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Shopping Diet

Tuesday, December 20, 2011 3:08 PM

Last winter I found myself in about as big a rut as possible when it comes to dressing oneself. I was so bored that I had decided to give up entirely. I would maintain about a three-week rotation of simple, solid tops; I would wear neutral, flat shoes; I would stop wearing skirts. I just didn't want to think about getting dressed anymore.

Ironically, my quest to turn dressing into a mindless act led me in the opposite direction. I googled for lists of wardrobe essentials, and one of the sites where I landed was Wardrobe Oxygen. Allie clearly gives a lot of thought to clothing, she knows her stuff from working in retail and she has a personal style that is classic and streamlined but certainly not boring. And from her blog, I found links to many others where women were taking the task of getting dressed — for work or for going out or for running errands — and turning it into an act of creative expression.

Yes, I had stumbled into the world of personal style blogs. And I was inspired.

What these women were doing looked fun and doable. I had just wrapped up months of wedding planning, which gave me a chance to exercise visual creativity muscles that otherwise had lain dormant since my years as an art kid in high school. Maybe clothing could be my next medium.

So anyway, all this is to say that sometime in January or February, I decided to overhaul my wardrobe. I couldn't devote much money to it, but I had noticed something else on many of the personal style blogs I now followed. Pieces from places where I shopped, such as Target, or that I liked but couldn't really afford, like Banana Republic, were mixed in with items labeled "thrifted." There was my answer.

I decided that I would go six months without buying any new (but not new-to-me) clothing or accessories.* It wasn't a shopping ban because anything secondhand was fine. I thought of it as a shopping diet instead. In Weight Watchers, for instance, fruits and vegetables count for zero points, so you can eat as much of those as you want. Well, clothes from thrift stores would be my vegetables.

I started my shopping diet on March 1. And yeah, I went a little overboard at first. I got caught up in the thrill of the bargains, which become not so bargainous if something isn't in great condition or doesn't quite fit, but hey, it's only $5. I rarely left a thrift store without spending $25 or $30, and some items from those early days ended up redonated in short order. I also spent a lot of time searching for items on eBay, but that really only served me well when I was looking for something specific.

Eventually, I figured it out. I learned how to navigate thrift stores more quickly and how to put that $2 skirt back if I didn't love it. I also learned more about my personal style and the gaps in my wardrobe. I brought home a lot of great clothes, both classic and unusual, functional and funky. And now I see thrifting not just as a means to the end of putting clothes onto my body, but also as a hobby.

That doesn't mean, however, that I wasn't getting a little antsy as I got to July and August, the final months of my shopping diet. I knew exactly what I would buy on Sept. 1: some flat sandals and a full, knee-length red skirt. Neither had turned up in my months of thrifting. For the sandals, this probably had a lot to do with timing; you could probably find some decent sandals in a thrift store now, though I think a lot of people don't get rid of those unless they're really uncomfortable or really grody. As for the skirt, I had found a burgundy pencil skirt; a pleated, floral midi skirt; and a miniskirt — all great, because I love red clothing in basically all forms, but not good enough. A saved search on eBay also did not produce the skirt I envisioned.

A few weeks before the shopping diet ended, I found a skirt on Modcloth that looked perfect and crossed my fingers that it wouldn't sell out before Sept. 1. Guess what, it didn't! And though I often cringe now at paying retail prices for anything, especially full price, I didn't hesitate for a moment to drop $50, including shipping, to have it. I really think it goes with everything in my closet and will serve me well for a long time.

For the sandals, the timing actually worked out perfectly. I hit up the clearance racks at DSW on the Friday before Labor Day weekend. Because the summer was officially over, I had lots of options and came away with two pairs of cute sandals for about $50.

I still do most of my shopping at thrift and consignment stores. Like I said, it's hard for me to stomach spending $40 on a sweater now. I also like the treasure-hunt aspect of thrifting. My new system is that all "just browsing" shopping happens at thrift and consignment stores. If I want something specific, I often give myself a few weeks to try to find it through thrifting; if that's not successful, I'll search for a new version. I'm mostly happy with my wardrobe, at least when it comes to actual garments. These days I'm focused more on accessories. Stay tuned for more on that!

* I actually "cheated" on my diet once, when I needed new underwear. Yeah, that's not something I'm going to buy used. Ick. So I don't think that should count against me.

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