Why Do We Love What we Buy and Hate What is in Our Wardrobe?


I was just reading Sallymandy’s blog The Blue Kimono and she has become a Wardrobe Refashionista for the next 2 months – this means no buying clothes, but remaking and refashioning her existing, and she says, extensive wardrobe.

It led me to thinking – why is it that when we are in a shop and we ‘must‘ buy a new piece of clothing, do we love it so much then that we are compelled to part with our hard earned money (or even worse, spend on credit), yet when we get it home, add it to the wardrobe and then look inside we’ll often complain that we have no clothes and don’t like what we already have (and thus feel compelled to go and buy another new garment)?
Is it that we don’t really love what we are buying?  We’re just bored with what we already have?  Or is there some other reason that makes us go from love to hate so quickly?
What are your thoughts?


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  • Maybe it’s that we haven’t considered it in the context of a cohesive wardrobe. Something can be great on its own but that’s no help if it doesn’t go with much. Also, sometimes we love something that doesn’t actually work in our lives (too fussy, for example) – and buy it though we might have been better off admiring it from afar.

    And of course, sometimes we buy too small or too large – or just off, because we love something but the sizing isn’t perfect.

  • For many years, I would buy items that were “not quite” because I had it in my head that it was the best I could do. At the end of last year, I finally did a closet purge which helped me see just how much of those “don’t quite love it” items I’d bought. Since, I’ve really been trying to apply the “Paris-worthy” and “do I absolutely LOVE it?” standard, and my purchases have decreased substantially. I actually think there’s a bit more of the don’t-love-it stuff that needs to go from my closet. I’d love to get down to just a few pieces that I love and that will form my capsule wardrobe.

  • I agree with the reasons offered by both K.Line and Pseu, and I also think that sometimes we buy for a life we wish we have or for a life we live two days out of a year. I just brought back a gorgeous pair of gauzy black linen trousers, floaty wide legs, perfect, I thought, for summer — evening garden cocktail parties, restaurant dinners followed by symphony concerts, shopping in Paris — and I do all those things, but not very often at all. I did love the pants, but better, as K.Line suggests, to admire them from afar. (altho’ if they were to get down to half price . . . )

  • Hi Imogene, just found your blog and it is so chock-full of great advice!

    Good question. For me, it's because I fall in love with that "must-have" item the way it's styled in the store, where it's displayed with that store's (or designer's) collection of other pieces whose colors & silhouettes match perfectly. But I can only afford to buy one of those items, so then I get it home and try to work that piece into my wardrobe, and that's when it doesn't look as "perfect" as it did in the store.

    Or I'll see someone wearing something I admire (in a blog, in real life or a magazine pic), buy a similar piece that I love, get it home and realize it doesn't fit my lifestyle. For instance, I keep buying cute cardigans when I live in Atlanta where it's too hot 8 months out of the year to wear one! Or buy dressy ladies-who-lunch clothes that a stay-at-home mom rarely gets an opportunity to wear.

    I must become more selective. Deja Pseu, I like your standard: "Is it Paris-worthy?" Or even "Is it NYC-worthy?". Lots of things will "do" when you live in suburbia, but is it a special enough piece that I would take it with me when I visit Paris or Milan? Hmmm, perhaps not.

  • KLine – Good point. Why do we not buy the right size? Or at least have it tailored immediately to fit?

    Deja – What a great way of thinking about a purchase -is it Parisworthy?

    Mater – I’ve seen this way too often in wardrobes – and even been shopping – 1 client – brief was stay at home mum, country town – yet what did she pick up in stores and try on? A white silk evening gown!

    It’s really important to assess your lifestyle, what you do and therefore what needs to be in your wardrobe. You may not be leading the life you led a few years back!

    Francesca – thanks so much for coming by and commenting. I appreciate you doing this. Yes – lifestyle is important. Weather is also! I was conned into thinking that the UK has a summer by the fact that they sell summer clothing!

  • I agree with what everyone’s said here. We really need to know ourselves andour lifestyles and what works on us. I tend to get caught up in the fun and excitement of the “new” when I’m shopping—seeing only the good in the potential new pieces. When I get home, the fun’s worn off, and stark reality is there.

    I: well, I maybe overstated about my extensive wardrobe. I’m sure that compared to a lot of your and my readers, it’s not extensive at all, but what I do have a lot of is stuff that’s just what you described–not quite right. I’d like to see what I can do with what I have to get more things I love.

