How to Be a Master Shopper

The first step to a killer wardrobe is knowing how to curate it.
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Cher from Clueless holding shopping bags

Photo Credit: ELLE

The first step to being an amazing dresser is finding fabulous pieces that fit your body and style– a.k.a., shopping right. They say it takes 10,000 hours to master something, and I feel (judge away) that I may have met that quota when it comes to shopping. Call it a passion.

Now, I'm taking what I've learned and sharing it with you, so you too can be a master without clocking in that absurd amount of time (but if you want to, it sure is fun!).

1. Know what you want, need, and have to have.

As college students and average humans, we don't have unlimited budgets or unlimited closet space. So whether your stomping grounds are Neiman Marcus or Forever 21, be discerning about what you buy even if you can afford it.

You know that feeling when you go to an animal shelter and fall in love with one dog in particular? I want you to feel that with a garment when you buy it. Not every time, sure, but if you have a ton of dresses, you should only be buying those with which you are madly in love.

On the other hand, if a piece fits great and you know you'll wear it a lot with things you already have, and it's not redundant with your other clothes, you don't have to be passionately in love with it to justify a purchase. There's no real formula here, just be honest with yourself about whether a purchase will make you feel happy or regretful and if you'll truly wear it.

Some purchases will be things you'll wear forever and some will be trendy and crazy but totally you (for a season)– and that's how it should be. As you build your wardrobe, keep a mental or physical list of things in your closet that are worn out and could use replacing, or things that you keep wishing you had when you get dressed (a silver belt, red pumps).

Similarly, make note of trends you really want to try and looks you love (matching sets, printed jumpsuits, etc.) This older CF article gives some great ideas on figuring out what you're looking for. Once you know, it's time to let the search begin!

the inside of a Temperly store

Photo Credit: ELLE

2. Know where to search.

I can't tell you how many times I have recommended ShopStyle to my friends when they ask me where they can find something. I'm sure most of you are aware of the frustrations of the Google Shopping search– it's underwhelming and not very extensive. Yes, options other than eBay exist that have exactly what you're looking for.

ShopStyle lets you search an item type, such as printed sandals or monokinis, and even lets you refine your price range. It searches all the best and most reputable online stores, from Nordstrom to ASOS to Nasty Gal, and gives you all your options in one place.  

When it comes to shopping offline and knowing where to look for specific items, experience is pretty irreplaceable. Going to a multitude of different stores (see tip #3) will help you find the brands that fit you best as well as get you familiar with what stores are most likely to have what you're looking for. For example, I recommend Aldo for statement bags, Express for great jackets, and J. Crew for classic cardigans.

3. Broaden your horizons (a.k.a. shop everywhere).

To me, this may be the most important lesson of all. I attribute a lot of my unique, eclectic style to the fact that not all my clothes are from the same few places. I find things I love almost anywhere. When I see something in a magazine I'm obsessed with, I order it... even it's from a store in which I've never shopped. One time, I even bought an amazing leopard print scarf at a souvenir shop at Disney World. Of course, I make sure the store is secure and reputable, but other than that I'm not picky.

In my closet I have dresses from Target and Dolce & Gabbana that I love equally. I'm an equal opportunity shopper. I have friends whose shopping basically starts and ends at Forever 21, and when I encourage them to go to a store they never do, they sit in the shoe section while I do my thing.

This prevents you from finding hidden gems. Sure, you may think that Charlotte Russe makes clothes that are too tight or that a certain floor of Macy's is primarily for old ladies, but why not poke around and find exceptions to those generalizations? It's sure to be a totally unique piece in your own wardrobe and something none of your friends will have.

Carrie from Sex and the City at her computer

Photo Credit: ELLE

4. Know where to go (and what to do) online.

I've already sung the praises of ShopStyle, but I also love to browse specific online shopping sites. Here are a few online-only stores that I think every fashionista on the web needs to know about:

  • ASOS: This bold British retailer carries mid-price, fashionista-fave brands and has their own incredibly directional and unique line.
  • Nasty Gal: Edgy and sexy, this online boutique has a big selection of shredded denim, statement dresses, and cool-girl jewelry, plus their own amazing shoe line.
  • ModCloth: The quirky, girly-girl paradise has animal-motif shoes and fit-and-flare dresses that you thought only existed in your dreams. Think everything Jess from New Girl has ever worn.
  • Zappos: With free shipping and amazing customer service, this super-site is known for a huge selection of brand name shoes and bags, but also boasts an impressive variety of clothes and fashion jewelry.
  • Net-a-Porter: Where I browse before bed when I want to dream of haute couture. This is the ultimate online store for high fashion. Score some great designer deals on their outlet site, The Outnet.

When shopping online, it is always important to read return policies carefully. Returns often have time limits and can be expensive, especially with overseas retailers. It can be helpful to order two sizes of a piece at once if you're unsure of how it will fit. Also, be sure it's a site you trust before plugging in your credit card info.

5. Know brands and what fits.

As I said before, once you've built a solid wardrobe and logged some shopping hours, you'll know what brands and styles fit you best. I am a major proponent of finding a style you love and getting it in several prints and colors. It's such an easy shortcut once you find something that feels like it was made for your body, and many stores make their basic cuts in different colors season after season.

You'll also learn what kinds of styles are flattering on you better from experience than from any magazine's "Find What Fits Your Shape" sections. For example, I know I can't really do shifts and drop waists, and beige washes me out, so bring on the fit-and-flares, boyfriend jeans, and the shade of blue that makes my eyes pop.

6. Know yourself.

At the end of the day, try as I might to tell you how, you're going to be a master shopper based on your own intuition.

Play with fashion. Read blogs and magazines. Wear what you love. Buy what makes you feel confident and makes you want to dance around the fitting room. Watch your budget and donate things you don't wear. Take a food court break at the mall. First and foremost, shopping should be fun!

What do you think?

What are your shopping secrets? Where, when, and how do you shop? Do you genuinely enjoy it? Did you find any of these tips helpful? Let me know in the comments!

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