Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover
Need help running the shopping gauntlet?  Don’t worry.  I’ve got your back.  Here are some ideas and strategies for bobbing and weaving through the massive assault of advertising, “deals” and offers that keep us spending but never satisfied.

Separate Browsing from Buying

If you enjoy roaming the aisles and seeing what’s out there, that’s great.  Just don’t buy while under the influence of point-of-purchase marketing ruses.  Write down what you like, but don’t buy a thing.  Leave your wallet in the trunk of your car if you have to.

The same goes for online shopping.  Decide upfront if you’re in inspiration-seeking mode or buying mode.  The former gives you shopping highs as you compile a wish list, but saves you buyer’s remorse.

Remember, you’re never ready to spend until you’re armed with a specific list of need-now items that coordinate with pieces you already own.  See my wardrobe planning post for pointers.

Think Collector Vs. Consumer

Consumers spend (and overspend) mindlessly, primed by flashy in-store displays, limited-time-only sales, celebrity endorsements, free gifts and shrewd salespeople.

Collectors, by contrast, research first and buy later—at the most advantageous times and in the most auspicious places. They are informed enough about fit, fabric and construction to recognize quality when they see it. Even then, they stalk their prey until the price is right to pounce.

Choose Quality Over Quantity

Keep in mind that a “good” deal is relative.  It’s easy to be seduced by low-priced throwaway clothing.  I know my closet has its share of H&M and Target tees.  (Only $10!) But remember that the low quality of such items means that you’re going to pay more later come replacement time.

Beyond that, cheap-fast fashion’s hidden costs to the environment, the economy and our humanity need to be tallied too.  Consider that those low prices may come on the backs of garment industry workers who toil without adequate rights, compensation and safeguards.

Think of the 1,000+ Bangladeshi workers who perished making clothes to suit American consumers’ appetites for cut-rate prices.   The materials used to construct the factory where they worked—and died—were so cheap that the building literally collapsed.

Elizabeth Cline, the author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, recommends spending with designers and brands that meet one or more ethical standards:

  • Use of local/U.S. production
  • Made under Fair Trade or Living Wage conditions, or the company has a stringent commitment to improving the lives and wages of overseas garment workers
  • Use of sustainable materials, which might include reclaimed/recycled materials
  • Company-wide commitment to lowering their products’ environmental impact

Check out her shopping directory for leads.  Also, click around at Everlane, Helpsy, Modavanti and Zady. These e-tailers only stock ethically produced items.

Shop ‘Til the Price Is Right

At first, the prices in these shops may shock you.  They tend to be far above what you’re used to paying at the mall, and for good reason.  Keep perspective and remember that the extra expense supports better materials and quality control, higher craftsmen pay and safer working conditions.

Plus, sustainable styles go on sale too, so if you’re patient you can snag a lovable piece at an affordable price.

Selective vintage and consignment shops are another great option for finding clothes that were built to last.  After all, these are the places where you can find frocks that were produced before the advent of fast-fashion. Clothing reuse also has positive environmental benefits–it keeps textile waste out of landfills and averts some of the transportation and packaging costs of traditional retailing.

ShowroomFinder lists local resale shops.  And EDrop-Off, Portero, The RealReal and Couture Boutique are all online.

All of this shopping around increases your exposure to stuff so be careful not to lose focus and overspend.  If you’re shopping locally, consider carrying a set amount of cash and leaving credit cards at home.  If you’re shopping online, be sure that you’re well rested, well fed and relaxed.  Feeling tired or rushed often leads to poor decisions.

Happy shopping!

Questions: What’s your best shopping advice?  Any do’s and don’ts?