  • I thought I would have to ponder this a long while, standing in front of closet with notepad. But no. I edit continually based on wearability. If I was happy with it when I bought it and I wear it then I still like it and for the same reasons. If I bought it but haven’t worn it because, say, I haven’t gotten around to hemming it or I bought it out of season, then I don’t know if I really like it but don’t have any feeling of antipathy. I’m short and so all trouser legs have to be shortened and many sleeve lengths. No matter how much I liked something when I bought it, sometimes I just don’
    wanna. And so it waits. Hemming is the hardest thing for me because of the decisions. Finally I go ahead because I want to wear the thing more than I care about having to re-hem because I changed my mind.

    I also tend to buy by color or pattern and also because of the “idea” of the clothes. Those things don’t change.

  • I seem to recall some research that found people experienced a release of endorphins when they shopped. We get addicted to that high and the promise of something new….
    I too am guilty of shopping for the sake of shopping but the recession has made me stop to pause and reflect on whether I really love it and really need it. I’ve definitely made fewer mistakes since then.

  • I was going to say the same thing Francesca! I get drawn in by color also and seem to buy things that I need to alter but never get around to doing it.

    I have gotten better since I made my “need” list. It stops a lot of impulse/color buying.

    My new motto is “I would rather have a few quality well fitted pieces than a lot of that will do pieces.”

  • Everyone has pretty much said what I was thinking:

    1. Items that don’t work well with current pieces.
    2. Clothing doesn’t fit our lives or climate (I love winter coats, but live in Texas, and I love Betsy Johnson cocktail dresses, but I have maybe one occasion per year to wear one, and even then, I’m a bit overdressed for Texas).
    3. Size or fit is a bit off, but we like it so we think we can make it work (for me, this usually means it’s too tight in the bust).
    4. Getting distracted by store displays and forgetting what we like (like when I buy bright colors or pastels, only to remember those aren’t the colors I love and feel great in).

  • I get suckered in by “bargains” – wear them once or maybe twice, then they get relegated to the back of the wardrobe, where they stay because I don’t really like them, just the price tag!

    But I couldn’t not buy it, because, at that price, it wouldn’t stay on the shelf long enough for me to go away and ponder it….

    Shops must rub their hands with glee when they see me coming through the door! sigh!

    Imogen, any chance you could do a “which t-shirt” post please for those of us in the Northern hemisphere, approaching summer and needing basics? I’m at a loss!

  • For me, it’s the thrill of the new. The act of purchasing and introducing a new-to-me element into my wardrobe is invigorating and inspiring. I don’t actually love what I’m buying more than what I already own – I just love buying it.

    But refashioning existing pieces could work, too. Anything that injects newness is exciting, I think.

  • Good point about the "need" list, Andrea! I am so drawn to the color coral, and to a lesser extent, orange & turquoise, and this season especially seems to have an overabundance of the coral color so temptation lurks everywhere. I found that my "needs" or wardrobe gaps seem to become most apparent when packing for a trip; that's when I notice the 1 or 2 pieces that would really complete that particular wardrobe capsule.

    I am very particular about fit, and quality as well. In the past, fit was a problem for me as a petite. But that's gotten better as manufacturers offer more clothing size options. And the current economy has made many otherwise expensive items more affordable, as retailers mark down clothes and online shopping has made these items more accessible.

    So besides these filters:
    – Does it fit well & flatter me?
    – Is it good quality, and a style with staying power?
    – If a trendy item, will it elevate my basics & upgrade my wardrobe?
    – Can I afford it?
    – Does it fit my currently lifestyle (not the one I fantasize having!) & climate?
    – And of course, do I LOVE it?

    …what I need is another test or filter through which my clothing decisions must pass before I make that purchase. Suggestions, ladies? Or is this the point at which I cave & buy the darn thing?!

  • What a fascinating topic! These are great observations, and I can see myself in a lot of these answers. I also do something else. I have a lot of items I love, and I “save” them to wear for “something special.” I grew up with not a lot of money, and my family never bought new things. (Everything was hand-me-downs or from thrift stores. I can not shop at thrift stores now, no matter how trendy it gets!)

    I often buy clothes that are nice, but I’m afraid to wear them because (my twisted logic goes) if I do, I’ll wear them out and who knows if I’ll ever be able to afford to buy anything new again! It’s totally irrational. Sometimes I will actually put together a great outfit in the morning, and then take it off thinking “I should save this for when I’m meeting a new client” or “I should save this for something important.” And I’m not talking about special or expensive clothes – I could be a little knit top in a really pretty color – too pretty to wear on a random Tuesday, I’ll think. And I’ll end up wearing an outfit that’s not nearing as nice.

