Building Your Wardrobe: Your What- and Where-to-Buy Guide
In This Chapter
▶ The must-have basics
▶ Where to shop and how to do so without busting the bank
When is the best time to shop? Hmmm...that’s a tough question to answer, right? Here’s the basic rule to follow (unless you’re facing an extreme circumstance, and I mean extreme): Don’t go on a shopping frenzy if you’re feeling down, bloated, or bored. Although you may think these seem like the perfect scenarios to soothe yourself in a time of distress, they’re not. If you’re reading this while in a relatively calm frame of mind, you know where I’m coming from. With that said, for many of us, shopping does the trick when we need a lift, but then the focus should be on what you buy, not how much you buy.
This chapter explains what to do (and not do) to ensure that your forays into clothing shops leave you feeling good and owning items you need, want, look good in, and can afford. It also explains what items you should look for if your closet doesn’t already have them.
There are some items that you absolutely need. These make up the basis of your wardrobe; they’re the must haves, no matter what your style. I call them wardrobe essentials. To be considered a wardrobe essential, an article of clothing has to have several important attributes:
✓ It must be versatile. This is the most important quality of an essential piece of clothing. One key factor in versatility is color. Because ward- robe essentials have to go with lots of other clothing, they tend to be monochromatic and neutral in color. They also must work with different outfits. A blazer that you can pair with a skirt, pants, or a pair of jeans is a good example.
✓ It has to be of good, perhaps even exceptional, quality. A wardrobe essential makes a statement, and anyone looking should be able to tell that it’s top shelf. High quality also means that it wears well — very important for a garment that you’ll rely on again and again.
✓ It should be in a classic style. You don’t want your wardrobe essentials to ever really go out of fashion.
✓ It must be a 10. These garments, like everything in your closet, should have all the qualities of a 10 (refer to Chapter 2), and because they form the basis of your stylish wardrobe, it’s okay to spend a little more for these than you would other, less essential, items.
So what are the basic wardrobe essentials? Read on.
A lot of the items in the following list are black. Why? Because black provides a clean slate on which to build your outfit. Black garments offer many pluses: No one knows how often you wear them. Stains are difficult, if not impossible, to see. The color is flattering on every person and every body type. And with a black basic, you’re free to add color in other areas of your outfit and have fun with prints or great accessories.
Little black dress (LBD)
Ah, the little black dress. It should be sexy, yet sophisticated. It should be well-made and fit like a glove. It should hide your flaws and accentuate your attributes. It should go from day (wear it to the office with a cardigan or blazer and a set of pearls and leather pumps) to night (take off the blazer or cardigan and add some makeup, jewelry, and heels). Really, the little black dress, shown in Figure 7-1, is so versatile, it can go anywhere and be appropriate.
Choose a LBD in the style that suits you, makes you feel comfortable, and looks most like you. It can be sleeveless, have cap sleeves, or have 3⁄4-length sleeves. It can have a V-neck, boat neck, crew neck, or square neck. It can be knee-length, a little longer, a little shorter, or miniskirt length. Really, the LBD is both universal and individual at the same time. Find one that makes you feel fabulous and make the investment because this is one piece that really gives you your money’s worth!
Figure 7-1: Pearls and pumps make the LBD simple yet chic.
The black blazer is key in your wardrobe. Because it’s black, it goes with virtually every- thing. You can change the look just by changing the accessories. (And, as I mentioned previously, because it’s black, no one will notice how often you wear it.)
Although it doesn’t need to be ridiculously expensive or high-end, the blazer does need to fit you perfectly and work with your body type. If you want to appear taller or longer, choose a blazer that’s longer. If you want toaccentuate your beautiful waistline, make sure it’s fitted in the waist area. Also make sure it’s current. Avoid one that looks like something from the 80s — oversized with enormous shoulder pads.
Should you go with a double- or single- breasted blazer? My advice is choose a single- breasted one. You can wear a single-breasted blazer comfortably and fashionably either open or closed, and you have the option of wearing it over dresses or skirts, as well as pants. (Don’t underestimate the power of a black blazer and jeans. As Figure 7-2 shows it’s a classic look that can take you from day to night. It’s my go-to outfit when in doubt!)
Don’t be afraid to make the blazer your own: Add a favorite pin to the lapel if you want to jazz it up when the occasion calls for it. A black blazer doesn’t have to be boring. Again, it’s a basic that you can build your outfit around.
Figure 7-2: You can never go wrong with a black blazer and blue jeans.
