How to Prepare for a Shopping Trip

Know your budget: No, really. Do NOT shop without knowing how much cash you have, and how much you can comfortably spend. Shopping blindly leads to shopping regret of one kind or another.

Inventory your closet: Annoying, but worth it. Many of us buy duplicates or near-duplicates, and that practice can be avoided by familiarizing yourself with your current wardrobe. And before you buy anything, ask yourself: Do I love this because it’s perfectly “me” or because it’s incredibly familiar?

Eat something: DO NOT shop on an empty stomach. You will become crabby and tired in under an hour.

Wear fitted underlayers: For easiest dressing room changes, I try to construct an outfit with a tight tank and leggings as the base. That way, I don’t need to strip down to undies every single time and can still roughly gauge garment fit. I can also duck in and out of the fitting rooms more easily since my base layers stay on my bod.

Wear your hair up: If you’ve got long locks and will be trying on shirts or dresses, you’re likely to give yourself Dandelion Head in no time flat. Tie your hair back.*

Do minimal makeup: How much do we hate smudging new merchandise? Lots. Go easy on the cosmetics, please.*

Consider footwear: If you’re going to be doing a lot of walking, you’ll want to wear comfortable shoes, of course. However, if you’re shopping for dress pants and typically wear heels to work, bring an additional pair. Trying to eyeball pant length is nearly impossible.

Take breaks: If you’re planning to shop from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., work in a lunch break and at least one other short break. You might be able to power through, but at a certain point you’ll become overwhelmed and exhausted. Scheduled breaks will keep you focused and refreshed.

Drink water: Nothing parches my throat like hours of shopping. Tote a water bottle, hit a drinking fountain, or get a beverage on one of those aforementioned breaks.

Set a deadline: I’m sure that some of you have no trouble stopping shopping, but if I’m questing for something? I will run myself RAGGED looking for it. Giving myself a set number of hours to shop helps me keep from going overboard.

Image via weheartit.

*If you’re shopping for a garment that will be worn with elaborate makeup or a specific hairstyle, and you need to know how the two will interact, you can definitely get done up before you shop. But, in my opinion, it’s easier to shop with simple hair and makeup, do a second round of try-ons at home with the fancier face and ‘do, and return what doesn’t work.

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  • I love this post…your advice is excellent…I just tweeted it!! Your readers might also want to catch my post http://over50feeling40.blogspot.com/2011/07/creating-personal-style-with.html
    About establishing style guidelines BEFORE they shop so they make wise decisions in the dressing room…It has been a fun series. But your advice here also helps us…i make bad decisions when tired and hungry! Also, the body slimmer part is so important…it makes a huge difference!! With your advice and my guidelines, ladies will return fewer purchases after they get home!!

  • Plop

    Wear a pant + shirt so you don’t have to take everything off !

    If it’s going to be crowded, wearing a basic H&M tank, a loose skirt, leggings and ballerinas is the best match ever ! You can try tops over the tank, jeans under the skirt, etc. Plus it’s easy to remove 😀

  • amy lynn

    This might be a bit too esoteric, but if you have allergies, avoid the big Malls. Many clothing items contain formaldehyde, which is why the Mall gives so many of us big bad headaches (and can make us cranky with our Moms or friends… not that i’ve had any *personal* experience with that… :)). That is all i can add, i wish i’d had your list years ago! Really good, useful stuff!!

  • I agree with the budget, but to me it more of an unconscious thing. I do an annual or semiannual shopping spree when my favourite designer has his big sale, and I have a ceiling of about 1000$ for one of those trips. Usually that results in 10-15 garments, mostly dressy – tailored coats, dress pants, skirts, dresses.
    I may have an idea of what I am lacking, and I will try to avoid duplicates (although sometimes I get them intentionally to have spares) but the stock is unpredictable, so mostly I just make sure that everything I get fits me, and is something I will wear. I try to bear in mind what a piece will work with, but since I get most of my clothes from the same designer, this is generally not an issue.
    What may be more of an issue is when and where to wear an item – no matter how amazing I look in a dress, I do not lead a lifestyle that requires multiple gala dresses:-)

    But then I don’t shop for ‘fun’, although I do have fun when I go shopping. I don’t have the time or the inclination to spend time on shopping, so I’ve picked a designer whose style and quality fits me and I do ‘raids’ more than shopping trips. This means I miss out on some things (colours fx.) and may seem a bit limited and unimaginative, but it is the easiest for me.

