Shopping for Clothes: Why You Don’t Succeed When You Shop

shopping for clothes How often have you gone shopping for clothes only to find yourself frustrated, overwhelmed and without much to show for it when you’re done?  After shopping with a client this past weekend, I gave a lot of thought to how women shop and what might be the biggest reason most are unsuccessful or feel like they’re struggling.

When I shop with clients, how I work with clients them is I pre-pull all the selections I think are right for their needs.  In about an hour I often have an entire rolling rack of clothing prepared for the next day’s session.  When a client meets me at the store the following day, all they have to do is walk into the dressing room and the rack of clothing is there waiting for them.  Now, I know that shopping this way is not a reality for everyone, and there’s a chance you don’t have the budget to hire someone to do all the shopping and curating legwork ahead of time, however, I tell you this to explain just how much effort it takes to find the right things when shopping for clothing.

Let’ me explain this further: When most women shop, they peruse the store, grab a few items to try on and, maybe, if they’re lucky, find one thing that works.  Let’s say, for example, a woman takes three things in to try on and she buys one of those items, that’s a 33% success rate.  While this may seem incredibly unfruitful, it’s actually not that bad.  It wasn’t until this past weekend with my client that I gave thought to the amount of things a client has to try on to find what will work for her.  I don’t have the exact ratio, but my guess would be that, of all the things I pull for clients, 80% of those pieces work and 20% don’t.  Now, considering my clients’ selections are pulled by me, a professional who has been shopping for clients for the past eleven years, it makes sense that my success rate would be higher than average, however, there isn’t a huge difference between 20% and 33%.  Yet, the biggest difference between how I work and how most women shop (and why most women fail) is in the volume of what gets pulled.  If you want to be successful when you shop, you need to try on more.  Shopping, in some respects, is like a numbers game, the more you try on the higher your chances of finding something are.

shopping for clothes If you’re thinking you don’t have the time to shop for long periods of time at once, if you were to add up all the hours you spend popping into stores, trying on one or two things and throwing most of them back, it would probably equal out to the same amount of time in one session being more focused and purposeful.  Sure, there is nothing wrong with the occasional perusal when you have a few minutes to spare, yet, if you’re serious about building a successful wardrobe, your shopping for clothing needs to be more focused.  Here are some tips to help you get started.

Tips to keep in mind when you go shopping for clothing:

  •  Shop with focus.  When you seriously go shopping (not time-killing perusal shopping), the first thing you need to do is focus on this as your singular task.  Set aside the time like you would any other task.
  • Load up the dressing room before you go in.  The entire floor should be covered before you head in.  There is no charge to try on clothing and it’s a heck of a lot easier to have it all in one place vs. having to get dressed and go back out on the floor to hunt for more.
  • Bring the size you think you are and one size smaller and/or larger.  It’s the unfortunate part of the way fashion works, there is no sizing standardization.  If you’re unfamiliar with how a brand fits you, always bring in a few sizes.  While it may be frustrating, it’s even more frustrating if you don’t bring in alternative sizes and then  have to either go out to get another size or to find a salesperson who will actually help you.
  • Enlist the help of a salesperson.  While it may be incredibly difficult to get someone to actually assist you, because of this, few customers even ask for help any longer.  However, there is no harm in asking. I enlist the help of a salesperson and give them clear direction on how I want them to be of assistance.  The first thing I tell them is that I will be hanging the rejects outside the door and ask them if they wouldn’t mind coming around to take those things away and to check in if I need any help.  By hanging items outside the door it forces them to come around and check on me.
  • Don’t be afraid of looking foolish with armfuls of clothing.  If you saw me while pre-shopping for a client, you’d see me with armfuls of clothing along with frequent trips to my salesperson to unload so I can go back for more.  I think one of the reasons women don’t load up their arms with options is for fear of looking ridiculous or silly carrying around that much.  However, whose the foolish one; the person who loads up their arm with options or the person who brings their scant bunch of options into the dressing room only to find nothing that works?

What if you’ve tried this and it’s still not working?

If you’re a woman who does shop this way or who has tried to cover an entire floor but has still only found a few things to actually try on, there may be a few other issues to consider that can help you be more successful.  Here are some more things to consider when shopping for clothes:

  • Are you shopping at the right stores?  If you keep going back to a store that doesn’t have enough for you to choose from, are you in the right place?  Perhaps it’s not the right store for you.  Just because you’re friends shop there or it’s a hot and trendy place to go, is it right for you?
  • Are you being closed minded?  The next thing I want you to consider is asking yourself how open minded you are being when shopping for clothing.  I want you to be more flexible.  I will say this, it is a lot easier to shop for someone else than it is to shop for yourself.  Shopping for others, I have greater objectivity when considering items for my clients.   I can’t be with you, so it’s important that you open yourself up to things that you normally turn away from.  I’m not saying you try things on that are horrendous or you deem ugly (that would be a colossal waste of time), but, I do strongly suggest if something catches your eye, or you find something interesting, even though it is a departure for you, that you try it.  You seriously never know, plus a lot of things have horrible hanger appeal but look great on the body.
  • Take a realistic inventory of your life.  There is a lot of thought that goes into each item I pull for a client to try on.  I want you to use the same thinking when shopping.  When I look at an item hanging on a rack, I start running through my client’s life in my mind.  First, I picture them wearing it and ask if it is something I can see her in.  Next, I imagine where she’s going in it and ask if this fits her lifestyle.  Lastly, I think about what she owns and run through a list list of the inventory already in her closet to make sure this piece would work.  If an item passes all three of these questions it gets pulled.  Sometimes it’s a no-brainer and other times I have to think on it for a minute.  I tell you this because, while the success rate of what you try on in a dressing room is a numbers game, you still have to have to grab the right contenders first.   Given my tip earlier to load up in the dressing room, it doesn’t mean that you just throw more in there simply to increase your chances, that’s like throwing spaghetti against the wall with hopes that something will stick.  You should always run an item that you’re considering through a mental checklist:
  1. Can I see myself wearing it?
  2. Where will I wear it?  
  3. What will I wear with it?  

