Maybe you're a recreational shopper who enjoys going shopping just for the experience. Or perhaps you're someone who doesn't like shopping at all. No matter where you fall in the shopping spectrum, there are a few things you can do to help make your experience more successful.
Make a List
This will make for easier decisions and will help you remain within your budget. Your list should be as specific as you need it to be. What's missing from your wardrobe? What items need replacing? Do you need something specific to go with an item of clothing that you don't wear simply because you have nothing to wear with it?
After you've made your list, prioritize. Which items do you need the most? List only three "priority items." Shop for these first -- anything else you find after that is a bonus!
Create a Budget
Once you know how much you can spend, you'll be more focused. Create a realistic budget, but be a little flexible. One good rule might be to allow yourself to spend 10 percent more than you had intended. Sometimes you just have to spend a little more to get an item that really works for you. The 10 percent rule allows you that flexibility and freedom.
Where to Go
Try to shop at the best places your budget allows. Also experiment with new shops. It might mean you need to travel a little further, but it is well worth it to see clothing with a fresh eye in a new environment. Once you discover reliable sources and make the all-important connections with shops and staff, your shopping expeditions will be much easier.
When to GoThe best time to go shopping is whenever you feel the least stressed. Always leave yourself plenty of time to shop without the pressure of getting back to an appointment or your job. When you are not distracted by other demands, you make better choices. Unless you are a shopping maven, lunch-hour purchases are often regretted.What to Take When You ShopThe most important thing to bring along is a good attitude. Even if you hate shopping, sometimes it's a necessity, so you might as well change your attitude and try to get the most accomplished. Sometimes even those who love shopping may just not be in the mood. If you've planned a specific day to shop only to discover that your mood is not right, don't make yourself go. When making decisions about your image, you need to feel positive, energized and flexible.How to Interact With Retail StaffIdeally, a sales associate swill answer your questions and assist you by making your shopping venture as comfortable as possible. A staff member with knowledge, a good eye and a helpful attitude can even be inspiring! Remember, however, that you are in charge of your experience. Never give away your power or abdicate that responsibility to anyone.Unfortunately, the ideal sales assistant is not always available and sometimes does not exist. You might be followed around a store while the staff member polices you or talks constantly about the "hot sellers." Create comfortable boundaries for yourself. If a sales assistant does not "feel right," be polite and move on to another store. The world is full of clothes.
You'll also find that when you are armed with a budget, a good attitude and a plan, you will need less help. You will appear less needy and you will get more respect from sales assistants because they won't see you as a pushover.How to Shop Successfully With a PartnerIf you like to shop with other people, be sensitive about whom you take with you. Good shopping partners should be unconditionally supportive. They shouldn't impose their tastes upon you, and they should be non-judgmental. They should help to create an "up" atmosphere and should be 100 percent present. Patient shopping buddies give you plenty of time to try clothes on again (and again!) if you wish, and allow time for decision-making. The people you shop with should never try to take charge -- even if you want them to. Selecting Clothes to Try OnWhen choosing clothes to try on, ask yourself the following questions: Is this item on my priority list? Does this item suit my taste? Does it suit my budget? Is this the best quality I can afford? Do I like the feel of the fabric? Even though I like this color, does it truly flatter me? Is this really the right size for me or am I trying to fit into a number? Then, once you're in the fitting room, ask yourself these questions:Is there any pulling or stretching across seams? How does this garment look from the back? How does my profile look? Can I move freely? Do I need to step out and see this in a better light? Do I feel secure and confident in this garment? Would this garment be a loner, or would it work easily with my other clothes? Temptations and Old HabitsDo not be tempted to buy an item that's on sale solely because of its price. That's when mistakes are made. Be discriminating about your sale purchases; behave as if you are buying them at the regular price. And when you arrive at the too-good-to-be-true rack, look for stains, small holes and tears, especially where the labels are located and where the hanger meets the fabric.
Also be aware of old shopping habits. For some, an old habit may be impulse buying. Instead of snapping up a piece of clothing and taking it directly to the register, you might want to discipline yourself to leave it for an hour, come back to it and see if you still want it. Or, if you're usually an indecisive shopper who takes days to make a purchasing decision -- only to find that the item is gone once you finally return to the shop -- you may need to convince yourself to make on-the-spot purchases.The PurchaseBefore you make a purchase, give the garment a final once-over. Check for damages, buttons, marks, etc. Remember, if you notice these things when you get the garment home, you might find it difficult to return. Also make sure you are clear about all return policies, including those for sale items. You may, for example, want to take an item home to try on with your other clothes. Before you leave with it, make sure you can return it for a full refund. An exchange-only policy may be too limiting for you, especially if the item represents a large part of your budget. Finally, take the business card and the name of the person who helped you. Always keep the receipts and put them in a place where they are easy to locate in case you do need to make a return. Kate Mayfield and Malcolm Levene are the authors of 10 Steps to Fashion Freedom: Discover Your Personal Style From the Inside Out (Crown, 2001).