More Thoughts on Shopping Your Dominant Season

How to STOP shopping for your non-dominant season

Whenever winter begins winding down and stores start showing spring merchandise, I must remind myself that it is beyond pointless for me to buy more sandals. That darling summer dresses crafted from single-layer cotton voile are a bit of a waste. That I really only need one pair of good shorts. I live in Minnesota, it is flippin’ cold here for most of the year, and I need to avoid shopping for non-dominant seasons.

Those of us who live in climates with defined seasons – especially climates with one temperature range that dominates the weather – are best served to focus on items that will work well during that season. Anyone living in New Orleans will likely concur that a single heavyweight coat will serve. Most folks living in Juneau are well aware that strapless sundresses will get very little use. And even those of you in less extreme climates are sure to know which seasons rule your world, and therefore, which seasonal garments will have the broadest applications.

Here are a few questions I ask myself when pondering a non-dominant season purchase:

Can it be layered? Solid colored tank tops might seem summery, but they get year-round use as base layers. Lightweight silky skirts appear suited to hot weather, but layered beneath a heavy wool dress, they add warmth. Layering pieces are four-season pieces for me.

Is the fabric appropriate to multiple seasons? A solid colored LINEN tank top? Not quite as versatile for layering. And, on the other end of the spectrum, a strapless velvet minidress? Extremely limiting. My favorite seasonless fabrics are cotton twill and cotton knit, and nearly any garment made from either works year-round.

Can it multitask? Lightweight and mid-weight coats are a weakness of mine, especially when it comes to thrifting. And I used to haul around some serious guilt about this until I realized that my thrifted gray leather moto could serve as a blazer stand-in during the winter and my oversized anorak could double as a duster. Some items that seem to suit non-dominant seasons can be tweaked … although this is a slippery slope that can lead to purchase justification. Proceed with caution.

How many do I already have? Sleeveless dresses can be layered in 97 different ways and worn no matter the temperature. But my eye frequently wanders to the floaty, airy sundresses. Especially in spring and summer. But friends, I have more sundresses than I could ever possibly wear. So the eye wanders, but the wallet remains zipped.

Will it work for all three non-dominant seasons? In Minnesota, spring and fall can be pretty cold and wet. So items like open sandals, shorts, and super light strappy dresses are really only helpful in true summer. But three-quarter-sleeve sweaters? Lightweight pants and jeans? Cotton scarves? Considering indoor temperature controls, these will work in spring, summer, and fall.

Hope my own guidelines help you figure out whether you’re currently shopping for a non-dominant season … and if you are, how to make sure some of those purchases get put to good use!

Image courtesy Zappos

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details. Sustainable options are either used, handmade, made in the U.S., artisan made in non-sweatshop conditions, or made using sustainable/fair trade practices.

Originally posted 2013-02-26 06:50:52.

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39 Responses to “More Thoughts on Shopping Your Dominant Season”

  1. Laurel H

    Excellent advice as always, Sal! I live in Ottawa, Canada, which is even flippin’ colder than Minnesota (so I completely share your frustration at “spring” starting in January in Retail Land). But unlike Minnesota (based on your description), we get hot, humid summers. Basically, we have five months of summer and five months of winter, so nothing dominates. Because our spring and fall is so short, I do not buy very many “shoulder season” items like ankle boots and shirts with three-quarter length sleeves, since they’re too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer. For winter, I wear cashmere and mohair sweaters. For summer, cotton sundresses. But your post is a reminder that I should layer my summery items more in the winter. Maybe I shouldn’t think of having two distinct wardrobes. Thanks!

  2. malevolent andrea

    It’s funny–I live in Boston and I realized within the last couple years that I have more summer than winter clothes. Not because I *buy* more, but because they never, ever wear out, what with the few weeks a year they actually get worn. I have summer skirts and dresses from circa 2004 that are in great condition, lol.

