8 Reasons You Feel Guilty When Purchasing Clothes


I was recently asked by a reader to talk about why so many women feel guilty about purchasing clothing and accessories.  I’ve seen it many times, as women hide their purchases (or cost of purchases) from partners, from leaving a item in the bag for a while, to hanging it up and then not wearing it for a while so they can say (when asked if it’s new), “no I’ve had it for a while” and not feel like they’re lying.

Luckily, Jill Chivers of 16 Style Types and My Year Without Clothes Shopping came to visit and I thought this would be a great topic for us to discuss, as she’s got a lot of experience with this with her online programs for overshoppers.

In Jill’s research, she found out that 41% of women hide purchases from their partners (this she feels is a low number).  Any time that we feel that we can’t be honest with ourselves (and others) there can be feelings of guilt and shame attached.

What’s at the Root of Your Guilty Feelings Around Shopping?

1. Feeling Negative Emotions

Many women shop when they are feeling down, bored, frustrated or many other negative emotions.  They are looking for the “high” we get from retail therapy to soothe those feelings.  Sadly this feeling doesn’t last and often guilt may accompany this feeling after the fact.   Feeling bad again then circles them around to shopping to get that small high and then often plunging back into the feeling guilty again.  A nasty negative cycle. 

This is where stepping back from shopping and doing something else when you feel bad – go for a walk in nature, read a novel, talk to a friend, are all better options so that shopping is something you do when you need to purchase something, rather than as a salve to fix your negative feelings.

2. Messages from Your Past

You may have grown up (as I did) with parents who were from a “make and mend” era mentality.  Where socks were darned (rather than replaced) and that shopping was a luxury (as you could make it yourself for so much less).  And the message was that luxury was for the rich, and not for you.

Has style been valued by your family?  Was it considered important or something shallow?

Your family message may have been quite different, from my example, but messages from your family of origin can be powerful as they seep into your brain from a very young age and often stay there un-examined as “truths” rather than opinions.

Look at the messages you received growing up and decide if those messages are still valid ones for you to be taking on as your own beliefs. How are these messages impacting on your life today?  What messages do you want to pass onto your own children?

3. Style is Shallow so Spending Money on Clothes is Wasteful

Style is skin deep!  Heard that one before? So spending money on something that is shallow is wrong!  Everything you buy should be “more worthy” of your hard-earned cash.  

If the messages you got growing up was that style was unimportant then this may be one of your guilt triggers.

Jill Chivers and Imogen Lamport discuss why you may feel guilty purchasing clothes

Decide where style sits in your own values and what budget you have to spend on clothing each year/month/week so that when you do shop if you stay in budget, you feel comfortable with this which should help to dissolve those feelings of guilt.  Try thrift store shopping if your budget is small!

4. You Already Have Clothes You Shouldn’t Need More

I was once working with a client, her mother came to visit, she was around 60 years young, and commented: “I won’t’ buy any more clothes for the rest of my life as I’ve got plenty of clothing to wear that should last me til I die”.  I was assuming she had at least another 20 years to live, so of course, her clothes would be very dated and probably be wearing out (and I’m sure her clothes were not new when she made this statement).  She did not place any value on style and image in her own life and felt that her daughter was wasteful in caring about it in hers.

Remember, clothes wear out, they don’t last forever.  They do have to be replaced.  

Fashions also change and there can be advantages to your style being related to current fashions (read about that here).

5. What You Wear Shouldn’t Matter

If you’ve heard the “it’s what’s inside that counts” message that many of us get without the accompanying “but you have to get past the outside to get to the inside” information that is also imperative, you may be feeling or thinking that what you wear shouldn’t matter.  You’re smart, your accomplished, why can’t you just be judged on this rather than having your external appearance brought into the equation.  

As we all do judge books by their covers (and products by their packaging) which is why getting the packaging right is such an important part of marketing any product, understanding that your wrapping, your packaging is your external appearance can help you overcome this feeling that you shouldn’t care about what you wear or feel guilty for shopping to buy the clothes that will make your outside match your amazing insides!

And you’re smart right?  Did you know that dressing well can make you even smarter?

6. You Should Be Spending Money on Others and Not Yourself (Selfish)

Spending time on yourself is often seen as a selfish pursuit (self-imposed feelings often) and often with motherhood in particular, when suddenly you have a baby who can’t survive without your care, you have to sublimate all your own needs, for the needs of that child.  This happens for some years, the money is spent on the kids, rather than on you and you have become the less worthy person who the money should not be spent on.  Being totally focused on others will hinder your style.

