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How to Shop Like a Pro: The Ultimate Guide to Shopping for Clothes


Shopping Tips

I just received the following email and thought it would be a great question to answer here:

“have you ever done an article on how to shop? i feel like i absolutely LOVE fashion and know what i would like to dress like, but when i go shopping i get completely overwhelmed and have no idea where to start- especially in big stores. do you have any tips about HOW to shop? i dont know if thats a dumb question or not lol but like i said- its overwhelming. i wish i could translate all my ideas about what i love into shopping!”

I don’t think it’s a dumb question at all, and I know just as well as anyone how tough it can be to translate what you WANT to wear into what you actually end up buying. It takes work to create a wardrobe, and achieving the look that’s “you” often takes planning and hard work!

Since I’m a super-organized list maker (Virgo, what can I say?), I have a whole system for this exact problem. Here are my tips for shopping with a certain look in mind:

How To Shop Like A Pro

* Take notes on the looks you like.

Fashion Inspiration Notebook
A page out of my inspiration notebook

Keep a “fashion inspiration” notebook, where you save photos of looks you like, celebrities wearing outfits that inspire you, or whatever it is that gets your inspiration going! If you have a favorite fashion muse, save photos of what she’s wearing so they’re easy to reference.

For this I use the program Evernote. I have a Fashion Inspiration section which I constantly update with photos, blog posts, and whatever else I come across that inspires me. Whether it’s a runway photo, a Vogue scan, a picture of a celebrity or just a pair of shoes I want to get, I clip everything to that notebook so it’s all in one place. Evernote is a free program and it saves all of your notes online so you can access them anywhere. I highly recommend it!

Aside from keeping track of fashion inspiration, Evernote can be used in a million other ways. I’ll be talking more about its many uses in a later blog post. Suffice to say I think it’s an amazing program that everyone should use!

* Deconstruct the looks piece by piece.

This is really important. Once you have your inspiration in one place, you have to deconstruct it to get a sense of what you’re actually looking for. Smart shopping takes some planning ahead!

Start by asking yourself a series of questions. First, find out what about the look appeals to you. Do you love the clothes or simply how they look on that person? (If you aren’t sure, picture the outfit on someone else – would you still love it just as much on a different person?) Then think about the general aesthetic vibe. Is it boho-chic, goth, rock-chick, preppy, or something else? What does it remind you of? Get a sense of what appeals to you and write it down.

Now deconstruct the outfit. What are the individual pieces involved? Make a mental list of them all. Do you own any of the pieces already? If so, which extra pieces would you need to buy to emulate that look? Write down a list of those.

* Eliminate pieces on the list that won’t work for you.

How To Shop
Photo by incurable_hippie

Now that you have a big list of pieces you’d like to own, it’s time to eliminate anything that won’t work with your style or budget.

Start by analyzing how trendy each piece is. Is it the kind of thing that will be over in a few months, or is it a classic that will never go out of style? If it’s trendy, how often do you think you’ll wear it? If it’s the kind of thing you’ll only wear once or twice, eliminate it. It’s not worth your money.

Keep going with this to evaluate each piece against your personal style. Is the outfit the right color for you, or would you need to buy a piece in a different shade? If it’s a specific piece that only comes in a color you hate, eliminate.

* Figure out what to spend and what to save on.

This will be different for everyone depending on your budget and how often you’ll wear something.

My personal rule is if I’ll wear it only once or twice and it’s not for a super-special occasion, I’ll buy it cheap. No point in wasting money on something that sits in the back of your closet without being used. If it’s the kind of thing I can get away with wearing a lot, like a pair of dark wash jeans, I’ll splurge on it. Quality is important when it comes to the things you wear on a daily basis.

Take your list & divide it into two sub lists – Splurge On and Save On.

* Have a game plan before you set foot in a store.

Clothing Store
Photo by roboppy

Every shopaholic knows that bad things can happen when you go shopping without a list of what you’re looking for. Impulse purchases are so easy to make, and they often leave you with a closet full of clothes you don’t even like that much! Moral of the story? Always be prepared before you go shopping. Here’s how:

Start by shopping online if possible. Of course, I don’t mean you should be BUYING everything online. Instead, take your lists of items that you made and look for similar pieces online. This way, you can compare prices easily and find the best deal on what you want. Of course, not every store offers online shopping (H&M, for example, doesn’t in the US), so you’ll have to visit a store to browse in that case.

Decide what you want to buy where, and write it down! If you’re not sure exactly where to get something, that’s okay.. but if possible, make a list of stores you think might have that piece.

* Go to a store and try things on!

As much as I love online shopping, I usually like to buy things in-store, especially if they’re expensive items. This way I can try things on and get a feel for how things look in person. Sometimes online photos can be really inaccurate, so shopping in-store allows you to touch the fabric, look at its movement, and see how things fit on your body.

By the time you set foot in a store, you should already have a detailed list of what you plan to buy there. No wandering randomly into Forever 21 and picking up whatever catches your eye!! Have a plan and you’ll save yourself a headache, end up with quality pieces, AND spend less money.

