How to Love Something From Afar Without Buying It



Transitioning to a new aesthetic (details here and here) meant getting rid of LOTS of stuff, and also meant doing some very fun shopping. A group of beloved and versatile items made the transition, but I was a little optimistic in thinking that I could go from a style that focused on pumps, cardigans, and fit-and-flare dresses to a style that focused on jeans, sweaters, and drapey tops without adding anything to my closet. Or without adding anything much. In most cases, I sold or donated several items when I bought a new one – often funding the purchase with consignment proceeds – and brought in lots of secondhand and new items that aligned with my vision of badassery.

But I also had to shore up an ability I’d been trying to cultivate for some time: Admiring a fashion item from afar without needing to own it myself.

This was especially relevant in transition since I still LIKED the look I was leaving behind, but no longer felt compelled to actually wear it. Also generally relevant because, although I was building, I wanted to keep my wardrobe smaller and more focused than it had been previously. And although this tactic is especially helpful when something is out of your price range, it’s useful to anyone who has limited storage space or a limited budget. I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered loving things from afar, but I’ll share what I’ve learned and ask you to chime in with your experiences and tips.

Be honest about style and fit

Exploring new cuts and styles is an important and valuable practice. After all if you stick to the same things forever, you’ll stagnate. BUT. You likely know that certain cuts and styles don’t work for your figure and needs, but you’re still drawn to them. This becomes especially dicey when you see one of these items styled exquisitely on a model who may or may not have a body shape resembling your own. It fits her well, but will it fit you like that?  If not, is it still a smart buy? Be honest with yourself about which styles and fits will actually work on YOU, and which ones are fun to look at on others.

My weakness in this area: Boxy Eileen Fisher stuff shown on tall lanky gals. (As shown above.) Oh how I love that look, and oh how it doesn’t love me back. Even though it fits into my new style, wearing it doesn’t make me feel my best. So I drool from the sidelines.

Be aware of inventory and use patterns

Let’s say you’ve got your eye on a pair of ankle boots. You love this style of shoe, and already own three pairs. Is this new pair significantly different than the others? Is it different in ways that work for you? (If your other pairs are flat and this one has a 3.5″ heel, that makes it different … but not necessarily in a good way.) Do your other three pairs get worn equally, or are you wearing one into the ground while the others collect dust? If the former, adding another pair might make sense. If the latter, there should be a specific reason the new pair is a good candidate for frequent wear. Otherwise, perhaps they’re better admired than purchased.

My weakness in this area: Used to be handbags. Now it’s sweater dresses. The first group of tops I bought for my new aesthetic were lightweight and drapey with big, open necklines. And then it became fall, and then winter, and I realized I was gonna freeze, and decided sweater dresses were the answer. And they’re great, but I have one that’s a go-to and the rest are occasional. And even though my initial thoughts are always, “Warm! Cozy! Cute!” I force myself to remember the tidy little stack of sweater dresses already in my closet.

Be a stickler for versatility

There will be items in most wardrobes that can only be worn one way, but are still loved and worn. (For instance my tunics aren’t especially versatile, but they are in constant rotation.) So, ya know, grain of salt. But ideally most items – including new purchases – should have multiple applications. A handbag that works with office outfits and weekend outfits is a better buy than one that’s strictly casual. A pair of pants in a fabric that can be worn three seasons out of four is a great buy. Heavy, lined wool and cropped linen have their place, but if you’re looking at cost per use a more versatile fiber is the way to go. If you’re pining over something that doesn’t work across seasons or formality levels, consider seeking something more versatile.

My weakness in this area: Slouchy pants. Especially cropped ones. I have figured out how to make cuffed, boyfriend-esque pants work for winter by hiding my socks inside slightly taller booties, but my truly slouchy, drapey pants are lightweight and fluid by nature. They wouldn’t slouch or drape done up in thick ponte or stretch denim. I live in a place with 6-month winters and exposing my ankles makes me freezing. I am now attempting to ogle cropped, slouchy pants from afar.

In terms of the actual loving from afar? In most cases you’ll just do that when you’re shopping around and come across an item you love but shouldn’t buy. But it can also be helpful to actually stash images of these things somewhere, both so you can admire them aesthetically and so you can “have” them in an intangible way. Collages and inspiration boards will work – use magazine and catalog pages, printouts from websites and blogs, anything you can cut up or print out. Of course, if you’re a Pinterest user, you can make a board for your Imaginary Self and stash images there. If this practice is just going to make you pine harder, skip it. If you think a stash of eye candy might hold off unwise purchases, give it a shot.

Sometimes the things we want to wear are different from the things that we actually will wear. And learning to think, “I ADORE that … just not on me,” can help you differentiate.

Which items or styles do you absolutely adore, but only when someone else is wearing them? Other tips for figuring out what should be admired and not bought?

Images courtesy Eileen Fisher

Originally posted 2015-01-22 06:43:41.

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17 Responses to “How to Love Something From Afar Without Buying It”

  1. Rebekah Jaunty

    “Oh how I love that look, and oh how it doesn’t love me back.”

    Ha! That’s a great way to frame the problem; it’s just not that into you. Sheath dresses, halter necks, and black clothes do not love me.

    It’s fascinating watching your style evolve, Sal. I follow your “Badassery” board on Pinterest, and have been reading your blog since the Boden skirt days. Times change, and people change.