What messages are you sending to your kids?  That you have no value?  Is it a message you want them to have?  Do you want them to grow up and then feel the same way?  Is it time to reassess this message?  Remember that looking after yourself is a form of self-care.

7. You’ve Already “Wasted” Money on Clothes That Aren’t Quite Right

How many purchasing mistakes have you made over your lifetime?  If you added them all up what would they cost? 

Having your confidence knocked sideways by poor past purchasing decisions can mean that you never want to tell anyone that you’ve bought something in case it’s another bad decision (and who wants to shout those from the rooftop?).

You probably don’t even want to think about the cost of everything you’ve bought and either never worn or barely worn because it wasn’t quite right in some way or other.  This is why knowing your figure flattery rules, your ideal colour palette, and how your personality influences your style choices is so integral to not feeling guilty, as you’re making decisions based on knowledge about your personal style that means that your chance of making another mistake is greatly reduced, also reducing your feelings of guilt when shopping!  It’s probably one of the reasons you’re here on Inside Out Style, trying to learn the information that makes this a much less likely scenario!

It’s why I’ve developed my 7 Steps to Style program, designed to give you your figure and colour flattery guidelines so you’re a more educated and confident shopper.

8. You are Not Worthy of Spending Money On

This is a biggie.  This commonly relates to your weight (but of course not only that) and how a lot of women who aren’t at what they believe to be their “ideal weight and size” may feel that it’s wasteful spending any money on clothing for them at their current size.  They feel unworthy or that they are not valuable enough to spend the money on.

Poor body image is rife as the unrealistic “ideal” bodies are paraded across screens and signs everywhere making so many of us feel not good enough (and if you’re not good enough, then you’re not worth spending any money on) right eh?  Poor body image comes with a host of other feelings.

What Are Your Guilt Shopping Triggers?

We’d love to know your thoughts – where do the guilt and the shame about shopping come from for you?   Please do share your thoughts in the comments here.

8 Reasons You Feel Guilty When Purchasing Clothes


I'm not sure if it's for you but how would you feel if you learned all about the colours and styles of clothing that suit your individual personality, shape and style? Just imagine what it would be like when you can open your wardrobe and pull together fabulous outfits that make you look and feel amazing every day? If you'd like to stop wasting money on the wrong clothes and accessories plus join an amazing bunch of very special women also on their style journey - then my 7 Steps to Style program is right for you. Find out more here.

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  • All the reasons you and Jill give for not making an effort to dress myself well have been true for me at one time or another. The turning point for me was when I read somewhere that dressing well is a courtesy to others. So even if I didn’t think (initially) that I was worth it, I eventually realised that the people around me deserved a wife, mother, colleague, friend or acquaintance that was more pleasing to the eye. Now I enjoy doing my best to please others by dressing better.

  • Great post and video, Imogen and Jill! I grew up with feelings of scarcity and not being deserving of things. Being criticized for choices in clothing also led to lack of confidence in my style. I agree wholeheartedly with the points in you have brought up. Very thought provoking issue.

  • Hi, thanks for that great post. The comment that resonated the most was about all the mistakes I had made and consequently the money I had wasted. Didn’t realise until I read it. And the one about luxury being for rich people.
    I guess all those reasons are why I decided I wanted to have great style, and the most recent development has been having a realistic budget. And my realisic budget is double my initial amount. Having a budget has been lifesaving. I used to feel crippled when it came to buying something in case it was wrong. I’d buy something and then feel wracked with guilt. And I always felt like I had to justify every purchase, and it drove me crazy. With a budget, any mistakes (and I can say there are a lot less now because I think about my purchases more carefully now it’s my money) are mine and no explanations necessary.
    Thanks for your blog. All the best to you both for Christmas. Jinine

  • A very interesting article and a small psychology treatise!

    One of the reasons why I wanted to learn about style is not to throw more money with erroneous purchases.

    I would very much like to discuss these issues with one of my sisters. As this is not possible, I am passionately following your blog and my style is improving.

    Good Christmas all the way from the antipodes!

  • I am guilty of feeling guilty about shopping. As I write there are several items in the trunk of my car that I have not even dared to unload at home. With me, more than guilt is space. I have no space. So i have to get rid of something before I can bring something else in.

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