So, I’ve decided to do things differently this month. Before I tell you all about what’s different, let me start at the beginning.

I’ve been feeling dissatisfied lately about my closet. Perhaps “dissatisfied” is not the right word. I love the clothes I have, or the very least, the majority of them. But it started to feel like there were too many of them; too many clothes, too many choices, too much guilt – about not wearing some of them enough, about being too wasteful. I’m fortunate in that I can afford to be wasteful with my money. It may not be the best use of it, but I look at it this way: if I’m spending my (fun) money on something that makes me happy, then it’s fulfilling its intended purpose. And, certainly, the experience of shopping for new clothes, and reinventing myself with new clothes, is very enjoyable … except that it passes, and I am left with more clothes than I need, and feeling guilty about wasting the resources that went into making all those unnecessary clothes.

Paring down my wardrobe, which I do regularly, is only half the story. As long as I keep buying things at the same rate I have been, nothing will really change. Deep down, I’ve known that for a while. I’ve talked a good “mindful consumerism” game before, but real change is hard. What I needed to do was to divorce the act of shopping from the act of (sartorial) self-expression. No easy feat. We are constantly bombarded with images of cute, new clothes, and I have an over-active imagination; I can easily weave narratives around new clothes that can justify any purchase. I’m sure you’ve seen some of that on the blog. I need to learn to admire something, without wanting to own it. This may sound incredibly obvious and simple to some of you, but it requires a not insignificant shift in perspective for me.

The reality is that clothes will probably never be purely functional objects for me. [And it seems as though this is the case for more and more people these days.] There will always be a sense of romance about them, for me, as there is about books. Of infinite (and hopeful) possibilities. With that in mind, however, I am still ready for a change. I think. And here we are.

In an effort to shift my perspective on shopping, I decided to try a new approach. Some new guidelines.

  1. Buy only 1 new item.
  2. Can buy replacements for any item already in my closet, provided the cost per wear of the item to be replaced is $4 or less.
  3. Bags not included.

So, yes, this month I decided to buy only 1 new item. I wanted to force myself to be truly mindful about my shopping, while still having an opportunity to be a little impulsive. I already have all the clothes I could possibly need, so I wanted to focus on making sure that anything I added was truly special.

I also allowed myself to purchase replacements for items already in my closet, with one condition. This was a modified version of the “one in, one out” rule, but with the added caveat that the cost-per-wear of the item I was replacing had to be $4 or less. Why $4? It’s a somewhat arbitrary number, but it’s about the cost of a chai latte – in other words, a frivolous throw-away cost. Admittedly, this rule does nothing for the environment (a garment discarded before the end of its useful life is still … one more unnecessarily discarded garment) but the idea was to force myself to be really mindful about this category of spending as well. It can take a surprising amount of time to get down to a $4 CPW (think of it this way: a $40 item, worn once a month, will take 10 months to get to that magic number – and not everything in my closet gets worn every month), which should eliminate too-quick turnovers. Because, yes, I’m thinking of turning this into an on-going experiment.

Oh, and a couple of exceptions: bags and pants. The first one probably needs no explanation, but about the pants: if I gain or lose enough weight to necessitate a change in sizes, I will buy new pants regardless of the cost-per-wear of my old ones. Saggy/sausage-casing pants are the worst.

So, how did I fare this month? I bought three things ($452) and received one gift (from my husband). Here’s the breakdown:

  1. Earth, Music & Ecology striped dress ($23 via consignment) – This looked like a dress you’d find at Anthropologie, but it turned out to be from a Japanese brand. Which may explain the slightly Lolita-esque vibe. Now, admittedly, that doesn’t sound like something an almost-35 year old should wear, but I think it’s cute without being too twee. Plus, it replaced my Joe Fresh striped dress from last summer (CPW $1.45), and I have a bit more leeway to be immature in my weekend wardrobe.
  2. Nine West slingback pumps (gifted) – I call these my “witching” shoes because the slightly higher vamp makes them look, well, a little witchy. They remind me of the current Vince Claire pumps that are all the rage, but for a fraction of the price. They are replacing my beloved thrifted Jimmy Choo Merrit pumps (CPW $0.24). Sigh, I know. It’s a sad day, but the time has come. The leather has completely peeled from the tip of the Merrit pumps, and while they remain in otherwise decent shape, I can’t wear them at the office anymore. They’re being relegated to commute duty, until they give up the ghost entirely. The Nine West replacements are probably not as classic a choice, but I do still have my plain Stuart Weitzman pointy toe pumps, so I wanted a edgier pair for my alternate.
  3. Babaton Brady sweater ($9 via Value Village) – I haven’t quite decided whether this will replace something in my closet (there are a couple of candidates) or represent my permitted “new item”; I couldn’t resist a silk & linen blend sweater for under $10, though. It looks vaguely Isabel Marant-ish. The yarn is a mix of red, white, and black, which works well with my wardrobe palette. Also, there was this …
  4. Red bag ($420 via eBay) – Obviously, this is not just any bag. Obviously, it’s getting its own post. [If you follow me on Instagram, then you already know all about it, but I’m hanging on to the surprise element here a little bit longer.]