Next, find the items on your list and get into that dressing room! Try things on and if you don’t like how they fit, don’t be afraid to look elsewhere. Shopping can be hard work and if you want a fabulous wardrobe, refuse to settle for “just okay”.

* Repeat the process.

If you’re really into fashion, you’re probably constantly inspired by new things, and therefore wanting to update your wardrobe pretty often. That’s okay, so long as it’s in your budget to do it. If not, you’ll have to plan accordingly. Either way, you can keep applying this system on a regular basis.

Personally, I’m always updating my fashion inspiration notebook, keeping track of new trends I want to try, and scouting online for where I can find the best deals. I don’t buy everything I want (obviously), but I try to update my wardrobe often enough that I don’t get bored. Of course, I also have a budget that I stick to. While keeping your wardrobe fresh is fun, having enough money to buy books & food is a lot more important.

Whenever you see a look you’d like to incorporate into your wardrobe, repeat this shopping process and you’ll end up with a closet full of clothes you love. The more you do it, the more it becomes like second nature. After you do this a few times, you’ll instinctively know what to buy and where.

Your Thoughts?

After reading this guide, what do you think? Do you have a system like mine for shopping, or do you just browse the racks and buy whatever looks cute at the moment? Do you have any shopping tips of your own? Leave them in the comments!

Posted on on March 2, 2009 / Filed Under: Shopping / Tags: , , ,

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33 Responses to “How to Shop Like a Pro: The Ultimate Guide to Shopping for Clothes”

  1. 1
    March 2nd, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    Spot on with this post! i put uni books first at the start of every semester as well!!! when i shop, i keep a certain amount of money that i spend in my head, and then when i hit the shops, i decide whether i need it or not, and of course how many times i will use it.

    I need to go out into the shops soon and update a few things (a few night outfits) and whatever i will wear throughout my lifetime. I haven’t shopped online, but i prefer to go into store and try it on!

  2. 2
    March 2nd, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    Haha, I do this a lot. Well, when I have the chance I guess. And I do a lot since I’m broke all the time :( But I love looking through online and making a “wishlist” through the site and then I always check it before going to the actual store so I don’t impulse buy and I know what to try on to make sure it looks good in person too. I love this post; great job!

  3. 3
    March 2nd, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    Don’t be afraid of thrifting, especially at stores like Plato’s closet where you can get whole new wardrobe for 150$ if you time it right!

  4. 4
    March 2nd, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    That really helps me. I go into stores knwing I want something but not what exactly. Thanks for this.

  5. 5
    March 3rd, 2009 at 3:00 am

    omg! that really helps alot. thanks thanks thanks

    the “wandering around forever 21…” part hit me! hahaha.
    i ALWAYS do that. i go shopping without knowing what i want. then i just buy stuff for the sake of buying it . like last week, i have altleast 4 pieces from forever21 that i dont even like and now im wearing one of them as a pajama top. haha cuz i think that i wud NEVER wear it out. =(

    i really have to stop impulse shopping. hehe.

  6. 6
    March 3rd, 2009 at 3:09 am

    Terrific article! I have a scrapbook that I keep with fashion magazine clippings of beautiful outfits or tips/ideas from articles. If I’m ever feeling uninspired when I’m trying to get dressed in the morning, flipping through it always helps!

    Also thank you for the friendly reminder of making a shopping list and weeding out the unnecessary items. I need to work on buying more versatile pieces.

  7. 7
    March 3rd, 2009 at 6:24 am

    Thank you so much for writing this article. I always needed one of these.Great post.

  8. 8
    March 3rd, 2009 at 7:25 am

    Pretty good article. I pretty much shop at the thrift for everything except underwear and socks so this doesn’t really apply to me but I always save my reciept and if I don’t wear the item within a week or two I take it back because I never will. This helps me from having stuff I never wear taking up space in my teeny tiny closet that I share with my fiance.

  9. 9
    March 3rd, 2009 at 9:46 am

    im def an organized shopper. i make a list beforehand of what im looking for, and go over everything in my wardrobe to see what i already have. it’s like grocery shopping, if you don’t check first you could end up with something you already have. and, come on, you need a third long black cardigan like you need a third jar of peanut butter :)

  10. 10
    March 3rd, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    Great, very detailed article, Zephyr!
    I definitely follow a pretty similar system. I know exactly what my next piece(s) is when I’m out shopping and try to stay pretty flexible with what I’m looking for. That being said, I also never turn down a good deal when I see it! :)

  11. 11
    March 3rd, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    I love this article. I love the way your so organised. i’m definetly gonna use this method

  12. 12
    March 3rd, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    Hi! This artilce is amazing!
    Im from Argentina thats why i dont know so much about the stores but i adapt all what yo said on my clothes and stores from my country.
    I just love this site and all what you write!
    I am a big fan of fashion, so the tips are great for me!
    thanks :)

  13. 13
    March 3rd, 2009 at 10:13 pm

    Great article!
    I also make out a list and budget of what I plan on buying, although I am not allowed to shop online so I must try everything on in stores.
    I also stick to the same colours I know look good on me and I like (black, greys, whites/off whites, nearly all shades of blue, dark red are maroon, pink, dark purple, brown-no neons, no pastels) so that I can fit whatever I bought with most of my wardrobe I already have.

