Monday, July 20

my shopping issues

Funny how nearly all my TFC posts turn into posts about my Issues, but what can I say, I've got a lot of them! This week, it's sort of about my body (again) and sort of about identity (shocker!) and a little bit about money and confusion. For my late teens, most of my twenties, and a leeetle bit of my thirties, I was overweight enough that I couldn't find clothes in all the stores most people my age shopped. My choices were verrrry limited, and consequently I never thought that much about "my style" because "my style" was whatever fit and was not unacceptably hideous. That is to say, it's not like I succumbed to tent dresses and old lady clothes, but my wardrobe, such as it was, pretty much boiled down to a variety of stretchy pants and giant shirts.

Now, I wear regular sizes, and can shop in any store, and a lot of things fit. A LOT. OF THINGS. I take a bunch of stuff into the dressing room, and after eliminating the weirdly-fitting or non-fitting or ugly things, there's still a lot left that falls into the fitting-and-stylish category. Which is great, and you're probably wondering so what's the problem? The problem is after not having choices for so long, I have a hard time making choices now. I never learned how to do that very well. When I was a kid we were poor, so that influenced everything. As a young adult, there was the size issue. I'm like a person who grew up never knowing if there'd be enough food on the table. Now, if I find an item I really like, I dash out into the store and get it in three different colors, and spring up to the register waving my credit card before anyone can pry it from my clutches, just in case there's never again a piece of clothing that fits me. Or, I buy stuff that fits and looks good on me and is cute and stylish or whatever but then I get it home, wear it once or twice, and realize it isn't "me" and it goes in the giveaway bag. Or I realize I have nowhere to wear it. Or it's not all that comfortable after all.

I have given away so much barely worn clothing over the last few years I could buy a Macbook Air (um, the one with the solid state hard drive) with that money, and maybe one for you, too. Worse, I have gone out to major events that were important to me in brand new clothing that I hated because it didn't help me feel like myself.

The problem as I see it is twofold: 1) I do not have a solid sense of my personal style, and 2) I don't have a good vetting process for clothing when I shop. I'm working on the latter. I'm getting better at forcing myself to not cut the tags off new stuff until I've tried it on several more times at home and am absolutely sure I like it. I'm becoming an expert returner. If I rashly bought a t-shirt in four colors when I only needed one, I'm now more likely to take the other three back instead of stuffing them in the back of my drawer where they can't make me feel guilty. Next step is refining my process so it's taken care of in the dressing room the first time.

The personal style thing is a little harder. I am easily influenced by what is on mannequins or what people who have office jobs wear or what people tell me looks good on me or what Stacy & Clinton say, back when I still had cable. But personal style is more than what "looks good on me." It's who I am, and what makes me feel the most like that. Which is super vague! So it's a process. Meanwhile, folks who shop at the thrift stores near me are probably finding some prettttty sweet deals.

Experienced shoppers who know themselves well: What's your process for deciding what to buy? And do you base it all on a budget? How much do you think you spend on clothes each year? Some tips for wardrobe building and pinpointing who you are and who you are not as a clothes-wearer?


Wendy Toliver said...

I'm a huge sale or TJ Maxx (or equivalent) type of shopper. I love nice clothes but I feel too guilty buying them at full retail price. Sometimes if I see something I want I will go home w/o it and then have non-buyers remorse and go back and get it. But at least that way I'm not buying a bunch of stuff on a whim, which is where I think many of us get in trouble. (Also, Sara, I can't stand taking things back.)

As for personal style, mine has morphed from brand name whore (teens and 20s) to comfy, slightly unique articles and accessories. I could probably do all my shopping at Super Target.

Also, I try things on. Even tank tops and t-shirts. I have a size 0 dress (wanted it form-fitting) and size 10 shorts (wanted them baggy) It just depends on the brand, the style, and how I want it to hang. I've shopped with women who will try something on and it's too small but they won't dare try it on in the next size up.

Okay, I could go on but I really need to work on revisions ;)

I really loved shopping with you and Melissa Walker a few months back, BTW. It's nice having someone tell me if something looks great or not-so-great in the dressing room. As a mom of 3 little boys, it's usually my 6 year-old who helps me, haha

urban princess said...

I have three criteria for clothes shopping. I think about cost per wear, whether or not the item(s) could be worn with items already in my closet, and whether or not it makes me feel good when wearing it. They're all on a sliding scale (meaning each item is evaluated separately on it's own merits) but shopping this way has helped me keep my closet full of clothes that I love. The saying that people wear 20% of their wardrobe 80% of the time thankfully doesn't apply to me, and I hope it doesn't for you, either.

Sara Z. said...

Sarah - Oh, it totally applies to me! That's my problem. I knew you would have some precise way of analyzing. How do you resist impulse buys?

