Reader Request: Resisting the Siren Song of Catalogs


rb wants to know …

How to not get sucked in by catalog images? I have a fairly tailored style but I get lured by relaxed clothing – Eileen Fisher, J Jill – because those models look great and relaxed and clean and really elegant. But when I get those items home and put them on, I look like I’m wearing my pajamas. Most models are my height (5’11”) but not my shape (curvy, bottom heavy) so I can’t usually imagine how these things will look on me. I’m sure others struggle with that.

Well. Even if none of you lovelies struggle with this, I know I do. I adore catalogs and pore over them on a weekly basis, but I often find myself lusting after clothing, shoes, and accessories that would have little ongoing application in my life. So before I fork over any dough, I try to ask myself these questions:

Why do I love this?
Is it the color, cut, or fabric? Is it the unique, undeniably beautiful design or fantastic practicality? Or is it how it’s been styled in the catalog? Can I recreate that styling with what’s in my closet right now?

How will I wear it?
Can I think of at least three, preferably five, outfits that I can design around this item, using what I already own? If not, will I have to purchase other items to make it work? Is it worth the investment?

Does it fit with my personal style?
Like rb, I am prone to drooling over items that have no relationship to my own style. All those ruffled shirts and preppy slacks in the J.Crew catalog? They’re lovely, but they’re not exactly “me.” When I peruse, I make sure to evaluate each item for its ability to adapt to my established style. There are plenty of items that I love, but can love from afar.

Does it align with my figure flattery priorities?
Sure, it looks great on the model. She’s a model. And, in all likelihood, many safety pins were utilized to make it fit her perfectly. I make myself think about what a potential new item will do when I wear it myself. Will it pull anywhere, or add unexpected volume? Does it create my preferred silhouette? If not, do I know how I’ll wear it so that it will look how I’d like?

Can I put it aside for a week or two?
I have a folder of torn-out catalog pages on my desk at home. Every couple of months, I haul it out and decide which items I truly love and which items I loved in the moment. I never know what might be influencing my urge to buy – a recent magazine spread, an article on hot trends, something I saw on a woman passing on the street – and getting some distance is always beneficial.

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  • eek

    I love catalogs, esp. J. Crew and Anthro, but I mainly try to use the styling as inspiration. I will say Anthro does stock very unusual pieces, but fortunately their stuff goes on sale fairly often so if I really need it I can wait until then 🙂

  • Peter

    Great point about those safety pins! I've even seen them on mannequins at the GAP, completely changing the fit of a boxy mens shirt into a fitted one.

    Those glossy catalogs are really selling a dream, not unlike fashion mags, and it's easy to fall under the spell: men and women alike.

  • Anonymous

    I try not to open them in the first place, or else I use the wait method–go through and fantasy shop, then put the catalog away for a week. I haven't been clever enough to use them for styling inspiration. I need to get better about using what I have! Too often I have a closet full of clothes with nothing to wear.

  • April

    If you regularly find yourself disappointed with the fit of clothing you buy from a particular catalog, I highly recommend getting yourself off their mailing list. Usually one phone call will do it! This is a terrific solution, too, if your budget isn't up for much shopping. Removing the temptation really makes your daily mental state much calmer.

  • ParisGrrl

    I keep an inspiration board where I pin up my favorites. I look at them for awhile, then decide if it's something worth ordering, finding something similar locally, or creating myself. The latter takes place when it's something I can't resist but either know the catalog version won't fit me or my budget!

  • Mother of Style

    I used to save my catalogs for a week or two and look at them for inspiration, but I found it only fueled that fire to buy stuff I don't need. Now I will look through them once when they come in the mail and then recycle them right away.

  • CompassRose

    I guess I'm so used to being difficult to fit that I automatically assume that ordering from a catalogue (like ordering online) is highly unlikely to be fulfilling, and will more than probably involve return shipping costs.

    As far as clothing goes, anyway. Now if anyone has any tips for avoiding the lure of deluxe kitchenwares from Ashton Green (I REALLY REALLY NEED the new "green" "forever" nonstick frying pan!) or super-cool hardware from Lee Valley (I don't even own my house – what do I need luxury hinges for?) bring it on.

