Monday, January 02, 2012

Shopping: Who's in charge?

There are two schools of shopping...

Style #1 - the self-chosen few

After careful consideration, shopper #1 decides that she needs two new tops - either blouses, sweaters or tee shirts.  Her carefully curated and deliberated distilled wardrobe is based on two "crazy eights" of black and gray, so her ideal purchases will be patterns which include both gray and black.  This will enable her to create outfits with (for example) black pants and a gray cardigan, or a gray skirt and black blazer.

She considers what patterns she likes.
She considers what fabrics and cuts she prefers.
She reviews her budget.

Then, and ONLY THEN, does she venture into the shopping realm. (be it the mall, the catalogs, or the internet).  She focuses on what she wants.  She's demanding.  She's picky.  It's HER money...

And this is what she finds...

An A.L.C. tee shirt, and a Burberry blouse.  She has the cash to pay for both of them, and has in mind at least 10 different ways to wear each of them.  

Her wardrobe is in her control.
Her budget is in her control.
Her image is in her control.

Style #2 - the vast majority

For lack of anything better to do, (like read, work out, go to a museum, go for a walk, etc.) she goes to the mall.  (this could also be on the internet)

Nothing that she has particularly in mind...

Wanders into a store.  Spies a sale rack.  Starts browsing.  Find something that catches her eye...

You know how this story ends.  This shopper is completely at the store's mercy.  This is the person who is always in debt, always dresses in a sort of unfocused way, and has WAAAAY too many clothes.

Control is elegant.


  1. This is such a clear and concise explanation between the two. Thank you for posting this.

  2. I'm working on moving from #2 to #1 - I definitely need LOTS of practice.

    Especially in not buying anything.


  3. I find controlled shopping all very well in theory, but say I decide I need a medium blue shirt in a firm cotton fabric with a collar, I have no idea where to find it in the real world, or even on line. I could spend hours wandering through stores or on-line web sites and never find the thing I had pictured in my head. I just get frustrated and end up with something else or nothing at all!

    If I just do 'hit and miss' especially at a consignment store at least I'm not paying full price for a compromise garment.

  4. I am getting better at this...I think:-) Vivienne, I read in one of your posts that you like your thierry rabotin shoes. My question is the sizing. When I go online some say 38 is a size 8 and some say a size 7. In your experience which is closer?

    1. I wear 8's, and I get 38's from Thierry. It's worked well for me, but be sure to buy from someone like Hanig's that will allow returns!

  5. Beautiful post. "Control is elegant." That says it all, especially against your description of the unfocused look of most people. What a great inspiration to kick up the intentionality when shopping.

    The only worthy exception I can think of to the perfect control of shopper 1 is that when you know yourself, your wardrobe, your signature colors, your flattering silhouettes, style personality,and your needs very well you can take advantage of serendipity wisely.

    If you know that someday you're going to own the perfect black leather pencil skirt, when the time and price are right, one day the heavens may part and it will appear, even though you weren't shopping for it.

    Of you may run into something surprising, not even on your someday-maybe list, but because you know yourself and your wardrobe so well you realize with certainty that this surprising something would elevate your wardrobe wonderfully, and you can go for it. (This isn't the same as just collecting more items that "go" with your wardrobe. That party could go on forever, to the detriment of the wardrobe and pocketbook.)

    Vivienne, you are always such an inspiration.

    P.S., I would suggest, on the example of the elusive perfect blue shirt, that for most wardrobes the answer would be shift from frustration to patience. When the perfect blue shirt doesn't appear, don't buy anything until the blue shirt comes around--possibly seasons later.

    It may be necessary to plan an alternate to the blue shirt if it's a real wardrobe need--you don't have enough shirts to wear or need a top that will specifically pull together some of your other basics, say. so you switch the blue shirt requirement to a blue sweater, or a grey shirt, or whatever, something that would serve the same purpose just as beautifully.

    in the last year I've really been working on making my wardrobe about no compromises, no matter how good the deal was on the compromise. I've still made a couple of mistakes, and quickly culled them from my wardrobe. But I'm happier with my higher standards, and I'm learning more patience about what I bring into my wardrobe and my life. It's very satisfying, and I want to get even better at it, because I still have too much stuff!!

  6. I love this. For most of my life, I was Shopper #2. I've been Shopper #1 for about four years now, and I couldn't be happier, have more "things" to wear, and be able to purchase high-end, high-quality items when I do venture out.

    This post, and your previous ones, motivates me to continue my own shopping fast (I'm 25 days into a 100 day stretch). Your mind really is free to do what you're meant to do as a human being, which isn't shopping, and you are able to wear the pile of clothes you already have in your closet.

