I’ve recently been putting a lot more thought into how I shop. I’ve been forming my own, personalized strategy that helps me feel balanced. I’m excited to share it with you today and hopefully start a conversation about how to shop more thoughtfully and encourage a balanced perspective on retail. #itsallgood
You see—I’ve already been through most of the extremes. In my early twenties I shopped almost exclusively at Forever 21 and cheap mall stores. I always had lots of clothes, but I noticed I didn’t wear them all, they didn’t last that long, and since I shopped impulsively, I often got sick of my clothes and felt like I didn’t have anything to wear. No good. After that I dove deep into a vintage phase. Emma and I owned a vintage shop in our hometown. My closet was exploding with vintage pieces ranging from true gems to ugly costumes and everything in between. It was super fun until it wasn’t anymore. I got burned out having such a difficult wardrobe to mix and match, and I realized that I was buying lots of things that I was never wearing. No good. I did a major purge and donated and sold all my vintage except for a few treasures. It felt good. Clean palette. And so my next phase began. I started buying black and white, denim, and chambray. LOTS of black and white, denim, and chambray. It felt good to collect basics. But I soon realized it was a little too basic one day when Jeremy asked me to pick a more colorful outfit for a video shoot and I couldn’t do it.
So this past year I’ve been on a mission to create a more balanced, useful, inspiring closet! I’ve talked to my girlfriends about this subject and really analyzed my shopping in an attempt to shop smarter. And I’ve realized that this is a subject that you guys are interested in too. We get lots of requests from readers to feature more budget-friendly fashion pieces. We also get lots of comments thanking us for supporting small businesses and good quality makers. These two types of comments can be contradictory, but we don’t think they have to be. We wear a variety of stuff (new, old, high, low) for a variety of reasons (to find the right fit, to be colorful and unique, to buy quality pieces that will last years instead of months and, of course, to save money). I believe there is a time and place for all of these things. So let’s get into it!
This outfit is a pretty decent example of how I like to dress. It’s a combination of new, old, high, and low. The scarf is vintage. I collect vintage scarves because they’re an easy way to add personality and color to a basic outfit. My bracelets are new (both from Madewell—they have great, easy jewelry). My tote is more on the high end. It’s Orla Kiely and was a gift from my little sis for my 30th birthday. And my top and skirt are from low priced shops (Target and Forever 21).
Here’s my guide to making the most of New, Old, High, & Low!
Pictured: 1. Forage Lady Bows 2. Gift Shop Brooklyn Shoulder Purse 3. Not Tuesday Necklace 4. Eclu Floral Clutch 5. Gift Shop Brooklyn Georgia Tote 6. Catbird Tomboy Knuckle Ring 7. Pizza T-Shirt 8. Isi Hand Dyed Top (sold) 9. Ban.do Bobbi Set
Let’s talk new.
The clothing I place in this category is not designer and not fast fashion. It’s somewhere in between. It’s good quality at a medium price. In this category I tend to favor a few tried and true retail stores as well as small businesses, like Etsy shops.
My favorite medium-priced retail stores are Madewell (great basics and great sales!), ASOS (I’ve found lots of good, colorful clothing there and the best fitting swimsuits), Zappos (returns with free shipping for a year!), and ModCloth (where I buy a lot of tops and cute everyday clothes).
I also love to shop Etsy and small businesses! In my choices above, all of the items fall into those categories. I love supporting smaller businesses, and often I find better, more beautiful, or more unique items from these types of shops. I like to keep my bookmarks full of fun new independent shops, since they’re popping up all the time!
A lot of what I shop for falls into this category. The only things I avoid are extreme trends (those should usually be reserved for the “low” price category) and key pieces that I will wear daily for months and months at a time (like a coat, boots, or a bag) because I don’t mind spending more on items like that.
A few of my favorite recent Etsy purchases are: This necklace from LaMalconttenta, a colorful necklace from Danny Brito, and this Twin Peaks T-Shirt from Burger and Friends. I’m going to order one of these necklaces next. (I love Etsy!)
Let’s talk vintage.
I told you above about my love/hate relationship with vintage. This past year I started to get interested in vintage again, but I am far more selective about what I buy now because I consider vintage a collection that I will keep for years to come, not a trend that I will wear a couple times.
I’m usually not trying to create a head-to-toe look with vintage. I think of it more as a fun way to add personality, making outfits more special and colorful.
I don’t have a favorite vintage shop on Etsy, instead I use the search engine to look for gems. Here are a few of my favorite searches using the category “vintage”—E monogram (or J monogram, or L monogram), cat eye glasses, wool pencil skirt (add size and color), vera scarf, clutch, necklace.
