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Design & Style

11 Tips for Effective Clothes Shopping

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 7 min read

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Shopping for clothes is a skill which you can master with practice.



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5 Places to Shop for Clothes

When shopping in person, you can try clothes on, see how they fit, and feel the materials and craftsmanship of each piece. Another benefit of shopping in person is the option to ask questions; don’t be afraid to talk to sales associates, who can offer a wealth of information about different clothing styles. There are several types of stores to choose from, and your shopping experience will be different depending on where you go.

  1. Boutiques: Boutiques have a curated selection of clothing that hews to a certain aesthetic. They are usually small, which means you can develop a relationship with the people who work there. Typically, boutiques carry several designer brands, and they can be a great way to discover local and unique items. Finding a boutique with an aesthetic you love is a great way to develop your personal style.
  2. Department stores: Big department stores carry a huge selection of products from different brands. Clothing is organized into categories, from formalwear to swimwear to activewear to sleepwear. Department stores are a great place to go if you're revamping your entire closet, since they have the largest selection of products. Feeling overwhelmed? Look at the mannequins. When you see an outfit you like, ask a sales associate to help you achieve that exact look or general vibe.
  3. Fast-fashion chains: Fast-fashion chains offer trendy clothing at lower prices. Fast-fashion stores operate much like department stores, selling a range of products, from blazers to sweatshirts. Clothing in fast-fashion stores is usually all one brand, so sizing and pricing tends to be more consistent.
  4. Thrift stores: From vintage boutiques to consignment stores to discount thrift chains, thrift stores vary widely in the type of clothes they carry. You can find high-quality clothes at thrift stores, as well as unique vintage pieces, but you may have to dig through many items to find your size and style. When thrift shopping, it’s best not to have a specific piece in mind—rather, bring your mood board, wish list, and an open mind.
  5. Online: Shopping online is a good strategy if you’re looking for a specific item, since you’ll be able to browse a much larger selection than you’d ever find in a single store. Start from a wide pool of options by searching for the item you’re looking for, and then narrow the results by color, size, material, and price. The advantage of shopping online is that you can compare items from thousands of brands. The disadvantage, obviously, is that you won’t be able to try clothing on before you place your order. Since every brand sizes clothing differently, check the size chart and read the reviews to get a better idea of how the clothes fit. Always research the company’s return policy to ensure that they offer free returns, in case you want to order more than one size.

11 Tips for Shopping for Clothes

Bring home clothing that you’ll actually wear by following these shopping tips.

  1. Set a clothing budget. When you have a number to work with, it’s easier to plan your shopping trips and avoid overspending. One way to make a budget is to list all the clothing you think you’ll need to buy in one year, then estimate how much you’d like to spend on each item. Once you have a total, hold yourself to it, and don’t spend more.
  2. Use a mood board. Your mood board is a collection of images of clothing that you like; it helps you craft your personal style and serves as a source of inspiration when you’re clothes shopping. Notice commonalities between the images you’ve selected—are there specific colors, textures, and styles you consistently gravitate toward? When selecting pieces, see if they align with the overall style of your mood board.
  3. Keep a wish list. Keep a running list of clothing items that you want or need. When you go shopping, glance over the list to remind yourself what you’re actually looking for. Shopping from a list is usually more successful than heading out with one specific item in mind—you may not find everything you want on the first try, but over multiple shopping trips, you can generally check off most of the items on your list. When online shopping, bookmark your favorite items and return to them when the brand has a sale.
  4. Know your measurements. Keep a note on your phone with your hip, waist, and chest measurements. This will help with online shopping, allowing you to compare your measurements with a store’s size chart. When clothes shopping in person, you can bring a measuring tape to check if a piece will fit before you even try it on. This is especially helpful when shopping secondhand, since vintage sizing can be very different from modern sizing. Learn how to take your measurements in our guide here.
  5. Start broad, then edit. Whether you’re shopping online or at a brick-and-mortar clothing store, add all the items you like to your shopping cart, then edit down your options from there. By bringing many pieces together, you’ll be better able to compare them and decide which ones you like. There are bound to be pieces that don’t work out and other pieces that surprise you. By branching out a little, you can find hidden gems.
  6. Make a list of items you already own. When considering a new item, make a mental list of the pieces from your closet you’ll be able to wear with it. Unless you’re building a brand-new wardrobe from scratch, you’ll probably want this new piece to play well with several items you already own. If a cardigan you’re coveting doesn’t work with any of the clothes you have at home, consider why that may be. Are you trying to move your style in a different direction? If a piece doesn’t go with anything else you own, it may not be right for you. Of course, there are exceptions—statement pieces that work all on their own, or clothes for special occasions. When you get home, try on the piece with your other clothing. If it doesn’t work, return it.
  7. Diversify your wardrobe. It’s easy to gravitate toward the same safe pieces. But there’s only so many black dresses or dark-wash denim jeans any one person needs. Having multiples of the same item can add unnecessary bulk to your closet, making it harder to get dressed. If you find something you like but already own something similar, ask yourself: Do I like this version better than what I currently have? How many of these do I really want? The answer usually isn’t more than two, except when it comes to your work uniform.
  8. Bring a friend. Shopping is more fun with friends, and a second opinion can be extremely helpful. If you’re unsure about a piece, a friend can give you the confidence to try it or let you know if the piece doesn’t seem like “you.” Ask a friend or family member whose aesthetic you admire to go on a shopping trip with you—they'll probably be flattered.
  9. Always try on multiple sizes. When you find something you like, grab it in your size as well as the sizes above and below. Maybe try it in a few different colors. Bring as many pieces into the fitting room as you can, and take as much time in there as you need—see how a piece feels when you bend down, sit, or twirl.
  10. Go window shopping. Window shopping can provide inspiration. If you see something you love at a designer shop but the price is too high, add it to your wish list and see if you can find a more suitable version elsewhere. This is also a great way to find styling ideas for your mood board.
  11. Put clothing items on hold. If you’re on the fence about an item, ask the store if you can put it on hold. Many stores will hold an item until the end of the day, giving you time to decide. Walk around for an hour, and see if you’re still thinking about the piece when you come back. For online shopping, simply place an item in your cart and wait a day or two before buying—or bookmark it in your wish list folder.
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