    And I agree with Anonymous above re. the perfect blue shirt. Shop for it every 90 days or so, and never ever compromise. It will happen, but you have to be patient. Also, by being patient and not compromising, you will probably save up enough to have the garment made for you. This will probably cost $200-300, but you'll have it for ten years and it will be tailored to fit you.

  7. I have been busy and don't enjoy shopping so I'm one of the few who don't have enough clothes (and they wear out!) I'm looking forward to lifting my game, with your expert help - no more bag lady! You're on RSS....

  8. What an excellent post and something I needed to read right now. I am a very focused shopper and I know myself, my colors, and my style really well but I fall into the "party that could go on forever" that Anonymous mentioned above. I find too many "special" and perfect pieces so it is really important for me to not even look.

    To Northmoon, I agree with what others have said above. Once you decide that you need something, start looking. Even if something is not available right away, it will be soon. It may be as easy as buying something on ebay and taking it to a good tailor. I love my tailor and take almost everything to her. It's like clothes are custom made for me and it doesn't cost very much.

  9. UGH--second example is so true. Still--needing something in a short space of time is very stressful for me, so I do try to keep from having a desperate need for--say--a pair of boots.

  10. I am shopper number 2, sad but true. But trying to be number one is fraught with frustration as well.

    Example #1...I saw a look on a TV show I really wanted. Silky/blousey bright printed top under a fitted bright solid cardigan in one of the colors of the print. Like a much cooler version of a twin set. Easy enough? Nope. That was 5 months ago and I haven't found anything.

    Example #2...I needed a dress. Not a party dress really, just something flattering, bright and semi-dressy. I think I tried on 25. None were flattering.

    Honestly, I had better luck when I just went brousing without anything specific in mind. Shopping carefully takes tons of time, a lot of talent, and healthy feet, none of which I have. And you are still at the stores' mercy because you can't buy what they don't have.

    So I am on a shopping fast as well, but mine is more due to frustration than any good reason! It's just easier to give up.

  11. I love your clear and concise thinking - were you always so focused?

  12. Thank you everyone for the good advice. You are right about the patience; I do have enough to wear right now, I don't need to have every new item I think of right now! If I consider carefully and add on or up-grade when I find the right items, my style can only get better!

  13. I have NOT always been this focused! But I worked for almost 10 years as an international research director for a major advertising agency (yes, I'm looking for a job!) and I traveled A LOT. I also got to spend a great deal of time in airports, cafes and hotels looking at people, and I honed my observations of what was elegant and chic, and what wasn't!
    It was tremendous fun, and it's also fun to share my thoughts with you - thanks for being here!

  14. Ouch. I'm number 2 admiring number 1 without a clear way to get there. Could I really fast? I know I should. Resolution. Clothes fasting for 100 days while I consider my number 1 self. Thanks vivienne

  15. aesthetic intelligenceJanuary 3, 2012 at 8:17 PM

    I call it the paradox of the smaller, well edited closet: less becomes more.

    Really appreciate your blog.

  16. Thierry Rabotin shoes - I wear a 38, and I wear an 8 in American sizing. The thing that I've found with TR shoes is that they fit very close to the foot - there isn't a lot of space around the toes, for example. That's probably why there's a discrepancy when you see how the sizes "translate".
    I strongly recommend keeping your eyes peeled for sales on these shoes, and on ebay, in buying your first pair - they're quite pricey, and until you're sure you love them, it might be better to get a less expensive pair.
    thanks for being here!

  17. i'm a number one. it absolutely befuddles the salespeople. i know exactly what i'm looking for because i know exactly what i need. i scan the store to see if i spot anything promising, if i do, then and only then do i try it on. i do not walk into the changing room with armloads of clothing. if i do not see anything remotely like what i need, i leave. i was not raised with lots of money but my mother has style and i learned sound wardrobe building on my mother's knee. while i cried at not being able to be as "trendy" as most of my teenage friends, i now know that what i learned back then was priceless knowledge (so does my husband and our bank account!) and i'm passing those very lessons onto my daughters (even my 15-year-old son appreciates my style). you can have fun with scarves and belts and other small accessories. yes, control is elegance.

  18. I love this post. I noticed when I was single and used a cash based budget I was a #1 shopper. When I got married and my husband wanted to use credit cards for tracking spending I became a #2 shopper at times.

    I like #1 much better. :-)

    I'm also more of a #1 because I get an idea in my head of what I want and since it is a design and color in my mind I rarely find it on a rack.