Wardrobe value, Part Two: The Three Questions

What am I thinking when I try something on? I ask myself Three Questions:

Question #1: The Fundamental
"What am I doing when I'm wearing this?

I imagine real-life scenarios, and they'd better flow freely.

Useful corollaries: Do I have at least three things that go with it? Will I need to buy new shoes? Is it a duplicate?

The reversable sari-silk stole at left made the cut; it goes with everything from jeans to a dress and rolls up to nothing in a bag. It's from a private sale held by Toronto's Kalabandar.
Question #2: Mood 
"How do I feel in this?" 

The answer will fall into to one of three categories:

A. Positive

Responses like confident, clever, capable, energetic, attractive, happy, "absolutely right", distinctive, quirky, wild, elegant, pretty, graceful, or a simile that reflects qualities you admire ("I feel like Audrey Hepburn") indicate a contender.

Two 2012 purchases, a v-neck sweater (Brora) and narrow, stretchy kick-pleated skirt (Lunn), felt absolutely right for me.

B. Coherent
The answer reflects the desire to transmit a consistent image that meets my or others' expectations

Those responses include appropriate, professional, like my employer/clients/students/family/ expect me to look– or a label: like a lawyer/sales manager/teacher/retiree. 

Years ago, I actually bought business wear with the words offends no one in mind! While there's nothing wrong with looking the part, to be happy rather than merely satisfied, I ought to respond with one or more words from the Positive list, too.

I'll reject anything that elicits tired, like my 24-year-old niece, or hot as Dita... but this is supposed to be for work.

C. Safe:

If I answer okay, or another lifeless word like good or nice, I'm  going to waste money, because I got something forgettable. My Texan nephew once saw me unpack a skirt like this and try it on; he said, "No. Just...no. It's dead from the ass, both ways." 

Question #3: Fit
Does it fit?

Presumably, if you feel terrific in it, it fits. Still, I've had label lust and/or size vanity: Look, I can get into an 8! Who cares about that little gap at the chest, I'll just get a better bra.

If it needs more than a straightforward alteration, leave it. Forget "five or ten pounds from now".

Corollaries: Don't welcome a new colour into your wardrobe unless you realized that pale blue is now beautiful with your newly-grey hair, before you went shopping. Close your ears to the saleswomen saying, "No, really, you can wear salmon", if you haven't even a scarf that shade.

Though I budget, I don't think "I'd never pay more than $x for a pair of pants", for example. The point is value, not price. However, some clothes are overpriced and I won't serve as a walking billboard for any designer.

Several friends with whom I shopped last year remarked that Question #1, which they heard me asking myself, helped them, too. There must be other great questions out there. I look forward to hearing those from you!


Mary said…
Not a question, but my mother's old maxim: When in doubt, don't.
Excellent discussion and it is so true that we need to ask questions. I have a formula I developed on my site which is about Five Foundational Questions. It is on one of the pages in the sidebar and I find helps me so much!! Good post!
Susan said…
If we all ask these questions and pay attention to the answers, we will make fewer mistakes. I just have a few more mistakes to empty from my closet!
Anonymous said…
Excellent post and excellent questions, all three. I'm one of your online friends who listened when you suggested that I ask myself
the first question: Where am I when I'm wearing this?" It worked so well. I didn't purchase the item and never, thought about it again.
Basics/replacement pieces are excluded from this 3 question test, right? For example basic tees, basic jeans. I often seem to be on a merry go round of replacing basics.
Susan B said…
I've given myself a bit of latitude to experiment in the last couple of years (especially with color) and have made a few mistakes, but mostly not expensive ones. In thinking about a response, I've already composed a few paragraphs' worth in my head, so think I'll need to follow up with a post! I do think your first question is an important one though. I buy few things anymore that wouldn't be appropriate for the office.
Duchesse said…
Mary: A wise mother!

Pam: Your questions reveal *your* values- and might not be every woman's. Not all women would choose "creative" for example, but the basic premise, What do I want to communicate? is spot on.

Susan: January is the time to do it, a Happy New Year to your closets.

J.: The first two questions are largely settled if you're replacing a basic, but #3 still pertains. Our bodies shift even if we don't gain or lose weight.

