Reader Request: Where Did You Get That?

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Reader AK e-mailed me this tough question:

I get a lot of compliments on my outfits at work, and I love my style. So what’s my problem? I get asked almost daily, “where did you get that [scarf, necklace, boots, sweater, bracelet, watch, purse]?” The questions are coming from my female colleagues, who are also friends. I have a really hard time answering this question depending on who’s asking. There are some people who ask simply as a conversation starter, and I don’t think they really intend to go out and copy me. There are others who immediately hop online to try to find the item, some going so far as to buy it. This bothers me because I spend a lot of time finding the perfect pair of black heeled wide-calf tall boots –I don’t want to see them on three other people in my office. Sometimes I lie and say “Marshalls!” knowing they won’t brave that store (which I love).

I know this goes back to my junior high years. I moved to MN from San Diego (!) and felt like a martian when I arrived. It was the early 80s and I was wearing off-the-shoulder shirts, studded double belts, parachute pants, etc. while everyone else was wearing “mom” jeans and appliqued sweatshirts. I was the only kid who traveled to Minneapolis (instead of St. Cloud or Duluth) to buy clothes, so my clothing was unique at my school. If someone asked where I got X, I would tell them, then face several other people wearing X the next week. I started lying or saying I bought the last X to avoid further copying. I also started shopping only in CA when I would go back to visit.

So, how can I deal with the “where did you get that” question? I don’t want to upset people, but I also don’t want to always say where I got something!

Oh, this hurts my heart, friends. Anytime someone compliments me on what I’m wearing, I offer up where it was purchased without prompting and usually encourage my complimentor to run out and get one for herself IMMEDIATELY. Because I really, truly love spreading the sartorial joy. But although I haven’t worked in an office environment for a couple of years now, even when I did, I never encountered outright copycatting among my peers. I mean, never. I never encountered it in college or high school either, and back in middle school we all wanted to dress like clones so it wasn’t an issue. In AK’s case, she is a person who takes great pride in her style and researches her purchases meticulously, only to have those purchases show up on her female colleagues. I think we can all agree that this is a cruddy situation. Because “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” is a lovely sentiment, but seeing your coworkers copy your very specific style choices will chafe.

I generally believe that honesty is the best policy, but in this case I’d probably lie. It’s one thing to have one friend or coworker occasionally ask for a source and then run out and buy an identical item. And it’s certainly a different matter if the person asks if you’d mind if she bought one for herself – at least then you have some warning, and the (albeit awkward) option to say, “No.” But in a case where multiple people with whom you work on a daily basis are blatantly copying your style and purchases, I feel like you can opt to protect your sources.

Unfortunately, this means outright lying. “I don’t remember” won’t fly if the item is obviously new, and “I’m not comfortable saying” will raise hackles. Citing places like Marshalls and TJ Maxx or even thrift or vintage stores can work, as can saying, “It was a gift” or “I snapped up the last one.” Share your sources when it feels right to do so, of course, and be honest whenever you can. But remember that sharing your shopping resources is a courtesy, and you aren’t required to do it. Especially if others are using you as a free personal shopping resource.

The grown-up option? Confrontation. If there’s one particular person who has purchased nearly every item you’ve sourced, it might be worth a sit-down talk. Say, “I’m really flattered that you like my style, but I spend a lot of time and energy researching my purchases and it makes me feel awkward to see loads of other people wearing identical items around the office.” I can’t imagine this being a fun or easy conversation, so it would be best to have some resources at hand. Point this person to websites you love and think would suit her, local shops she might not have heard of, and stores that offer personal shopper services. Always best to follow “Please stop doing this” with “try this instead.”

There is also the “suck it up” route. Each woman will style that pair of black, heeled, wide-calf boots differently, and in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter if four people in one office wear the same pair. Most observers won’t even notice. But for someone like AK who does research and takes pride in her unique style, it may feel like she’s being used. She pores over the options, compares products, tries out different garments, and makes decisions. Then folks swoop in behind her and basically use her as a free personal shopping service. There are far worse crimes to be sure, but watching someone else steal your ideas and utilize your hard work without permission only to take credit for tracking down an item that you used your own time and taste to locate? Definitely frustrating. Especially if it happens on the regular.

And that’s about all I’ve got, folks. It really does pain me to condone lying under any circumstances, but I know that if I were AK I’d be very reluctant to share my shopping resources with a pool of people who have proven that they’ll steal my style quickly, remorselessly, and without acknowledging that they’ve done so. What about you? Do you have any more honest solutions? Would you confront? Suck it up? Anyone else dealing with a similar situation?

Image courtesy ben dalton

  • http://www.wardrobeoxygen.com Alison

    I had a similar situation at an old job. I worked in a field where it was acceptable to come to the office in flip flops and yoga pants so my style really stuck out (I just can’t do yoga pants outside of the gym/yoga/home, I don’t feel me). Well a few of the women at the office would ask me where I got something and I would happily tell them, and the next week they would show up with the same thing. I remember The Limited had v-neck sweaters with detachable white collars and cuffs, I owned two and within a week of wearing one, six other women in the office had the same thing. Same thing happened with a pair of boots and my favorite brand of purses. I got angry at first… but then I saw myself as providing a service. These women didn’t know how to start finding their style and I helped them get on the right track. And yes, the snarky part of me reveled in the fact that I styled the pieces better. By changing my mindset from them being copycats to them being sartorially clueless and me giving them direction, I didn’t mind showing up to work dressed almost the same as another. In fact, the experience led me to not only push my style further, but start a fashion blog!

  • KimM.

    This reader request hits close to my sister’s problem. Like your reader, she spends a lot of time and effort to choose her wardrobe pieces. A woman at her office asks her constantly where she got whichever item. And if my sister tells her, she shows up the next week with the exact same item. Once they even wore the same dress on the same day, albeit styled differently. Really ticked off my sister! I’ve been telling her just to say I gave it to her and I think that’s what she’s doing. The person who’s imitating her is not her friend either. Thanks for such a good post Sally!

  • Jacqueline Brooke

    One idea is to say that there is a variety of places she finds her loot when she is acting as a personal shopper (just exclude the “for herself”). However, that also opens up the idea of doing it as a consultant on the side for someone who is looking for help. Confrontation over dress in the workplace would never fly anywhere I’ve worked and would be seen as childish.

  • Elin

    I think there’s one other option here, which may take some repetition before people get the message. And that is to smile slyly and refuse to reveal your sources – akin to the idea that ‘a girl never kisses and tells.’ After awhile of not getting the desired response, people generally give up trying.

    • Valentina

      I had a similar idea, using that bit of humor. “I can’t say: if I told you, I’d have to kill you,” said with the sweetest smile in the world. You’re right: they’ll give up after awhile. :)

  • http://www.janelmessenger.com Janel M

    Over the years I’ve unintentionally started a few trends in my social circles, but nobody ever blatantly copied me. I’m not sure what I would do. At this point in my life, with my design background, everyone who compliments me automatically assumes I made it and are generally shocked to find that I didn’t!

    I wonder if she’s considered offering a personal shopping service. If they want a piece, they can pay for the details. “I’m a personal shopper and I don’t like to reveal my sources. If you’d like a consult, pop over to my website/here’s my card/etc.” And then charge an outrageous price so nobody wants to pay it. It could be a win-win idea.