When you shop for vintage online, try to see past bad photos (there will be a lot of them), but don’t buy things you aren’t sure about because you usually cannot return vintage.
Prices can vary greatly, more than in any other category. So keep in mind that if you are willing to keep hunting, you can almost always find what you want at a lower price!
When I shop for vintage locally, I only buy things that I can and will wear immediately. In the past I would buy things that needed alterations or repairs, but with my busy schedule, I’ve learned that those purchases often become burdens. So I buy less now, only things that I am excited to wear immediately and that fit perfectly.
My best advice for shopping vintage is to find a few accessory pieces to collect that you have always loved (mine are scarves, necklaces, and clutch purses). You can use these pieces to add fun to your outfits without the commitment of a crazy dress or a head-to-toe vintage look.
Pictured: 1. Swedish Hasbeens T-Strap Sky High 2. Phillip Lim Pashli Satchel 3. Frye Melissa Button 4. Marc by Marc Jacobs Purse 5. Rebecca Minkoff MAB Tote 6. Karen Walker Sunnies 7. Rag&Bone Booties 8. Marc by Marc Jacobs Purse 9. Hunter Boots
Let’s talk high-end.
Remember that the term “high-end” can mean different things depending on your stage of life or budget.
So here’s the story that converted me from a high-end “hater” to an occasional high-end shopper! Three years ago I got a pair of Melissa Button Frye Boots for my birthday. They’re expensive, $350. And normally I wouldn’t spend more than $100 on a pair of boots. But my friend Cayt had a pair, and she swore that they would last a lifetime (and she’s a really good salesperson). That was crazy to me because all of the $100 boots I had ever owned were worn out after one winter, and so I would replace them every year. But my Frye boots really have held up better than any boots I’ve ever owned. I wear them a LOT. And this year I’m wearing them for my third winter. That means that next winter they’ll technically be cheaper than the $100 boots I used to buy each year because they’ve lasted so long.
Now this is an extreme case, but this is the benefit I see in buying high-end pieces. The quality level is often sky-rocketed. I was raised shopping sales, and when I was twenty-five, I judged anyone who spent a lot of money on shoes and bags, but now I think those things are some of my smarter purchases. I would definitely trade five shopping trips to cheap mall stores or Target for one pair of nice boots or a nice bag because I know I’ll still be using it next year and the year after that.
The price tags are definitely intimidating, but if you make smart high-end purchases, you’ll use them for years and they’ll become a great value.
My tips for shopping “high” are to never impulse shop (high end items tend to stay in stores for years, not change over every month like fast fashion, so you can take a month or so to think over your purchases), shop in neutral colors (easier to mix and match), and to read reviews and listen to your friends (I also like to see items in person before I order it online).
Saving up for things is fun! If you want to justify a bag or a pair of booties, find something else in your budget that you can give up for a few months. Do the math and you’ll be surprised how much money you are wasting in other areas on things that you won’t keep or care about a year from now!
OK! Time to talk about low (also called fast fashion).
These stores are inexpensive with cute, trendy clothes! I shop at Target (mostly for t-shirts and button up tops), Forever 21 (for skirts and dresses), and Shop Sosie pretty regularly and find lots of cute, wearable pieces. Sometimes I even find pieces that last a long time that I wear over and over. Other times I wear a dress for a season and donate it without guilt.
The obvious benefit of fast fashion is that it’s inexpensive, but that’s not always a good thing. It can be too easy to buy too much from these stores just because it is so cheap. Recently I’ve been trying to buy less and be more thoughtful about my purchases from fast fashion stores.
Another great use for fast fashion is to try a trend without much commitment. Want a big fuzzy coat or something made of faux leather? Those are great fast fashion choices.
The things I avoid at fast fashion shops are shoes, bags, and coats (because they usually do not last and the shoes and coats are usually not warm enough). With that said, a jacket that isn’t meant to be your winter coat is totally something I would buy at one of these shops.
The key here is to be thoughtful. Lower prices might tempt you to buy things you don’t love, so beware of that and you’re good!
Now, if you’ve made it this far, you’ve pretty much had a tour of the shopping side of MY brain. You’d be surprised (or maybe not?) how much these same categories and guidelines apply to how I shop for my home decor. It’s definitely a combination of new, old, high, and low as well!
I’d love to hear your thoughts and any tips you’ve picked up through the years. Let’s chat in the comments. xx! Elsie
Credits/ Author: Elsie Larson. Photography: (top) Emma Chapman, (bottom) Sarah Rhodes. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess Actions.