  14. 14
    March 4th, 2009 at 4:17 am

    i tend to do more of the go-shopping-and-see-what-i-find route… for some reason trying to plan it all out and going to the mall looking for a specific thing rather than just relaxing and looking around to see what’s there tends to kind-of stress me out…

    i deal with the “bad impulse purchases” by trying to buy mostly from stores with long return policies… at least a couple weeks unless it’s something i’m absolutely sure i love, and preferably a month or more. then i leave all the tags on until i actually wear the item. if i don’t wear it, then i just take it back!

  15. 15
    March 4th, 2009 at 5:57 am

    Great post! I am definitely going to try Evernote. I like your idea of deconstructing a look – I often see someone and think “wow,” but just don’t know how to recreate that look on myself. What are some looks that you have seen and then recreated on yourself? :)

  16. 16
    March 4th, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    This is great advice, not only is being an organized shopper is important but having an organized closet and knowing what you own! This was always my problem- I felt like I had a closet of clothes but nothing to wear. I recently found this amazing new site that will help you shop, and where you can digitize your wardrobe (for free!!!) so you can see what you have before you go a shopping adventure.
    This site has literally changed my life! You should all check it out- it’s called Closet Couture

  17. 17
    March 4th, 2009 at 10:58 pm

    hey i just wanted to let you know that this article DEF helped me alot and i plan to use your ideas when i go out shopping this weekend! thanks so much for addressing my email so quickly and writing this fab article. i <3! thanks again!

  18. 18
    March 5th, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    This is a wonderful post! Thanks a lot ;)

    I just got one question, how do search for the things i like online (i know it’s a stupid question)? I just find it really hard to search online for the things i like and compare the prices…So i’ll be ready to shop
    And besides that I also made a huge handwritten list of all the things I want to have in my wardrobe. I first need to make a priority; for instance spring is coming up, perhaps i should buy a nice jacket for that first and then shop for all the other things i want.. Dunnow, please help me..

    Yours sincerely,


  19. 19
    March 7th, 2009 at 1:05 am

    :D i love ur suggestions!
    i got an Evernote just now but im still not really familiar with it
    can you pls post the evernote post soooon ?
    thanks so much! =)
    and glad to see u update often now :D love allllllllllllll the posts !!

  20. 20
    March 7th, 2009 at 3:10 am

    just go here if u want some H&M inspiration:

  21. 21
    March 7th, 2009 at 11:02 am

    thanks so much for telling me about evernote! i always lose track of the things I want. I’m going shopping tomorrow and will have to try your advice out.

  22. 22
    March 8th, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    If you can return it, just buy it. That way you can sleep on your purchase and not have to worry about going back the next day only to find your I-must-have dress is gone.

  23. 23
    April 15th, 2009 at 9:37 pm

    Great tips. I sometimes suffer from spur of the moment shopping and I end up buying something that I never wear or return the item a week later. It’s always smart to have a plan in place to get the most out of shopping.

  24. 24
    June 29th, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    Thanks for this article! I always get really overwhelmed when I go shopping; it makes it a lot less fun. There are tons of clothes in my closet because of my impulse buying. I’m definitely going to try your suggestions. :)

  25. 25
    August 3rd, 2009 at 11:38 am

    These are really good tips. Personally, I have a list of shops where i will buy my main pieces of clothes from because i know they sell very good quality clothes. This helps me when i’m browsing in shops with friends and see something i love, cos i know that it won’t be as good quality as where i usually shop and so i won’t impulse buy it. I still buy accessories and shoes in other places though.

  26. 26
    September 6th, 2009 at 11:25 am

    Great Tips, I will definitely be putting them to use!

  27. 27
    December 18th, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    Great….I was yearning for such tips. I do a lot of impulse shopping and then keep thinking about the dresses i bought for days together. Then almost feel like i didnt want a few of them, and could have gone to some other store . Online shopping will definetly help to see if the dresses are there in some other shops at teh first place.

    Thanks a lot….

  28. 28
    March 29th, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    Thank you so much! I have dreaded going clothes shopping forever because I never know what to buy once I get in the store. This helps a lot.

  29. 29
    October 6th, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    My strategy is to look online for clothes, but in some stores they do not have what I want, so I browse the ones that look similar to what I want sometimes.

  30. 30
    January 18th, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    I totally love this method… but i use… there you can make inspiration boards and look other users boards as well!! its friggin amazing!!

  31. 31
    September 15th, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    I think these plans here will totally work for me. Now im on it.

  32. 32
    June 11th, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    THANK YOU! Even though you would think most things are common sense it becomes so much more apparent when broken down like this. I can’t wait to go shopping with these priceless tips!!!!

  33. 33
    September 7th, 2014 at 9:07 am

    Good post. I learn something new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon on a daily basis.
    It will always be helpful to read articles from other writers and practice a little something from other

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