Reader Request: Prioritizing Wardrobe Wants

Tips for prioritizing the items on your wardrobe wish list

My fantastic client S. e-mailed me this question:

I can see though that this will be a lifelong process and I will never “done.” There are many, many areas where I can continue to learn and evolve. This leads in part to one of my questions, how do you decide how much to buy? I know this is intensely personal and based on many values, but I would be curious how you and other readers make this choice. I filled some obvious holes to make items wearable that I couldn’t even use. I also wanted to have some dresses and other fun pieces and I bought those, but I wouldn’t say I have any real needs now. Yet, I can see areas where I could fill in with items that are more on trend or would look better to my eye and to be a stylish dresser I think that one needs to continue to shop. Angie at You Look Fab had a piece a few months ago from a reader on setting a budget, which I really enjoyed, but for me this is about more than a budget. How do I weigh among wants, which pieces to buy? How much is enough? How many times does a piece have to be worn to have made it a good investment?

We’ve talked about concepts of value and price, which are so personal. My standard for what makes an item a wise spending choice may be totally different from yours. Overall, it comes down to whether an item feels good to wear, gets worn, and brings you pleasure. How often it gets worn can become virtually irrelevant. But S. brings up some fascinating questions about quantity and buying-related decision making. Here’s what I told her:

You are absolutely right that your style will never be “done” evolving. You’ll change, your tastes will change, fashion will change … all of which will impact how you want to dress and look. This older post talks a bit about the question of “how much” when it comes to shopping and fashion. But in terms of weighing wants against needs and determining what to purchase, that is definitely personal. As someone who feels like she is on an eternal quest to procure the perfect, complete wardrobe I can tell you it’s impossible. Kind of a trap, really.

However if you feel like you’ve got everything you need but have a list of wants, consider purchasing one per month, as budget allows. This will allow a few things to happen:

  1. It will force you to prioritize. The things you want badly right now will come to you quicker, less urgent ones will wait.
  2. In line with that. if a certain item drops off your list because it’s been in waiting for 4 months, you’ll know it wasn’t really that important.
  3. One new thing per month will allow you to see if the new things really work with your wardrobe. It’s long enough to see if they work into regular wear organically or not.

Not saying this is a foolproof system, just an idea. Something this restrictive will backfire for some people, while others might feel like it’s ridiculously indulgent to buy a new wardrobe item each month. It’s also tough to manage desired items selling out, seasons changing, and the inevitable lure of sale prices and discounts. Some months it’ll work, others it won’t. Just an ideal to aim for, if you ask me.

Also remember that this is meant to address your wardrobe wants; Things you’re lusting after, but can certainly live without. If your socks all have holes in them or your most-worn blazer got a giant stain on the lapel, that’s different. The idea here is to space out want-based purchases to give them some breathing room, and to make sure that the wanting isn’t a momentary feeling. I also like this system because it can apply regardless of your taste and financial situation. You can thrift a tee shirt once per month, or buy a new designer blouse once per month. Whatever works for your lifestyle and budget.

Image courtesy Amazon. I wanted this scarf. It was VERY low on the priority list. Never got bought.

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for alreadypretty.com. 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 2013-08-12 06:46:49.

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14 Responses to “Reader Request: Prioritizing Wardrobe Wants”

  1. Anne

    I think your advice is great. I buy clothes and accessories at thrift stores and on eBay. I keep a running list of items I want. On eBay, I keep a Saved Searches list. I have become very picky about what I purchase, so sometimes several months go by before I find what I want. Occasionally, after a couple of months, I lose interest in the item so I drop it from my list.

    Over time, I have discovered that many items I think I want, I really don’t. I have also discovered that if I really want something, it is worth waiting for the perfect version of it.

    As far as spending, I agree that is a very personal decision. I personally use a budgeted amount of money rather than a set number of items a month. I recently found two perfect dresses at a thrift store for less than $6 combined. Too good to pass up by having a self-imposed number of items limit. But I do put a limit on the number of pairs of shoes I buy per season.

  2. missjulied

    Funny, that shirt was very high on my priority list, but I waited until it went on sale AND they had a 30% off. But with how much I wear it I probably would have gotten a good value out of paying full price. I LOVE this print!

  3. Roberta

    Your advice is great as always, and I love that you led with CHANGE. It keeps us from getting bored, stagnant or stuck. I’m pretty sure my wardrobe is smaller than it was five years ago, but it is still far more versatile and personal.

    I get a little obsessed with lists and needs and wants sometimes, and I’m always trying to find a way to collect things that are different and unique, rather than being focused on filling the holes. I’m trying to give myself the freedom to not have a navy tee once in a while, you know? Because I bought the gold shoes instead!