Crisp, white button-down shirt
The white button-down shirt should fit you well. Nothing oversized here. At first glance, your white shirt may look no different than the one your husband or boyfriend wears under his suits, but yours is made and cut specifically for a woman. It should be flatter- ing and accentuate your best features. You can wear a white shirt on its own, tucked in or out, under a sweater, under a jacket, or as part of a suit. Keep the following things in mind as you decide on your white shirt:
✓ Style: The more expensive shirts look a little dressier and need to be pressed (otherwise, they look messy), but if you’re buying only one, a dressier shirt is the way to go because it’s more versatile. You can dress it up for work under a suit or on its own with slacks or a great skirt. Or you can dress it down by putting it under a sweater or with a pair of jeans. Less fancy shirts are also an option if you’re planning to wear the shirt only as casual dress. This type is good with jeans or tied at the waist over a bikini, for example. These shirts aren’t as structured and don’t need to be pressed.
If you have a great waist, buy a fitted shirt; if not, buy one that is cut straight.
✓ Material: Whether dressy or more casual, the white shirt is generally made of cotton. If you can, go for combed cotton, which means that longer fibers were used; these fibers are stronger and give the material a more luxurious appearance. Many shirts designed for office wear are made of cotton in an oxford weave. Although a comfortable type of cotton, these types of shirts don’t wear as well, and tend to pill at the collar and cuffs. Cotton broadcloth is sturdier and resists soiling.
✓ Construction: Because your collar is usually at eye level, make sure it’s sewn properly. Women’s button-down shirts don’t generally have actual buttons on the collar that button down to the shirt, so make sure there are no puckers in the material and that it lays flat.
Brooks Brothers (www.brooksbrothers.com) makes an iron-free, non- wrinkle shirt that you don’t have to dry clean. You can throw it in the dryer and it comes out looking perfect!
A pair of high-quality, flat front, black trousers are a necessity in every ward- robe. Stay away from pleats because they only accentuate an area that no one really needs accentuating! If you can buy only one pair of trousers, select a length that matches the heel height you most commonly wear. And choose a lightweight wool that will work in summer or winter.
If you can buy another pair of trousers, ivory is great to have (even in the winter). I love winter white! It’s such a refreshing change in the darker months, and it shows that you have style and are daring enough to let everyone know it.
Knee-length black skirt
Every woman should have a knee-length black skirt that fits perfectly and gives her a slim appearance. The particular style is up to you (and what looks good on your body type): It can be a pencil skirt or an A-line skirt (head to Chapter 9 to see a range of skirt styles). So that it can go from season to season, look for one that’s a lightweight wool.
Think how much you can do with the basic black skirt. Not only is black always flattering, but the outfit possibilities are endless — a beautiful blouse, a gorgeous sweater, and high boots or pumps. You can pair a knee-length skirt with solids, such as a basic white cardigan set (see Figure 7-3) or with a fabulous print. If you keep the outfit simple, you can liven it up with great jewelry or a great bag.
Figure 7-3: The basic black skirt and sweater set — always chic and classic.
Classic beige trench coat
The classic trench is a necessary staple because it never goes out of style and you can wear it in just about any season — spring, summer, fall, and, depending on the winter temperatures where you live, some- times winter. If you stick to a classic trench coat, it will last you for years. When choosing a trench coat, follow these suggestions:
✓ Make sure the coat fits in the shoulders. You don’t want to be drowning in your coat. You should always be wearing your clothes; they should not be wearing you.
✓ Choose a style and length that gives you the look you want. Decide whether you want it to cinch at the waist or be looser fit. A belted trench flatters your waistline in contrast to your shoulders and the overall volumeof the coat itself. If you plan to wear it over dresses and pants, make sure it’s long enough that your dresses aren’t sticking out the bottom. You can get away with a shorter trench if you are only going to wear it with pants or jeans (see Figure 7-4).
✓ Make sure the coat doesn’t overwhelm you. If you’re on the smaller side, pick a coat that’s less busy, that is, has less going on with the pockets, lapels, buttons, and so on, and make sure it’s single-breasted. If you’re taller, you can carry off a more traditional looking double- breasted trench.
Because you’ll probably buy only one trench coat, make sure it goes with everything in your closet and that it’s a length to give you the look you want.
Figure 7-4: Make sure you wear the trench and that it doesn’t wear you!
Black leather bag
You can look at a bag as something handy to carry your makeup, cell phone, and other necessities, or you can look at it as a great way to show off your sense of style. Or better yet, why not have both! Most women buy one great bag for the season and carry it everywhere.
A black leather bag is a perfect everywhere bag, a bag you can wear to work, to lunch, to dinner, and even shopping on the weekend. It goes with everything, and you’ll feel comfortable using it with whatever color or prints you may be wearing. It should be medium-sized: large enough to hold whatever you need during the day but not so large that it looks awkward if you find yourself running straight out to dinner with it.
