Shopping for Your Imaginary Self


This sequined butterfly blouse has been in my Etsy faves for AGES. It’s only $30 and I absolutely adore it. But I haven’t purchased it for two very important reasons:

1. I cannot imagine a place/event/reason that would allow me to wear it.

2. It is not suited to my actual style, but instead to my imaginary style.

Now, I will occasionally indulge my imaginary self and buy something that has no real place in my wardrobe. And those pieces may work their way into common use, and blend, and sometimes my style bends a bit to accommodate them. But generally speaking, I find that buying clothes for the person I wish I was – or, even worse, the person I wish I was SHAPED LIKE – is a fabulous way to generate buyers’ remorse.

There are some pros, of course. If you’re stuck in a stylistic rut, shopping for your aspirational style can jar loose some much-needed inspiration, creativity, and bravery. If you’re in the process of transforming your look, then purchasing pieces for a you that doesn’t exist yet is actually a vital practice.

But there are plenty of cons, too. Your imaginary self may have many faces. Mine certainly does. The butterfly blouse belongs to the face that loves everything sparkly and shiny, and goes out dancing, braless, at swanky nightclubs. The umpteen trillion punk-influenced items that I covet feed my fantasies of being a don’t-eff-with-me rocker chick. The J.Crew suiting and gorgeous handmade briefcases that never seem to leave my wishlist must be linked to some inner businesswoman persona that is unlikely to ever surface. If I allow myself to amass pieces that fit ALL of these imaginary selves, what the hell is the real me gonna wear?

Whimsy is fantastic, and reeling in the occasional weird, wild, and wonderful piece will feed your dressing imagination. But constantly purchasing pieces that you can’t wear, that don’t fit your body or lifestyle, or that fit an imagined self but not an existing self often leads to dissatisfaction and dismay.

Do you do shop for your imaginary self? Why? How often? Do you find it to be fun and motivating, or frustrating and counterproductive?

  • metscan

    I do see myself here- in some ways. I buy special, even expensive pieces, but I´m shy to use them. I do get satisfaction of having them, sure, but need to pinch myself to use them too. Once again, everything goes back to the childhood, where I constantly felt not worthy of anything. But, I´m a big girl now, and things have to change, right ;)?

  • Stephanie

    Imaginary me looks amazing in loose, wide pants and form fitting tees and tanks. And so I buy…but real me has a fairly flat, wide bottom and arms that beg to be covered up. The look is just not made for me, but I can no more lay off buying those pieces than a batter can help swinging for the low fast ball. I look best in a bootcut pant, with a v-neck top, preferable hitting at low hip. And yet I keep buying for imaginary me and have a closet full of wide leg pants and tanks. And I wear them, even though I know it's not my best look. Am I trying to summon imaginary me or am I really cheap, bound and determined to get my money's worth out of what I paid for? Haven't figured that part out yet.

  • poodletail

    When I shopped for my Imaginary Self I referred to it as "Shopping for the Collection". I (almost) never do it anymore because having space between the hangers is a good thing!

  • adressandabike

    My imaginary selves are a rock-chick who loves studs, heavy metal, leather and whiskey; a 1960s Joan Holloway lookalike and a pirate. My collection of belts have satiated the rock-chick to an extent; a bottle of rum, a pirate tshirt and leather boots has quietened the pirate down… and my pencil skirts have made the desire to dress like Joan Holloway worse

  • Sal

    adressandabike: You rule for owning up to your piratey longings. ;)

  • Sarah R

    Ooooh, I know exactly what you mean. I loooove watching women who wear that rockabilly look. Black hair, plenty of perfect make-up, crinolines and full skirts. I admire it, but I'd never, ever buy anything like that. I just admire those who are dedicated to that look.

    In real life, I am a sundresses/flip flops/ natural make up kind of gal.

  • Erin

    Veeeeery interesting post. I have a few business-chic items in my wardrobe that just aren't "me" but they're definitely part of the imaginary me. Sometimes I wear them, but not often.