  • Ms. M

    First of all, I try to limit my catalog choices to a few stores. (Currently, that's Talbot's, J. Crew, and Anthropologie.)

    Similar to Sal, I look through each catalog, rip out the pages that leap out at me (and ONLY if they really grab my attention), and then put them in a file folder to review later. The rest of the catalog goes to the recycle bin ASAP.

    Sometimes I will take those favorite images, find them on the stores' web sites, and save them to an online wish list or something. There are services like Savvy Circle which will send you an e-mail alert if an item goes on sale. (I haven't found those terribly useful, since I don't really shop according to sales.)

    Putting the images away for a while, and saving only those images that inspire me, is what keeps me from buying things because they "might" work or "I could use it." I want all my purchases to be "Wow, I'd love to wear that."

  • Vildy

    We used to be really poor and I got very few catalogs, some by mistaken delivery, I'm sure. When you never buy, they don't put you on any mailing list. I couldn't afford magazines and this was long before we had internet. We had zero disposable income. So you'd think with these years of practice, I would have no problem.

    Once I did have money, I found that I had complete resistance to a pictured item of clothing but was seduced by a particular kind of woman in a leisure setting. Carefree. Her smile said all that. I'm not at all affected by the current style of morose and consternated models.

    So I bought some item that disappointed and I figured out to look at any outfit worn on a person by blocking off the face. Thus I removed the fantasy purchase of No Cares and it also makes it very easy to imagine the outfit on my own body.

  • Anonymous

    Speaking of "morose and consternated models", I've been noticing an increase of the pouty, blank-stare, open-mouthed, 'come hither' look. [And sometimes even the post 'gone hather' look — to give a G-rated description for a family blog.] I can understand it for the glorified lingerie stores, but I am starting to see it in the sportswear sort of catalogs too.

    Not to be a prude but, ewww….

  • c.

    Can I print out this list and put it in my purse to use at the thrift store (my catalog problem is at the thrift store).

    🙂

    That said, I now use catalogs for inspiration to learn how to style what I have in my wardrobe. I tear out pages and then look back through when I'm cleaning my closet. I often find that missing piece would extend everything in my closet or tie it together better – like a red belt, or a short sleeved gray sweater. I then put that on my thrift store "to-find" list.

  • Eliza

    I've stopped getting catologs where I've had too many problems in the past with fit, style, or construction. Now, I try to get only the companies that generally fit my body pretty well. I also only look at them twice a year- in the spring and early fall, and order EVERYTHING I want at once, from EVERY catolog. That means I see the cost of it all together, rather than having it add up over the course of six months. When my "to buy" list starts to seem long or expensive, I look over what I've put on there, and usually find quite a few "fantasy body/style" items. Ordering so many things at once also helps with shipping costs, and means I only have to take one or possibly two trips to UPS with returns.

  • Secret Squirrel

    Sal, you are completely right about the lifestyle element – I used to really enjoy getting a particular brand of catalogues for the styling, the pictures and the poses. I'd turn corners down on stuff that drew me in, but then had a few instances of lower quality, when I DID actually order, or the realisation, that while I wasn't far off the model's build, the dress they wore did not really suit me, unless I stood jauntily, looking into the distance, hand on one sticking-out hip!

  • gingerR

    I like to look at catalogs.

    They style things in more approachable ways than high fashion magazines. Catalogs tend to have the same sort of thing year after year (what would JJill be without cotton t-shirts or slouchy jackets?) so you can often substitute things you've already got.

    I clip the photo out and I do.

    As to buying things that don't work for you based on an attractive catalog layout — all I can say is know thy self!

    Most likely you're buying things that don't work in stores as well. I've read that Anthro has someone in each store dedicated to creating unique displays — it creates a mood and sells things!

  • Kylara7

    In a past round of financial belt-tightening and budget slashing, I started tossing the catalogs I got into the trash bin in the garage as I walked up the driveway from the mailbox. They never made it into the house, I didn't look at them, I didn't want anything, I didn't buy anything, I didn't spend extra money (because I really didn't have any). Once I went cold turkey, I never went back, even now when I have disposable income. I look to blogs like these for inspiration and have a good "base" of clothes that I can add to with thrifting and play around with new looks from old stuff. I order online from makers whose clothes and sizing I know and am satisfied with and the occasional splurge when I find something fabulous in a store, online, on vacation. I highly recommend trying the "toss it and forget it" method! 🙂

  • Emma at Daily Clothes Fix

    Sal, this is a fantastic post and the advice is brilliant. I have nothing to add because I have never managed to conquer my love of catalogues (and images in magazines). Now I think about it, I think I often fall in love with the styling rather than the items themselves. Thanks for the advice. Maybe I will be able to resist in future.