I highly recommend having several bags in your arsenal so that you can accessorize your various outfits, but as a go-to bag for every day, the black leather bag is key. You live out of your bag, so this isn’t an item to skimp on. And just the way you notice every other woman’s bag, every other woman will be taking notice of yours, so make sure it gives a good first impression of you!
Quality blue jeans
Everyone should have a pair of favorite jeans — you know, the kind of jeans that make you feel sexy, pulled together, and comfortable. These jeans should be current in style, and the cut should be one that flatters your best assets. The great news is that nowadays jeans companies are making jeans to accommodate every body type. So figure out what your body type is (refer to Chapter 3 for help), then pick the cut of your jeans accordingly. Some suggestions:
✓ If you have great legs, you may want a pair of skinny jeans.
✓ If you want to direct attention away from your waist area, choose a flared jean.
✓ If you have a great waistline and want to draw attention to it, go for a pair of high-waisted jeans.
Jeans can get a little pricey, but you can still get a great pair for around, or even under, $100. And always check the sale section because jeans do actually go on sale — a great price break if you can find your size. If you are only investing in one pair of jeans, go with dark denim. They are more slimming and more versatile. You can wear them totally casual during the day, and you can dress them up for night.
Pair of black pumps
Every woman needs a pair of “go to” shoes. Along the same lines as the little black dress and the black skirt, a pair of black pumps serves you well. Black pumps go with everything, they won’t get too dirty, and they can also go from day to night. If you can afford only one pair of black pumps, go with a dressier pair; shoes are generally easier to dress down than to dress up.
When buying shoes, make sure they’re comfortable! Don’t expect them to “break in.” You’re going to spend some money on them because shoes tend to cost a bit more, so please, please, please make sure they fit right. For more on sizing shoes, head to Chapter 16.
White and black cardigan sweaters
Cardigan sweaters are great for those times when you don’t know what the weather will be like or if it’s the middle of summer and you get stuck in a ridiculously cold air-conditioned restaurant or office. If you get warm, you can always throw the cardigan over your shoulders and tie around your neck, and if you’re chilly, you can wear it.
If you can afford it, get your cardigans in a light cashmere. If you can’t afford cashmere, a great cotton does the trick! Whether cotton or cashmere, a good- quality cardigan sweater should last a very long time. You can find great cardigans at a store like Gap or Old Navy for a very reasonable price. (Target also has great ones.) You should be able to purchase a cotton cardigan for $50 or less.
Want more than black and white? Cardigans come in all sorts of other colors. Spring is a great time to buy cotton cardigans, which are generally a spring item and the stores will be well stocked. You can buy cashmere whenever; they generally have seasonal colors, too.
Figure 7-5: Pearls are not just for Grandma.
Set of pearls
A set of pearls can be a beautiful accent to any outfit. They’re perfect for the office and for a formal affair. Obviously, real pearls are expensive, so if you can borrow from Grandma — lucky you! If not, you can buy fakes. Just play around with them.
Pearls aren’t just for those who prefer classic styles. There are many ways to wear them, and a long strand can be worn with a funkier outfit. Remember, they don’t have to look like your grandma’s pearls if your outfit isn’t like grandma’s (see Figure 7-5).
You can get a nice strand of pearls that will do the trick at a good trimmings store. Try layering a few strands. M&J Trimming sells them for $10 each. If you’re not able to visit the New York store, get them online at www.mjtrim.com.
Diamond studs, or shall we say cubics!
You definitely don’t want to leave your ears bare, and diamond studs go perfectly with everything. If you are heading to work in a suit and then out at night in jeans and a blouse, studs are the perfect complement. They’re classy, and you can throw them on without worrying whether they go with what you’re wearing because diamonds go with everything!
Don’t have the money for genuine diamonds studs? Don’t worry. Buy cubic zirconia instead; just keep them small.
Making the Most of Your Shopping Excursions
In real estate, it’s location, location, location. In clothes shopping, it’s focus, focus, focus. If you know what you want and how much you want to spend for it, every shopping expedition can work like a well-oiled machine. But if you shop with your eyes darting at every item that attracts your attention, you can be sure that you’re going to wind up buying the wrong items for your wardrobe. The time to act like a kid in a candy store is . . . when you’re a kid in a candy store.
Budgeting for your fashion wardrobe It’s possible to spend an almost unlimited amount of money on clothes. After all, Imelda Marcos, former first lady of the Philippines, left behind over 1,200 pairs of shoes when she had to flee the presidential palace. Throw jewelry into the mix, and she spent even more. But most of us don’t have unlimited budgets. The trick is to dress fashionably within your budget.
To paraphrase Mick Jagger, you can’t always get what you want, but if you try, you can usually get what you need. The first thing to do when putting together a clothing budget is to figure out what you need versus what you want. If you don’t have a black blazer, for example, then that’s a need. If you have a black blazer, but you’d like a new one by Ralph Lauren, that’s a want. When you think about how much to budget, be willing to spend more on the must-have items because they need to last a long time. Consider these purchases investments.
