would love to get some suggestions on this new look. :D Thanks for your blog...great information.

  30. Also, Do you think white is still wearable especially in pants for Fall?

  31. I've definitely had to learn to be really specific about what I'm shopping for! Saves money and hassle and closet space :) Also lately have been trying not to fall for the "oh it's on clearance, I totally should grab that"...instead, I'm saving the $10 or $15 and putting it toward pieces that I really love and want for my closet!

    <3 Cambriajupefashion.blogspot.com

  32. I live your blog and this post especially-i tend to buy things that are close to what i want but not exact-it never works out. i HAVE to remember that.
    thanks for doing all the leg work :)

  33. Definitely good advice! I was definitely one of those jeans and a cute top girls. Since I've started blogging I've been trying to fix that and buy more pieces that will work with other things besides jeans. I still make mistakes though!

  34. Love this post. Thanks for the great tips!

  35. Wow! So grateful for this post! I was in a jeans, hoodie rut until I saw an episode of What Not to Wear and the "victim" and I were wearing the same thing! I dressed like a 'tween. Then I went straight into the jeans with cute top rut you've mentioned. I also fell into a chocolate brown rut, I called it my signature color. Who was I kidding, everything in my closet was the same color!

    I have spent a lot of time reading back through your blog and making very specific notes and lists. I have made purchases based on those lists only, no deviation. I admit I have probably spent more than I would have if I had not come across your blog, but prior to that I hadn't bought clothes in quite awhile, so I feel it evens out ( plus my husband has not complained since I've been very careful about the purchases).

    The majority of what I've bought are belts, necklaces, completed pieces and a few basics staples ie: striped tee. The only splurge has been inexpensive colored jeans, 4 pairs to be exact. I think it's important to bring color into my brown/boring life!

    Many, many thanks!!

  36. Dude, such a good guide! You're absolutely right, it's one thing to say "Blankity-blank is something that would be so beneficial to my wardrobe" but if you don't diagnose and specify exactly what would make you love love love the article of clothing, it's not a piece that speaks to you. And I feel like I do a similar series of mistake-making in the process of sorting and purging... I hang on to something for about 4 rounds of clearing just because "Well, I got a lot of compliments, I guess I'll give it another chance and try wearing it a different way," even when I don't ever LIKE wearing it. Too bold, too colorful, too boxy, too casual, too youthful. If you don't feel like something speaks to your style, lifestyle and intentions, it doesn't belong in your closet.
    And thank you for the shout-out! (BTW, I got really excited about getting hooked on another office-appropriate Kate blogger... and was a little disappointed to learn there was none. Ha!)

  37. I think the biggest thing when shopping is really thinking of multiple ways of wearing it, which you mention all the time. Sometimes I'll buy a top, take it home, and realize I only know 1 way to wear it. I would have done that 3 years ago and worn it the same way, but I'm really trying to back away from that. I think having many pieces that can be worn many ways is the best way to have a wardrobe that works for you. Same goes for accessories. Of course there is always a need to have that statement shirt or necklace, but that can't be the whole closet.

    I also agree with thinking about your own circumstances. My legs have to be covered and I have to wear closed toed flat shoes, so while I would LOVE to wear skirts and heels, I rarely buy them because I would never be able to wear them. It prevents that "dang, wish I had somewhere to wear this!" feeling every time you look at your closet.

  38. Excellent post! Thank you for sharing these valuable pointers!

  39. Great post. I'm beginning to find out and getting rid of, or notbever buying again what doesn't work for me also. And you're so right about that Target mustard cardigan. Mine doesn't look the same.
    K at www.beautystyleandgrowth.blogspot.com

  40. Love this post, very helpful tips! I've made a lot of shopping mistakes too--mainly because I saw a particular style on one person and thought I could pull it off, but I can't. I like your blog because it's more of my style. And I also went through the cute top and jeans rut...except I would add a cardigan! As I get older I'm getting more comfortable with what works with my body and what doesn't. I still love my cardigans and cute tops though ;-)

  41. This is so me! I buy something, and then a couple weeks later, realize I really shouldn't have bought that! I guess it's a learning process! =)

  42. I just found your blog today and I LOVE IT! Things make so much more sense to me now. Thanks!

  43. I use Pinterest to find items similar to what I already own and piece those items together in different ways. I've come up with some good outfits tha way without having to shop for anything new.

