How to Shop with Vision

visionI don’t shop for fun. In my mind, shopping is work.  When I do shop for myself I am a lone wolf.  However, when my best friend was in from out-of-town for a few days and asked me to go shopping I couldn’t refuse.  She was looking forward to being able to borrow my eye for a few hours and we were just thrilled to do anything together.

Shopping with my friend opened my eyes to how some women shop and I realized just how checked out I am to this.  When I shop with clients I pre-pull before their arrival and if we are shopping together I am more of a leader.  In the case with my friend, I was more observant as we perused racks.  The biggest difference I noticed between how my friend shopped and how I shop is that I tend to shop with a bigger picture in mind while she shops for individual pieces and can easily miss out on things that aren’t as exciting at first glance.

As my friend and I approached a rack, I fell for a gorgeous camel coat.  It wasn’t anything exciting, just a classic style.  As I drooled over it, my friend looked at me sort of quizzically because she seemed to lack the ability to see the bigger picture of what made this coat so fabulous.  My mind went to all these places this coat would work.  In an instant, I could style this coat multiple ways, created outfits using the coat, could see its value and could identify its beauty not necessarily based on the piece itself as much as the overall picture of it.

When my friend found a piece she liked, I noticed it was the immediate draw of the novelty that made it so appealing to her.  This didn’t necessarily surprise me.  It’s not just in fashion that we get stopped by shiny, pretty things.  Unfortunately, when it comes to fashion that’s not enough.  We need to have vision and we have to be able to think beyond just thinking something is attractive.

If you shop like my friend and find yourself without the ability to shop with vision and the bigger picture, here are some quick tips to help.

How to Shop with Vision

Style on the fly

What I didn’t realize about myself until I shopped with my friend is that everything I look at in a store gets styled in my head.  I don’t see individual pieces, I see outfits.  Imagine it like this super fast mental rolodex that takes a piece in the store and automatically runs it through this filter.  So, like that coat I mentioned, it took me only a few seconds to find its worth by styling it multiple ways.  Had I not done that I would have likely just seen a bland coat.

Doing this for yourself can help you figure out how valuable a piece can be in a wardrobe.  Even if you don’t own the supporting pieces you’re styling in your head with the potential piece, you can still appreciate its value through what it could be styled with.  What makes it something you bring home is whether or not you have enough items to wear with it and if it fits your lifestyle  More importantly, this process can help train the brain to shop with more vision.

Novelty needs to be balanced with basics

Novelty items can be exciting to buy.  It’s basics that often go overlooked.  I refer to basics as your really solid friends who are always there for you whereas the more novelty pieces are like the crazy friends that you have a good time with but can’t really rely on.  You need both basics and novelty pieces to create a balanced wardrobe.  Taking the time to see the potential of basics by going through the process of styling these items in their mind can help you see their value.

Basic doesn’t necessarily mean boring

It’s hard to see a basic crew neck sweater as anything exciting.  They’re a dime a dozen and not exactly enchanting enough to stop anyone in their tracks while shopping.  However, this is an example of a basic that can get you ton of mileage in your wardrobe.  The next time you find yourself hung up on a novelty top because it’s so fun and interesting to look at, make it a point to take the same amount of time looking at something basic.  Style several looks in your head while looking at this basic.  Notice how the foundation of these exciting looks you appreciate so much are built on basics.

Pretty and shiny isn’t enough

The problem with pretty shiny things is that they can cause us to let go of all rational reasoning simply because they are fun.  Novelty items require the same amount of vision and thought as basics before you take them home.  Taking the time to style novelty pieces will help you rationalize whether you need them while also helping you to see that something being pretty and shiny isn’t enough of a reason to purchase it.

As simple as the process is, taking the time to use vision to work through making outfits in your mind using potential pieces you find in a store can be very helpful in helping to ensure you buy what you need and will wear.


  • Kelly

    Bridgette this is the most excellent advice and I really wish I had your amazing outfit planning super power. I am so easily distracted by the shiny/cute/amazing/over the top things and find myself struggling to look at the basics. Though I am getting better at trying to make outfits before I buy something.

    • You may not develop it as a super power but with practice you’d be surprised by how your brain just starts to automatically thinks this way. Just try to remember that your basics are like the strong foundations necessary in making those shiny things you like stand out.

  • Carol

    This is a helpful way of thinking about shopping. Since following your blog and doing a virtual style consult with you about a year ago, I have fewer clothes and more outfits. (While I had anticipated I would buy clothes after a style consult, I wound up purging more than I acquired- once I understood my style and what things didn’t suit me any more.) It is now easy to get dressed for any occasion. I shop with specific goals in mind – such as a navy column for spring. I envy your mental Rolodex and instant outfit making! It is a much harder and more thoughtful process for me, but I am learning. Thanks!

    • Thanks Carol! You many not be as fast or efficient as me when putting an outfit together, but with a little practice I think you can get better. Plus, even if you’re not particularly perfect at it, it can still be helpful in being able to look at things with more of a bigger picture mindset. Think of an outfit like a recipe and is built from separate ingredients. Each one plays a part and when you take your time to think through one piece as part of the whole it can help you think things through more thoroughly. In my case, you have to remember, I have years and years of doing this, my brain just automatically sees things this way at this point. In time you might be surprised by how well you do too.

  • Patricia

    I tend to always go for the classic pieces and often skip the fantasy tops. All cake and no frosting which doesn’t work either. Or I spot something I really like and find out I have that exact or near duplicate item.
    But I do like your advice and need to improve my outfit styling skills.