The next thing to do is to determine how much you have available to spend. If you have enough to afford both what you need and what you want, lucky you. If not, focus on the needs. As explained earlier, they form the basis of your wardrobe and, because of their versatility, can be worn in a variety of situations and expand your wardrobe. What should you do with your list of wants? Write them down on a piece of paper that you keep with you when you go shopping, in case you see an item from your want list on sale.
Many people don’t bother with a clothing budget, and that’s a mistake. Using a budget — that is, knowing how much you can spend on an item and keeping track of when you spend more or less — allows you to buy more clothes, not less. If you know you saved money on a pair of black pumps, for example, you can add your savings to the money you’re putting away for the diamond studs, and eventually you’ll get them. But if you don’t keep track, then those studs will always remain far off in the distance.
Figure out how much you can pay before looking for a particular article of clothing. By having a top price in mind while you’re going through the racks, you can eliminate anything that costs a lot more, thus saving you time.
The following sections explain how to get the most for your hard-earned money.
Focusing on quality
When it comes to building your wardrobe, quality is more important than quantity for two basic reasons: One, better-quality clothing lasts longer. If you spend twice as much for a trench coat and it lasts you three times as long as a cheaper coat, you’re actually ahead of the game. True story: The year I graduated from the University of Michigan, I used most of my graduation money to buy a black, Prada-belted raincoat that goes with everything. That was over ten years ago, and I still wear that same raincoat. The point? Investing in fine, good clothing is a bargain. I would rather you buy one fabulous item and mix and match it than ten that are just “eh.”
So does that mean you should buy the $25 pair of plastic flip-flops rather than the 99-cent store variety? Absolutely not. Sometimes it makes sense to buy an item that is less expensive (when an item is trendy, for example, or when it’s made of a material that doesn’t shout out “This only costs $10!”). But more often than not, a quality item will be recognized for what it is, and it doesn’t need a fancy label for that to happen. (I don’t encourage wearing items that scream a certain designer anyway.) Even if people don’t know exactly why one leather bag stands out more than others, they can still tell the difference. And trust me, you’ll feel great every time you wear that great investment piece that you waited to buy.
Shopping to look, not to buy
In English, we call it window-shopping. In French, it’s called leche carreau, which translates into “window licking” (when you think about it, it’s an apt term for the fabulous windows in the Parisian fashion houses like Dior, Chanel, and Hermes that can easily cause you to drool when the prices may make it impossible for you to buy). But window-shopping serves a greater function than just being a way to spend a Saturday afternoon when you don’t have money to spend. If you approach it as a learning experience rather than a shopping trip, it can be time very well spent. To get the most of your window shopping excursions, do the following:
✓ Adjust your attitude. When browsing, don’t let yourself get frustrated because you can’t plunk down the cash for everything that you see or try on.
✓ Don’t stay out of high-end department stores or boutiques because you can’t afford to buy. These stores shouldn’t intimidate you, nor
should you think that you shouldn’t try anything on if you can’t afford to buy. You should try on designer clothing if you fall in love with it. Doing so gives you an idea of what you’re looking for, and perhaps you’ll find
a similar look in another store that is in your price-range. Knowledge is power, and if you see something you like, try it on! Trust me, the fashion police are not going to come and get you just because you had no intention of buying.
✓ Comparison shop. You know that you’re eventually going to buy something, so think of window-shopping as preparation. You no doubt already comparison shop for big-ticket items. Not many of us buy the first car we see. Window-shopping gives you the same opportunity with clothing: It lets you make sure that you’re getting the best item for your needs.
✓ Understand how anticipation can increase the ultimate satisfaction you feel when you do eventually buy. As you slowly narrow down your search (taking your time is important) and as the moment of purchase actually approaches, you’ll feel more and more excited, and the purchase itself will give you that much more satisfaction — certainly more than if you just ran into a store, grabbed a few things, and took them home.
Choosing your wingman (or woman)
Sometimes you go shopping to buy a specific item, and other times you go shopping to, well, just go shopping. Some people like to hunt solo (which is totally cool if you are 100 percent confident in your judgment), and others need approval on every hair band purchased. Most of us fall somewhere between the two extremes. So what type of person do you need by your side when trying to find whatever you are looking for that day?
Choosing a friend
The best people to take shopping with you are the people who
✓ Make you feel secure
✓ Have your best interests at heart
✓ Give you his or her honest opinion
✓ Knows what you can and can’t afford
If the person you are with fits these requirements, you are sure to walk out with only 10s for your closet.