  • lyrebirdgully

    Like Vildy, my NUMBER ONE method to assess an outfit/garment in a photo – whether online or on paper – is to cover the model's face. It makes an absolute world of difference to how one sees the clothes, and anytime I'm in doubt about how I really feel about a particular style, I use this simple technique as my litmus test. It is really useful for bringing some objectivity to bear. And it demonstrates why models make a difference – a beautiful woman, or a woman with a beautiful smile, can wear a gunny sack and make it look stylish.
    The Eileen Fisher online catalogue is for me perhaps the most alluring catalogue I've seen; the models are exquisite, and beautifully photographed to boot. But like rb, the Eileen Fisher tailoring style doesn't suit my figure. So like eek, Anonymous, Parisgrrl, Ms Mm, c, GingerR, I save Eileen Fisher and other catalogue looks, (like all my saved looks), as a reference for building my own version of that look. For example, if I like an Eileen Fisher jacket, I will look out for a jacket made with similar fabric, colour and detail, but cut to a shape that I know will suit me.

  • Tabithia

    I resist easily. I have a thrift store budget and rarely find anything good I can afford (except today!) And I have a strict no buying policy if I can't try on the item first. I will buy full skirts without trying them on IF and only IF I can see it in person to know that it will be long enough but that is a rare exception.

  • et

    My weakness is Soft Surroundings, although 99% of their items are totally unwearable for everyday. We have NO local shopping options, so anything more than basic tees and jeans from the big box store come from catalogs. I've begun using the same rules – no purchasing the day the catalog arrives; saving pages for later – & then trying to figure out what it was on the page I wanted :); checking the closet to be sure I don't already have something similar, & setting a monthly budget. I shop with a card I pay off in full. I also try to limit the fashion blogs to those like Sal & Audi who are making their closet work for them.

  • rb

    I would like to thank Sal for posting my question, and to all of you for your thoughtful responses. I think just writing the question was somewhat theraputic, because I haven't bought any Eileen Fisher in months! 🙂 I have become more aware when I look at an image that I don't really want the cashmere tunic and the stretch leggings – I want the sunny afternoon curled up with a cup of tea and a novel. Instead I have a full, busy life with young kids and I need to remember to appreciate that more.

    I will take to heart all of your suggestions, and again, I really appreciate it.

  • tinyjunco

    as already suggested, prune your catalogs to ones that fit your body and your style. i only get Peruvian Connections and J. Peterman – and use them for inspiration more than anything else.

    seriously, think about those poor trees…..

    also, there's much to be said about Making A List 2-4 x's a year and sticking to it for your shopping.

  • I’m all about setting something aside for a couple of weeks. There are some Jeffrey Cambell shoes on the Urban Outfitters site that I’ve been desperately wanting, but they would be something of an investment piece for me. I added them to my wish list and revisited the image every couple of days. About two weeks later, I realized that although I absolutely ADORE the shoes, they are not “me” at all. They wouldn’t work with anything in my current wardrobe. Maybe in the future, but not right now. They’ll stay in the wish list, though, because they’re pretty. 🙂

  • Nanina

    I have noticed that models in catalogues often pose in a way that makes even the worst granny jeans look appealing. Of course, no one would ever stand like this in real life (like standing on your tiptoes, one knee bended) and thus, the pants look on everybody else like they actually do: Like granny pants. Plus, I highly recommend finding out your color type. I, for instance, know that light, warm-ish, clear colors suit me best, while others make me look drab or pale. So when I browse through catalogues (or shop windows!) I just glance over, and if there is no color I’m drawn to, I just skip the whole thing altogether. Time and money saved!

  • Heidi

    I actually do not look at the catalogues unless I feel I have money to spend and actually need something. They go right into my recycling bin unread. I don’t even flip one page. I just don’t want to be tempted.

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