    You probably don’t need me to tell you that there were a lot of things I liked, but didn’t buy, this month. Let’s take a look at a few:

    Love Moschino Wool Dress

    Love Moschino dress
    Love Moschino dress

    This was an adorable dress and a great bargain to boot (Winners clearance, $69 down from $450-ish). However, thereย was nothing in my wardrobe that it could have replaced, and there were a few reasons why I decided not to make it my “freebie” this month. One, it was 70% wool (made in Turkey), which meant that it was quite itchy, and prone to piling (some was already evident). Two, either the dress didn’t sit as intended on me, or else there was a design/manufacturing flaw, but the pleats did not lay down symmetrically all the way around; a minor issue, but it would have bothered me had I bought it. Three, while classic in a gamine, Chanel-esque way, the style was ultimately a little too young, and too cute for me. I could have worn it to work, but I don’t think it would have presented my preferred image.

    Frye Rachel sandals
    Frye Rachel sandals

    Another awesome Winners bargain: $62 down from $168. I didn’t end up buying them because (a) they were ever so slightly too small; and (b) I already have at least 4 pairs of strappy casual sandals (which is probably 2 too many), and this one didn’t really need to replace any of them. This would have been a great find for someone in actual need of a good quality summer sandal … alas, that person was not me.

    Anne Klein crepe shift dress
    Anne Klein crepe shift dress

    So, um, I stopped in at Winners a lot this month. This was another sale rack find ($44) that didn’t work for me. You can see the problem in the photo on the right; if the dress had been the correct size and fit properly (see pic on the left), it would have been a no-brainer. Some peeps on Instagram suggested that I get it tailored. Here are my thoughts on that: the quality of the dress was not good enough to justify what would likely have cost upwards of $40 in alterations. The crepe material was so-so; one of the sleeve hems had already come undone. With that said, I will keep an eye out for this dress at Winners, on the off chance another store has my size.

    Linking up with Franish and the other budgeting bloggers – do check them out for more fun, virtual shopping.

    14 Comments on What I Bought: April 2015

    1. I started keeping a clothing budget last year as I entered the workforce out of grad school. I have done well at building up my wardrobe but was definitely shocked at how much I spent overall, and how much I spent on things that I rarely ended up wearing. This is my roundabout way of saying that my new year’s resolution for 2015 was to only buy one piece of clothing per month! So I really identify with what you’re talking about here. So far, I’ve made many more mindful decisions when shopping. I try to stick with what I know I will enjoy for more than just a season.

      However, I haven’t thought much about Cost Per Wear of my clothing.. How do you track it? You seem able to rhyme of the CPW for almost everything in your closet!

      • I’ve been tracking my “wears” for all my clothes for about a year and a half now. Maybe 20% of my closet is older than that (I know, that’s a terrible statistic), and for those I guesstimate based on current wear patterns.

        I’m pretty basic (LOL!) so I use the Notepad function on my iPad. Every time I buy something, I log it into my “Shopping List” note (price paid, plus estimated retail); then, I add it to my “Wardrobe Tracker” note, under the appropriate category (pants, dresses, skirts, etc.). I add the brand/description of the item, the year purchased, and the price paid. Then, every day, I add a little asterisk next to each item I’ve worn. It sounds complicated, but once you have your entire wardrobe (less gym & lounge clothes) logged, keeping everything updated takes a minute every day. If you do it in Excel, it probably takes even less time ๐Ÿ˜‰

    2. Love those sandals, I have a pink pair that shape and they are so comfy. I’m still after a new tan pair, that style would be great. I’ll find some eventually when I can be bothered / have time to look properly!

      Good for you with this new shopping mindset! I’ve been very deliberate since finding out I was expecting Felix to take a step back and really think about purchases, especially in person rather than online as online you can go away and come back whenever. At the shops I’m more likely to impulse buy as I rarely get to them. So I’ve been trying to admire without buying and if something haunts me, seek it out online.

      Good luck anyway, look forward to seeing how it pans out. Also I have no idea what brand the shiny new red bag is so colour me intrigued!

    3. I’m intrigued by the idea of purchasing only one item a month. I always try “no shopping” months and fail, so maybe a month like you’re suggesting would be easier for me. Thanks for the idea!

      • It really depends on what works for you. When it comes to clothes shopping, I can’t quit “cold turkey”. (For other things, a moderation-is-best approach can work for me. Like I said, it really depends). A one item limit might be a bit drastic, we’ll see. You have to consider what it is that you’re actually trying to accomplish (save money, buy less, buy ethical, etc.) and tailor your “rules” according to that – but, as I said, keeping in mind also your personal psychology.