  • Christina Lee

    OH yeah I do- it's fun at first and then frustrating later when I find I don't wear it!

  • Rosie Unknown

    I shop for imaginary me, because that is the one part of her world I can emulate. Ok, so she doesn't have any fat on her belly, and her boobs are a bit bigger, but she really is just me.

  • Cecilia

    Well, isn't it a bit like going to the store with someone else's "must have" list? Like a LBD, or a suit. Although useful, not everyone has a place to wear those things without looking way overdressed. If my LBD gets worn once per year, that's a lot (isn't that sad?). On the other hand, I am glad I have it when I need it and maybe I should be making more opportunities to wear my LBD. I'm a SAHM. eventually I will go back to teaching, but for now, where would I wear a suit, even one piece at the time? A playdate? Oh yeah, my obsession this year is a sequined tank top… I want it fiercely, but I cannot see myself wearing it anytime soon, so it stays on my wishlist, too :)

  • Magatha-May

    My imaginary self wears much higher shoes than my real self can walk in. She wears amazingly vivid makeup, full of bright colours and sparkle. She lives for hitting the clubs and being the centre of attention. She would never dream of leaving her house in the morning without matching lace and satin undies.

    My real self lives in jeans, vests and cardis. Rarely wears any makeup but lip gloss and mascara. Prefers her flip flops to any other footwear. But spends all her spare money on beautiful handbags.

  • Meli22

    ALL THE TIME! I so identify with this post!!!! I love so many looks I see on other people, and I will see the outfit on someone and think 'I have to have it' and even go and put it in my shopping cart. And then I stop and think. Do I need it? Will I wear it? Does it fit with what I already have? Where will I wear it to? And then my 'must have' item goes down the drain. I want to expand my current wardrobe and try new things- but I need stuff that I can use at work in the office more than out (since I never go anywhere but to the grocery store!)

  • Dream Sequins

    Well because sequins are big and will continue to be big– why not buy it? :) I've been seeing a lot of these sequin butterflies around the web. I am so tempted to buy myself one!

  • Meli22

    My imaginary self is a risk taker who combines feminine- skirts, ruffles, lace with masculine, tough, leather, studs. And wears sky-high heels. She has a huge closet with neons, leather, expensive designer shoes, and every item that's currently 'in' and has been in since the 20's. she mixes and would DIE before caught matchy-matchy. And she follows fashion like nobody's buisness. My real self is quiet in style, afraid to attract attention. Wears lots of neutrals, simple stuff. The real me wears flats almost every day, and owns few clothes. The real me appears to have little imagination and 'matches' sometimes.

  • Jane Winkler

    I found myself shopping for my "east coast self" long after we located to New Mexico….lady-like suits, structured handbags, slingbacks. The "east coast" me dressed a lot like Babe Paley. The "southwest me" tries to channel Diana Vreeland on a desert photo shoot.

  • Allison

    Hmmm…what fun to dream, Sweet Sal!

    My imaginary me is much taller and has legs for MILES, and thighs that don't rub together, and can wear really short skirts and stilettos and feels comfortable doing so. I have indulged her just a bit so I do have a fair collection of "sitting" shoes…they look great and I can only walk about 50 yards in them! Short skirts – not so much but I do have some that I will wear with tights, of course…and probably a knee high boot.

    The real me rocks the clogs with just about everything and does not care that I may look like a nun… because I have to move a lot and the clogs get me there!

  • kristophine

    I used to shop for my imaginary self all the time–I think that was one of the biggest changes that I made when I went from not considering fashion beyond "Is it shiny?" to "Does it look good? Will I wear it? Can I afford it?" As a teenager and in my early 20s, I would constantly buy things for going dancing in: tube tops, miniskirts, highly sequined objects… but even when I do go dancing, I only ever wear the one miniskirt that I own that is flattering. The others I've gotten rid of, painfully. And tube tops will never happen for me, for various reasons. Weeding out the pretty but unwearable things from my wardrobe was one of my first major victories.