    • LIz

      I agree with Janel M. Imitation might be the sincerest form of flattery but this is just cheapskatery! It’s like the people who try to get free legal or medical advice from lawyers and doctors at parties.
      Having to pay for advice will probably stop the barrage of questions in a way that coy evasions or lies never will. Beside which, people can usually intuit when you’re lying (especially if you’re a bad liar!). You don’t want to compromise your overall integrity that way.
      Have cards made with something like “stylist” or “personal shopper,” or both, printed on it, with contact information.
      Next time you’re asked about something, give them a card and say–brightly but not apologetically–that you now run a service and would be happy to discuss your rates–but not on company time, would they please contact you after work hours to discuss their needs and your rates. It would help to have your fees worked out in advance, just in case.
      This way you avoid problems with your employer–petty disputes in the office and/or doing personal business on company time– and you build in enough time for the people who constantly ask you for free advice to think about whether they want information enough to pay for it.
      It’s important to be brisk and non-defensive here, so the whole thing can be seen as a business decision, not something personal.
      I’ve been on the receiving end of people stealing expertise from me and using the information without attribution. It’s frustrating and infuriating but it will go on until you stop it. This seems to me to be the most effective way.
      And who knows, you might build a nice second income!

      • Galena

        You ladies have hit upon a BRILLIANT idea! Plus, if on the off-chance the copycat tries to say something snarky like “really? You think your style is good enough to ask people to pay for your advice?” she can reply with “well I’ve certainly had enough people just like you ask me where I shop and how I style things, so there’s clearly a market for my skills that you helped me discover!”

        • Anna

          Agreeing with Janel, Liz, and Galena, and going on to say this (which applies in a multitude of situations, including this one; it comes from my most trusted adviser):

          “We teach people how to treat us.”

  • Nan

    Where did you get those black ponte skinnies – I will tell you! Other than that, I tell folks that I buy most items online and on clearance, which is mostly the case. Here is another option for a response: they are asking for guidance, so give them some! Plan a one-time-only ladies night of shopping where you encourage them to try things on (other than your own personal items) and figure out their own style. Maybe the just need their shopping confidence boosted a bit – and they could learn to talk amongst themselves instead of the covert style-stealing inquiries you are fielding. Good luck!

  • San

    I often ask other and learn about the kind of brand or shop and then maybe go and try to figure out of that store has something more suitable for me.

    If I am asked I have the advantage of having travelled a lot. Hence, mostly when I am asked I can honestly mention a foreign country and I am good :) Therefore and to have my own style I actually buy more in foreign countries than here.

  • eveange66

    Come on aren’t we all some copycat somewhere? Especially as all around the world we have kind of the sames brands? I leave in Europe and some many of the chains are the same than in the US or China by the way, and the styling is also the same. So well we are all “copycating”! An example, the rend is right now to the New Balance: you see them on every women’s feet who want to be trendy and look cool. On every blog. Same with slim. And I would say the same with a lot of clothes, skirts, trousers, jumpers that are styled the same.
    I am sure I wear the same as some other women. But of course I want to believe I am unique on my own kind, as when I was a child and started wearing some of my ballet dancing stuff at school. It was on the eighties, well before it was trendy to wear casual and sports stuff on everyday basis.
    What helps me though is that I am very petite and sew some of my own clothes (some). But hey let’s face it, as I wrote we are all copycat somewhere whenever we jump in the bandwagon for something, being either sneakers, slim, peplum (not so popular in Europe I must say)…

    • LIz

      Being copycat is a lot different from what seems to be going on here. AK’s colleagues are asking her to do the work of a fashion stylist for them instead of looking for themselves.

  • Audi

    I travel a lot, so usually when people ask where I got something I reply, “Paris!” They rarely ask again. ;-)

  • Amy

    I like Janal’s suggestion to AK about offering her services as a personal shopper.

    I feel terrible for AK, to be honest. Her negative experience with copycatying during her youth has clearly impacted her reaction to the “where did you get that?” question as an adult. Those young years can be some of the most formative – both good and bad. AK may want to consider speaking to a counselor. I mean this in the most kind way.

  • http://boston.com/missconduct Robin Abrahams

    I’m so glad you wrote this, Sal! I’ve gotten versions of this question a couple of times over the years, and for one reason or another it’s never made it into my column. Good job addressing the various options that a person has.

    It’s a compliment to be a general inspiration, or to have someone buy a few of the same wardrobe items. A sustained head-to-toe copycatting can leave you feeling like something very “Single White Female” is going on.

    Of course, if you thrift or eBay much of your wardrobe, people can’t buy the exact same thing. Also, I belong to HauteLook, and anyone who joins on my recommendation and makes a purchase nets me $10 to spend at the site, so copycat away!

  • http://malepatternboldness.blogspot.com/ Peter

    Imitation is the highest form of flattery so it would be great if, whatever she does, Reader AK recognizes that whoever is asking for shopping info is admiring her and keeps her response KIND. Good karma and all that.

    I can imagine why this would be irritating and I like the idea of raising my game and offering style advice for a fee, but maybe Reader AK doesn’t have that ambition and doesn’t want to look like she has been xeroxed all over the office. It’s a toughie.

    I guess on response could be to be totally honest and say, “I’ve stopped sharing my sources because when I do, I see my clothes turning up on too many people and I don’t feel comfortable with that. I’m really sorry — but flattered you like what I’m wearing!”

    It would be interesting (for all of us) to take it a step or two deeper and to ask ourselves: “When I see my colleagues wearing the exact same _________ as I am, I feel ______________. And then to explore the reasons. Maybe we need to focus on what truly makes us unique — it’s not our boots, after all. Easier said than done!

    • Anne

      I agree with Peter’s sentiments. The only exception is if the person copycatting is a single white female creepy situation. In that case, I would address the whole situation and not just the clothes.

    • http://www.janelmessenger.com Janel M

      I like your honest response suggestion Peter! And I agree that we need to look more deeply at the why behind it.

  • Nebraskim

    This kind of happens for me. I work at a public television station, so folks dress in everything from suits (upper management) to jeans (engineers, photographers, etc.). I work in marketing, so I veer toward business casual (I’m not in sales, where they upscale a bit). I have a slightly classic/preppy/athlete vibe. I’ve only worked here about 18 months. My boss, who is six inches shorter and probably 25 pounds heavier than I am, has a really non-descript style and often she wears things that are appallingly unflattering. She has started to ask me questions about where I got certain items and I tell her. She has only directly copied me on one thing: she has started to wear blue-tones in fingernail polish, which is my signature look. She made a lot of comments about my blue nails last year, and within the past three or four months, I noticed she is now wearing blue polish. Right now, I know she shops at places I never go because their stuff is not my vibe — Chico’s and Coldwater Creek. I figure as long as she stays there and doesn’t start showing up in Talbots/Ann Taylor/BR, I’m safe.

  • Stephanie D.

    I’d hate to think that lying is the answer here though…I think that could turn out negatively and negativity in the workplace and having people against you (women can be cruel to each other) would make for an undesirable situation.

    I agree with some comments above. The whole ‘never kiss and tell’ idea that Erin mentioned is one that came to my mind as well. Be elusive. I don’t think she has to mention where she got them anyway because it’s her prerogative.

    Also, in her researching, one could assume she found similar items elsewhere and maybe those other places could be mentioned in conversation.

    Lying would be the easy way out but I don’t think it’s the right option!

  • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sally

    Totally love the idea of offering to do personal shopping! Might be a little tricky to implement, but also offers an alternative that doesn’t involve lying or a difficult confrontation.

  • Becky

    This could be a cultural thing. I heard recently (wish I could remember which podcast) that in the US, middle-class people are all about defining themselves as individuals through their choices, while working-class people do not prioritize “choice” much. The way it plays out was described as follows:

    A reseracher asked people how the would feel if they did a bunch of research on buying a new car, and after much effort, decided on certain make and model. A friend asks them about it, and a week later shows up driving *that exact car.* Here’s where it gets interesting: Middle-class respondents mostly said they would be angry. Working-class respondents mostly said they would be pleased.