In his comic strip, poor Dagwood is often shown shopping with his wife, burdened down with a mountain of packages. While a husband may make a good schlepper, most husbands, boyfriends, or partners may not want the role of the professional bag-carrier. So should you or shouldn’t you shop with your significant other? If he (or she) does all the things in the preceding list, go for it.
Shopping with a sales associate
Whether you know what you’re looking for or not, a sales associate can be very helpful to you. She knows what merchandise is in the store better than anyone and can direct you efficiently to areas that may be just what you’re looking for. Sales associates also know what’s trendy or current, and they can make your shopping experience a whole lot easier.
The thing to be careful of when working with a sales associate is overspending. If you stay focused, the salesperson can expedite shopping for you. But if you’re aimlessly wandering and vulnerable to outside influences, especially if you’re on your own, you could end up spending a whole lot more than you bargained for. Make sure that you shop in stores where you can return the merchandise without a problem.
Many times sales associates work on commission. Although you’re looking for the approval of another person, it’s hard to fully trust someone you know benefits from the sale. The best advice I can give is if you love an item, see if it is refundable, buy it, and then try it on at home or in front of someone you truly trust.
Keeping up the pace: Shopping tempo
As you may have observed, most retail establishments don’t have clocks in clear view. Why? Because retailers know that if you feel rushed, you’re likely to make fewer purchases. Which should tell you something about choosing your shopping tempo. Dawdle too long, and you’re probably going to end up buying something that you’ll later regret. Certainly you don’t want to make mistakes because you were rushing around too quickly, but if you are back and forth about a certain item, chances are it is not a must-have. Remember, the 10s (refer to Chapter 2) should be obvious in the mirror when you try them on!
Having a hard time making up your mind? There’s nothing wrong with leaving the store and taking some time to think about it. Almost every store will hold things, unless they’re on sale, for at least 24 hours. If you leave the store and are still thinking about the garment the next day, chances are you really want it. If you haven’t given it a second thought, then lucky you didn’t buy it because you obviously didn’t love it enough anyway.
Checking out the details
Okay, so you’ve found a fabulous must-have. Good for you! But before swiping your credit card, you need to take a few more steps:
✓ Carefully examine the garment. Check for any signs of damage. Make sure any closures, especially zippers, are in working order.
If you do find a small defect, don’t be too quick to put the garment aside.
If it’s small enough that no one looking at it could detect it, you may be able to show it to a floor manager, get a decent price reduction, and walk out with quite a bargain. If an item isn’t perfect, 10 to 20 percent is a fair discount to ask for, depending on the damage. If the item is just dirty, stores often give you 10 percent off for dry-cleaning.
✓ If you didn’t actually try on the garment, make sure it wasn’t mislabeled. There may be a different size on the inside than is marked on the store label, for example.
Many places try to get you to spend your hard-earned dollars in their retail emporium. Each type offers different advantages and disadvantages, and you should know what options are near you so that you can make an informed choice of where to purchase your clothes.
Department stores offer you the biggest selection of clothes to choose from, which can definitely be a time saver. Many department stores are part of national chains, like Macy’s, which because of their buying power, can offer attractive prices. A department store is also a one-stop shop, so that you can buy not only clothes, but also shoes, accessories, coats, and jewelry. But sometimes having so much to choose from can end up being confusing and make it harder to decide. And the sales help in a department store can be hit or miss.
Each department store is slightly different, some being more upscale than others. They all have sales, so you can save money on quality clothes if you’re willing to be patient. It’s also very easy to return clothes because even if you’re not nearby the store from which you actually purchased the item, you can return it to a different branch.
Dressing room etiquette
The advantage of shopping in a store is that you can try on the clothes before buying them (duh!). That means going into a dressing room, which should be a straightforward enough activity, right? But there are rules, especially if you’re shopping in a store you go to often. If you bring in a large amount of clothing, put the items back on the hanger after you’re done trying them on. It doesn’t have to be perfectly done, but leav- ing a mess in the dressing room is not proper etiquette, nor does it fit in with the fabulous
new you. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for bigger or smaller sizes, other items that you remember seeing, and heels (or flats) in your size to see how that particular outfit will look. At some of the less-expensive chain stores, you will not have the luxury of a tailor or shoe options to try on, but at department stores you should be able to reap many of the benefits. After all, if you’re paying for something, you should get what you pay for.
Inexpensive and trendy stores
Let’s face it — everyone wants a bargain, but no one wants to look like they’re wearing hand-me-downs. Luckily, several chains offer the hottest clothes at really affordable prices. H&M, the Swedish chain that first spread across Europe, has landed in America and is quickly spreading itself from sea to shining sea. Forever 21 was founded in Los Angeles and now has over 1,500 stores across the country. Other popular chains include Wet Seal, Charlotte Russe, and Urban Outfitters.