I just grabbed a replacement pair of jeans without trying on. They were defective 'twisters' (mis-cut so they skewed) and it took me a half-day to return them!

Kristien62 said…
I have to ask how I feel when I look in the mirror. Sometimes, I don't really want to look because I "love" the item and am afraid it won't look wonderful. A three way mirror is best because it forces me to look from the side and rear. I made many mistakes when I only looked from the front in a vertical mirror. I might love the item, but I've learned that some don't love me.
Anonymous said…
An important consideration for me is if I can forget I'm wearing it.

In other words, is it comfortable enough -- and me enough -- that I can put it on, know it works, and forget it? Or am I fiddling with it all the time, or aware of it in an uncomfortable way. If that's the case, I've missed the mark.
So often I buy a garment because it fits and when I get it home and really scrutinize it I see that it is baggy and rather shapeless...and it goes back to the store.
Better late than never I suppose..
Your guidelines could be posted in every fitting room as a reminder! Thank you.
materfamilias said…
I'm very aware of seasonal dressing at the moment as we're in a week that demands attention to treacherously icy sidewalks and drafty buildings. So I'd add a question about how much of the year the garment could be worn. The temptation to buy warm -- bulky, cuddly sweaters, wool tights and pants, etc -- is high right now, but there are really only a few weeks a year I'll want to wear a thick wool turtleneck. So those need to be bought with careful attention to longevity and in small quantities, whereas a lighter cardigan might even be worn on June and September evenings . . .
Similarly, we often have summers with not much more than 3 or 4 weeks of really hot weather, so anything bought for those conditions only should either be inexpensive OR be something I know I'll get many summers' wear out of.
Anonymous said…
I have a double standard for shopping: When buying new items, I employ all your questions and many of the commenters' tips; in second-hand shops I allow myself to be more playful. I gladly paid $3.00 for a silk blouse with a funny 80s-style fit because it is such a flattering and rare slate blue, and the collar looks beautiful under a black cashmere v-neck. A pair of gray cashmere knit drawstring pants that I would never wear out in public were irresistibly warm and comfy for lounging around in at the price of $6.00. And it can be fun to hunt for on-trend retro pieces (pencil skirt, chambray shirt, Shetland sweater, etc.) in thrift shops. The construction and colors of the recycled originals are usually much better than new designs, the cost is a fraction of current prices, and the money often goes to charity, so even mistakes (which I then pass on to friends or another charity) are doing someone some good. Successful thrift-shopping requires a good eye, plenty of time, and an appetite for the hunt, but the savings and serendipity make it one of my favorite pastimes.

That said, I generally do try to keep that William Morris edict in mind: "One should have in one's home only that which one knows to be useful or believes to be beautiful." (I think that's how it goes!) Good advice always.

frugalscholar said…
For me, the question is always: do you already have one? or two? or three?

Love your scarf!
SewingLibrarian said…
My questions include
1. Could I sew this with better construction and fit?
2. Do I have time to sew this?
The answers generally lead to sewing skirts and dresses but buying pants and knitwear. Jackets vary.
I like your questions, and I will try to keep number two at the front of my mind when I shop. That's the one I skip too often.
LauraH said…
Thank you so much for these questions, especially the first one. Should help me buy clothes for my real life as opposed to the 'fantasy life' clothes I tend to fall for.
coffeeaddict said…
I need to work on no. 1, becaue it's so easy to cheat here. Well at least for me. I always put the clothes I'm buying into a context but when the real life situation comes up I often duck out and wear something I already own because it's sfe and tried and broken in.
pinkazalea said…
The first question I ask myself is whether I can wear the garment most of the year. I live in a warm climate with very mild winters, so I am likely to pay more for an almost-year-round dress. Then, does it fit my personal esthetic - a preference for simplicity, sophistication, understated-ness? Lastly is it of good quality, is the cut flattering, and do I look good in the color. Then does it go with a lot of things I already have, like shoes - jewelry - and handbags. Whew!
Unknown said…
I agree with others that #1 is the most important. I usually have no idea! Or, I have an idea, but it turns out to not work well in practice.

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