  3. LK

    I can’t buy anything season specific anymore. The weather has gotten so weird in the midwest. All I can get is things that can be layered. I can have a pair of shorts or some dresses but the dresses need to be able to be layered with leggings or jackets. Our weather is so extreme in Iowa. One day its 60, next its 10 (this happened 2 weeks ago). The summer can go from 60 – 100 in one day! Not to mention the humidity. Its very hard to buy clothes because you constantly have to think about whether or not this item can handle a 40 degree jump up or down in one day.

    • Liz

      So true, here in rural Minnesota, too! It’s hard to know when to pack away the short and haul out the sweaters when you may need both in one week. I cannot get myself to do the tights-with-shorts look I have seen lately. 🙂

      • LK

        I took a visit to Minneapolis last summer. It was 100 in Iowa, ended up with a high of 70 in MN. I totally packed wrong and I had to make my one cardigan last the entire week without spilling anything on it!

        I can’t do tights with shorts either….its too weird for me.

  4. Kristen

    The point about wearing out is well-taken. I’ve lived in New York for five years, which doesn’t really have a dominant season — but summer clothes seem to get worn or damaged much faster than the other three seasons.

    And, naturally, now I’m moving to Los Angeles. About eighty percent of my clothes should transfer, but poor heavy wool skirts…

    • Roxane

      I’ve found that I actually wear wool more in LA than I did in Iowa or Minnesota, particularly skirts. When it’s cold here, I often go without a coat until it’s really cold, and in Minneapolis, even a wool skirt and tights weren’t warm enough, even under my long down coat. (The fact that I pay my own dry cleaning bill and that my mother hated both wool and dry cleaning are another reason for the increase.)

  5. AB

    Summer is the dominant season here. High of 87 today. I have to sat that I am completely bored with my summer wardrobe.

  6. Laurie

    This is such a great post! I live in Winnipeg, Canada, it gets pretty darned cold up here, and its cold for a long time. I’ve been on this huge clothing organizing kick lately and in the fall, I took out all the clothes from my closet and drawers that were “summer only”, thinking I would make a big dent in the space I had to work with, but nope, only 3 pairs of shorts and just a handful of dresses that will only work in the heat…everything else is pretty season-less. I took a cue from you and layered a bright floral dress with a turtleneck underneath and opaque tights and boots and boy did I look good.

    I do have plenty that are “winter only” but since that’s my dominant season, that’s okay. I don’t think you can have too many fabulous looking winter coats, especially when that’s all most people see when you’re out in the winter 🙂 Same goes for boots.

  7. LinB

    I tend to differentiate “seasons” by color more than by fabric or garment style. It rarely gets cold enough in central NC to justify heavy woolen coats, but a light woolen sweater, some mitts and a cap in a dark colorway say “winter.” I adore linen for most of the year, but I rip out acetate or polyester linings in linen dresses (pourquoi, rtw clothing designers, pourquoi?) and substitute cotton instead.

  8. Lorena

    This totally makes sense Sally. The funny thing is, I live in all year round warm weather BUT,due to the freezing cold air conditioner in my office I can get away with fall clothes. If you looked at my closet you’d think I live in a country with 4 seasons, instead of two.

  9. D

    I live in the Twin Cities too. This winter, as a sort of personal amusement/challenge, I’ve been experimenting with different ways to wear my favorite summer clothes. For instance, colorful short pants/capris with patterned socks or boots. Sometimes it even works! And it makes the days seem just a little less dreary.

  10. Nan

    As I Minnesotan, I have been dreaming about new sandals and sleeveless sheaths. Then I went to my closet storage and shopped the clothes and shoes and accessories I had put away last September and almost forgot I owned. I also found four pair of boots that I didn’t even unpack this past winter and feel guilty about my excess. (Just a little guilty, the boots will get back in rotation.) So this is a really time to inventory what you have on hand for the coming season and fall in love with much of all over again.

    I also do a fair bit of get-away traveling in the winter months, so those warm weather clothes do get some wear year around. Now I look for pieces that are totally packable in a carry-on and walk past the rest of the offerings.