These types of stores are great places to buy trendy items. While you may occasionally be able to find classic pieces in these places, their real forte involves fun jewelry, layering T-shirts, and look-at-me tops.
Chain stores have buyers who shop for the entire chain. The buyers for boutique stores, often the owner, shop only for their boutiques. Although boutique buyers could choose the same dress that you’d find in Macy’s, usually fashion boutiques offer items that aren’t being sold everywhere else. Boutiques also generally have a much smaller quantity of merchandise, and, even if they do have the same dress that’s in Bloomingdale’s, it’s probably at a higher price.
There are many more boutiques than department stores, and each one has its own personal vision. Most feature trendier items mixed with more classic pieces. The main advantage a boutique offers is service. The sales associate is both knowledgeable and helpful. And if you’re a regular customer, she’ll probably learn your tastes and may let you know when a new piece has arrived that she thinks you’ll like. Boutique prices may be a bit higher, but your overall shopping experience will also be quite pleasant. If you don’t have to worry too much about what you spend, a boutique could be the ideal place for you to shop.
Boutique shopping is a great way to help form your personal style. Most boutiques help you focus on what you like and are not as overwhelming as department stores.
The first mail-order catalogue was created by none other than Ben Franklin in 1744. Although he was selling academic books, catalogue shopping has been a convenient alternative ever since (even though online shopping is now giving catalogues a run for their money).
Since you can’t touch or try on the clothes that you buy through a catalogue, you have to trust the catalogue company to do a good job in offering you quality merchandise. Many catalogue companies have thrived doing just that. Yes, you can send anything you buy back, in some cases even years later, but the repacking and mailing process is a pain. On the other hand, you can leaf through a catalogue while commuting or in bed.
Shopping for clothes online can be very efficient, saving you the time it takes to get to the store(s), the cost of gas, and the wear and tear that a day of shop- ping takes on your body. Shopping online also eliminates having to fight your way through the crowds and increases your chances of saving a bundle of money because of the fierce competition between online markets. In addition to the savings, you get immediate access to the widest possible selection of merchandise, and you can shop whenever you want to, even at 3 o’clock in the morning. So why doesn’t everyone shop online? Usually for these reasons:
✓ You can’t try on the clothing. Of course, you can try it on after you buy it and (most of the time) send it back if it doesn’t work out. But that can take days or weeks and you have to put in the effort of rewrapping it and going to the post office. If you were in an actual dressing room, all you’d have to do is put it back on the rack.
✓ You don’t get to feel the material and look closely at the way the garment has been made. Chapter 4 has information on why garment construction is important.
Do what many online buyers do: Go to an actual brick-and-mortar store to try on and touch the merchandise and then go home and look for the cheapest price online.
✓ You may have to pay extra for shipping costs. Many online stores these
days try to lure you to make a purchase by offering free shipping. Just
double-check that you don’t have to pay for shipping if you have to send something back.
✓ You have to pay by credit card. Many people shy away from buying goods online because they’re afraid of giving out their credit card number. Of course many of those same people gladly hand their card to a waiter who could easily write down the number as well as the security code. While online shopping is usually safe and millions shop online with their credit card every day, the possibility does exist for fraud; however, because of the Fair Credit Billing Act, your financial risk for unauthorized use is limited to $50.
Because the e-retail industry knows that this fear is holding many people back, retailers are coming up with various ways to increase the public’s confidence. The buy SAFE Web site rates over 300,000 e-retailers. Those that have passed its standards (which include examining each site’s encryption procedures) are allowed to display the buy SAFE logo (see Figure 7-6). buy SAFE also has its own shopping portal which provides a $25,000 bond on each purchase and 30 days worth of ID theft protection insurance.
Another solution is to use PayPal. Your credit information is stored on PayPal’s server, and PayPal pays the merchant, so your credit information remains in one secure place and is not given to the merchants.
Not every online site accepts PayPal, but more and more are doing so. Another alternative is to buy a gift card, which both MasterCard and Visa offer. The gift cards do have limitations and fees, but as with PayPal, the company from which you’re purchasing doesn’t get to see your credit card number.
Figure 7-6: A buy SAFE logo.
Where to look
Almost every major clothing store has a Web site where you can purchase everything featured in its stores, and then some. No matter where you live, you can shop online at any store across the country and around the world. In addition to Web sites associated with the big clothing stores, thousands of online stores aren’t associated with so-called brick-and-mortar stores. These stores carry clothing that you can’t find anywhere else. So the more important question when shopping online is not how broad a selection there is but how to narrow it down so that you don’t get overwhelmed. There’s no easy answer, but you can employ a couple different strategies:
✓ Search by store. Type names of stores you already know (like Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s) into your browser, then search the site for the item you’re looking for. The downside of this strategy is that you’ll see only what that particular store offers and you may not be getting the lowest possible price.
