How I Taught Myself to Stop Buying Clothes I’ll Never Wear

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Marlen Komar)

Since I was a young girl, I’ve always loved shopping. Back in the day, I may have had more…extravagant takes (I gravitated toward everything pink, sequined handbags, feather boas and kitten heels…topped off with plastic clip-on earrings), but the love for style was already there, albeit it a little misguided. Nowadays I’ve updated a few things here and there, but I can’t say the road to the aesthetic I have now has always been smooth.

I’ve had heaps and heaps of clothes with the tags still on that have been donated, given away, or swapped, and for the longest time I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. I liked the pieces when I was in a store’s changing room, so why would my opinion flip the moment I would slip them onto my own hangers? Below are all the lessons I learned the hard way from my mistakes, and how I taught myself to stop buying clothes I’ll never end up wearing.

Don’t go for trends that don’t fit your personality

Part of the fun of fashion is trying on different personas and veering a little away from your usual uniform. But there’s a difference in dabbling in a new trend that still fits into your taste, and trying on something completely outside of the ballpark because you see everyone else wearing it (here’s looking at you drop-crotch jumpsuits). Take, for example, a tiny fringe skirt I bought made out of white leather. I saw a blogger wearing it and immediately thought “I need!” And then precisely three years later I dropped it off at Goodwill, with the tags stubbornly still on. I loved how it looked with the blogger’s style, but it really had no place in my own. Every time I tried to style it I had nothing to match it with, and so it was shoved further and further into the back of the closet.

(Image credit: Marlen Komar)

Really consider if you have anything to match it with

Do you have shoes to go with that dress, do you have pants to go with that top, a blouse to match with that skirt, an outfit that could work with those shoes? While it’s okay to take a risk every now and then and buy something that might not fit into any equation you have in your wardrobe just yet, it’s something else entirely if you keep buying pieces that can’t play nice with what you already own. Think of at least one (but ideally three!) outfits you can build with the piece in question before running to the cash register. That way you won’t have a closet packed full of clothes with nothing to wear.

Don’t let yourself buy “maybe” pieces

You know those items you try on in the changing room, and upon turning around for the big mirror reveal, you think “meh.” Save yourself the money and don’t convince yourself that maybe it will work if you layer on scarves and hem the skirt and completely change your personality so you can wear it to that one barbecue in July. The majority of sleeves with tags on them in my closet were those “should I or shouldn’t I?” items I decided to take a risk on inside boutiques and department stores. If the item doesn’t make you want to throw jazz hands up over it, chances are you’re not going to be too keen on plucking it out from your wardrobe either.

(Image credit: Marlen Komar)

Don’t buy “replace later” items

One thing I noticed that I did a lot was that I’d buy “I’ll replace this later” pieces. What does that mean? I’d have a specific style of an item in mind, but I’d settle on something similar-but-not-quite just in case I’d never find that dream look I’ve been pining for. Take my overalls debacle, for example. I usually like loose, roomy pieces and so I had my sights on a pair of baggy overalls—the kind that I remembered my mom wearing when I was a kid. Jazzed up with a J.Crew sweater or a flirty crop top and the loose denim would be golden. But two months into my patient search I ran across painted-on jegging-like overalls that didn’t fit my criteria in any way other than they were, well, overalls.

And I bought them. And I hated them. For many years. And I scowled every time I put them on. Don’t do this to yourself; learn from me and have the patience to wait for that style you’re looking for. Because any other substitute is just that—a filler until you find what you’re looking for, and you won’t want to wear it anyway. Why waste your money?

(Image credit: Marlen Komar)

Draw up a game plan for pieces that are outside of your comfort zone

I can think of a few pieces from the past couple of years that I could have avoided purchasing if only I had given myself some time to think up a game plan before I bought them. Say there’s a new trend you want to dabble in, but have no idea what to do with it once you bring it into your closet, like overalls, crop tops, faux fur vests, or high-waist pants. Before you lick your fingers and start counting out the dollars you need for the sales girl, really take a moment and think on how you’d like to style it. If you can’t think of even one styling scenario, the piece just might not be for you.

Let me tell you a short story about a faux fur vest I bought six years ago, for example. I desperately wanted it. I’d been searching high and low for one for years, sure I was going to rock the hell out of it. Then, once I found it tucked away into the clearance section of TJ Maxx, I quickly learned it didn’t really, um, go with anything I owned. Not only that, but I didn’t really know how to work it into my style. I knew I liked it, but I had no feasible way of wearing it. It was like my own version of Romeo and Juliet; we were star-crossed lovers who didn’t really belong together. But it didn’t matter; I was going to buy it anyway. In retrospect, it’s a piece I should have walked away from. So how could this purchase have been avoided?

With a little bit of research, that’s how. If I had checked how other people were wearing their vests on Pinterest or Instagram, I could eventually find an example that fit into my own style, and with that image, I could make the informed decision whether I actually liked it and could work the look. If not, I’d be able to walk away.

These aren’t hard and fast rules for you to live by, of course—there’s always an exception to every rule, after all! But if you find yourself constantly buying clothes only to hardly (or never) wear them, these tips might just help you to curb that bad habit.