  11. Jenn G

    I have the opposite problem – I live where it is 90+ for a few month, 75-90 for a few months, between 60-75 for a couple of months, and below 50 for less than 1 month! All total – it is above 70 for at least 7-8 months! And our humidity is almost nil…

    So, I think in terms of layers. I own 1 heavy coat – and even then, it’s not really heavy – but corduroy with a silk lining. I own lots of light-weight cardigans and knit jackets (for the air conditioning!). Pashiminas and other scarfs work wonders for a quick wrap for the A/C…

    During the warm/hot months I stick with skirts, capris, and no tights/pantyhose. During the cold months, I add a layer or two – tank top, 3/4 sleeve shirt, or cardigan. And tights/pantyhose. I also have trousers for the really cold mornings that are nice up until about 85 degrees.

    I see so many beautiful sweaters, jackets, and trousers – and it’s almost impossible to wear them here! So, I drool and then don’t buy them!

    Needless to say, a freak winter storm (it snowed here for the first time in almost 10 years – didn’t stick – just snowed) caught everyone off guard!

  12. poodletail

    Sal, this post made a lightbulb go off for me. Having moved to Seattle from MN a year ago I hadn’t yet worked out why my carefully curated wardrobe wasn’t working here. In MN, I always looked forward to October when I’d take out my heavy handknits and fabulous coats – it was like seeing long-lost friends. Here in Seattle I can’t wear them: it’s too moderate!

    What I need to do is find good homes for these beautiful friends and start fresh, still using my beloved gray, white, and black tees, and start collecting more layerables.

    I’m on a mission! Thanks, Sal.

  13. Debs

    Yeah Minnesota girl here as well. I love my boots which I can wear 75% of the year. But I can’t wait to break out the flip flops in the summer. I own summer clothes for those hot days which we get for maybe 30 days of the year, that I transition to and from in the spring and fall by layering. Mainly, I’m into linen and silk, because I have ice in my veins and when it get’s above 80 degrees F., with the humidity we get here, I’m melting.

    I have also been changing to more colorful clothes. I find that now that I’m turning 54 I need a bit of a boost, and adding colors, even if in a scarf really help to punch up my complexion, which as gotten more gray like my hair. I love the lighter colors of spring and summer, finding that with the longer days I yearn to wear them. So for instance today it is sky blue jeans and a cream colored turtleneck. warm, yet lighter colors.

  14. Dee

    Interesting topic. I live in the midwest, so summers are short. (so are springs actually!) I am often more attracted to summer clothes, the colors, the fabrics, I think because I love the sun, beach, tropics, etc. but I have learned to think twice before buying. There have been many summers where I realized I have only worn a top, dress or outfit just a couple times, since the season is so short. (to my dismay!) I hope to some day live in a warm climate – but I digress….
    As I have gotten older and experiencing hot flashes I don’t wear my heavier sweaters very much. Wearing layers is the key.

  15. Becky

    I needed this today. As a usually-cold person living in Maine, why have I been shopping for summer dresses? You just saved me a bundle!

  16. cecelia

    Actually, I do indulge in the floaty airy sundresses, because they tend to be super cheap and you can layer them in fall and spring with a little sweater. (though my true weakness is jersey dresses). The super summery ones are utterly necessary, though, if you remember last summer! They get dirty and sweaty faster than winter clothes, so even though there is a shorter wear time, they get washed alot more often, so I go thru them faster than my wintery clothes.

  17. chloe

    Where I live, it’s toasty warm and incredibly humid about 9 months of the year. Fairly warm and incredibly humid another 2 months. Vaguely cool for one precious month of the year. (I prefer cold weather, so how did I end up here?) Today I am wearing my sweater – note the singular there – for the first time in a while. Winter collections are pretty much useless to me.

    So I live in dresses, or skirts and Ts. For layering during our rare cooler spells, I have a few cardigans and lightweight jackets, plus tights and boots (they add so much more warmth than you’d think.)