Wendy - "Sometimes if I see something I want I will go home w/o it and then have non-buyers remorse and go back and get it." I need to do more of that - put things on hold for a day while my lust cools down, and then make a decision while I have my wits about me.

urban princess said...

I have two rules for impulse buying: it can't be more than $20, and if it is, I give it a couple days. If I can't stop thinking about it, I go back and get it then.

Alyson Noel said...

Sara this is a great post!

When I was in my teens and twenties--I was really really into fashion, devoured Vogue magazine like candy, and dressed in a somewhat theatrical, trendy way.

Now, I've kind of fallen into a uniform of jeans, cute top, heels whenever I go out. I sometimes wonder if my years spent as a flight attendant and having to wear a uniform influenced that new love of "reach for it without thinking" way of dressing.

I still love clothes and shopping (mostly online these days) but won't buy something if it doesn't fit my lifestyle. Like, there's a really cute designer dress that I really want--but, since I spend most of my time at home in my sweatpants in front of my computer, it will not be making its way into my closet. And I'm pretty sure a couple weeks from now (if not sooner) there will be a new obsession that I won't purchase either!

And so it goes . . .

Sara Z. said...

Sarah - $20??? Wow, you are disciplined! (And I know you hate it when one uses multiple questions marks and/or exclamation marks. Tee hee!!!!)

Alyson, that's the thing. I keep shopping for this life I don't have. Not only is there the self-employment thing, but I live in the west and it's very casual out here. You wear your *nice* Wranglers to the opera. So there's a lot of stuff I love but would never really have the opportunity to wear. Like this Banana Republic dress I got yesterday. It's so pretty but seriously when and where am I going to wear the thing? It will hang in my closet making me feel stupid...

Alyssa Kirk @ Teens Read and Write said...

Sorry, I don't really like shopping. I try to avoid it at all costs.

Melissa de La Cruz said...

Sara, Hello first off nice to meet you online.. I followed your twitter link...I read your book Story of a Girl and I just loved it, also because I grew up in San Bruno--the Tanforan mall, oh yeah!

But great post about shopping, I am an avid, unapologetic, incorrigible shopper. There are way too many things in my closet with tags still on. I figure after two years I don't feel bad about it anymore and I give them away without feeling terrible.

Here's the thing: you can either suck it up or just dress up. Which is what I do. Yes, California is casual, but I know I look so much better in good clothes and dressed up clothes than in the t-shirt and cargo pants look. Basically only the naturally athletic or the exercise obsessed look good in the California look.

I know because I have TRIED to look as carefree and casual like those girls and I just look... FAT.

The rest of us look so much better dressed up and in fashion. So wear the banana republic dress, but with flip flops! Or with a cardigan which always casual-s (is that a verb) things up.

But wear it -- even tho you are just going to the movies or wherever. You know? You will look better and feel better.. And people will notice and appreciative. I always think dressing up is a nice compliment to make for people. I remember reading something about Alice Trillin once, how she dressed up for her students to inspire them.

As for how to have personal style, I would say find the things that appeal to you and that look good on you and buy those things as much as possible.

It is a long hard road to it though. I have just recently realized I can never wear: dresses with an hourglass shape (as much as I would love to but I never had waist not even when I was not eating french fries in my 20s), maxi dresses and spaghetti straps.

I now only buy dresses and tops with sleeves, are shifts or a-line, and I can wear short because I have my legs and that's all I have at this point.

You have to be pretty honest about yourself and your body, and once you figure out, that if you wear things that are flattering and that also appeal to you (gothic, victorian clothes? romantic bohemian? 90s minimalist) you will have a good uniform to go with.

I agree with Alyson -- uniforms are key. (Hi Alyson! I don't think we've ever met but I've enjoyed your books over the years). And your uniform can change every so often. For most of the 90s I only wore white starched shirts and black Helmut Lang pants. Until suddenly I felt I just looked like catering staff!

Happy shopping!

Sara Z. said...

Melissa - I do just need to say screw it and dress up sometimes for no reason! I have figured out that I like a uniform, too, which for me is jeans (usually boot cut medium rise), t-shirt, and sneakers. So I have put more effort into finding interesting T-shirts and funky sneakers. But not too funky! One thing I have discovered is I am not "funky." I limit my ambitions to "cool" and mostly succeed in "not dorky."

I also have discovered I just do not like flowery, flowy, things. Also, I am the opposite of you: hourglass works for me. Empire waist does NOT. I don't care if people say it is universally flattering. I disagree. If my waist is not accented, I look more or less like a rectangular pillar (if you can be 5'2" and a "pillar") - with empire I look like rectangular pillar with boobs. Who is possibly pregnant. I have gone out in shifts or babydoll styles and still regret. Deeply.