  • Great tips! Especially the hair up one! It’s so frustrating to have hair flying all over the place. Also, the “eat something” tip is great for grocery shopping. How much I spend is in direct relation to how hungry I am! ~Serene

  • Wonderful advice. Can you really shop from 10 till 4?? : > For me, making a plan, a budget for the day, and wearing easy-off clothing are the key elements. And slip-on shoes.

  • Truly? My successful shopping trips usually involve a mouse and a web browser. But when I do go out, I plan to a) hit stores that I know I usually find good stuff at and b) not go too many places. I’d never set myself up for a 4-6 hour shopping trip. I can usually deal with one big thrift store or 3-4 mall stores before I start getting sensory overload and everything looks stupid.

  • I like your advice (especially the eating bit —- shopping makes me grumpy, FAST! and the grumpies get worse when my stomach is also grumbling).

    But the one thing that I’ve realized is different for me is that I *need* to wear nicely done make-up when I shop. Otherwise, I hate everything I try on because I hate how I look in dressing room mirrors.

    (This goes back into the mirror/makeup discussion, but I find clothes-shopping mirrors are worse than any other mirror I could possibly look in. I need to feel beautiful in order to feel like buying anything.)

    • I completely agree with you. Unless I know every store I’m going into has AMAZING lighting, an extra coat of make up helps me battle the fluorescent depression.

  • Karen

    Band-aids in your purse, in case you wore those new shoes – because you’re shopping for an outfit to go around them;
    A Power Bar or other portable, healthy snack so you don’t make bad food choices on top of bad clothing chices;
    A cell-phone camera and a texting plan so you can send photos to your BFF, BF, DH, Mom, or whomever for a second opinion: I can’t tell you the number of times my ‘shopping by committee’ has helped me come off the fence about a purchase.

  • Excellent tips! My shopping advice? Shop online. When you receive the items you can try them on at your leisure and with other items already in your closet. Many places now have free returns, but if not I feel the small return fee usually is more benficial than having to schlep through the mall.

  • Make a list, take the list, then ignore it. You don’t want to miss something fabulous because you’re following a list, but knowing what you need to round out your closet makes it easy to pick up stuff when it’s on sale/the perfect fit/whatever.

    Avoid stores that make you feel overwhelmed quickly, unless you KNOW they have what you want. For me, that means teenage stores like Forever 21, Wet Seal, Charlotte Russe, etc. I can get better quality teen basics at department stores if I want to follow a trend.

    Don’t avoid stores just because they may be beyond your price point. For years, I detoured around White House, Black Market, Anthropologie and the like because I was convinced I couldn’t afford them. Then I discovered most of them have sale racks and/or sale rooms.

    Don’t shop in chain stores while on vacation. You can get those things anywhere. Look for quirky boutiques instead.

  • My grandmother never tries on clothes instore; she just tries everything on at home, and returns anything that doesn’t fit. I’m thinking of following her example, because I hate fitting rooms with a passion and have a much higher success rate when I shop online.

  • My shopping rule–never shop for an outfit to wear to a big event the night before you need it. You’ll feel frazzled and rushed, and it’s highly unlikely you’ll find the perfect outfit at the last minute. Instead, I like to have a few “big event” outfits already in my closet, just in case.

  • Sandie

    My best shopping insight this year: you CAN listen to the little voice in your head that says, “You can walk out right now without buying anything, and avoid a guilt-induced panic-attack later.”

  • I like to wear easy on/easy off outer layers to shop for clothes in. Button-front shirts or tops with large necklines, slip-on shoes, nothing with a ton of closures. Also minimal accessories — a scarf *or* a belt *or* a necklace, not more than one item. Stuff just gets in the way when you’re trying on other clothes.