        I will say this, having gone through a (brief, LOL!) period of time when I bought nothing: it’s easier to do it if you’re not constantly thinking about clothes. And that might mean not going to the mall ever, not reading fashion blogs, etc. Oh, and finding other things to fill the gap/your time. (In my case, I had bad morning sickness while pregnant with my daughter, and I had no desire or energy to do anything except go to work and sleep. After a few weeks, I didn’t miss shopping at all. But, again, I had other things on my mind.)

    4. Really like your approach, I use the stylebook app to keep track of my cpw … My arbitrary number is $2 per item and I couldn’t agree more that it takes longer than most think to get to these numbers. Best of luck w your shopping strategy. Love your bag purchases, they’re all so lovely.

      • Thanks! Even with the cost of clothing being so low these days, it IS really hard to get a good CPW – we truly do treat our clothes as disposable. Even with the quality also being low these days, I rarely wear out my clothes; they’re usually purged while still in good condition. It’s a bad cycle ๐Ÿ™

    5. This was an interesting post for me, as there are items in my closet which become “must-haves” when I’m browsing online.(ie This is the perfect dress and will make me look skinny/sophisticated/sexy, etc.) However, when I try them on in store, they become “not-haves”. So for me, it is almost better to get out and try stuff in real life because then I’ll stop thinking about it when I realize it doesn’t do any of those things I imagined it would.

      That was an interesting comment about the sandals as well. How many sandals should I own? I tend to try to think of wardrobe choices as filling niches. So, this is my strappy sandal/summer shoe niche, this is my printed pencil skirt niche, etc. Trouble is figuring out which clothing elements fill an essential niche and how many I should have of each niche.

      I also have an excel spreadsheet on which I track what I’ve worn and clearly too much time on my hands to think about this stuff. ๐Ÿ™‚

    6. That was an interesting article! I am definitely among the (seemingly many) people who use shopping as entertainment. Although it was a small detail in the article, the fact that the average American buys a bit more than an item per week was a sobering thought. In previous months, and even this month, I’ve bought more than that, and this is while trying to think about and reduce how much I buy.

      Your new approach is also very interesting! At times, I’ve thought about whether some of the ideas from the 5-piece French wardrobe approach (which, according to blogs that adopt it, allows replacement at will of basic wardrobe building-block items and 5 other purchases per spring/summer and fall/winter, which might work out to about one item per month) would work for me. I’m not quite ready to set a harder limit on the number of separate purchases for myself yet, I think!

      I also vaguely think about cost per wear, but only to take note of how pricier coats or shoes might be worth it because they end up having a very low cost per wear if they’re worn frequently. It would be useful for me to think about cost per wear for other items when thinking about what I should replace.

      • Oh, I know for a fact that I have bought way more than 1 item per week – most of the time. This month, with 4 new items, I am at that limit (and I haven’t bought so few things in ages). In fact, I was looking over my purchase dates, and they are spread out at about 6-10 day intervals.

        Honestly, I think the “one new item per month” thing is probably overly ambitious on my part, especially in the long run. There will, for sure, be months when I’ll come across deals too good to pass up. But I want to try to stick with it as long as I can. I’m going to keep thinking about how I can tweak the guidelines so they align most closely with my goals – to buy less, and to buy better quality and less disposable clothing (for the best deal, naturally).

        I’ve looked into the French wardrobe thing and it didn’t sound like something that would work for me. It’s so loosey-goosey! What’s a “wardrobe basic”?? What’s a “statement piece”? It’s all so subjective. If I am going to try to work with rules, I need them to be clearly defined ones, LOL!

    7. I really enjoyed that article you linked to, so thanks for that. Out of curiosity, what happens to clothing when it leaves your closet?

      Cost per wear is why so much of my wardrobe comes from Old Navy. Yes, some of what they make is really poor quality but it is generally evident from the beginning and I just shy away from entire categories (shoes, light knits) or return something right away. I think I’m still too price sensitive to think beyond cost per wear and consider a more ethical way of shopping, but I do like the fact that most of my clothing does actually wear out when they’re below $1 per wear.

      • Sorry for the delay in responding – it’s been a busy week/weekend ๐Ÿ™

        I usually either sell or donate (or save things for my annual swap) whatever I purge. Most things are still in very much usable (or better) condition, so it would be a waste to do anything else.

        See, part of why I’m always rah-rah about secondhand shopping is because it can hit all of those sweet spots: price, quality, and sustainability. I can buy a silk designer blouse for the same price as an Old Navy polyester one, and hopefully keep one item away from the dump. I’m not knocking Old Navy, because they do have cute clothes (which I have bought before), and I totally get that people have financial constraints that make spending $200+ on a T-shirt out of the question. I don’t want to spend $200 on a T-shirt either. But stores like Old Navy are not the only answer. Even if my actual consumption habits are not something to be emulated (I do shop a lot, I know), I hope people at least take one message away from the blog, as far as shopping goes: you CAN find good quality (and great style) with any budget.