    In other words, there are probably cultural reasons why your co-workers (and fomer classmates) don’t consider copying your clothing choices to be offensive. I’m not saying you have to like it. :-) But knowing this might ease your annoyance as you figure out a way to stop it from happening.

    • Becky

      The researchers considered this to be a class distinction, but I suspect it also varies across geographical regions, ethnic background, etc.

  • Anamarie

    I work with a woman who copies my style – specific pieces and styling of accessories. She once hired a style consultant and was supposed to go through a purge, closet assessment, style assessment, and then shopping. She skipped straight to the shopping because the rest was too much work. I guess copying my style is easier. I have tried to be a “mentor” to this person by suggesting certain styles that would look great on her. I have no interest in hanging out with her outside of work! She listens about 50% of the time and the rest of the time she just copies me anyway (totally different style and body type). Frustrating.

  • Andrea

    “Why do you ask?” It’s a simple, perfectly polite solution to any question that seems suspect. Because the other person will either mumble about just being curious, in which case you can smile sweetly, say “Oh, I see,” and change the subject. Or else she’ll flat out tell you that she wants to buy the thing and you can joke that you’d rather not be twinsies. And then change the subject. Point is, we aren’t obligated to answer every question we are asked. And in my experience, it won’t take more than a few rounds of this game before the askers quit asking.

    • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sally

      YES. Love it.

  • Kristin

    Hey, sew your own clothes and this will NEVER happen! But I understand: it’s annoying. Rather than just complimenting you outright, they do this copycat thing. I’ll bet they also asks that things cost.

  • poodletail

    I hear you, AK. “Imitation is the highest form of flattery” doesn’t wash with me, either. Brava, Janal! My business as a skin care, color, and style consultant grew out of this exact situation so rather than getting prickly about it I can truly help.

  • http://readinginskirts.wordpress.com Mia

    Huh, it never occurred to me that this is something people would get grumpy about! Then again, I haven’t had this happen in the workplace yet–I’m the youngest of all my coworkers, and I am definitely the wackiest dresser of all of us (which is not to say that I don’t have some stylish coworkers!). A couple of my coworkers and I do shop at the same places sometimes (mostly Target) but they have completely different body types than I do, and I don’t think we share any duplicate garments between us.

    I WAS recently contemplating making myself a necklace similar to one that I made a coworker for our Secret Santa office exchange, but decided against it because I thought it might be weird. It’s true that the “twinsies” thing can be a little strange, but I don’t think I would feel annoyed if A. or S. bought something I had. We all appreciate each others’ style, but we have different tastes!

  • Jess

    I think you would be happier if you let it go, especially with staple items from mall brands, in my experience, everyone ends up shopping in mostly the same stores anyway, so women in a workplace will all look somewhat similar. I have to say if I asked a co worker of mine where she got something and got some evasive answer, I would take it as a snub, and generally, you want to maintain good relationships with your coworkers. I realize you have some past baggage that is coloring your feelings, I had pretty much the opposite experience where I never had “cool” clothes growing up, and was frequently made fun of for my thrift store/ mervyns wardrobe, so when people would ask about my clothes as an adult, I would automatically assume they were making a negative judgement, once I realized that I was letting something that happened a long time ago impact me negatively now, and made the decision to just let it go, I was much happier. At the end of the day, who cares if somebody buys the same boots you have, honestly it sounds a little “mean girl”.

    • Kk

      Exactly.

  • http://saveyourpinmoney.blogspot.com Sabine

    I often get asked about clothing items at work but since most colleagues don’t have my body type there’s usually no danger of being copied so closely.

    What irks me – a lot – is being asked about my perfume and then to find people buying and wearing it in the places I frequent . I’m usually good at finding unique-smelling not-too-expensive scents. When asked I now say: “Oh it was a gift, don’t remember the name.” A colleague of mine usually sniffs her wrists when faced with the question and wistfully asks herself: What am I wearing? Don’t think I really remember what I put on today, – no, no, horribly sorry, I don’t.” People do stop asking, as was suggested above.

  • tracy

    Yes – asking is sometimes a way of being friendly, of trying to understand and share your hobbies/choices outside of work. If it’s someone who feels friendly, maybe suggest a lunch and shopping date sometime? If you never learned to shop – sometimes I think it is nice to have a friend go along and show you the best shops to hit, how to find deals, etc. I mean, even take her to Marshalls – both try on things – and you can say why you would or wouldn’t choose something that you tried on – or what she should/shouldn’t choose. Also throw in the “twinsies” discussion while out shopping – “If you’re buying that, I won’t, because I don’t want us to show up wearing the same thing!”

  • HM

    As a guy, I can’t imagine being offended at someone at work dressing like me. I had a coworker who also wore a lot of Quicksilver shirts – the only reason I would not tell him where I got different things is that we were the same size and I would not want him to get the last in my size. Everyone is free to look how they want. I’d say to be vague and to not worry about someone looking like you.

  • http://sololisa.com Lisa

    Oof, poor AK. Like the other commenters, I was going to suggest offering her services as a personal shopper. Make a date with the coworker and find out what makes the coworker’s sartorial clock tick, then recommend things based on that and compliment the coworker on her unique personal style. Maybe if the coworkers feel confident enough in their own style, they’ll stop copying her?

  • Ariel

    Wow–just, wow. How I WISH my life was so easy that something like this merited worry. My questions are more like:
    Should I pay the water bill, or the electric bill, this month?
    Prescription meds, or dog food?
    Tank of gas, or bag of groceries?
    or…
    That unexpected car repair bill due to the Polar Vortex wiped out most of my mortgage money for next month–where’s that going to come from?…
    I just tell people I got something at a thrift store or Goodwill (which is true 99.99% of the time), and we’re all good to go.

    • Cara

      And there are billions of people in the world with worse problems than yours, as well. Just because you have bigger issues on your mind doesn’t mean that A.K.’s question isn’t worth pondering. This question may have been insensitive posted to a blog about poverty or homelessness, but this is a style blog after all.

  • Galena

    I can absolutely understand AK’s frustration for people blatantly copying what she buys when she’s put a lot of time and effort into the research and this person blithely doesn’t get it and is just reaping the rewards without being appreciative or understanding that AK really might NOT want someone in her office wearing the EXACT same thing. That can be awkward!

    For me personally though, I kinda take the opposite perspective on it. I’m excited to share the deals I’ve found and the knowledge I’ve gotten through my research–in my opinion I want the time I’ve put in to benefit more people than just me so I don’t feel selfish about spending lots of time this way, haha! I’m also proud to share where to score the deals I’ve found because I don’t have much money to spend on clothes/accessories and I know how frustrating that feels and I want others to share the wealth, so to speak. In fact, 2 summers ago I found an amazing maxi dress at JCPenney and my coworkers liked it so much that they asked me where I got it and if there were similar styles to it at that store. For this particular cut, there weren’t, but I said “seriously, if you go and try it on and like it, BUY IT!” And 3 of the other women in my office ended up buying it. We thought it was all good fun and we actually all decided to wear the dress together one day. (Disclosure: my office is amazing and we all get along very well and are friendly outside of work, so I am very aware that most offices are not like this!)

  • Cara

    Ugh. I don’t get asked this often but I am now purposefully vague because of two bad experiences I had with telling people in the office where I got something.

    1) There was this weird woman at work who would always come to my desk and tell me she liked my purse. Any time I carried a different purse to work, she’d come to comment on it. It was really annoying, but whatever. Then one day she asked who made the purse I was carrying, and I told her, and she actually asked me to write it down (it was Rebecca Minkoff), and then she finally went away.

    Well, later that day I passed her in the hall and she stopped me and said, “You know, I looked up that brand you told me about, and it’s too expensive. I have a young son to take care of, I can’t be spending that kind of money on myself.” I was like uhhh… OK? It wasn’t like I told her to buy it, she asked! And her tone was kind of defensive and hostile like she is so selfless caring for a kid and I’m so selfish spending money (not a ton either, I bought the bag at deep discount) on a handbag.