    Why don’t I feel I deserve to look nice on a random Tuesday?

  • (Sorry about the previous deleted post – had a sentence in there that made absolutely no sense, so I reposted it.)


    How about “estimated cost per wear”? This is one I’m trying to make more use of – for example, I would pay $80-90US for a blouse if I knew it was something I would wear every week, as opposed to $30 on a shirt that only goes with one other item and might see only one-third or one-quarter as much use.

    The same thing goes for bras – I no longer beat myself up for spending $30-40 on a perfectly fitting bra that I will wear every other day for a year. (Now, if I could just stop spending money on single-occasion items…!)

  • I use the “cost per wear” and “would I wear this in Paris” rules, and they work! Also, using the Book “Style Statement” helped me to distill my style preferences to two words, and they are a test for prospective purchases.

    But I might shop just for fun or to reward myself for work I’ve just done. I think I’ve got that under control but now and then it bites me!

  • ChristineB, good reminder about "cost per wear". Funny, I use it with DH to justify expensive purchases, but it doesn't really come into play when I make my buying decisions! I do reflect back and think, "That was a good buy" several months & years after the purchase; I'll start doing that before buying too.

    Dollcannotfly, I used to "save" my special clothes too; then I realized I can get more mileage (& cost per wear) out of a trend if I wear it as often as possible, and right away. The frugal side of me saves many of my better quality pieces just in case I can re-work them into a more current style. Recently, I had an old work jacket from the 90's refashioned (shoulder pads removed & sides taken in), and you know what? It now looks just like the boyfriend jackets that are all the rage now. I was thrilled! Even though it's an old piece, it feels novel again & as Sal said, injected a new look into my wardrobe for a mere tailor's fee.

  • I have been on a ‘no shopping’ plan for a few months now but I did break down on the weekend and bought some new colours that I didn’t have in my wardrobe before. Oh, and a new Coach purse (but it was from the outlet store). I think she’s got it right though, it’s just that we need someone like you to put new combinations together so we can get excited about our clothes again.

  • I am a touch like Dollycannotfly – I save things for “good” – whatever bloody “good” is! LOL
    I am really trying not to do that anymore and I now live a casual life so — I try to make myself buy the better $$ casual stuff for I am not young and cheap does not look so good on us anymore.
    I have bought things that I feel will “magically” improve the whole darn wardrobe!!! LOL
    Many times , here in Australia anyway, we do not have the range that other countries have and we are desparate!

  • Wow – interesting comments and observations.

    Please don’t keep clothes just for good, every day is a day to wear good clothes (unless you’re renovating or gardening etc).

  • God, I am so fickle. I don’t know what it is, Imogen!!!I seriously think that when we see something beautiful and acquire it, we on some level think that this new garment is going to give us something that no other clothing item can; status, beauty, novelty, individuality. When it is through meeting our expectations after a short time, we move on for the next best promise. The ULTIMATE color. The nicest cut, the most FLATTERING NECK OR HEMLINE.

  • Hi Imogen, Very interesting comments. My biggest mistake is to buy something because at the moment it seems a bargain, then I take it home and I realize it’s no use to me as I don’t have anything that matches! Another mistake of mine is to go shopping in a hurry, thus buying the wrong items. Wish you a nice weekend. Ciao. A.

  • I get sucked into a bargain too. However, even if it’s a bargain I always ask myself:

    Does it fit me well?
    Does it fit my lifestyle?
    Do I have items in my wardrobe right now that I can wear it with?

    I have very limited space, and I’m trying to build up my wardrobe after loosing 25 lbs, so I’m trying to be fairly picky about what I purchase. I have a list that I go by.

  • Could I ask you a question regarding the preceding post? As a short-waisted woman who has learned not to accentuate my natural waist, am I fooling myself in nonetheless often liking the look of a high-waisted skirt? If the broad high waistband is firm/stiff enough that it doesn’t collapse into a bundle of creases between my lowest rib and my hip bone, I find this look pleasing. I’d really appreciate your opinion.

  • What a good question and something that is so important to consider before we step into a store (or buy online). I really love what I have in my wardrobe right now for this time in my life but I do have a few mistakes still hanging around. I think my biggest fashion mistakes from the last two years were made because I was trying to be someone else. I would see someone in a vintage dress or someone wearing a lot of color and I would try to copy them when I really love gray and black and simple lines. I tend to regret almost all accessory purchases as well.

  • I love buying clothes because it feels good. It is called shopping-therapy! Yikes! I have many new clothes that haven’t been worn yet but I still have ‘nothing’ to wear. :-S

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