    The best part is that, in August, every retailer discounts cotton skirts and light sundresses – the exact same kind of stuff that I can wear until Thanksgiving and take up again come March. So that’s when I buy like crazy!

  18. D

    Wonderful advice, as always. Layering is a must in Denver, and I believe it will come in very handy when I move to Chicago soon as well.

    I don’t shop outside the lines too much- I miss shopping for sandals sometimes (and I also miss the vast array of sandals I had when I lived in San Antonio!), but I do love that now I get to shop for all kinds of boots!

  19. tagatha

    Yes and yes! I only realized a few years ago that I’m shopping for my non-dominant weather – I still try to do it and have waaaay too many summer-only clothes.

    This is completely idiotic, since it’s cold (snow, mostly) about seven months a year and spring and autumn can be also quite cold. If we’re really unlucky, the summer will be rainy as well and there goes my chance with summer dresses.

  20. Adrienne

    So flippin true.This idea is fodder for another closet purge. I have a few items that I hang onto because of the occasional freak weather that they would come in handy for but on the whole get minimal wear, lIke my serpa fur coat and furry boot unless we have another snow-mageddin like a few years back will not get worn. Fall clothes are my favorites because of the fabrics and colors but truth be told it just isn’t that cold in fall here. I need to cut back on purchasing these. Spring and summer weather is really what we live in most of the time here. Wet spring hot and dry spring then hot and humid summer that lasts well into October. Although my area is not considered the tropics it feels like it much of the spring-summer. I guess I need to rethink what I am buying. Great post.

  21. Lisa

    I have the opposite problem: I’m so good at shopping for perpetual rain and chilly temperatures that when true summer hits and Vancouver is really hot for a month or so, I rotate the same couple of dresses, the same couple of skirts, the same pairs of sandals endlessly until I’m sick of my hot weather clothes. This year I’m looking forward to adding 1 or 2 things to break me out of my summer wardrobe doldrums!

  22. Rose-Anne

    This is such a fun topic! To prevent myself from digressing, I’ll answer Sal’s questions.
    1) Living in Texas, the dominant season is summer. But it does get cold enough here to warrant buying and wearing cozier clothing.
    2) I’m not sure what you mean by “shopping outside the lines.” Buying clothing that can work in multiple seasons? I do a lot of layering to deal with cool mornings/warm evenings and the inevitably unpredictable temperatures inside buildings. So if a piece layers well, I feel certain it will get worn. One layering piece that I’d like to add to my wardrobe: a trench coat.
    3) Yes, layering is the way to go! I keep thinking I want to find a way to wear some new-to-me sundresses this spring–maybe underneath a sweater and with boots? With or without tights?
    4) Because cool weather is minimal here, I want my cool weather clothing to be stuff I really, really love. So I feel more justified these days in being very picky about what I buy and keep. I think my main strategy is to prioritize quality over quantity. For example, I have two pairs of flat boots that I love (a brown riding-style boot and a dressy black boot), so I’ve resisted buying the vegan grey boots Sal featured not too long ago. The grey boots are super cute and I can definitely see myself wearing them, but I just couldn’t justify the expense. However, if and when I find a trench coat I love, I will probably buy it because I don’t have anything that fills that niche right now.

  23. Caroline

    Texas here, dominant season is hot hot hot 6-8 months of the year most years. However, I grew up in pennsylvania so still gravitate towards the warmer stuff. I still haven’t the knack for interesting warm weather dressing even after living in the south for 18 years. This is good advice to guide my (wardrobe sewing) plans!

  24. Patti @ NotDeadYet Style

    Yes, I’m attracted to sweaters, boots and tights, like most women here in Florida! The summer pieces just aren’t as interesting to my eye, but I am working on that this year – to fall in love with my warm-weather clothes.