    2) Another day a woman I had never seen or spoken to before asked me where I got my shoes. I told her the truth, they came from Barefoot Tess. “What’s that?” she said. Now I’m getting a little uncomfortable and I explain it’s an online shoe store for women who wear larger size shoes. She says, “Oh, how large?” I say, “I’m not sure, I think they might start around an 11″ and she actually LAUGHS and says, “Yeah, that’s not going to work” and I wanted to say my God lady don’t ask questions like that if you can’t be respectful when you hear the response!

    So, yeah. I’m done with disclosing the provenance of my clothing with people at the office. Now if anyone asks I am deliberately vague, saying that I got it at a clearance sale last season or it was a gift or whatever seems like it fits.

  • Portia

    Although I understand the irritation that must arise when one finds her style being copied, honestly, I find this all so petty.

    I’m on the other end – the girl who asks a peer what he or she is wearing and/or where he or she got an item. I do this not with some type of calculated shrewdness to copy someone else’s style, but with true admiration. I like to compliment people for no other reason than to compliment, and I am pretty blunt about it. And when I do like the item in question and want to integrate it or something similar into my own wardrobe, I am forthright about it too.

    I don’t understand why girls and women (in my experience, it has been girls and women) get so testy when asked where she got an item. I think it is exceptionally rude when I get snubbed for simply asking, no matter how politely, and brushed off with an “I don’t remember” or “it was a gift.” Please, I’m not stupid; your lying is so obvious. If you don’t want to tell someone where you got something, say it. More often than not, people will appreciate your honesty. Snubbing someone with some obvious lie or half-baked response comes off as jealousy and shadiness, and moreover, feeds into the whole female competition factor we’ve been fed into.

    Maybe, as someone else suggested, AK could offer style advice/classes and help her peers find their own style. Or maybe she could just lighten up about it; her style is clearly admired in her environments, and she is setting trends.

    • Chelsea

      I can see your point about it being petty, but there are several examples in the comments about people who do share where they got something and then get snarky comments in return. People can be rude and judgmental, so I can totally understand not wanting to disclose something that feels personal. I’ve luckily never had any weirdness with this sort of thing at my office. There are only a few women, and a couple of us had have had the same things different colors, but I don’t think it was ever on purpose or made anyone uncomfortable. I hope! :)

      • http://www.markdefrates.com pamela gene daley

        As someone said earlier: We teach people how to treat us.

      • Portia

        Yeah, that’s the unfortunate thing :( Hm… maybe we could exercise better judgement on who to share information with? Or maybe an assertive response is needed to put down snarky comments that come along?

    • Anne

      Thank you. I found this to be a petty issue, as well. Why not be proud of the fact that your coworkers admire your style and want to elevate their own because of it? If you do so much research online for your own style, why not send your coworkers some links to items you see online that aren’t for you, but could work for one of them? Let’s not horde the development of style, especially in the workplace, where we should be supporting each other. Don’t get angry at your coworkers.

      I think the focusing on coming up with lies and alternatives to getting around telling them where you got something is a waste of your time. It’s also dishonest to yourself and your coworkers.

  • Cynthia Peterson

    I used to work with a woman who copied my fragrance choices. That REALLY ticked me off, as I find it to be so personal. The fourth time she complimented my perfume and asked what it was, I just told her straight out that I wouldn’t be sharing the information as I felt it was too personal. That stopped her.

  • leftcoaster

    I feel really sad about the idea that other women can’t wear the same thing you are and you don’t want them to copy. I feel like this just re-enforces some really harmful practices, first of thinking that your appearance as a female person is the main indicator of worthiness, and secondly, that your worth is diminished if someone else achieves it with the same article of clothing.

  • Mab

    This really does come across as petty. Style shouldn’t be a competition, with prizes awarded for ‘uniqueness’ and being the only person wearing an item.

    An identical item of clothing will never look exactly the same on different people – everyone has different bodies, so it will hang/drape/highlight/downplay in a different way (unless you happen to be identical twins).

    Similarly, perfume interacts with skin chemistry and will subtly (and not so subtly) change in scent depending on the specifics of who is wearing it.

    • Asher

      I agree–in fact, I will see your “petty” and raise you “#firstworldproblems.”

      • A.K.

        Hey, this is Petty McPetterson here! Be sure to check out my response below!

      • Andrea

        Amen to both of you.

      • Kathy

        Soo very very true!

  • http://fashionforgiants.blogspot.com Gracey the Giant

    This kind of makes me laugh because there is a woman I work with who is always SWFing (single white female-ing) me and it drives me crazy. While I am usually open to giving up where I shop (in part because I get half my stuff from Goodwill), if I tell her, she buys it and then makes comments about how we dress the same. We don’t dress the same! Even in similar pieces we look different (which is one of your points) but it drives me mad because she IS trying to look like me. I know, I know, “sincerest form of flattery” and all that but it pretty irritating.

  • Rachel

    I always say thift store – it’s 90% true because I get most of my items there and also I have to that maybe letting go a little would be good. I get that the “copy” impulse might annoy some or if it’s too much it might be creepy or stalkeresque but I generally find that to be rare. Also wouldn’t ou want to be someone who’d dressed so well that people found your style worth copying? Also I usually find that the “I went out and bought just what you bought” often leads to that person issuing your good clothes vibes as a gateway to their personal style. They try something new you wore then try other things as well….. Etc….

  • A.K.

    I was surprised to see my question up on Sally’s blog this morning, and the ongoing discussion about my question!

    Maybe this issue is petty to some – but this is a style blog, right? Sally writes about all issues related to style and obviously thought this issue merited discussion. I’m not sure how you can read my question to Sally and conclude that I don’t have problems more serious than whether someone is copying my style. Whaaaaat?

    I’m a lawyer – I don’t want to offer consultation services, and I don’t think that loving my own style makes me qualified to tell others how to dress. I’ll leave that to the pros, like Sally!

    I didn’t mention this in my original email, but the cool clothes I had as a young teenager were purchased by ME with my own hard-earned money. The copycats used mom and dad’s credit cards to pay for their clothes. Another interesting point is that I was an ethnic minority in a small town in MN. I stuck out no matter what I wore, and it meant a lot to my teenage self-esteem to wear the clothes I did, since I didn’t have blue eyes or long, blonde hair like my peers.

    As an adult, it took me a long time to spend more than $50 on any clothing item. If I buy something that is special to me and makes me feel good, it sucks the joy out of it for me when someone buys the exact sweater, jewelry, bag, or shoes! I’m also a somewhat hard-to-fit person, so I HAVE to put a lot of effort into my clothing. I have a lot of time invested in my style, as do a lot of readers of this blog. If that makes me shallow, whatever. Fashion gives me a creative outlet that I enjoy.

    I asked my question in the first place because I wanted to know how I could avoid hurting my coworkers’ feelings when responding to their questions! The rest of the question was just background.

    I wish I could sew my own clothes! My sewing machine is whacky and I can’t figure it out. It stopped working properly when I used it to hem a pair of jeans (changed to a denim needle). But that’s maybe an issue for a sewing blog!

    • Mab

      ‘If I buy something that is special to me and makes me feel good, it sucks the joy out of it for me when someone buys the exact sweater, jewelry, bag, or shoes!’

      Would you still have this feeling if the ‘someone’ bought the item randomly of their own accord, or is it only when someone asks you, and then obtains said item?

      And I want to emphasise that investment in personal style is in no way shallow. The ‘pettiness’ I’m reading wasn’t solely your question, but also the post itself. As to exactly what it was that gave me this impression, I’m still trying to determine.

    • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sally

      Thanks for swinging by with this additional input, AK.

    • Kathy

      “I’ve had it forever”.
      “I ‘m not sure that I remember”.
      “It was a gift from_______”
      “I bought it last season”.
      “I’ll tell you if you promise not to wear it to the office.”
      “I’m surprised that you like it, it doesn’t seem quite your style”.
      Oh, let me count the myriad polite ways to dodge this question. Remember that the stores had racks of this very item in endless sizes and colors, and what makes you one of a kind is the way that you style your choices. Your co-workers are likely to think that they are paying you a sort of sartorial homage. It would be lovely if you could learn to accept it in that spirit.

    • Robin

      This makes a lot of sense. It’s not just about clothes, it’s a matter of identity–and earned identity, no less. Style is part of our view of ourselves and the persona we create for the world, and though it may come off as petty to others, it’s actually quite complex!

  • Anne

    I read this post this morning and it has stayed with me through the day. It’s the first post that has done that. I think it’s because I’m so surprised by the sentiments shared by AK. It never occurred to me that someone would consider being copied so annoying and disruptive. To me, it seems very competitive and petty. Especially because AK describes the people asking as friends, only some of whom sometimes go out and buy something.

    I would respond honestly to people: “I’m sorry, I don’t share the specifics about where I buy my clothes because it makes me uncomfortable/feels like an infringement/isn’t fair/doesn’t respect the time I take to choose and buy my garment (or whatever an honest, brief reason is). But thank you for noticing my lovely boots/shirt/bracelet/whatever.”

    If AK isn’t comfortable responding in a honest, direct, and kind way, I would ask why that it. A person’s worth goes beyond pieces of clothing. The post makes it sound like AF considers the value of her look to be the object purchased and not how it is styled and how it looks on her as an individual. AF’s value – in fashion and otherwise – goes way beyond what she buys. I say to work on authentic self-love first. And to suck it up on people’s complements and copying second.

  • Annabeth

    I would say response should vary depending on who’s asking. If the coworkers in question are just making conversation, or have only once or twice gotten something very like yours, then my advice would be just to tell them. That strikes me as more a compliment than anything else.

    For real copycatters, I think it’s fine to fudge it. You can always say “eBay,” which is of course vague enough as to be no help to them whatsoever. In addition you will get a reputation as an amazing bargain hunter!

  • dana

    Central to the question is: if you spend a lot of time/study/effort on a hobby in your life are you obligated to spell out all the details when complimented upon your results?

    Let’s look at other examples. My landscaping is fabulous; am I obligated to spell out for a neighbor exactly what plants I bought and why I chose the nursery I did? What about holiday yard decorations: is it cool for a neighbor to simply copy my purchases?

    To me, my wardrobe is my personal real estate. I work hard at it. Doesn’t matter if my purchase if from a thrift or Nordstroms. I’ve spent time and energy on it.

    I’d answer with: oh you might try store A, B, C or D. (Be sure to give a range of stores.) Or if I genuinely trusted and liked the individual, I’d answer with the “I work as stylist, and can help you on the weekends, if that works for you or would be something you’re interested in chatting about further.” Both of those answers are true.

  • Nebraskim

    Good response, AK. If something does bother you, and you bring it up and ask for a response, it’s a wee bit out of line for others to say “oh, boo hoo, it’s so #firstworldproblem” etc. etc. Some may feel it’s petty, but it can be a legitimate problem. I hope you got some solutions.

  • Kristen

    What about making a bit of a joke about it in a joking-not-joking way? Somehow pointing out that hello, you’re copying me (again!) without outright confrontation. Many of us don’t want people copying us, and we also wouldn’t want to be called out on copying someone else. It can be a fine line between being passive-aggressive (which I don’t recommend) and just being more subtle in pointing out that you recognize what that person is doing and aren’t really OK with it. Something like, “Are you stealing stuff from my closet when I’m not home?” or “How are people going to tell us apart if you keep wearing my clothes?” in a joking tone might be just enough to put a little discomfort into the situation so the coworkers get a feel for the dynamic they’re creating by copying AK.

    You could also try evading the question by saying something like, “Thanks! You know, I saw something similar at ____” and direct them to a different source. Since AK does seem to spend a lot of time shopping and researching, she may have good alternatives for her coworkers without having to give out so many specifics.

  • Amy

    A.K. – Maybe stop answering the questions (lie/dodge/evade/change subject – whatever works for you) while you pause and focus on a mindset change. It seems from your comments that you are put off by the seeming ease of others successes, if only because your life was very difficult growing up. Almost as if you feel by sharing information with them, they will use it against you in a way (even inadvertently) and there won’t be anything left for you to enjoy. Perhaps spending some time exploring the full depths of the feelings that are triggered when someone asks you where you got a special article of clothing would help you? Perhaps focusing on an alternate outlook in life (an outlook of plenty and one of autonomy – your special things are yours – regardless of whether other people are copying you) would help?
    I am going to go out on a limb here and say that given your field of work you have probably built a very rational, solid case about why it bothers you so much and why you have the complete right to hold your opinions (I’m an engineer – I do this all the time…and it’s not always a good thing). I would encourage you to explore the emotional side of the issue and see if by self care and exploring different points of view this issue can be solved in a healthy way – such that you can smile and be confident you don’t have to divulge every last shopping detail every time someone asks. Or you can smile and not answer, but still be kind. Or you can answer and discover that whatever other people do, it doesn’t diminish the value, uniqueness, or ‘specialness’ of the purchases you make for yourself.

    • AK

      I didn’t have a difficult childhood. My mom made me buy my own Guess jeans. OMG.

      Does it change the dynamic of my question that the worst copycat in my office is a partner and therefore one of my bosses? That she will tell me that I look like I’m going horseback riding, then bully the store, brand and price out of me, and come in on Monday with the same riding boots?

      I often compliment strangers on their outfits or individual pieces. Nine times out of ten, the response is, “thanks, it’s Kate Spade!” Didn’t ask. Wouldn’t ask. Why can’t it be enough that I said she looked nice? I think someone who responds brand- or store-specific has more issues than I do. I just don’t want to be asked where I got something. I dress for myself, and really don’t care if anyone likes my style. I do. My husband does. What’s better than your SO saying, “you look hot!” when you get home from a bad day at work?

      • Anon

        To be fair, I often respond “Thanks, it’s from XXX” just to make conversation and to have something to say. Not to brag about the brand (most of my clothing is not that expensive).

        But then, I am a very shy person and have had to learn (painfully) how to make small talk. Perhaps I am wrong.

      • Agnes

        AK, it seems to me like you’ve just hit the nail on the head. You refer to what your boss is doing as “bullying”, and from how you describe the situation it seems to me like that’s exactly what she’s been doing. In this particular case of someone copying you, is what’s bothering you really that your boss is inquiring about a specific item or is it rather the way she’s going about it? Maybe your boss feels intimidated by you or your work and has chosen to relieve some of that aggression by criticizing your style.

      • Becky

        Yes, it completely changes the dynamic that the worst offender is your boss. Think about it; in the instance you described she:
        1) puts you down (implies that you’re dressed for the wrong occasion)
        2) harrasses you (bullying the information out of you)
        3) takes advantage of your work (by using you as a personal shopper against your will)

        This isn’t simple copy-cattery, it’s your boss deliberately needling you over the space of a few days.

        Knowing that, and knowing that the rest of the office may be into this weird clothing dynamic because the boss is, really changes things.

        You know your office better than we do, and what might fly and what won’t fly. But consider it a test. They are playing a game with you. You’re in a competitive field where sadly, this type of behavior is common. (At least, it is for my friends who are in law.) Apply your own cleverness and subtlety to the issue, assuming that they know what they’re doing, and you know what they know they’re doing, and take it from there. Good luck!