  • Mary Sailors

    Oh my. This hit my fashion nail on the head. I have more than half of my closet filled with imaginary mary items. The thing is I wear them!! I love the vintage ruffles and bows and frills and crazy colors and patterns. Some of them work well, but some of them and when I wear them, sometimes I look goofy. But I don't want to let go of the idea of wearing those items I want!! Seriously I watched a show on the style network the other night and I KNEW they would be shooting my clothes up the EW tube. Plus I have discovered that I don't know how to match as well as I thought. Sticking to fitness clothes is easy. :)

  • fleur_delicious

    Sal, I have NEVER thought of it this way, and what interesting responses! (Can't wait to read more later!)

    I suppose, in a way, I actually allowed my imaginary self to become my real self in the last few years. I was always buying the clothes, the heels, the scarves, the little dresses and tights – but never wearing them because they weren't "me" even though they were what I liked. Now I wear all of it, and it becomes more and more normal every day. But I was never shopping for an imaginary body. Just a lifestyle with a bit more fantasy than mine really has.

    Imaginary me still has more fantasy than the workaday world has room for: She's a character in a Jane Austen novel. She's a Heidi-type, looking pretty in a pastoral alpine field. She's also a chic dame in 1940s pencil skirts with little gloves and a side-tilted beret. She's Amelie. She's a flapper, with the beaded gown and the awesome cloches. I just try to keep a lid on most of it.

  • Stephanie

    Oooh … this is a thought-provoking post. I spend a *lot* of time dressing my imaginary self and I think the imaginary self you dress has important things to tell you about the dreams you have for yourself. Almost everyone has room to inject a little more fantasy into what they wear – it's a matter of committing to a choice and believing in yourself.

    I think you could get some real wear out of this top. You could wear it over a black turtleneck with jeans to arty things or with cigarette pants and a big gold cuff out to dinner. I'm a big believer of buying what you love and just wearing it, even if you just are the best dressed shopper at the grocery store.

  • Gloria V.

    There's got to be a balance, I think. (All work and no play makes Homer something, something, something…)
    Most of our wardrobes should be practical and wearable and suit our current lifestyle. But sometimes, you've got to indulge your uber-creative, rocker-chic, high fashion alter-ego (or whatever flavor your alter ego may be). The degree to which you indulge this side is highly dependent on your personal financial situation. I am cheap… so my indulgences for the old alter-ego might be spending $10 at Goodwill. We are complex creatures and our identities are constantly evolving…allowing yourself some play time is good for the soul.

  • Cupcakes and Cashmere

    ha too funny. often times i come thisclose to buying really amazing gowns/cocktail dresses and then realize i have nowhere to wear them!

  • lisa

    You've articulated this stylistic divide so well, Sal; it's something that recurs whenever I go shopping, although I've never put this feeling into words. I love coveting crazy things when I go window shopping, but at the end of the day I try to buy things I know I'll actually wear–I can't afford to amass things I don't!

  • Make Do Style

    Oh you could wear it! It would look fab with skinnies or leggings and high shoes.
    Come on you have the hair, the tattoos, both perfect accessories!

  • Sal

    Make Do Style: Shhhh, quiet, Kate, you big enabler!

  • Sharon Rose

    Hi there-my trouble is seeing too much and indulging for my 'imaginary' self-I've been good lately though and actually bought basics and staples that will work well for regular use!!

  • pretty face

    It's damn awesome.

    I have occasionally come close to buying something to hang in a frame. Case in point: a designer silk blouse down from a crazy price to a tenner. but it was so baggy and frilly that i looked morbidly obese and i knew that seeing it hanging pretty on the wall would only make me sad not happy.

    If I wasn't so useless at sewing, I could have bought it for the material. You should buy that to customise for yourself,maybe.