✓ Let someone else narrow down the possibilities. If you use Google Directory (www.google.com/dirhp), for example, and look under Shopping and then select Clothing, you get a list to choose from of every type of clothing, ranked by popularity (in Google). Just because a site is popular doesn’t guarantee that you’ll find anything you like, but it’s a good way to narrow down the sites you visit. (Of course on the Web, “narrow down” is a relative term. At the time I wrote this, Google offered 324 sites under the women’s clothing category alone. So while this strategy does narrow things down a bit, it’s still a large selection, and one you couldn’t possibly go through in one sitting.)
Mark your favorite sites so you can easily go back to them later. If you find a Web site that you like and know you’ll want to go back to it, put it on your Favorites list or bookmark it.
Making allies online
While online shopping may tend to be a solitary pleasure, you don’t really have to tackle this job all by yourself. There are two sets of allies that you can use to help you: family and friends (of course) and bloggers.
✓ Friends and family members: Let’s say you just spent an hour checking out some new Web sites that sell clothes. Make a list of the places you visited and your opinions about those places (“good selection of shoes, not much in the way of plus sizes, and so on”) and send that list to your allies in shopping. If they return the favor for sites they visit, you’ll soon have a good list of sites worth visiting, as well as those to stay away from.
✓ Bloggers: While you may not have the time to visit a lot of Web sites, bloggers do. It’s not hard to find fashion bloggers because most of them link to each other’s blogs, so if you find one, you’ll quickly be able to see who the other major bloggers are. They all have their specialties, and you’ll soon learn which blogs you want to check regularly for sales and other fashion tips. If you love fashion, reading all these blogs can become addictive, so try to be selective.
To get started, go to Google (or your favorite search engine like Yahoo or AOL) and type in fashion blog to see a list. The ones listed at the top generally include sites that offer a directory of fashion blogs: www. apparelsearch.com/Fashion/Fashion_Blogs.htm and nymag. com/daily/fashion are two available directories as of this writing.
One easy way to see what’s new on the blogs is to use RSS feeds, which are basically updates sent out by Web sites. You need a place to assemble these feeds, like Netvibes (www.netvibes.com). After you open an account, which is easy and free, you can create a fashion area and subscribe to the RSS feed on your favorite blogs. Then all you have to do is go to your Netvibes site to quickly see all the updates from the blogs you’ve selected. This can be a real time saver.
Vintage and consignment stores
When people clean out their closets, looking to give worn-out pieces to char- ity, they usually give to an organization like The Salvation Army. But vintage clothing takes quite a different path. Just like a boutique owner shops for items that she likes among the clothing manufacturers, the owner of a vintage store looks for used clothing that stands out. Now there are thrift shops that represent charities where people may donate designer clothing, and if you have one in your neighborhood, great. But keep in mind that shopping in a vintage clothing store is not something you do to save money (not everything in a vintage store is inexpensive; in fact, it can be the opposite), but because you expect to find unique items to help you define your own personal style.
✓ Quality vintage clothing shops. At these shops, you’ll likely find original Dior, Chanel, and other very high-end designer dresses, blouses, skirts, and more. These pieces are great to have. Chances are there aren’t any others like them still around, so you never have to worry about being
in the same dress as anyone else at the party. These vintage pieces are also a great way to express your sense of style. They show that you’re savvy enough to appreciate fine designer workmanship and bold enough to wear something different from everyone else. As far as cost, each piece is unique and is priced based on the designer, the workmanship, and the condition of the garment.
In some cases, you will be able to find a vintage designer piece for less than the original cost, but in others, the price could be very high. So don’t go vintage shopping thinking that used means you’ll get a bargain. In many cases the items have only been worn a few times, if at all. Just like classic wardrobe essentials though, a great vintage piece will stand
the test of time, and if it’s in your budget, it could be well worth the investment.
✓ Thrift stores. These stores are another option when looking for vintage clothing. Chances are good that you won’t find the most high-end pieces there, but you never know what you may come across if you take the time to search through the merchandise.
✓ Consignment stores. People who drop off clothes to these stores expect to get money for them when the clothes are sold. The people running such stores only take clothes that are in good shape, so the price may be a little higher, as both the store and the owner expect to make some money. Still the selection is decent and the prices still very reasonable.
What happens to the designer wear that’s made to be shown to buyers but doesn’t get sold? Since they cost a fortune to make (because they’re all hand-made), rather than let them go to waste, they’re sold in what are called sample sales. While you may only know the very top names in fashions, liter- ally hundreds of designers work in the fashion industry with their own lines, and they all have sample sales, so there can be lots to choose from, though obviously you can’t expect to find a wide variety of sizes as these clothes were made to be worn by models.