If the pieces pass the test they can go in the dressing room.

shopping for clothes When I started my style consulting business in 2002, my mother, who is a ridiculous shopper, said to me, “But, Bridgette, you hate shopping!” and she was right.  I don’t love shopping, I’m not someone who considers it a hobby or pastime and, personally, I’ve got better things to do than to just randomly peruse.  However, I truly believe my greatest success in helping others shop for clothing has come from the fact that I never really loved it.  Because of this, I’ve always focused on making it the most painless, effective and easiest task I could.  With these tips on shopping for clothing, I hope you can as well.

  • Both lists are great advice! What do you think of spending one day pulling clothes for yourself, put them on hold and then try them all on the following day? Splits up the time and perhaps I’ll have a different POV the next day.

    • That’s an interesting approach for sure! I think there would be pros and cons to it. However, if you find it works than absolutely, why not?

  • Karen N.

    Any strategies for those of us in the no-man’s-land between misses 12 and plus 16? (Other than, obviously, keeping those plus sized clothes and taking them in.)

    • Hi Karen!!! Have you checked out Lee Lee’s Valise? They’re a store that sells sizes 10-28. They’re based in Brooklyn but have a wonderful online presence as well. I blogged about them a few weeks ago, which you can read here- They were featured on TLC’s “What Not to Wear” over 20 times and also had their own show last year, also on TLC called “Big Brooklyn Style.” If you have some time, I’d definitely check them out. They design everything in the store.

      • Karen N.

        Cute! Not sure those dresses would work with my shape (inverted triangle) & mostly I wear pants at work, but if I’m ever in the area I may check it out. I generally manage to get down to Chicago about 4 times a year. I’m kind of frustrated with Nordstrom’s, etc.

        • You’d be surprised how well Lee Lee’s clothes fit a variety of shapes and sizes! It would be great if you could shop there once in-person to get a feel for which shapes fit your body, as they run a lot of the same styles over and over, so once you know you can just order the shapes that fit you online. However, they’re very personable at the store, and if you can’t get to the store at least once, they would probably be able to talk through which styles would fit you best.

  • Fashionstruggle

    This is amazing advice! I can definitely say that I am very indecisive when I shop, so it never ends up working out. I’m up for trying out clothes out of my comfort zone. Thank you so much for these pointers & tips.

    • You are so welcome! I am glad you found it helpful! Thank you for stopping by my site and for your comment!

  • Dani3ear

    Great tips! At the risk of being blasphemous, I have to admit that I find this type of shopping a little exhausting, from the parking lot, to the actual browsing, to the dressing room, to the lines at the register (on weekends especially). What are your thoughts on online browsing to “prepare” for the in-person shopping (i.e. if you already have taken inventory of your life and know the wardrobe gaps that need to be filled, but you don’t want to spend all that time browsing the physical store– you just want to pull from your list and try on)?

    • Hi Dani! Not blasphemous at all! I think the goal is to figure out whatever works for you to make it effective! A lot of prep work goes into preparing clients for a session, which includes me pre-shopping and pulling the day before! I think your strategy is smart and if it makes you feel less overwhelmed I say definitely!!!! Great tip, by the way!

  • breanna

    The problem with the first tip is that, at least where I live, there’s a limit to how many clothes you can bring into the dressing room. It’s usually under 10.

    • Hi, yea, it’s a total pain when stores do that. I think it is a huge mistake too. What I do when that happens is I leave a few things with the woman working the dressing room and then go back and take as I have tried on and let a few go. It’s not ideal but it is a way to work around it.

  • I hate shopping, pure and simple. It’s from years of frustration. My body is out of proportion. (Very long legs with an average torso, large rib cage, super-long arms, and wide in the back and shoulders with muscular upper arms) If money were no object I could head straight to the tall women’s stores which are often more expensive. You never find the cute stuff or the deals you sometimes do on regular clothing. To add to it, I prefer my summer clothing to have sleeves of some sort, which is really hard to find and I really dislike most floral or geometric patterns, jewel tones, and anything made of unnatural fabrics. Can anyone tell me where you can get cotton, wool and linen clothes in neutrals or pastels, with roomy sleeves in cap, short or very long, really long pants, skirts that come to my knee etc. that are the same price as regular clothes and shaped to fit someone shaped like a gibbon…or a spider? Don’t get me started on shoes. I’m a half size. And most coats look like they have 3/4 sleeves when I try them on. Online isn’t any better. I am in Canada and the shipping and duty from the US or the UK can be astronomical.

  • char

    I have tried all these tips and still nothing

    • I am sorry to hear this. Of course, without knowing your personally, I can’t say for sure what the solution would be for you.