      • Mab

        I am truly sorry that your boss is choosing to engage in work-place bullying. The fact that she is belittling and putting you down in this way is truly horrible behaviour on her part.

    • Anne

      I do think the dynamic changes given that the worst copycat is your boss and she teases you about your outfits before buying a similar item! I wouldn’t tell her anything, either! But mostly because she sounds like a horrible person. Because she is your boss, you obviously have to be nice, and your Marshall’s strategy seems pretty good. If there weren’t a power differential due to her being partner, it might be worth addressing the behavior as a whole. Or maybe joking, “you must want to ride horses today, see you’ve got similar boots to mine!” But that clearly won’t fly with your boss. Good luck! Thank you for putting yourself out there to spur such a great discussion.

  • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sally

    I’m curious if these feelings of pettiness extend to other examples. A colleague just told me her next door neighbor and friend – with whom she shares many social connections – came to her house, saw her new couch, and bought the exact same couch the following week. Is it petty for my colleague – who specializes in merchandising and is meticulous about her design choices – to feel upset by this? Dana gives two other great examples above, too: Gardening and holiday decorations.

    I ask because I feel like some of this reaction may be tied up in general feelings that being protective of or caring about personal appearance at all is shallow or unimportant, a sentiment that several folks have expressed here. (Which surprises me. We talk about how style affects self-image on this blog, so clearly an issue related to dressing choices and interpersonal relations is relevant. But I digress.) I don’t disagree that lying is a poor option – and I’m DELIGHTED to see that so many of you have better and more constructive suggestions to share! Caring if others copy you frequently and without being courteous about it does not strike me as petty. There’s nothing shallow or shameful about taking pride in your taste, skill as a shopper, or personal appearance. And I don’t feel like all people should feel obligated to share their sources for everything with everyone just because they’re asked.

    On the flip side, my other colleague – a professional stylist – said she would see this behavior as proof she’s doing something right. She pointed out that people like AK are tastemakers and the kind of folks that most brands are dying to connect with. Clearly, a lot depends on your perspective!

    • jay

      My friend bought a couch last year that I absolutely adore. When I asked her where she bought it from so I could stop by and see what other choices they had she not only told me where she bought it but told me the exact name/model number. If she would been defensive or said she didn’t want to tell me I would have considered that very rude!

      I don’t think information should be defensively hoarded, the whole thing just seems so bizarre to me. If you can go into a store at a moments notice and buy the exact same thing I don’t understand the issue. Now, for things like family recipes and such it’s a totally different ball game, or if I were calling up said friend and constantly badgering her for design advice. A simple “Wow, beautiful dress, where did you get that?” “Thanks! Banana Republic.” takes 30 seconds at most out of your day and is hardly demanding a professional consultation.

    • Anne

      I am a casual gardener, and if it were my garden and someone asked about a plant or a paver type, I would be flattered and offer that freely. If they copied the whole garden, I would feel like they were kind of lame, but not be personally offended. I would not feel their copying of my garden diminishes mine. But my gardening is casual.

      I do take a huge interest in renovating my home and interior decorating. Same story. Happy to share specific details, I would think you were lame if you copied me outright, but I would not be offended.

      I think the root of perspective is that it sounds like the copiers are copying AK’s pieces, and not a style. Perhaps this is incorrect. If someone has your pieces, why should you care? I have extremely unique handcrafted jewelry that I spend a lot of time and energy to carefully pick. It does not diminish me or the jewelry to have 2 people wearing it. However, if someone is trying to look like me, that is creepy and I would be disturbed.

      I don’t see that personal style is being denigrated in this perspective, just that individual items are things. Perhaps this perspective denigrates the power of style through purchase vs style through styling and vision.

    • Andrea

      But does caring about one’s appearance *preclude* someone else caring about their appearance with an item that happens to be the same? And if the neighbor (in your example) had seen the couch online or in a store and still purchased it, would your colleague have felt the same way? If I see someone wearing an item that really speaks to me, too, should I automatically deny myself that item forever just because someone else wore/found it first? I’ve no interest in being a copycat, but isn’t that why people pinterest these days? To get ideas they like and then implement them? I don’t pinterest, btw. And I realize there’s a difference between paraphrasing (so to speak) and outright plagiarism of an outfit or idea.

      But as a result of this thread, I’m pretty thankful I’m self-employed and not in the corporate world. Because if I ever complimented someone on say, her boots, — and yes, asked where she found them — and was given the brush-off, I would be gobsmacked. And likely hurt, for a bit. And likely not to ask that co-worker for *anything* if I could help it, as I would then have the impression that they are not friendly/helpful/a team player. And then I’d go hang out with my male co-workers who wouldn’t give a damn. But I need to spend some more time with this; I find I’m having a pretty visceral reaction and not quite sure of how to articulate it. Interesting, certainly.

    • Annabeth

      I would find this flattering unless or until it went to an extreme. If one friend of mine bought the same skirt I had, I’d be pleased. If that same friend kept buying the same clothes as me, over and over, it gets a little “Single White Female.”

    • http://pacificrain.blogspot.com sarah

      None of this would bother me; though Becky and Leah’s comments about that study of class-based responses to a friend buying the same car might lend a clue. I grew up working class, and with very socialist values; those influences continue to shape me today. I give away things I make, offer to online shop for friends who are looking for something in particular but hate to shop, edit my friends’ professional articles and novels for free, and am always flattered when asked where I get my hair cut, where I find my clothes, etc. In terms of the garden question, my next-door neighbor and I regularly share seedlings and swap details about plants; I consider it a real honor when she goes out and buys a plant because she loved it in my yard. Heck, some of the things I plant I plant *for* my neighbours (like the perfumed lilies that I put along our shared fence because they are my neighbour’s favorite flower). Through friends I was able to source a popular designer wallpaper at a big discount in a London warehouse; I have offered the remnants (and the special paste, which took me months to research and find) to other friends to use to line their cupboards if they want. I like to give it all away.

      For me, these actions are deeply rooted in personal politics (and so, yes, I recognize that this is a very subjective and individual view): the processes of capitalism are designed to place us in competition with each other. I find these processes isolating and depressing; for me, sharing my information, talent, skills, the product of labour that I enjoy (be it sewing, online shopping, gardening, editing, even cooking and baking) is a way to build connection and community that combats the culture of an economic system that I disagree with.

      And when I turn up at social events or at work and find others wearing the same clothes, I’m usually the first to delightedly exclaim, “TWINSIES!!”

  • Robin

    You know, my impulse is to feel this way, but I could see it crossing a line: Someone shows up in the same outfit, head to toe. Or I overhear someone being complimented on an item I told her about, and she responds that she just has great style. To some extent I could let both of these go, but I’d have to admit it’d bother me a little–so I could see why other people are uncomfortable in different situations, like the repetitive nature of the LW’s experience.

  • Shaye

    Oof. I guess I can see feeling this way if people you sort of dislike show up wearing super-unique items you already own. But for basics in hard-to-fit sizes or shapes, a lot of times people HAVE been looking themselves, and have simply not been as lucky. The retail world is vast and yet it feels like whenever I look for wide-calf boots I always end up finding the same five unsuitable brands. If I asked someone where they got their wide-calf boots and they evaded, I would be hurt – maybe even angry. As if having wide calves (/thin calves/large breasts/big hips/needing really petite sizes/etc.) doesn’t make it hard enough to find clothing, now it’s a competition to see who can find (and keep secret) the best stuff? Maybe my reaction to this would have been different if she’d used a different example. But as far as I’m concerned, when it comes to specialty sizes or shapes, it is important to share your resources with other people.