  44. Valerie DarlingSunday, May 12, 2013

    Hi Audrey! Thanks for sharing your insights! It is so helpful! :-) Can't wait to implement your ideas for my wardrobe and outfits~~

  45. It's so funny that personality traits like "sarcasm" and "boldness" come out in clothing choices! I am also very drawn to whimsical flower crowns, flowy dresses IN PICTURES....I tried for several years in college to wear those things but it always felt forced and my wardrobe was never cohesive. I am finally stepping back to define my style and am completely starting from scratch, (finally, at age 25). I am super drawn to geometric prints, bold stripes, and classic, Parisian style! I am orderly (ummm, more OCD), neat, and super direct. My style is finally starting to show that! :) Thanks for all this advice. I will definitely share this with my girlfriends!!

  46. Thank you for the help analyzing shopping mistakes. I've also made some and didn't have a very good idea on how to stop making the same mistakes again and again!

    Also, the pinterest board is a great idea. Even if you don't pin clothes you can have a better idea of your aesthetic preferences :) For example, I thought I dressed classic/preppy and often wonder how come some pieces don't get worn. Thanks to a well curated board, I found my style is only slightly classic but mixes a big dose of rustic/earthy/(boho?) feel to it. Now it's esaier to make decisions on whether to buy things!

  47. This is an old post and first time commenting on your blog (love your wardrobe series) but regarding Pencil skirts for your lifestyle:

    Personally, I dont think you have to work in an office to wear a pencil skirt.
    Im a stay-at-home student + doing interships at clothing store and I wear them! I think in your case that its not how formal the pencil skirt is, but your personal style and style preferences, not because you cant wear them due to your lifestyle, because you C-A-N. Its how you wear not what you wear. Sure it would be a harder to style jeans to work if the person is a laywer but clothes office women wear are classic and in my opinion, suitable for almost any career (perhaps not for athletics...lol).
    I personallly wear my knee lenght pencil skirts with a fine knit sweater, tights and tall riding boots during cold weather and with flats/low heels and tucked-in casual top for summer. I love a classic young professional look to my outfits so even if I were cleaning dishes at a non-dresscode restuarant I would still wear them but dressing them down for the occasions.
    If your personal style is more relaxed/casual or don't like the corporate look, it would be harder to style them. I cannot wear sweats or baggy jeans, not even to the supermarket, because it doesnt suit my personal style, In fact Im scared to wear them because they are too far out outside my comfortzone.

    Just some feedbacks. (and to any people who are finicky about grammar, Im not an native English speaker) :P

  48. Hi Lina!

    I agree with you! I didn't mean to say that you HAVE TO work in an office to wear a pencil skirt. I do wear pencil skirt sometimes, and have even written a post on a bunch of different ways to style a pencil skirt casually. I just can't wear them everyday like I would want to and couldn't make use of them for a long time, and I had a lot in my closet that I literally COULD NOT wear--not because of style but because of lifestyle. What I mean is that my job at the time caused me to sit on grassy hills most days, which really doesn't work in a pencil skirt. So I had a few too many sitting in my closet wasting away because they weren't able to get into a regular rotation given my job.

    Anyway, my talk about pencil skirt in this post was not to nitpick on pencil skirts, but to use them as one example of many ways that we might buy things that other people tell us we need or that we just want but will not really be able to use and how we waste money on those things. Like how I also talked about a thick winter coat in San Diego.

  49. I can't believe I'm just barely reading this post! I, too, have tried to buy the exact pieces of an outfit I see online that looks great on someone else. And I also live in San Diego and spend sooo much money on boots, jackets, scarves etc because I LOVE fall and cold weather, but I need to be realistic because sadly, we do not have any weather besides summer :) Anyways, I'm learning SO much from your blog and can't wait to develop my own sense of style! Thank you thank you thank you!


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