Clothes shopping is like any other endeavor — if you want to do it well, planning makes perfect. You wouldn’t go to the grocery store in hopes of cooking a new dish without first looking up the necessary ingredients, and the same is true when you need to restock your closet. Shopping for mix-and-match wardrobe, shoes and accessories takes equal amount effort, preparation and planning. Having a plan before you venture out to shop will allow you to navigate stores effortlessly and efficiently (with fewer-to-no returns or regrets).
While some of us shop leisurely and enjoy wandering from store to store hoping the perfect piece will jump out at us, the women who seek out my services as a personal stylist consider spare time a rare commodity—and when they do have it, they’d rather spend it with friends and family than scouring the racks at the store. For those of us who like to keep our wardrobe fresh but don’t like sacrificing free time, here are three ways to waste less time on your next shopping trip.
1. Make a shopping list
Write out your shopping list just as you’d write out your grocery list. While you might feel a bit silly writing out the list, I’ve found that this is an effective tool to stay focused and realistic. Sometimes not being able to bring yourself to physically list a piece you know you don’t need might keep you from unnecessarily purchasing another boot that you’ll regret the next week.
Not sure where to begin? Look at your existing wardrobe. What do you find yourself always wearing? If it’s the same top and skirt combination you wear repeatedly, take note of its color, shape and fabric. You’ll begin to notice that your likes and wear-often pieces have noticeable commonalities. Once you observe a few themes, you can shop with them in mind.
Shopping with your list and goals in hand, you’ll stay focused and on track, avoiding that beautiful but-will-never-wear-it floral maxi dress.
2. Shop small and local
At first, approaching boutiques may feel intimidating — a la “Pretty Woman” — but I’ve found that so many local boutiques go above and beyond to make you feel welcomed, reveal new and upcoming designers, and keep wish lists on hand.
Owner Hallie Borden of Milk Handmade (5317 N. Clark St., Chicago, 773-234-7053) brings her dog, Sauvie, creating a relaxed and welcoming environment. (Sauvie’s often found lounging near the fittings rooms, completely judgment-free.)
A little more than five years ago, Borden was focused primarily on homemade, but when Chicago’s style scene began evolving, Borden was introduced to more and more local designers’ products she loved. Milk Handmade is now 80 percent made-in-Chicago.
Going above and beyond, Borden even keeps track of regular shoppers’ likes. When a significant other is stumped for a special occasion gift idea, Borden serves as a secret (shopping) weapon.
You can also bring your handy to-buy list and share it with your boutique. If what you’re looking for isn’t there, it might be arriving the following week. Or there might be another local store a block away you’ve never heard of that has exactly what you need. Developing a rapport with local boutiques is as easy as starting a conversation, and it can pay huge dividends. Once you discover your local boutique that’s home to one-of-a-kind finds, your shopping life will be forever changed.
3. Focus on specific outfits as you shop
Navigate stores by thinking in terms of outfits. Purchase in threes if you’re out shopping for a season (a top, bottom, and an outwear layer). This approach will help you build a collection versus haphazard pieces in your wardrobe. Sticking to a theme of three, avoid purchasing something that you don’t think you can wear in at least three different ways. For instance, I’m a vest fanatic because it immediately diversifies your wardrobe and can be worn effortlessly within your existing wardrobe.
With this tool in mind, many of my favorite boutiques’ racks are organized by outfit pairings, which makes shopping infinitely easier. Manager of Cinnamon Boutique (2104 W. Roscoe, Chicago, 773-281-2466), Jennifer Williams, notes that “pants are placed mid-rack for a reason; they’re a visual reminder that the surrounding tops and sweaters work well with that bottom.”
It’s also why Williams uses Cinnamon Boutique’s Instagram to showcase done-for-you outfit ideas that you can purchase in-store. Following your favorite boutique’s social media page can provide you with daily style tips that you can store for future inspiration (and you can keep track of upcoming designer releases, and sales).
Too shy to dive in and ask for one-on-one help, or maybe social media isn’t your thing? Take tips from the mannequins. They’re fully outfitted for a reason; to give you visual head-to-toe inspiration. You can literally ask for the outfit off the mannequin — even the accessories.
Hanna L. Ashbaugh, owner of Hanna Lee Style, is a personal stylist helping women look put-together with functional fashion and go-to outfits. Inspired by her grandma’s iconic fashion sense and her mom’s interior genius, she’s inherited the love of all things pretty in home and wardrobe.
Hanna works with many nonprofits and donates regularly to Bridge to Success, Catholic Charities’ women and children shelters, and Free The Girls, a nonprofit close to her entrepreneurial heart. Free The Girls empowers survivors of human trafficking to start their own businesses by selling bras in their local second-hand markets.