Lots Of Clothes But Nothing To Wear? 9 Questions To Ask Yourself Before You Buy Something New

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: David Dines)

It’s a common plight of the clothes lover: You open your closet to see rows and rows of garments, but you still feel like you have nothing to wear (or at least nothing you want to wear.) This dismal feeling usually leads down one road…straight to the store (whether virtual or brick-and-mortar.) In order to help you dodge those dressing room mistakes and hasty sale purchases, here are nine questions to ask yourself before you make your way into the checkout line. If the piece makes its way through all nine levels unscathed, you’ll know you have a keeper.

Do I already have something similar?

Even though a skirt might be different in color and print, if it gives you the same styling options as the pieces you already own, it’s not really adding to your wardrobe.

To see what I mean, let’s take a look at my addiction to stripes. The second I see a sleeve with blue and white bands poking out from a sales rack, I get off my beeline to wherever I was going and run to snatch it up. But while I might swoon and coo at the pretty piece, I almost never buy it. Why? Because I literally already own eight striped shirts, I definitely don’t need anymore, even if that one in particular was in a different color or came in a new silhouette. Stop yourself from making repeat purchases by going mentally back into your closet and seeing if you have anything similar. If you do, back away slowly and toward the exit.

Homework: The next time you pick up a striped top, try and see if it’ll contribute a new “pow!” to your wardrobe. For example, if it comes in a color you don’t own, is it a color that will make a difference? Will it make old pants feel new again? Will it create interesting pattern clashes? Does it have layering potential that your other shirts don’t? If the answer is no, put it back. Because even if it’s a little bit different, if it doesn’t give you wild new styling options, it’s really not different at all.

(Image credit: Elizabeth Backup)

Can I build at least three outfits with it?

How many pieces do you have hanging in your closet right now that are absolutely gorgeous…but you have nothing to pair them with? Avoid having a wardrobe full of clothes and nothing to wear by first seeing if the item in question will play nice with the rest of your wardrobe.

Homework: When you’re itching to buy a particular piece, pause and see if you can create at least three outfits with the items you already own. If you find it too tricky or you can only come up with one or two, put it back. You don’t need to spend money on a piece that will only bring you two outfits a year because it doesn’t quite work with your wardrobe. It might be hard, but your wallet (and the back of your closet) will thank you.

Am I 100-percent comfy in this?

I can’t tell you how many dresses I’ve bought that only feel comfortable when I’m standing and not moving around (except for filling my plate with half the cheese platter.) What usually happens to those pieces is I keep them in the back of my closet for two years until I finally give up on the charade and give them away. In order to cut back on that, make sure you’re 100-percent content with the fit of the item you’re about to buy. And be honest with yourself—don’t just say you’re fine with how short the hem is or how it kind of sort of gives you a wedgie, because you won’t be in the long run!

Homework: When you’re in the changing room, bend yourself into a pretzel to see how the item moves with your body. Sit down on the bench. Cross your legs. Squat. Bend over. Lift your arms like you’re dancing. Lean down and see what’s going on with the bubbies. If you feel anything off—a slight camel toe, a shifting hemline, a pinching at your sides, don’t even bother. You might be okay with it now, but just wait til you’re in hour five at the office wearing a pair of pants that are pinching at your muffin top. You’ll want to burn them while pouring salt around you in a circle, so their dark spirits won’t come back.

(Image credit: Jessica Isaac)

Do I love my body type in this?

The best thing I learned while streamlining my closet is to not buy something that doesn’t make you love your body. No matter how cute the dress is in question, or how trendy those pants are, if they make me wish I was into Soulcycle and not so weak when it came to eclairs, I won’t buy them. Why? Because I won’t love wearing them! For example, before I used to buy mini skirt after mini skirt, but I inherited sturdy Helga legs from my Slavic father and always felt a little bit insecure dressing up in them. So I’d never wear the minis and just toss them out after a year or two while feeling negative about my pins.