    Thanks for the supportive comment babes! x

  • roryborealis

    I do this. My alter-ego is far more elegantly polished and feminine than I really am, with every detail thought out. My real everyday style tends toward a sort of dark, arty, practical outdoorsy rocker look. (It's not quite as disjointed as it sounds.)

    To satisfy my inner girly-girl, I've taken to wearing the occasional nicer cami instead of the usual 'beaters, and soft cashmere sweaters in cooler weather. Thanks to your blog I have recently discovered the joys of gorgeous silk batik scarves, which soften up my look without having to give up the jeans, leather jackets, silver rocker bling, or stompy boots. I've introduced some colour to my mostly-black wardrobe as well: teal, turquoise, various plummy purples and earthy greens, and charcoal grey all go with everything I own and keep me from looking quite as severe as I did in my gothy heyday without making me feel as though I'm wearing someone else's clothes.

  • Casey

    I love this post because so many times I find myself tickled by the idea of a garment or accessory that would work great for my "imaginary self", but doesn't always fit the real me. I have occasionally purchased items that are outside my normal style; things that my alter ego (a tall, bohemian gal who loves flowy styles!) would love. It's a way to keep me from feeling stale stylistically and to stretch my ideas of what is flattering and beautiful. But many times those pieces end up as "back of the closet" items that I pull out every so often, marvel at how pretty they are, and put back because they don't totally work. lol.

  • bekster

    Oh boy… Wow. I have so many imaginary selves jostling around in here I don't know what to do with them all. I never know which one is going to surface when. New ones are created on the spot when I see individual items that I like, and my imagination spins a whole outfit–complete with scenario–around them.

    The trick isn't to suppress imaginary selves; the trick is to bring them to fruition. As a creative-type person, I deal with this issue every day (not just with clothes; it could be with art or music or whatever). It's like that commercial where the couple designs a whole house around a faucet. I keep trying to weave my life around my outfits.

  • Winnie

    When I go to shoe stores and spot the amazing, towering heels on display…that's when I window-shop for myself. I've never been able to wear reaaaly high heels and can only admire them from afar or on my sister's feet!

  • WendyB

    I believe in buying something and then creating the occasion to wear it. :-D

    I don't wait for invitations!

  • dapper kid

    I think that you should totally buy it! I think I always shop for my imaginary self to be honest. That is not to say I buy things that do not fit or colours that do not work well on me, but rather that I buy diverse styles. I specifically try to keep the number of clothes I have to a minimum, but still having a good variety. I think it is always necessary to shop for your imaginary self, because if who you dream of being remains just that you may never experience what it is you seek.

    A rather colourful example I could give is my older brother. He dresses quite smartly and quite 'college professor' for want of a better term, although he does love subtle colour play. We went shopping together one time and we were browsing stores. We walked into an alternative/gothic store, and knowing how much he loves cyberpunk movies I recommended he try a few things on. He ended up walking out with the most incredible buckled and belted jacket I have ever seen. He now incorporates that somewhat extreme piece into his own style, and beyond all belief, it just works for him. It was something he loved, and regardless of whether it was for him or his imaginary self, he just went for it and it worked :)

  • Spandexpony

    I used to have this exact same blouse but in black! Actually, Sal, not sure how the thrifts in Minnesota are, but in Ohio you can find these blouses fairly often in the thrift for like $3. When the blouse is $3, then you feel a little freer to dress your imaginary self. Pretty much "imaginary self" clothing is bought at the thrift store. If I try it out and decide that it's working, I may consider getting a new version of my thrifted thing.

    I always imagine that 70's widelegged jeans will look good on me, same for combat boots and turtlenecks. Big no to all!