    Plus, I wear my best bra, the one that fits perfectly & gives me the most fabulous shape ever. You know, every woman has one that’s better than all the others. Ditto undies, something w/a smooth line. I’m not big on the idea of an under layer bec. what if you’re trying on a pencil skirt or other item that’s supposed to be fitted? However, if I’m going thrift shopping, oh yeah, I wear a tank & leggings as my base layer bec. dressing rooms can be scarce.

  • Great tips.

    I’m going to add to the “minimal makeup” rule and say NO LIPSTICK. Sometimes I forget and wear lipstick anyway while I’m out shopping. Then I find myself pursing my lips together and inching a top over my head oh so carefully to make sure I don’t get any telltale smudges on it.

  • rb

    Try on things outside your comfort zone, but don’t buy them if you still feel uncomfortable once you try them on (despite sales clerks telling you they look “super super cute” on you.) You will never wear these items. ask me how I know!

  • I like to make a list of items I need/want. It helps me focus. This takes more advanced planning, but having pictures of your current clothes on hand (i.e. in your cell phone) helps when trying to figure out if that thing you want goes with the clothes you currently have. That way you don’t buy something you love, but never end up wearing because it’s so unlike anything you currently own. (I’m sure everyone has done this.)

    • Piper, I did that recently with this jacket I absolutely love. I cannot figure out how to incorporate into my wardrobe! However, I am determined to do it. I love the jacket THAT much.

  • P

    LOVE-THIS-POST!!!!!!!

  • Lydia

    I plan a ‘shopping route’ from store to store with built in breaks, and lunch in between (I always take the bus, so I don’t worry about parking & walk the route). Sometimes the route includes a department store and maybe one other place, while on other days, I go to many shops. This way, I narrow down whether it will be window shopping, or serious got to find the right item type shopping. I sometimes dedicate shopping to just one street with a few shops, or cover a wider terrain, but planning the route is key for me.

  • Cat

    Hi Sal,
    Great post – as always.
    I don’t know if this is the place for my request, but I’d love to hear your take on shopping and sales-people… more specifically, how to deal/interact with them. How to not feel guilty or beholden and buy stuff you don’t need because you don’t want the sales person who helped you to feel bad, how to make good use of their talents and services, how to say “no”, how to say “later” etc. etc.
    Do you ever feel these pressures? Granted, my anxieties are most likely part of a larger problem. But, with your mad shopping skills, I thought you might have some insight/tips.

    Thanks so much!
    Cat

  • For me? The best guideline is “be in the mood”. I have to WANT to shop for something if I’m going to find anything I’ll end up with. When I’m in that shopaholic mood can I find so much that works on my body because I’m willing to hunt through all the racks and dig around and try on a different size, etc.
    I find that when I’m not in the mood for shopping, I usually just glance over clothes and don’t really pay as close attention as I should. A friend and I tried to go shopping once after “a girl’s night out” and we took about 10 steps into the mall, looked at each other and mutually agreed to turn around and leave. We just weren’t feeling it that day.
    Also–try on super crazy items. I go shopping with friends which often means we’ll pick out a couple “joke” items for each other. I’ve ended up buying two of them that ended up really flattering my body. Even if they don’t, it’s nice to get a good laugh to break up the serious hunting. 🙂

  • Jebaru

    Hello Sally. I enjoy reading your blog very much and now have the pleasure of commenting. Thanks for these tips. Re trying on clothes and wearing make-up, I agree about keeping the make-up minimal, but I also take an old and unloved light scarf with me that I drape over my head and face before slipping tops over my head. It tends to keep hair in place too. Remember to remove scarf before looking in mirror to judge effect of new clothing!

  • You’re so right about eating — especially knowing the sustenance needs of your shopping partner(s). I can generally lose myself in the process and forget to eat for hours, but I’ve learned the hard way not to do that if I’m shopping with someone who’s prone to getting “hangry.”

    Also, cocktail breaks are a must! Sometimes they just lead to abandoning the shopping and having more cocktails, but since that spares the wallet, it’s ok too!