    I say this because I am actually on the same side of this equation as AK more often than not. It’s true that I buy most of my stuff at vintage or thrift stores, but for the stuff I buy new, if another gal who was wide of hip and thigh wanted to know where I got my hot coral skinny pants, I’d gleefully tell her that they came from this store and it’s this style and they are often on sale and they are also really comfy and the best!! EVER!! (Although I guess I should note that NO ONE has ever wanted to know where I got my hot coral skinny pants!). I joyfully share my resources because clothes make me happy, and I like spreading the joy. My actual style is unique enough that no one is ever going to show up looking exactly like me.

    However, AK notes above that she’s a lawyer. I can see being concerned in some situations that wearing identical pieces as your colleagues could read as unprofessional. That’s never been an issue for me, but if it were, I’d probably be straight with them. “Oh, are you looking for something like this too? If you get the same one, I’m worried we might end up wearing them on the same day. Then we’d come across as a little strange, don’t you think?”

  • Asher

    I guess I’d differentiate between where I bought something, or the act of buying something, and a sense of style (or, even more, a sense of self). It does seem in the scenario laid out that sense of self is being constructed from the act of consumption (her expressed as wanting to safeguard where you bought it). The part that has to do with individual expression is not the act of consumption (obviously, because the store and others like it are full of duplicates). I would worry about shifting the sense of personal expression to the part about consuming, the act of buying. I mean, that is a motivated and carefully constructed slippage that has to do with profits and teaching us to feel pleasure in the buying (not the wearing, not the combining, not the expression). Being protective of the moment when you handed over your money in exchange for goods is not the same as being protective of your style, I don’t think. (And I think we could teach ourselves that opportunities to be sharing are more gratifying than not telling anyone where you took out your credit card and followed the mandates of our consumer system.)

  • Molly

    My clothes are mostly thrifted. If someone asks about something I didn’t thrift, like my shoes or legwear or hand warmers, I’m more than happy to tell them. I typically choose to spend my money on a brand or store I care about. I’m always happy to tell people my tights are from SockDreams or that I scored these heels from a clearance sale at 6pm.com. I rarely ask people where they found a certain item, but if I did ask, I would be asking someone with a body type similar to my own where they found their jeans.

    When I’ve seen a friend wear a style that I consider to be one of my signature things, I’m happy! I definitely compliment her on her outfit. I like what I wear, and it makes me happy to see other people wear the same things I do. I’d be a bit annoyed if one of the styles I’d been wearing for years suddenly became the hot new trend for tweens, but I must say that it would likely be an improvement over some of the other clothing trends I’ve seen lately.

    • Annabeth

      This is a very good point – little-known stores, brands and artisans need enthusiastic customers to spread the word. Maybe Nordstrom Rack will rise or fall without your word-of-mouth support, but smaller-scale producers of clothing, jewelry, etc. rely on this exact question, “Where did you get that?”

  • Michelle…

    I kinda feel like, if you’re so protective of whatever you’ve bought that you don’t want to “share”, you’re better off to buy a one-off.

    After all, most of this stuff is mass-produced right? Someone else is gonna be wearing what you’re wearing at some stage, whether they’ve seen it on you (and asked) or seen it on someone else.

    (I know that’s only part of the issue but if it’s such a big deal?)

  • Kathy

    Isn’t this copying EXACTLY how a trend becomes a trend becomes a fad? Aren’t we all scanning our environment, the fashion magazines and blogs for ideas to adopt (let’s not say “steal”). When a neighbor remodels her house and reconfigures her space to better use her space are we denied the right to follow suit, and take advantage of her fabulous idea(s). No, of course we are not obligated to share our sources, and we have the right to be peevish and upset if copycats are bothersome, but in all likelihood they will persist,- there is more than a little human nature in the urge to imitate.

  • LaChina

    I think the response would depend on the person and what I think their motives are. There are people I respect and admire and I’m flattered when they ask where I bought something, and I have no qualms answering. On the other hand there are some who like to one up me, and I just avoid or change the subject. One co- worker asked me where I bought something and how much I paid for it, I answered and thought nothing of it. Later she called me to her desk and showed me a similar item on eBay and said she was getting it for way less than what I paid. The quality wasn’t nearly the same but I didn’t bother telling her.

  • Leslie

    I completely see where A.K. is coming from, and I would be really annoyed as well. While she did mention that she was friendly with these co-workers, that doesn’t mean they are Friends. If they were, she would obviously feel comfortable telling them to step off.

    I feel that EVERY office environment is like this, and that’s what it comes down to– environment. It’s not as if you see those people rarely– you see them EVERY. DAY. Sometimes all day, if it’s an open concept office, etc. You may even spend more of your waking day with co-workers than your own family and friends. SO– that said, it would be VERY annoying if someone copied you. I have had former co-workers like this, and at first it’s no big deal, but then it just gets under your skin and it’s something you cannot escape from.

    So, A.K., I’d just be honest with these ladies when they ask in the future. Politely, succinctly, in which I’m sure you are well-practiced as a lawyer. I do not find your questions petty or “first world”… I’m sure there are women in third world countries who have similar issues. It’s a universal issue– humans value their ornamentation. ;-)

  • http://www.markdefrates.com pamela gene daley

    OK…..I have to finally admit it: I Love You, Sally! Your posts are THE best of the many (often very intelligent) posts I read every day. And, fellow commentators – also WONDERFUL – all of you – from all points of view. This is so refreshing.

    I also love to share where I got items that I wear and if it’s jewelry especially as I am a jeweler and I can say “I made it! Want one?” The weirdo stalker type is so very very rare and the others – it’s a compliment and if they buy and wear it (and it will NEVER be the way you do) all the better. Childhood horribleness can have a stranglehold on how we perceive our world – and we often don’t even know it because our mind justifies it for us (“Why how DARE she…..etcetcetc!”) But life is about achieving happiness and that means gently untangling our poor addled minds from the mundane (even though HUGE in our view) to the truly universal – which, as Sally is always reminding us is: Love, Compassion and Acceptance – starting with ourselves.

    Thanx for all this everyone! :)(:

  • http://www.markdefrates.com pamela gene daley

    One more thing and I’m surprised I forgot it (being Buddhist). The best (or maybe the only) way to calm and/or change your mind is meditation. There are zillions of ways to do it and gazillions of books (and I have a few I recommend if anybody’s interested) but this very silly little graphic from The Daily Mail (of all places!) is a great start with one caveat – 10 minutes is fine:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2133627/Give-brain-break–achieve-inner-peace-easy-guide-meditating.html

    “No one and nothing can free you but your own understanding.” Ajahn Chah
    or
    “Change Your Mind” Anonymous

  • Jen

    I’ve had some experiences with this . . . involving my own mom. I love her dearly, and still live with her (in my 20s and broke-no judgey :). But the woman has very little style. She doesn’t know quite what colors to put together or what shapes look good on her body. She’d be the first to admit that she got the organization and people skills and I got the creative genius that keeps our home-based business running. Anyway, so she is asking to borrow my clothes a least once a week. I don’t mind the borrowing, we’re similar sizes, and if I ever want to borrow hers, no prob. But I don’t like looking like twins with someone twice my age–which can happen when we’re wearing my clothes. We’ve often been told we look alike anyway. So I’ve made a ground rule that we can’t wear the same top color when we’re going somewhere together, and I get first “dibs” if I had already planned to wear something of mine.

    As far as people asking where I got something, I kind of enjoy it, maybe because it’s usually thrifted or older so they can’t get it, lol. Or if it’s jewelry, 50% of the time, it’s a piece I made. In which case I decide if I can let go of it for a sale or hand them my business card. Win! The only time it’s been awkward is when it’s from a plus-size only store, and the person asking isn’t plus size. I still haven’t found a good response for that. I’m ok with my size, and it’s obviously not regular size, but it seems to make the asker uncomfortable anyway. Anyone have ideas for this scenario?