  4. Lisa

    Such a great topic! I don’t have a written list of wants anywhere, but I do have a mental list of 3-5 items in my head at any given time. Usually I use seasonal changes as opportunities to shop for wants.

  5. Kathy

    I love that shirt!…isn’t it a little cruel to show things that are no longer available?? usually you post some “similars”–I need that list 🙂
    And personally I wait for what the French refer to as a coup de couer (a blow to the heart). My closet is full, so if an item isn’t fabulous I just walk on by.

  6. Eleanorjane

    Great topic and very appropriate for my situation. I’m trying to keep my clothing down (due to little wardrobe space and to save money) to stuff I really like, need, that fits well, is easy to care for and gets worn.

    So I’m bored of my best summer dress for work. Do I spend 35 pounds (about $50US, I think) on another one in a different pattern? I’d get a lot of wear out of it, both this year and next year. It’d be good to merge into autumn.I don’t neeeed it, but should I get one anyway? Questions…

    • Sally

      So personal, Eleanorjane! Since you’re fairly certain you’ll get lots of use out of it, my guess is the question then shifts to budget. If it fits into your budget, it certainly sounds like a wise purchase to me … but, of course, it’s your call.

  7. Jen

    This is where I falter, badly. I’m an emotional shopper, and a thrifting fiend, and plus-size (so there’s a “aha, it fits, buy it now, you won’t find it later mentality). I end up going shopping and sometimes buying 5-6 items in one swoop. Granted, I’m 90% thrifting at this point, so it’s not too damaging to the bank account, but it’s often stuff I don’t need or even love, just like. I buy lots of frosting, little cake. And so I am flirting with the idea of making a list of five or six items for this fall/winter and only buying what’s on the list. I may actually be able to do the one thing a month if it’s something I’ve really thought out and will wear often. First up is a pair of brown leather knee-length boots. I’ve got a cheap pair of gray ones I wear all fall/winter, brown is my other neutral, and I’ve wanted a pair for over 2 years. Why haven’t I gotten it already? Because I’ve spend useless money on yet another pretty t-shirt or circle skirt. Ack.

    • Leah M.

      Jen, I can totally relate to this! Especially your part about wanting an item for 2 years but not buying them because you are buying yet another item that is cute, cheap but ultimately not needed “fluff” for your closet! How do we stop doing this? I think thrifting makes it even more difficult to say no to items we don’t need but are cute because everything is sooo cheap, so why not buy it?

      What I’ve been trying to do is to go thrifting with a specific list of items in my mind. If I don’t find that item but instead find 2-3 other things that are cute and cheap BUT don’t fit into my list, I usually don’t buy them. Unless it’s something pretty fantastic or is something I truly believe will add to my wardrobe. Additionally, you could try setting up a budget and saving up a little each month for those boots.

  8. Monica H

    I have thought about this post overnight, as it’s a very interesting question. While I certainly have enough clothes that I don’t “need” anything, I do have certain basic holes that I’m trying to fill. However, in looking at what I am buying and why I am not filling those holes first, it’s because the things that I really want I haven’t been able to find. A classic white cardigan ought to be easy enough to find, right? Wrong. I’m a size small tall, carried by only a few retailers and only online, and I want one that’s a little beefy sincce my office is COLD and a thin layer just won’t do it. I have a bright printed skirt I want to wear it with so it has to be absolutely bright white. That’s my top wardrobe priority and has been for months.

    Instead I find myself buying things that I do want, or are subject to the ‘shiny-pretty’ phenomenon, but mostly when I look at what I bought and why I think I bought it, it’s because I found something that looks good on me after trying so many things that don’t work. This may sound like a reasonable approach, but due to my body and my fit issues, things that look good on me tend to fall into predictable categories – skirts and dresses. I have more of these than I can really wear, and not enough other items (blouses, cardigans, jackets) to go with them. So why oh why do I keep buying more? Because they look great, and I’m frustrated with trying on all this other stuff that doesn’t work.

    Thanks for this post, it’s helping me reevaluate whether what I’m spending my money on is truly serving me. I like Jen’s idea of making a list and sticking to it!

  9. Rachel

    I follow that same process for non-clothing purchases, too. I’ve determined that I have room in my budget for one major/a few minor (up to $200) purchases each month, so I have a list, and each month I look at what I really want. One month it might be new shoes, one month it might be new pillows (top of the list for my August purchase). Sometimes the choice is taken out of my hands, like when I broke my glasses (very unexpected!).

    This way I re-examine everything each month. Sometimes things fall off the list. Sometimes things are on the list for ages, even though I still want them, because other things take priority, but at least I know I really do still want them, since I contemplate them every month!