  25. BamaCarol

    We seem to have less and less winter these days. I do have one longer coat that is lined so if we have anything freezing or below I am covered. A couple of shorter coats/leather jacket and I am more than good for our winter season.The problem here is that it is so hot and so humid for 6-7 months out of the year yet the inside air conditioning is frigid. I too layer for that reason. It is hard for me to pass up a good basic blazer because I can use those inside the office and take it off once I go outside and the blanket of humidity hits. Now if I could figure out how to alternate my hair between long for winter and short for summer that would be great!

  26. jen

    Great post! Love that your weather is predictable enough to still know what the “dominant season” is. Last night I realized every coat/jacket I own was tossed over a kitchen chair, because I have literally had the need for each and every one over the last 10 days or so. I’m in Central Illinois and two years ago I bought insulated snow boots and a down coat after a particularly hard winter. I’ve not had one opportunity to wear the boots since! Any tips for shopping in a completely unpredictable wacky climate? 🙂

  27. Marsha Calhoun

    Northern California, no great need for heavy-duty cold climate clothing, but I don’t wear shorts all year long (although my friend, a transplanted Canadian, just loves the fact that she can, and does). I have trouble justifying boots, which I like a lot but are a) expensive, and b) not even something I would consider wearing in summer or autumn or usually even the first part of winter. But your remark that you’ve been trying to justify the sandals for five years makes me envious, since I have found that I must buy immediately when I find a shoe in my size or it will never be available again – no time for deliberation, and no second chances if I unexpectedly win the lottery or something.

  28. Rebeccca

    And here I thought you were going to talk about shopping in a season when you suit the colours best! For some reason, I always want to buy a whole lot of items in the autumn. But when spring rolls around and I see what’s on offer I think – barf. I hate pinks and most pastel colours. I love prints, but the flowery prints that seem to be popular in the spring just don’t do it for me. Haha, but yes, I must admit that I probably have way too many summer dresses as well.

  29. JB

    I’ve been in New England for more than 10 years now, after living on the West coast, and I have to say that I too have more summery clothing than is practical for the weather here. But I think there are two contributing factors: 1. Summery clothing tends to be inexpensive, or at least less expensive than good warm winter sweaters, for example, and 2. Unless you’re really skilled at layering like Sally is, summer clothing just tends to look more attractive than winter clothing even if it’s just by being less bulky. So it’s very tempting to collect those inexpensive, flattering sundresses even if you know a spendy wool sweater will probably get more days of wear.

  30. Thursday

    Unfortunately, living in Canberra, Australia, we get several months of winter (not quite your deep freeze but cold enough to warrant thick knits, warm coats and boots), and stinking hot summer Dec-Feb, plus the transitional seasons…My wardrobe really does need to straddle the full gamut quite equally. I suppose the saving grace is that 3/4 sleeve cardigans and mid-weight skirts can do for both spring and autumn!

  31. Lucy

    I’ve commented before along these lines, but I’m in the UK (south west) which is quite mild but wet, and gets normal England torrential rain/hail/thunderstorms both in winter and in summer. Recently, we’ve had heatwaves in May and October, rain and grey skies inbetween, snow in April… however I still can’t make myself wear knee high boots from April 1st to August 31st, because it is the “wrong” season and I think it makes you look like you spent so much on your boots that you couldn’t afford nice shoes. Ankle boots… maybe until mid-May. Maybe. If they’re light-coloured.
    Clothes-wise, our stores really fill with stuff that can either be worn on one of the, say, 4 Saturdays a year that are sunny and warm enough for a barbecue, or on holiday in southern Europe. I haven’t bought anything new for summer – specifically summer, spring stuff is fine and always appropriate here – in about 5 years because the stuff never changes and gets so little wear. Strappy tops, sleeveless dresses, cropped pants/jeans – nobody can tell if you bought them in 2008 or 2009.

