13 questions to ask yourself before buying anything for your wardrobe

13 questions to ask yourself before buying anything for your wardrobe

Over the weekend, I read Anuschka Rees’s new book The Curated Closet: A Simple System for Discovering Your Personal Style and Building Your Dream Wardrobe. I love a good how-to wardrobe book—especially one with lots of pretty pictures.

The timing on this couldn’t have been better for me. I requested it from the library months ago, and just picked it up last week. We had just moved, and I was facing the prospect of literally putting my wardrobe in place in my closet, piece by piece, as I unpacked.

I’m not super fashionable. My style is pretty basic; I recycle the same outfits a lot, on purpose. And so I was a bit surprised to find myself thoroughly at ease with—and even inspired by—the main tenets of this book: your style is personal; it doesn’t have to conform to an industry label (think: classic, bohemian, preppy). If you know what you’re looking for, you can find it anywhere. Don’t waste your time and money on the clothes that aren’t right for you—and only you can decide what that is.

I didn’t read this as a how-to book, although Rees does provide a few exercises for the reader, like creating a mood board, and constructing sample outfits. I read it more as inspiration, and it filled that role wonderfully (even though I didn’t resonate with the style examples in the book). Rees really got me thinking about what I want from my wardrobe. (Hot tip: if you need motivation to finally get rid of the clothes in your closet you know it’s time to part with, grab this book. Rees doesn’t chide you for hanging on to the old, but she does inspire you to expect more from your clothes.

My favorite part of the book was Rees’s list of questions to consider before adding to your wardrobe, which I’m sharing below, with my commentary.

13 questions to ask yourself before buying anything for your wardrobe:

1. Does this piece reflect my personal style?

Does the item fit your current wardrobe, personality, and overall aesthetic?

2. Do I like how it looks on my body?

As in, not on the rack, or on the model, or on my friend, but on you.

3. Can I think of a clear role for this item within my wardrobe?

Do you already have 14 of whatever it is you’re considering buying? Do you have the right accessories/staple pieces to pair it with? Would it play well with pieces in your current wardrobe, or would you have to buy additional pieces to make it work?

4.  Does it work with my lifestyle?

Do you have anywhere to wear the item—whether it’s a floor-length gown or a snarky graphic tee?

Years ago, I remember lingering over adorable smart business casual pieces at Ann Taylor, the kind other people wore to work. They looked cute on me (because hey, I was 24!) and I loved the way I felt in them. But I worked in a business suit office, and didn’t have anywhere, and I mean anywhere, to wear them.

When assessing the item, imagining possible scenes from your actual life—dinner dates, picnic in the park, important coffee shop meeting—can help you decide if you would put the item to good use.

5. Is it mixable?

Rees says, “If you want a versatile wardrobe that will give you a ton of different options, each piece should be as mixable as possible.”

For many women, this is the goal. However, I’d like to add that—especially for those who are extra-prone to decision fatigue—it is completely fine to choose pieces that only work with one or two outfits, and to then wear those outfits all the time. A uniform can save you, and while a uniform can be mixable, it certainly doesn’t have to be.

6. Does it fit well and is it comfortable?

If the answers aren’t yes and yes, keep moving.

Of the 13 questions here, this is the one I’m most likely to fudge—and then regret it later. (Can I confess I’m the very most likely to do this with StitchFix? It took me many fixes to learn to hold out for what’s perfect, not what’s mostly great.) If the sleeves are too short, or the waist is too high, or the color is just a shade off, or the seams look pretty good but not great … don’t. It’s not for you. At least not if you’re curating your long-term wardrobe.

It’s possible a tailor can turn a piece that’s mostly great into perfect, but decide in advance that you’re truly committed to making the appointment and paying for the alteration. Otherwise, that piece doesn’t belong in your wardrobe.

7. Is the garment well-constructed and made from a high-quality material?

Examine your garment from the inside—evaluating the seams, the cut, the fabric—to assess craftsmanship and durability. If you love the piece, you want it to last.

Note: this applies to jewelry, too. I have several pieces I love that are impossible (and I mean that literally) to clean, so they could only be worn a few times before the finish was shot. So sad.

8. Am I prepared to properly take care of this item?

Check the care label: are you willing to dry clean, hand wash, iron, or fold the piece neatly the second it’s done in the dryer? Make your decisions about garment care while you’re still in the store, lest you end up months down the line with a hamper full of beautiful, dirty clothes you can’t summon the energy to get clean.

