Every now and then, I have to run out and buy a bunch of clothes all at once for work, then test them out, and then return whatever isn’t right. This has taught me a lot about shopping. Here are my tips for being an amazing shopper:
Start with breakfast, and caffiene. Shopping with low blood sugar is like being on a plane with a screaming baby, when you’re the baby.
Know what you want, at least vaguely. A ballpark idea, like “I would like a warm, professional-looking sweater in a neutral colour” is a much better start than “…um.” Look on the internet for inspiration if you really don’t know.
Do your hair, wear a little makeup, shave your legs, etc. Clothing stores are full of mirrors, and if you look like a peehole in a snowbank, seeing the proof again and again in a million mirrors is demoralizing.
4. Go alone.
Friends are fun for browsing, but if you really need to get specific items, bringing friends just makes everything take longer.
5. Dress for the mission.
Wear clothes & shoes that come off easily- avoid your “thigh-high lace-up-boots-worn-with-a-damp-swimsuit” outfit just this once, maybe.
Wearing a tight, plain tank top or T-shirt under your shirt will make life easier too, because you can try things on faster and with less privacy if you’re already wearing a fitted layer.
Wear a nice, plain outfit that matches the formality of the outfit you’re trying to buy. This way, things you try on will match with whatever you’re already wearing, which takes a lot of the guesswork out of trying stuff on.
Also, wear (or bring) the right kind of shoes for the outfit you’re trying to buy. It sucks trying on a dress if you’re wearing sneakers.
6. Travel light.
Wear a thin jacket or none at all. Don’t bother with scarves, mitts, umbrellas, etc- the less you bring, the less you have to carry.
7. Use your camera.
Especially if you’re trying to match your new purchases to stuff you already have, either to finish an outfit or to create, say, a new work wardrobe. Grab the outfits you already like & lay them out on your bed (or hang them on a hook)- then take photos of them. These are known in the film industry as “Wardrobe Polaroids”. But who owns a Polaroid camera these days? Use your digital camera, and just leave the photos on there so you can quickly scroll through them in a store. This makes it easy to see, at a glance, how many outfits those new yellow hot pants will match. (Hint: ALL OF THEM.)
8. Conserve energy.
Go the the likeliest and largest stores first, when you have the most pep in your step.
9. Overbuy & return later.
Some big chain stores have amazing return policies- like H&M, Gap, Old Navy, Smart Set, Winners, and Banana Republic. In those stores, frankly, I don’t always even bother trying stuff on (especially H&M, with its madhouse changerooms packed with teens). Those stores allow returns for a full refund with absolutely no hassle, and since I pass the mall on my way home anyway, there’s no reason not to just do a second errand later that week to return stuff. Plus, that errand will give me something to check off my to-do list on another day, which is the exact definition of “productivity”.
Since I generally know my size, I’ll just buy whatever-it-is in my size and maybe the next size up, as well. Then I can try stuff on at home, where I can futz around with accessories and indulge my miniature attention span by making decisions while I watch Jon & Kate Plus 8. Once I bought THREE HUNDRED BUCKS worth of stuff at H&M in a single trip, do you have any idea how many pounds of clothing $300 will get you at H&M?
But after some trying on, I returned all but two items a few days later, how reasonable, right? No fuss, no muss. I seriously recommend this. Sometimes the salesgirl will look at you wide-eyed and ask, “You’re returning all this? Are you a stylist?” That’s because you’re so stylish! (Also, say no. Some stores will charge stylists a percentage fee, but they won’t press it if you just tell them you’re not. If they don’t believe you, show them your yellow hot pants.)
10. Consolidate purchases.
Put all your shopping bags together in one big bag. Carrying it all in only one bag means you’re less likely to accidentally forget stuff along the way.
A parable: I once bought a LabelMaker (I know!) and then forgot it in Urban Outfitters. By the time I remembered it, some hipster had stolen it, no doubt to make ironic labels for their indie music collection or something. So I went back to Grand and Toy and bought another LabelMaker. And twenty minutes later, I left that one behind on the subway. It was a really tragic day, you guys! Like Hansel and Gretel with a trail of LabelMaker breadcrumbs through the consumerist forest!
Luckily they were on sale for like $10, but STILL!
Later that week I bought a third LabelMaker, that is ridiculous!
(Although that one I managed not to lose, and it does make exceptionally nice labels.)
11. Be nice!
If the salespeople in a particular store are really great, grab a business card and call their manager to praise them. Sometimes they get bonuses or extra-long breaks when customers call to compliment their service, and working retail kind of sucks, so spread the sunshine, people!
Make sure to fuel your travail mid-day with a carby snack. Sugary coffee, carrot cake, poutine with extra fries, extra gravy, and extra cheese, or even just an entire pound of Kraft caramels. You choose!
And at the end of the day, another snack! Or a new Labelmaker! You deserve it, snazzy shopper!