Impulse or Inspiration?
How to make sure you wear what you buy

January 30, 2015

Do you find your wardrobe at the mercy of impulse purchases? Cambridge Dictionary defines an impulse buy as, “something you buy suddenly and without thinking carefully.” My definition when it comes to your wardrobe is an item you enthusiastically purchase but never wear—its home becomes the bottom of your closet where all the other impulse items reside.

For many women this happens far too often and the telltale offenders taunt them daily. Think about your closet. Can you clearly picture your impulse items? How much space in your closet do they fill?

There are three major reasons a new piece of clothing isn’t worn:

  1. You do not feel good wearing it.
  2. You can’t figure out how to make it into a wearable outfit.
  3. You don’t have anywhere to wear it (or are saving it for best!)

It makes you wonder (often with regret) why you purchased it in the first place, doesn’t it?
The answer is simple…it was an impulse buy.

Remember the last time you went clothes shopping? You wandered around the store trying to figure out what to buy and then you see it…a sales rack appears before you (impulse buys are often associated with discount pricing) and a red top is screaming your name. It wasn’t what you had been looking for, but on a whim you decide to get it and proudly head to the cash register. Whether this item joins the other impulse buys in your closet or becomes a working piece of your wardrobe remains to be seen, but the odds are stacked against it.

The question is can an impulse buy turn into an inspired choice? Absolutely!

But how?

How do you keep yourself from making a doomed impulse buy and instead make sure all the money you spend on your clothes is money well spent?

That is the key to creating a wardrobe you love and having a closet full of things all of which you wear.

It is worth exploring and so here are 4 ideas to help you make more inspired choices:

1. ALWAYS Try it On

I get it. We live in a hurry up world and when you are in a hurry it is so easy to grab your size and run to the checkout counter forgoing the obligatory trip to the dressing room. The problem is that most of the time you will regret it later.

There are two major reasons to try something on in the store:

  1. It saves time. Sometimes garments look more promising on the hanger than they do when you get them on (and of course, the opposite can be true, too). You can’t always tell just by looking at it that the shoulders would be too narrow or it’s actually asymmetrical when you zip it up and looks odd unzipped (which is how you want to wear it) or that the fabric was so clingy or sheer that you felt uncomfortable. What a disappointment when it turns out not to be as fabulous, practical or even the right size as you thought it was when you saw it hanging on the rack. Sure, you can return it (depending on the store policy), but think of the time you would have saved if you had tried it on in the store to begin with. On. Off. Done.
  2. To complete the outfit. Right now make a mental tally of how many items you have in your closet you can’t wear because you can’t complete the outfit. Each one seemed like such a good idea when you bought it, but when you tried to wear it you realized you don’t have the right pants, shoes, jacket, color combination…you name it…you don’t have what it takes to make the outfit work. So the item sits there gathering dust and frustrating you. Trying it on gives you the opportunity assess what else you need or have at home to make a complete outfit you love.

When you try the garment on at the store you immediately address the first concern and are alerted to the second. It gives you food for thought and starts you thinking about how you would wear the item once you got it home.

2. Visualize Yourself Walking Down the Street or in an Upcoming Event

Glance at yourself in the mirror and picture yourself wearing the item outside of the store and better yet at an upcoming event. How do you feel? How are you moving? Are you comfortable? Smiling? Or are you scratching and tugging at fabric? Do you feel like you? This is the perfect time to realize if the impulse is misguided or has promise.

If the only place you can imagine yourself wearing it is on a tropical vacation and you go to the a hot climate once every two years, then it might not be the best purchase at this time. Or, if you discover you would need to wear high heels to feel good in it and you are committed to flats, you will regularly eye it longingly as it hangs in your closet, but it will never see the light of day once you get it home.

For me it was thinking about my temperature comfort zone. Last spring I had a desire to buy dresses (with three-quarter sleeves, no less!) and yet there are maybe 5 days a year when the temperature is right for me to wear them. And, I have to consider whether I want to wear stockings or tights (I do not go bare legged except in the most casual situations).

Here is one of the few pictures of me in a dress – during a before and after photo shoot (which gives you an idea of how infrequently I wear dresses).

Photo Credit: Meri Bond

If I picture myself standing somewhere feeling cold I know that that dress will not see the light of day very often. Or, if I have to wear stockings, but the only shoes I have to go with the dress are open-toed, I’ll get most of the way there and then be foiled by the shoe options. I finally realized that most of the time my money is better off spent on something else. Having two or three dresses with three-quarter sleeves in my closet is nice, but having more than that doesn’t make sense unless I move to a warmer climate. Visualizing where and when I will wear it helps make the decision more clear cut.

3. Dodge the 5-Pound Dilemma

While you might ultimately lose those 5 or 10 pounds you’d like to shed, buying something now that you cannot wear until you lose weight is rarely inspiring. More often it is frustrating and annoying not to mention that it adds extra pressure and when it takes you longer than you thought to lose the weight (or you don’t lose it at all) it affects your self-esteem. It is as if an additional 5-pound weight is sitting firmly on your psyche. You don’t need that added stress every time you get dressed.

There is an easy solution: Buy the item in the right size for you now and commit to having it tailored once you drop the weight. Phew! What a joy to get to wear it immediately AND know you can wear it once the extra pounds have disappeared. That’s an extra bonus.

4. Turn an Impulse into Inspiration by Asking Yourself These Questions

When you are in the dressing room with the garment on, ask yourself these questions every time and you will avoid most impulse buys—that’s how I averted a future with too many dresses (no matter how pretty) in my closet. Then, based on your answers, head to the cashier or put it back on the rack.

1. Is the color flattering?

2. Does it reflect your personality?

3. Is it comfortable (move around and sit in it to be sure)?

4. Will you be warm enough or cool enough wearing it?

5. Does it fit or could it work with some tailoring?

6. Is the fabric one you are willing to care for? This includes ironing!

7. Can you complete the outfit so you can wear it immediately or do you have at least 2 items at home that will help you make a complete outfit?

8. Do you have somewhere to wear it? It is not useful to have an item of clothing if you have nowhere to wear it.

9. Do you love it?

If you answer a resounding yes to ALL 9 questions above, congratulations. It is an inspired choice.

If you answer no to even one of them, put it back on the rack—it is an impulse item that needs to stay at the store.

The goal is to look in your closet every day when you get dressed and feel excited. If you find yourself berating yourself for a purchase you shouldn’t have made (a.k.a., an impulse item), then carry the questions above with you every time you shop. It will help keep you focused and help you make choices that feel exciting and inspired!

Note: The list of questions is based on a similar list from my book ‘That’s So You! Create a Look You Love with Beauty, Style and Grace.”

If you want more helpful tips to inspire you to create a wardrobe that makes you smile every time you get dressed, pick up your copy here or

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