To find out where the latest sample sales are being held, go to www.top button.com. This site is free, but you have to register. Otherwise, you can purchase a copy of New York Magazine or Time Out New York at the newsstand. You can also find sample sales in other cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston, but there aren’t as many as in New York. Check www.dailycandy.com, which covers all the big cities across the U.S. and always has information on sample sales, boutique openings, and more.
You can even find sample sales online now. Certain Web sites have sales last- ing for 48 hours or so for designer merchandise. The good news is that the merchandise for sale isn’t just samples; the sites have excess stock, so you have a better chance of getting your size. A couple of good ones to check out are www.hautelook.com and www.gilt.com. After you register, you’ll get e-mails about upcoming sales.
A shopaholic is a person who needs to shop and does it excessively. If you’ve got the time and the bank account to afford to use shopping as a form of entertainment or therapy, then more power to you. But most of us don’t, and so allocating large chunks of both time and money to shopping for clothes poses dangers to those who get so caught up shopping that they leave reality behind and end up with bulging closets and skeleton-thin wallets. This section may not be able to help shopaholics lose their addiction to shopping, but it can help you improve your shopping experience and cut down both the time and money you spend to create a fashionable wardrobe.
Making a list and checking it twice
I know what you’re thinking, “Does she really think that every time I go to the mall or my favorite store, I’m going to make a list of what I need and stick to it?” Well, that is sort of what I’m saying, but hear me out.
Most people make a shopping list before going to the supermarket, for sev- eral reasons, the most important of which is so that, when they actually return home, they have what they need. The same idea applies to clothes shopping.
Many of us shop as a way to blow off steam and brighten the day a little. And that’s okay — sometimes. The key is that you have to be smart about it. Here’s a strategy you can use to make your shopping trips more productive, without losing all the spontaneity and fun:
1. With our list of “must-haves” in mind, take inventory of your closet (refer to the earlier section “Wardrobe Essentials”).
When scanning your closet, make sure every item you keep is a 10 — meaning each of your staple items must be the right fabric, must fit you perfectly, and must look like you bought it at the start of the season (even if you didn’t).
2. Make a list of what you actually need in your wardrobe.
If you’re into gadgets, feel free to make this list electronically.
3. The next time you feel like just buying something, like so many of us do, buy something from the list.
That way, you still get the boost of a shopping pick-me-up and are productive at the same time, because in the process you got something you needed.
Having a wish-list of items that you want to save up for, hope for as a gift, or want in a less-expensive version is totally appropriate (and fun!). Some people have a folder of tear-outs from magazines of things they would kill for — and you never know when those items may go on sale. If you’re one of these people, you may not need a tangible list (when you see it you’ll know it), but it’s good to have these items stored in the back of your head for those “you never know” times!
Spur-of-the-moment shopping without busting the bank
Now I know what you’re thinking: You have a big party Saturday night, and you really want to buy something new to wear. Trust me, I get it! Before you run out and impulsively buy an expensive new dress, try this: Go into your closet and pick out the dress that already fits you perfectly and hugs you in all the right places. Then hit the stores with that dress in mind and look for a statement necklace or a pair of beautiful chandelier earrings to spice it up. Going in with this approach lets you add another dimension to your ward- robe, because not only will you have a knockout necklace for your big party, but next week, you can wear that same piece of jewelry with jeans and a white T-shirt! Often, you’ll find that just buying something new gives you that natural high.
You can also look at sales racks. Because something is on sale doesn’t mean it’s of poor quality. Great pieces that don’t move in a certain amount of time are forced onto the sales rack to make space for new inventory. When you scan the sales rack, keep the basics on your mind. That perfect pencil skirt is often waiting right there. The sales rack is also good for those impulse pur- chases. If you see a trendy item that you want but know won’t last through the season, buy it on sale.
Use electronic devices — digital cameras or phones with cameras, for example — to help avoid buying something you’ll regret or don’t need:
✓ Take a picture of a top or skirt in your closet that you’re looking to match. This way when you are in the mall, you can refer to the picture while on your hunt.
✓ Need a second opinion? Camera phones can help. It’s always a good idea to e-mail a friend who is honest if you are teetering on buying that perfect outfit (especially if it’s not refundable!).
Many stores don’t allow you to take photos of yourself in their clothing, but some don’t make a fuss. Many high-end stores (especially boutiques) enforce this rule because they don’t want people taking pictures of their items and then copying their designs. So if you try to take a picture and the salesperson tells you they don’t allow it, just apologize and put your camera away. If the salesperson doesn’t mind and thinks you’re a serious buyer who’s just getting reinforcement from a trusted friend, she may even take the picture!