This isn’t to say that you can’t wear things that magazines say “aren’t for your body.” There’s no such thing as flattering or unflattering, all that matters is what you feel beautiful in when you look in the mirror. So if you have a tummy but love clingy jersey, have at it! If you don’t have a six pack but want to try on a crop top, go for gold. Mini skirts aren’t only for model legs; fashion is meant to be played with, and it’s for everyone. The trick here is to leave the styles that don’t make you want to slap your butt when you’re looking into the mirror.

Homework: Again, be honest with yourself. If you haven’t learned to love your arms yet (and the operative word is “yet!”) don’t force yourself to undress them when you’re not ready. In the meantime, choose cuts and styles that make you love your body, not feel bad about it.

Does this piece work for my lifestyle?

Do you keep buying cocktail dresses but always go out for pizza and beers on weekends? Do you have a yen for blazers, but can’t wear them as you chase after your kiddos? Do you keep buying wide brimmed hats but know they won’t stay on your head throughout the winter? If you want to avoid having a closet full of items that you have no occasion to wear to, shop for your own lifestyle. Not the one you want, not the one you’re planning to start, but the one you have right now.

Homework: Even as your heart is tap dancing in your chest over the so-and-so item, take a moment and examine your lifestyle. Ask yourself questions like will you have places to wear that item to, are you okay running to the dry cleaners every other week, is a leather jacket too hot for where you live, are you not mentally prepared to wear that fringe vest out for errands? Think first if it fits into the life you have, not the one you wish you did.

(Image credit: Lauren Kolyn)

Is it filling a wardrobe gap?

You should look at your wardrobe as one cohesive puzzle, and each item is a piece that fills in the gaps to complete that jigsaw. So before you pick up that sparkly tube top, consider whether it’s filling a wardrobe gap or, in fact, creating a new one.

Homework: Try to envision what you could do with your piece in question. Will it be amazing to layer with? Will it give some old skirts or pants new life? Will its color work wonders with your palette, or is it going to be tough to work into your style? If the piece fills a wardrobe gap, run to the cashier with your arms waving. If it doesn’t do much of anything, put it back.

Can I keep up with the maintenance?

If it’s dry clean only and it takes you eons to get your silks and delicates over to the corner launder, don’t think this item will inspire a change inside you. If you’re a washing machine girl through and through, stick to sturdier, lower maintenance fabrics.

Homework: Always check the labels! If you don’t mind swinging by the dry cleaners after work and shelling out the money, then there’s no problem. But if you’re the type that just leaves it there for months until they donate your suit and silk shirts, put it back.

Am I buying this just because it’s on sale?

Even if it’s now five dollars and used to be 300, if you don’t have much use for it, then it’s not much of a deal, is it?

Homework: Before you somersault to the cash queue, pause and reflect if you actually need the piece, or if you’re buying it because it’s on sale. If you’re tired of weeding out your closet every year and tossing out huge hunks of purchases, don’t fall into the clearance honey trap! Only buy things you truly need.

(Image credit: Marlen Komar)

Does it bring me joy?

Okay, so I’m going a little KonMari here, but hear me out. While everyone needs those workhorse pieces in their wardrobe that get them through the week, you can still buy items that make you light up and feel sparkly inside. Even if it’s just a plain cardi you need to replace, think of what you’re buying. Are you bored to tears contemplating it? Do you have the urge to rub your face in it because it’s so soft, or are excited about how it’ll jazz up your work pants come Monday? If something feels “meh” or “good enough,” just move on. Even your basics can be beautiful, and you shouldn’t settle for less. After all, you’re likely to wear those “normal” clothes more frequently than anything else in your drawers, so why not make sure they make you want to wink at strangers?

Homework: Only pick out things that make you feel joy when you turn around and look at the mirror. If you need a pair of black pants for work, don’t buy that average pair at Target that make you feel a little sad about your butt. Keep shopping until you find slacks that light you up. Don’t be lazy; hone your style so that each piece is a perfect reflection of you and the image you’re after.

Re-edited from a post that originally appeared 01.15.2017. – AH