  • Melissa de la Fuente

    well, of course I want you to go buy that top! what can i say….I want you to have it! I am no help, am I ? :)
    However, I think this is brilliant and so very true. I love certain things, but they are for the imaginary me….and then I love things for the real me too. It took forever for me to figure out what the real me wanted to wear but, now I know. Thanks for this dear Sal !
    xo
    Melis

  • roxy B

    Butterlies are the best!
    http://www.twolia.com/shop

  • Lemondrop Marie

    I don't shop too often for the style that I would like to have but don't-it's far braver and edgier than my normal style. I do well to wear all of my vintage finds out to work…
    I have stopped worrying so much about others' perceptions of the looks I love- as long as they are not too ostentatious. I don't have the confidence for over the top looks, but sometimes wish I did! We should wear what we love when we can!

  • Hanako66

    I know exactly what you mean! I do this all of the time….it is so bad. I buy for my imaginary self and I never get use out of it and it is a huge waste!

  • Audi

    My imaginary self wears giant platform heels, but my real self has far too tender of feet to really pull it off. When I start feeling the urge to dress my imaginary self, I put a bunch of things in my shopping cart on Endless and then just empty the cart and close my browser. Somehow that little flight of fancy takes away the urge.

  • futurelint

    This is one of the MANY reasons I love my etsy… if I buy a vintage disco butterfly shirt and realize I'll never wear it again, I can just sell if off! Sometimes when I've had said ridiculous item for some time, I can find a way to wear it by toning it down under a blazer or something, and then I wind up keeping it!

  • K.Line

    I'm with Kate – I think you could totally do this top. With your hair it would be bitchin'. And I've had my eye on that kind of sequin shirt too. Just hasn't happened yet.

  • Anonymous

    Wonderfully apt way of putting the shopping dichotomy!

    Since my real self just doesn't fit into my imaginary self's style anymore (those balinese batiked cotton dresses that say "one size fits all" do not fit me), I sometimes satisfy that urge in the cosmetics aisle at the pharmacy.

    Imaginary me lurves the sparkley lip glosses and shiny bright eye makeup.

  • Katie K

    My imaginary self is the person who wears skirts and tights. I don't look good in most skirts (I'm more of a dress person) and while I love the idea of tights, I've never found a pair that actually looks good on me. And then if I do find a skirt or a pair of tights that look good, I don't wear them anyway. And yet I'm still on the hunt for the perfect pencil skirt! So weird. Anyway, great post Sal! Spot on!

  • rb

    Imaginary Me goes to about three or four black tie events a year, always around the holidays. I have finally found the perfect velvet wrap dress for Imaginary Me to wear to the next such event.

    Imaginary Me also hosts fabulous informal holiday parties, where I wander around sipping champagne and greeting my many guests while wearing the most sumptuous of loungewear – wide-legged velvet pajama pants and silk-satin drapy wrap blouses with lace camisoles peeking out. When I finally had an occasion to wear the perfect passimentarie-trimmed flat mules I found (on sale!) I unfortunately ruined them, because it was raining cats and dogs while I was rolling the garbage cans to the curb.

  • …love Maegan

    it's so funny because ages ago I found one at a thrift shop for like $20 …but in the end, I decided not to buy it …I have been kicking myself ever since. I'm pretty sure if it was $5-10 I would have snatched it. But still I think about it yet won't buy another one ..there must be a reason ;)

  • Sister Wolf

    I wish you had written this post a few years ago. I might have saved a FORTUNE. My actual self only wants to wear jeans and flat shoes/boots. That imaginary imbecile keeps buying heels and worse…

  • ekerplay

    Posts like this make me sad :( It is very well written and insightful, of course, but I must disagree with most of what you have said!

    We should never limit ourselves to dressing in a 'usual' style. When you find an item of clothing that grants you a huge amount of glee – BUY IT, WEAR IT AND LOVE IT!!! Don't worry about not having a reason to wear it – create your own reason: go out to dinner with some friends or dress up for a romantic dinner at your place.

    If it's something that's pushing your stylistic boundaries – welcome it! There is no rule that says you can't dress like a different character each day.