    • Becky

      What about something like, “haha, you can’t have one, it’s from (plus size store).” There’s little enough big-girl priviledge in this world, I don’t think anyone will hold it against you if you gloat a little. Though obviously you need to know your audience.

  • Maria

    Hi everyone! Interesting discussion.

    I had a relative who made a delicious, sumptuous, delectable and decadent cake. For years, the rest of the family asked, begged!, for the recipe, but she always slyly avoided sharing or shared only some of the ingredients. She proudly took the recipe to her grave.

    At some point growing up, I decided I wanted to be the kind of grown-up who shares. And if someone makes my to.die.for cinnamon rolls better, lighter, and more scrumptious than mine, GOOD for them.

    Readers of this and other style blog/s look for inspiration to blogs, pinterest, catalogs, magazines, street fashion, movies, etc. People, we offer and use, affiliate links to get the exact same items, or as similar as possible, to those chosen by the bloggers whom we admire. How can we possibly be offended when someone copies our purchases? What is it exactly that bothers/threatens us? That someone could be as stylish, or more so, than us? Prettier???? That people would think someone has better taste or wears an item of clothing, fragrance or accessory “better”? Hmmmm…Maybe it would be more helpful to focus on what is triggering poster’s (and like-minded responders?) reactions than on the obvious and somewhat sad copycat’s behavior.

    María

    P.S. I am not talking about stalker behavior, which is a serious and entirely different matter.

    • Margaret

      I think one hint about the dynamic at work here was suggested in AK’s later comment, that her boss (partner at her firm) first makes fun of AK’s outfit/style/item of interest, hence demeaning her about something which is important to her and then turns up with said item. This seems like a complicated dynamic, not really the same as peers (which could be suggested by the term “co-worker”) or casual chit chat. I am a lawyer and would be seriously disturbed by such a dynamic in whatever physical form it manifests. In this instance, and others she describes, it seems like others are aware of the fact that AK prides herself on her attention to fashion and style and then in some way this ends up as an intersection of difficult interactions.
      I did find the above reference to class distinctions very interesting and it is always good to think outside the box when reflecting on one’s challenges.

      • Becky

        Yes, this. AK isn’t dealing with a simple “case of the copycat co-worker” (paging Nancy Drew!), but a sticky situation of being bullied/put in a one-down situation by her boss. It’s a nice bit of subtle sabotage, and being an underling, AK is going to look petty and/or not a team player if she doesn’t handle this with grace.

        In other words, while the issue is playing out sartorially, I think it’s about the boss being openly disrespectful of AK while simultaneously taking advantage of her efforts. Take clothes out of the picture and, IMO, it makes it more clear why it’s so frustrating. The background about why she hates copycatting is kind of a red herring, except that it may explain why the boss has hit upon this partiular method of getting under her skin.

        I don’t really have good suggestions, except that possibly if AK considers this the power play it really is, and thinks through the kind of person she wants to be (or portray herself as in the office, which might be different), that could lead her toward the right approach for this particular situation.

    • Shaye

      People who won’t share their recipes baffle me. I agree that I had a similar reaction to this question!

  • Connie

    I would smile, thank the person, and give an honest answer. After all, aren’t we all copycatting someone? If not, there would not be a fashion industry. And imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

    Maybe you need to lighten up a little. After all your co-workers aren’t Michael Jackson and you’re not Diana Ross.

  • judy

    we are friendly at my workplace and often buy the same clothes, same with my friends. we made a rule that you can’t wear the the clothing or outfit you copped from the original buyer in their presence!

  • Cara

    After giving this some more thought, I think I have figured out why this “OMG where did you get that?” phenomenon nags at me. For me, I think this is another example of the rampant consumerism that I am starting to find really, really tiring.

    It seems like more and more, people can’t appreciate an outfit from a distance – just stand back and appreciate it. It has to be deconstructed and specific elements identified and then COVETED. I recently left a fashion forum because I found it so tiresome how when someone would post a street style or celeb style photo, instead of being able to discuss the outfit as a whole, the conversation was simply chorus of “OMG love her shoes, anyone know a dupe?” or “I NEED THAT BAG NOW.” It just seemed like no one was ever content with what she had, there was this constant need to acquire more — and no one could simply appreciate someone else’s style without having the items herself. Honestly it was a little creepy, as though the person photographed were merely an advertisement for the items she was wearing instead of a living breathing human using clothes as a means of expression. (And yes I realize that many if not most bloggers and celebrities ARE gifted the clothes they are wearing as promotion, and that just makes the whole phenomenon feel grosser to me.)

    The Vivienne Files put it really well – we don’t see a priceless piece of art and say OMG I HAVE TO HAVE THAT. So why can’t we just appreciate clothing the same way, on its own merits, without reducing it to just another possession that must be assimilated into our wardrobes immediately?

    http://theviviennefiles.blogspot.com/2012/02/i-dont-own-eiffel-tower.html

    This is kind of a rant about rampant consumerism generally and the constant desire for more, more, more. But where it becomes personal is when the object of desire is on my body. I don’t dress as promotion for the brands I’m wearing. I am not a walking catalog. I dress for myself, not to expose others to new items they can go out and buy. So while I understand that people who ask “where did you get that?” are well-meaning, it still bothers me, on a visceral level.

  • Sue

    While I understand why AK is bugged by this, especially given her follow up anecdote about her boss and the riding boots, I’ve never once been upset when this has happened to me. I am known as one of the better dressers in my office, and a few coworkers have gone and purchased identical items. One, in particular, is my same shoe size and sometimes when she sees me with a new pair that she likes, I let her try them on. She and I probably have 3 identical pairs of shoes in regular circulation.

    I am flattered when this happens to me. But keep in mind that I was totally unfashionable all the way through my 20s, so to be considered someone worthy of copying is still a new thing for me. My coworkers are all sweet, and usually pick out a different color or take pains to not wear the same item on the same day (one makes sure it’s a day I’m out when she wears the dress she ran out and bought after seeing it on me). That same coworker was thrilled when, on her own, she ended up buying something that I had purchased, without knowing I had purchased it too.

    So my situation is different, but I’m very happy to share my finds and help spread some fashion joy to others.

  • Thursday

    I fall more on Sally’s side of this question – I shop a lot from local shops and smaller, independent labels, and as such, I am very happy to refer more customers to the businesses I love and want to keep running. But hand in hand with this goes the knowledge that no one is trying to copy my personal style. I frequently receive compliments – I’m lucky enough to work and socialise with lovely people – but also know that even someone who has a very similar style to my own is going to wear the same item quite differently. Another aspect of this is knowing just how hard it is to find comfortable, stylish, well-fitted clothing and shoes for someone of my dimensions, so if I can help someone else with that information, that makes me happy.

    Of course, if I did know someone who was very much trying to copy me, that would be a different story. I’d be adopting a somewhat less honest strategy as suggested by Sally, but also try and back it up with suggestions of things that could differentiate their look from mine. Different colours, patterns, etc.

  • Dolores

    It has been interesting reading through all the comments. What stands out to me is AK comment that seeing someone else wear the same article of clothing she has takes the joy out of it for her.
    While others comment seeing someone else wearing something they had first as sharing the love. In today’s world there are very few one of a kind clothing article’s around. Someone else is most likely to have the same thing. Personel style is not just buying the same things as the next stylish person, it’s the way YOU wear them , combine and style them. AK’s boss can buy all the same clothes as her but without AK flair and style that’s all they are, just individual clothes…..
    Her boss might have picked up on the fact that this is her Achilles heel so to speak and is using this to make it very clear who the dominant one is in the work environment . I unfortunately have no wise advise for that situation .
    Style is something you either have or don’t and your miserable boss can not take that away from you.