  2. Jean Thilmany

    Could you wear tights under your slouchy pants? That has helped me. I’m always falling in love w/ looks on tall, thin, women, as most models are. And they’re hipless. I’m short with hips and that stuff looks awful on me. But still …..

  3. Mary Carr Buxbaum

    Oh, I’m going to have to go back and read this s-l-o-w-l-y! Good advice for me right now since I’m starting to pare down my wardrobe to those things that I actually wear and like. I’ve also resolved to be more thoughtful about what items I purchase, and this addresses some of the very issues that lead to less than perfect buying decisions! Thanks!!

  4. Leah

    Oh my gosh Sally, thank you so much for this post! I am also currently going through a very similar style transition like you are (from retro, fitted silhouettes to a more minimal, badass look) and this post was great to read. I am finding that I still want to buy things that fit my “old style”, like cute tights with hearts on them, etc. So I pin them to a Pinterest Board where I can look at them and appreciate them, but I don’t actually need to buy them. I am also starting to really concentrate more on how pieces fit, and whether they actually look good MY body type (short, hourglass shape) or not. There are certain pieces that I love but I have to realize just won’t work on me, such at the photo you posted above. For instance, I love super preppy looks with collard shirts, jeans, blazer and heels but I know that look would be strange on me.

    So, thanks for this! Here’s to hoping our style transitions go well! 🙂

  5. disqus_l1egYFLaJm

    Sally, this is excellent! This want vs need evaluation can, and should, be applied to many aspects of life. What do we possess, for what reasons? What should we admire from afar rather than possess? The core thought that caused me to start thinking this way was considering owning art. When walking through a museum admiring, admiring, gasping, loving, studying, internalizing, etc., do we buy all of it, or come back to visit? There are obvious reasons such as who could afford even one piece of uber expensive art, but conceptually, why would you want to “capture and trap” it all? Issues such as life priorities, disposable income, wall space, decor “management”, cluttering to the degree that the eye cannot focus on anything … all come into play. We cannot possibly use all that we consume for all the reasons you’ve pointed out. Because we CAN get all the things we think we want … on the internet and everywhere else … doesn’t mean we SHOULD have everything we think we want. It’s just something we do, as a culture, even if we really don’t have the financial means to do so. Spending to have whatever we want at our fingertips is dulling our senses and messing with our personal integrity.

    • crtfly

      Yes! Art came to my mind too. I adore Monet’s Sunflowers. I would not want the original, even if I could afford it. I would be constantly worried that it would be damaged or stolen. And the yearly insurance on it! Instead, I am happy, no actually gleeful, about my large, nicely printed poster in a plain frame, hung by itself on a wall. I smile every time I look at it. The poster adds nothing but joy to my life whereas owning the original would make me a nervous wreck.


  6. Suzanne Carillo

    This is something I’m learning to do ever-so-slowly. I’ve figured out now that if I go out looking for something I’ll find it. I know how to shop for my body type and I love choosing items that’ll look great on me. BUT and that is a HUGE but…do I need to buy them just because they look great on me? NO. Sadly NO.

    I find that Polyvore sets for me can go either way. Sometimes I obsess more about the item.

    I can also see that my style is changing a little bit. It is too early though to go and cull my wardrobe like you have. I’m scared I’ll do that and then next year I’ll want that style again.

    This was a great article.


  7. Monica H

    Your pic above gives an example of a look that I’ve never been able to make work – a sweater over some longer length shirt. I love this look and yet it never looks right on me. It honestly puzzles me, as I am one of the tall lanky set, but something about it is off. The wrong proportions are at work somehow I’m sure, but I never seem to be able to ‘get it right.’ I’ve decided to just admire it from afar.

    • crtfly

      I’m curious. What if you just wore the sweater with the pants, and left the shirt out of it? Would that suit you? Somehow I think that it would.

      I’ll probably get chastised for this, but I don’t like the look of the longer shirt sticking out. Especially the uneven hem one. This always looks odd, messy to me. It’s as if the person threw on her outer clothes over her nightgown and ran out the door.

      • Monica H

        Leaving the shirt out does work for me, but that’s not the look I was going for. 🙂 I’m sure this style isn’t for everyone, but I see it on the models on Banana Republic’s website and I love it, but when I buy it , it just looks, wrong. To me it has a classy casual vibe that I like, but I’ll agree that on me it does look sloppy! 🙂

  8. loubeelou

    Pumps are in this category for me. I love how they look, but I’ve had too many pairs languish in my closet. Now I keep a couple basics on hand for formal occasions and fancier nights out, but I don’t buy “fun” colorful pumps anymore (although I’m certainly not above trying them on!).

  9. Rebecca Magee

    So much good advice here, Sally! I agree that especially in time of style transition, it’s easy to see what you like and not be able to have that work seamlessly with what looks good on you personally. I have a little to learn in this area too – but my problem is that I need to just go out and try on lots of different things to figure out what actually does work. If only shopping wasn’t so exhausting 🙂

  10. oohlookasquirrel

    When I’m thrifting, I often find AMAZING items that bring me joy but aren’t going to fit me. If I’m tempted to get them anyway, I will move them to the end of an aisle or leave them on the “tried on, didn’t want” rack. That way, someone else will be more likely to see it, grab it up, and wear it. It makes me happy to know that it is going to be perfect for someone else, and it will be appreciated and enjoyed. (Also, if someone snatches it up quickly, they remove my personal temptation to go back and buy it anyway, JUST IN CASE I could alter it.)