This is a list of questions I need to ask myself before buying anything. I wish I had been given this when I began shopping for my professional wardrobe! It's been a fun exercise and I intend to keep it (a shorter version) with me when shopping. It's also a good replacement for my Strategic Shopping post, as it's more detailed. I tried to encompass enough details so that the questions would hopefully work for others as well.
Can I afford this item?
This isn't about if there's money in the bank that I can use to cover your purchase. The obvious is that if I have to charge it and don't know exactly when I'll pay it back or sacrifice paying bills or even meals to buy it means I absolutely should not buy it. This is about stopping and thinking about the money I am spending- all of it. Purchase price, sales tax, shipping, alteration fees, return fees, and lost dollars on un-returnables. I also may be able to 'afford' it financially, but what am I sacrificing? Is it eating up every spare penny? Am I not saving/investing as much as I wish? Unable to take vacations or spend in other areas? What am I trading for that 25th (or 50th) top? Am I keeping to my budget, and is my budget realistic, reasonable, and most importantly a WISE use of my money? What about the time, energy, mental, physical, and even emotional costs? What about the impact on other people in my life, or even the ethical and environmental implications?
I should have 2-5 'neutral' or core colors that make up at least 50% of my wardrobe (white, beige, tan, camel, brown, chocolate brown, black, light grey, dark grey, navy, olive, etc) and 2-8 accent colors (can include neutrals but make up a smaller % and are my best/most flattering colors). Buying an item that doesn't go with my wardrobe color choices or isn't a flattering color (no matter how much I like it or how pretty it is) means it won't get worn!
Is this item too similar to something I already have?
'Splitting' the wears of an item is usually not a good idea. If it's a replacement, then I must dispose of the other like item immediately or not purchase it at all. If I 'need' two of the same because I wear it so often- branch out a little bit! Wearing the same thing over and over isn't always best. It makes sense to have similar basics in different colors (camisoles or pants for instance) but no-one needs every color a cardigan comes in! Buying back-ups for when an item wears out is also silly and misguided. For example, my black pumps- when they wore out, I was very sad and wished I had purchased a back up pair. Had I, the current black pumps I have would never have been found- and they are more comfortable and stylish than the last pair! If I choose a quality item, by the time it wears out the style may out of date or not as flattering anymore. Branch out- no-one wants to look exactly the same year after year when so much (both physically, culturally, life-style, and even mentally) changes over time. Take a chance, and I may find something I like even better later!
Does it go with items I already have, or does it require me to purchase 'add ons'?
If purchasing something requires purchasing other things to 'go' with it, it's most likely not an appropriate purchase. Anything I buy should 'go' with at least 3 other things I own, and I should be able to create at least 3 different outfits with it. That doesn't mean I can't try new things- but I must be careful about how I do so. I don't want to buy things that require other new things without careful consideration of the total cost, not 'this dress is such a steal at $30! I need a new $50 pair of shoes and a new $30 jacket to go with it, I'll take it! That $100 dress is too expensive though.' This is an easy way to create 'wardrobe orphans' that go with nothing and never get worn.
Does this item suit the style I have or am developing?
Not everything has to be exactly my 'style'. Trying new things is a good thing! But I need to be aware that when my style words are classy, elegant, with a touch of sexy and edge, then items that are bohemian for instance are probably not going to go well. I must focus on my goals, not buying items to try out every new trend and silhouette. It's okay to forgo what is popular at the moment and to stick to classic, tried, and true. I need to be careful when trying out new things, but do try those that make sense and call to me!
Will I wear this item frequently enough to justify purchasing it?
Buying something for a special occasion or as a 'reward' is particularly tricky. I should never reward myself with clothing, no matter what. As for special occasions-I most likely already have something that will work well for that special occasion, so don't use excuses to justify purchases. I don't need a new dress for every birthday! I also want to get the most out of what I buy- buying five cheap $10 tops that I wear once or twice each isn't worth as much as a $50 top I wear 10+ times a year! Also, spending $100 on a fantastic swimsuit I'll only use a couple times a year is another type of spending mistake.
Does this item fit properly?
Fit is the most important aspect to consider. If it doesn't fit, it isn't worth purchasing. I should never buy sizes up or down 'in case' I lose weight. If it's a bit too small, I need to stop thinking I'll lose weight and then fit in it! I must buy for the body I have now (and don't shop/try things on when I haven't eaten anything all day)! Address weight changes as they happen. Does it need alterations? Minor alterations are ok- but I need to figure in the expense when I buy it. I should never try to 'save' poorly fitting garments, and get my purchases altered immediately or don't buy them at all. They do me no good in the alterations bag for months or longer.
Does it flatter my body?
Is it comfortable, and does it stay put or is it fussy? Try it walking, sitting, moving. Try it on with what I would pair it with. It's hard to prevent purchasing items that I like in theory but end up hating because of the smaller issues. Fit is one important part, but the other is the shape, style, and fabric. I need to be better about testing items out before buying or wearing them a full day and then can no longer return them. Spending two seconds in the mirror is not enough consideration! I'm too guilty of getting new things, ecstatically putting them on, twirling around for a minute or two, and taking it off and either immediately keeping or returning. That is not enough time to really consider the purchase the way I should.
Is the garment well made?
I don't want all the effort I put into selecting a purchase to be a waste of time when, after the first wash, it has a hole or fell apart. I need to do better at checking it over and look for signs of poor quality in the stitching or fabric. And even if I like an item, letting it go when I can tell it's poorly made. I've been guilty of doing the opposite in the paste. I need to do a wrinkle release test and do an elasticity bounce-back test. I must choose quality over price, and always take items that turned out to be poor quality back to the store. Stores won't improve quality without feedback and loss of sales!
Is this item appropriate for my lifestyle and my age?
Buying items for imaginary situations and lifestyles is a waste of money. If I never go to the beach, I don't need beach cover-ups, no matter how nice the idea is and how pretty the magazine picture is. I need to stop convincing myself that if I buy this item, I'll find more opportunities to wear it! If I never go to fancy places, I don't need another cocktail dress no matter how pretty it is or how great I look in it. I'm a grown woman, buying juniors items probably isn't going to do me any favors- they're cut for a different body type. If I rarely wear casual clothes, why would I buy more?
Do I have the space for this item?
If I already have more tops than I can wear, I need to try and address that problem first before I buy more tops. If I can't see or remember what I own, and have to cram my new purchases in among everything else I have, I really should stop and work on that problem first before buying more and adding to the problem. No person needs a different garment for every day of the year. I'm very guilty of all of these behaviors in the past!
Do I need this?
Is this item purchased to fill a real, perceived, or emotional need? Is it on my list? Purchases must align with my pre-determined list of 'needs'. This list must have a lot of thought put into it to make sure everything on it is sincerely something that will fit well into my wardrobe, will get a lot of wear, and is a specific need. I should never leave anything open-ended. Another top for variety isn't good enough. A printed lightweight blouse to wear under blazers with trousers to work- that is specific. The point is to avoid impulse purchases and bad decisions when I'm shopping, especially out of sadness, anger, or boredom! It's no longer about the joy of the hunt, or finding 'bargains' or new things to try. No more emotional pick-me-ups or self-esteem boosters. I need to be practical about my shopping, and not shop with just my heart.
Is this a wise use of my item limit?
I limited my purchases this year 45 or less items total (though I'm considering lowering it- this number no longer makes sense, more on that later). To stick to my item limit, I can't buy everything on my 'need' list. I have many, many items I want to replace and a few I want to add. I need to prioritize my shopping list and stop shopping for fun. If I am going to be successful, I have to start shopping smarter.