9. Will this piece fill a gap in my wardrobe or only add to an already overrepresented area?

A budget question, for both finances and energy. Are you considering buying yet another great white tshirt when what you really need is some jeans to wear it with? Or vice versa? Should your limited funds be spent on work clothes, or another pair of yoga pants? Resources are limited; choose accordingly.

10. Is buying this piece the best use of my budget, or would a different item make a bigger impact on my wardrobe right now?

This makes sense, yes? Prioritize before you buy.

11. Do I want to buy this because it’s on sale or I need a pick-me-up, want to celebrate, or am just plain bored?

Buy it because you need it and it works with your wardrobe. Not because it’s on sale. Not for retail therapy.

12. Can I think of at least three concrete outfits I could create with this piece that I would be excited to wear? 

See #5. If you’re a mixer, this is important. If not, that might be okay, too.

13. Can I see myself wearing this for many seasons?

If you don’t see yourself loving it past the current season, keep moving.

Have you read The Curated Closet? I’d love to hear your thoughts in comments. What factors do YOU consider before adding anything to your wardrobe? We’d love to hear; please share below. 

wardrobe buying tips

 

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23 comments

  1. Caitlin says:

    I actually have a copy of this book. I bought it following a review from a fellow seamstress (I know it’s hard to realise you have parted with hard earned money for an item of clothing you never wear, but for me realising that I have spent 4-10 hours MAKING an item of clothing I never wear was much more frustrating).
    I was enjoying it but kept hit exercises that I didn’t have time to do (like taking a photo of my outfit every day) so it’s languishing on my bookshelf, but this post has got me thinking that maybe I should give it another go for inspiration instead…

  2. Karen says:

    I type this with some abashment, but I long ago made the pledge to never buy clothes with fabric that didn’t have some stretch. Not everything is yoga pants, I promise! But – when even jeans can have stretch…and t-shirts, and underwear, and everything else… I find myself regretting any non-stretch purchases I mistakenly make. It’s both comfort and fit for me.

    With even more abashment, I admit look hard at anything with an old-school waistband. Even Gap jeans come with a waistband that’s built differently than they used to be: ie comfier! But if I can go without the snap-zip entirely – and still have it look cute – I’m all-in. Those “trick” pants you find at Athleta and other places? They need to win the Nobel Peace Prize or something..

    • Lynda says:

      THIS!!! I just bought a stretch oxford shirt and am so happy! All my old button-downs have been languishing in my closet ever since I realized I’m only purchasing mainly knit clothes from now on.

  3. Jess says:

    My 13 year old daughter read this book and told me it was “completely boring” and that she felt like she learned more from Lessons from Madame Chic. Interesting insight from someone young.

  4. N G Marks says:

    The list is very helpful, thanks for sharing it, I’m sure we all fall into the trap of “it is on sale”, which makes us feel as though we have to buy it. I know I have some things in my closet that I’ve never worn because of this “cheap price” factor. I do admit to being a clothes junkie but recently cleaned out my dresser and only kept the things that I always wear. In two weeks when my husband goes on a business trip I am going to take everything out of the closet and do the same. It is hard to let go but it will feel so good to walk in the closet and see open space! I only shop for new things in spring for a trip somewhere and at the end of winter for sale items for the next season. I think this helps me stay out of stores as a retail therapy situation.

  5. Tara says:

    This is so great; I am definitely not very creative, when it comes to my wardrobe, yet I find myself trying to “break out” of my personal style because I feel some sense of obligation to try new trends. That’s so silly! I always end up getting rid of the things that do not fit my personality or wardrobe style; this is a great reminder. I have, thankfully, learned that I will NOT be willing to take items to the dry cleaner or do a lot of ironing; that has narrowed down the selection quite a bit. I hope the move is going well!

  6. Breanne says:

    I loved this book! I found it really helpful in re-assesing my closet and wardrobe. Do I need to try the new trends? No, I do not. I appreciated the questions and ways to look at clothes – purpose, quality, personal style rather then here’s the trending outfits of Pinterest.

    My biggest takeaway was that style is so personal. We can all be inspired by trends but we don’t have to embrace them completely but rather fit them into our personal style in someway.