    However, I agree with you wholeheartedly that shopping for an imaginary 'bodyshape' is not a good idea – while you may like the asthetic on a waify model, if you're 5'4" like me, something just wont work the way you want them too – and this does not a happy person make. In these cases, the best thing to do is to identify what elements you loved about the item of clothing, and try to find them in something similar but more suited to your body.

    In short, BUY THE TOP!! I think it could be worn well with a pair of black heels/boots and either a black pencil skirt or black leggings – it's quite a volumous top so you'd need something quite sleek on the bottom half.

    xxxxxBisous, Ekerplay

  • Melanie

    If you love it that much, why don't you buy it and use it as a decorative accessory in your home somewhere? Seems like it gives you a lot of energy and happiness, so it might be inspirational for you. And $30 is a small price to pay for inspiration!

  • Hungry Dog Designs

    I like to shop for my imaginary wallet. When I'm feeling down, I go on to a shopping website, click to purchase anything that suits my fancy, then proceed to the checkout until I have to enter my credit card number, then I close the screen. The other day I imaginary spent $894.00 on shoes on Bluefly.

  • LPC

    This is one helluva post. I plan to quote you.

  • Anonymous

    i dont buy things that dont fit right…i dont like wasting money…

  • Robin

    I would buy that but I already have two!

    I know exactly what you are talking about… I always buy things for my imaginary office professional self

  • Brickhouse

    Thanks for giving me a new way to explain this dilemma. There have been times in my life where I couldn't wear most of what was in my closet. Now, however, I think my wardrobe is probably only 10% for my imaginary punky-emo self. But you know what? I wear those things, even to work. I just wear ONE AT A TIME as part of a total outfit. (I would SO rock that butterfly top with sometimes with a cashmere cardigan or a nice pair of slacks!) The 10% seems to work. I don't know if I've gotten more sensible or if I've gradually become more of my imaginary self. Both would be fine with me! :)

    Erica

  • Dottie

    Interesting article! I shop for my imaginary self only when I buy four + inch heels (rarely). They are so pretty, but oh so high. I cannot walk around the city in them, and sometimes have a hard time pedaling my bike in them. My recent acquisition was a pair of beige Marc Jacobs mary janes with tall chunky heels. Every now and then I take them out of the box and walk around the house in them while my husband rolls his eyes :)

  • http://tinyglimpses.blogspot.com Meg

    Oddly enough, my imaginary self is a chic French minimalist. She looks smashing in a uniform of striped shirts, denim bottoms, stud earrings, maybe a watch, and a swipe of red lipstick. Sometimes she’ll wear other things, like a simple shift dress, or a plain tank top with a waterfall cardigan on top.

    I’m wearing one of “her” items today, actually – a black and white striped boatneck shirt with 3/4 sleeves – but I’m also wearing a dark teal cardigan, a black a-line skirt, bright teal tights, plaid flats, and a striped scarf with florals (which makes her cringe), along with a beaded turquoise bracelet and a pocketwatch style necklace. I need pattern or texture and colour in my outfits most days, you see. :)

  • Lavode

    My imaginary self is taller and leaner than my actual one, and also, I suspect, a 17-year-old guy. I shop for him because those are the clothes I want to wear, but it can be frustrating when I end up looking dumpy. (Thank goodness for the other fashion blog I read, http://www.dapperq.com.)

  • http://nakedsquid.blogspot.com Jess

    I think my imaginary self is some combination of a sleek, laid-back Important Woman Of Some Kind, a dancer, a grandfather (WTF), an ancient Egyptian priestess, and a newsboy, circa early 1900′s.
    It’s sort of confusing sometimes, to try and incorporate all of that into my style. Sometimes I just wear sweatpants.

    What really trips me up, though, is seeing someone with my ideal body shape wears clothes that I really like, because then I fell an insatiable urge to go out RIGHT THEN and buy everything they have on, as if it is some sort of short cut to having the body type that I wish I had.

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