  32. Jenny

    I live in New York, where the seasons are all of pretty equal length (though spring can often feel abbreviated). And yet, I seem to own WAY more summer stuff than winter stuff, which is a problem at this time of year. I think it’s because summer stuff tends to be CHEAPER than winter stuff, so I can more often justify buying it! Does anyone else have this problem, where they are reluctant to shell out for the same quality winter clothes as summer clothes because the winter ones are more expensive? Also, I used to always make the mistake of trying to wear any short-sleeved or sleeveless item (as Sally accurately pointed out, this doesn’t always work) as a winter item by just putting a cardigan over it. I have had the same black cotton Old Navy cardigan since 2003, and only in recent years have I realized that trying to make a “winter” outfit out of a summer top, jeans, boots, and that cardigan makes me feel un-put-together.

  33. Snow

    Here in NC, it’s 85-100 degrees with high humidity about 6 months out of the year. The other 6 months are mostly temps between 30 and 60 degrees — cool but not bitterly cold. In spring and fall you get a brief period of time in the 70s. Outside of summertime, the temperature swings wildly around; you might get a sunny, 70 degree day in January, and then two days later it’ll be 25 degrees and sleeting. Even within one day, you can see a temperature swing of 30 degrees easily. In summertime it’s just steadily hot hot hot.

    I’m pretty good at shopping for those seasons. I own a lot of casual dresses and skirts for the summertime, and I own a few pairs of jeans and lots of light- to medium-weight sweaters for the wintertime, which can be layered with t-shirts. (Layering a t-shirt, a sweater, and a jacket — I own one down jacket and one light jacket — usually takes care of the weather variability.)

    Some of the skirts and dresses can work in winter if I wear them with tights, tall boots, and a sweater — the ones made of more solid fabric. About half of my skirts/dresses fit that bill. The other half are made of very light fabric, for those summer days when it’s really too hot to wear clothes at all but it’s illegal to go out unclothed!

    If I move to a climate with more of a cold extreme, I’m going to have to buy a whole new winter wardrobe. I don’t think my current “winter” stuff would last much past early October in New England.

  34. Annette

    I live in Juneau where winter starts the end of October and ends in May. The temperatures range from 40F to -20F during the winter. The rest of the year is just plain wet and we very seldom get true warm weather.
    I layer my clothes and wool is a favorite year-round.
    I sew most of my clothes, retail clothing doesn’t affect me much. I sew summery fabric into long sleeve tops.

  35. Mary

    I actually think I have some pretty good balance with my closet, of which I am proud!
    I do find the same to be true for me as for JB: summer clothing stacks up more in my closet because a) it tends to be cheaper; also, b) it takes up less space!
    I try to consciously buy more cold-weather items, esp when I see something I love. I seriously spend much, MUCH more time wearing them than single-layer cotton items. From October til May, my coats get worn, wool sweaters get worn, camisoles get worn as an extra-warmth layer every day, jeans get worn, the same three pair of boots get worn … I try to think about, and purchase with care, all these items that I HAVE TO WEAR until it warms up, which is never as soon as all of us in Chicago hope.
    This time of year it really starts to get to us all, doesn’t it? I’m not quite sick of my winter wardrobe yet, but I’m getting close. I said to a friend the other day: “I’m glad I have winter coats that I really love and that look sharp, because they’re the face I show to the world for literally half the year!”
    All the same, H&M sundresses that cost 13 bucks and open-knit cardigans are so easy to pile up, and really do get worn June thru May, sometimes beyond.
    I think the only part of my closet that’s really out of balance is footwear: I have dozens of shoes for just summer (in as many colors as I can find!), and only a handful of pairs that can stand up to wet sidewalks, slushy sidewalks, two inches of snow, and eight inches of snow. This should be remedied.
    Thanks for provoking these ruminations, Sal!

  36. sarah

    Another wet NWerner here: and my weakness is always SHOES. The key question is: is it waterproof? Or can it be waterproofed? Or is this a ridiculous pair of shoes with cutouts/sandals/open toe because I’ll step out and it’ll be soaked and ruined in 5 minutes?

    It’s so hard to resist, but really, we have rain probably 9 months of the year. Suede, sandals, open toes, fabric shoes – all kind of pointless, really. I’m getting better at reminding myself of this.