    Plus, I enjoyed reading a book rather then a series of articles on the internet. =)

  7. Leigh Kramer says:

    That’s a great list. I find I really only ask myself 2 questions while shopping: does it fit well and is it comfortable? and do I love it? The first question is especially important when I’m at a thrift store because I’m prone toward buying pieces that are well made but at least a size too big because it’s such a good deal. Sometimes I’ll rationalize by saying I’ll get it tailored…but I never follow through with this. So I’ve gotten more ruthless about this over the years, to my wallet’s great relief. I actually went thrifting yesterday and found a navy cardigan, similar to what I’ve been looking for but once I tried it on, I was underwhelmed. I reminded myself I didn’t love it and therefore it wasn’t worth it and put it back on the rack. I did wind up with some clothes I’m really excited to wear, however!

  8. Frankly, I need this posting adapted to book buying junkies. E.g. Am I buying this book because it is on sale; because I need a pick me up; because I’m celebrating or bored?
    My closet is filled with boxes of books, not clothes. Actually, I prefer books to clothes, but need to draw the line. How many books can I realistically read in the remainder of my lifetime? Part of the reason I like hanging out at MMD is that no one will scold me for having too many books. You let me indulge my addiction guilt-free.

  9. Erin says:

    I’ve been thinking that my closet needed a makeover recently, and I’m really glad I came across this post beforehand! These are incredible tips. Thank you!

  10. Elsie from A Beautiful Mess wrote a post sometime during the last month about this very book – with pictures! I found that super helpful too.

    I’ve started writing down my two weeks of outfits so I’ll see what makes me feel amazing soon 🙂

  11. Jennifer N. says:

    I ask myself one question: “Do I love it?” For me, that means it fits well, it’s comfortable, and makes me feel like a million dollars (and do I love it enough to pay for it). This also means I leave whatever store I’m in empty-handed a LOT. I’m going to have to look into Stitch Fix, though. I hate mall shopping, so this option is intriguing.

    • Kacie says:

      I re-activated my Stitch Fix and just received my 2nd Fix. Kept all 5 pieces and I’m so happy about it all! Looking forward to my next Fix and I think I will keep it up for awhile, as I hate malls and don’t have time/patience for it. (If you are new, use the CBM portal to find whatever deals might be going on right now).

      Anne — are you still receiving Stitch Fixes? It sounds like it was a great thing for you for at least awhile!

  12. I love a good how-to on what to wear. Last year, it was big goal of mine to figure out my style and stop buying/wearing clothes I didn’t like. I haven’t read many books on the topic, but a few helpful blogs and I’ve come along way! Reading Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline and No Logo by Naomi Klein was eye opening. Now I try really hard to only buy ethically manufactured clothes, preferably made in USA. Since I’m really after quality, I appreciate that the slow fashion movement is also a push for better made clothing.

  13. Libby says:

    I think the list is overall helpful, but I have to disagree with a couple. If you take #3 and #12 too literally, you’d never buy the super fun pieces you end up designing your wardrobe around. I took a chance on a pair of bright pink skinnies a few years ago that looked great, but I had maybe 1 shirt that matched them. But I love those pants so much that I’ve started buying tops that go with them on purpose and wear them close to every week. #13 and #7 go together for me also: maybe you like a trend but don’t want to commit to wearing it for 5 years. Buy a cheaper, on-trend piece, wear it for a season, and decide if you want to invest in something of a similar style but higher quality.

  14. Kaylee K says:

    These are all great questions to ask yourself! I haven’t read the Curated Closet yet, but I’ve been hearing some really good things lately! I recently picked up “Capture your Style” by Aimee Song, and I really love Lauren Conrad’s “style” book. Looks like this book is next on my list!
    XX -KK
    http://www.KayleeKarcher.com

  15. Amber says:

    I really enjoyed this book! The visuals were so inspiring!
    After reading, I started making the first physical vision board I’ve made since high school. It’s helped me define my persoal style and the specific types of clothing I’m looking for. If it’s not something I can see on my vision board, it doesn’t make the cut. That eliminates 95% of the clothing I encounter in the stores. I’m super picky, haha! The item must also be comfortable because for me comfort is king! I check to make sure it’s well made but still easy to take care of. And it either needs to be something I love or that fills a gap that’s missing from my current wardrobe.

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