You want something done? Ask a busy woman. 

Women field so many competing priorities for their time and so deciding what to wear – and what to buy – becomes an inconvenient necessity that they simply don’t have the headspace for. Shopping for clothes becomes either a quick and emotionless get in, get it done, get out and get on with the day already approach, or it becomes akin to comfort eating, buying all the things, without a plan and ending with a wardrobe full of clothes but nothing to wear. Neither of these approaches result in a woman achieving effortless style, and both come down to the five mistakes I see women making when they’re out shopping for their wardrobe. 

I’m a glass-half full gal by nature – all the better if that glass is bubbles of some lovely description. I try not to focus on the negatives in life but as we all know mistakes are there to learn from. Taking a look at them occasionally can lead to positive effects and growth. Every sweet has its sour; every evil its good, and so say all of us, or Ralph Waldo Emerson, to be specific.

Lets rip the band aid off and shine that spotlight on the critical mistakes you might be making when youre shopping for clothes. Ill throw in a side of what to do to fix it, glass of bubbles optional.

First up, here’s the five critical mistakes for your (mine, really) listing pleasure:

  1. Buying separates separately
  2. Buying without considering an existing wardrobe
  3. Buying on repeat 
  4. Buying without trying
  5. Buying based on size, not fit

First cab off the rank:

Buying separates separately 

This one comes with a range of pseudonyms:  impulse buying, shopping without purpose, chasing shiny objects, the lure of the bargain. A sure sign of this one is a wardrobe full of clothes with tags firmly on. It’s symptomatic of a woman who actually spends a good deal of time thinking about her style and clothes and finds enjoyment and satisfaction in shopping for clothes. Unfortunately, these women also get so emotionally charged by the act of shopping that they are easily distracted by the next shiny object, go into it without a plan, love a statement piece (or eleventy hundred) and therefore buy more than they need and generally struggle to create outfits from the ensuing mix of mismatched separates.  

The fix:

Buy the outfit.

One complete outfit.

Yes, that means shoes too.

If you want some structure, take inspiration from what’s in store. Some stores are good at this. Their merchandise displays are complete, done for you outfits (hello, Witchery, Sass and Bide, Saba). This means you can choose an entire outfit you want to replicate that aligns with your lifestyle and will meet your day to day activities eg, smart casual outfit (social), business smart outfit (networking) or mum on the go (getting your shiz done). 

Now that that’s done, go back home and style each piece back with at least two other items in your wardrobe and automagically your outfit choices will have multiplied like rabbits.

 Ignoring your existing wardrobe

What’s hanging in your closet at home? How will the clothes you buy fit in with what you already have? This critical error is likely to be committed by the overwhelmed wardrobe owner. These women just keep adding, adding, adding, yet, they can’t shake off that ‘nothing to wear’ unloving feeling. 

Their closet is a chameleon of confused colours, prints and styles. 

This often comes down to a lack of understanding about your style identity and preferences. You might buy complete outfits but they don’t necessarily work back across a number of areas of life or they don’t play nicely with other items in your closet. So they exist in isolation. The kicker here is these women often look good in most things and so they have the tendency to buy something because she knows it will look good, but without really considering whether she needs it and how it fits in with and enhances her existing wardrobe. The result? Gorgeous, unloved, unworn clothes. 

The fix:

It’s time to take stock of your LifeStyle, perhaps with a side of ‘pre-children Marie Kondo’ wardrobe culling. You’ve changed Marie.

Moving on. 

Identify all the outfits you can wear, and create a LookBook against the themes of your life such as working mum on the run, business lunch, conference style, weekend drinks with friends. Any LifeStyle gaps in there? Let’s hit the shops to fill those gaps – but only gaps, and the clearly defined gaps. You’ve already got enough in your wardrobe, you just need the glue to make it stick. 

Buying on repeat

Sometimes clients have the same pieces repeated again and again (and again) in their wardrobes. If you know you know. Typically these repeat pieces are the basics or essentials and stems back to a tendency to stay safe in your wardrobe and a lack of confidence in your ability to do something more interesting. Just secretly, you’d love to step it up, but man does that feel like the opposite of effortless when you face a store full of options! You also might not be all that interested in doing the work to find out what you really like, and therefore you engage in the sartorial equivalent of productive procrastination – buying something innocuous to feel like you are moving forward but really feeling stagnated and bored as a result. 

The fix: 

Make buying something off your radar a priority- but not without defining or building some knowledge so you don’t leave yourself susceptible to ‘tags on syndrome’. Consider what suits you and what you like. Get inspired! Create an outfit and buy it. I don’t mean the basics, I mean the core and feature pieces too, using the in-house expertise in stores like Witchery. Or engage a stylist; that’s always a good idea.  

Buying without trying  

I get it. You’re time poor and likely don’t have the emotional bandwidth to try the darn thing on. At least not until you’ve lost a few kilos, waxed your legs, done your hair, put some lippy on, bought a new bra…the list goes on. But buying on the fly will only make you cry (tweet that. Or maybe don’t). 

The fix:

Five minutes spent trying something on, even if slightly inconvenient (even torturous) at the time, will save you time, money and heartache in the long term. You might also be pleasantly surprised by something that you held out little hope for. Which is so often the case when I’m working with clients who exclaim with delight, “Nic, I would never ever have even tried this without you suggesting it, and I’m absolutely loving myself sick right now!”. 

True story. 

Buying based on size not fit 

There’s a lot more to sizing and fit than what it says on the label. Size is an oversimplification of a woman’s body – it doesn’t take into account her height, scale, shape or body features. 

Within one brand one woman can range from a size 10 to a size 14 for example, and it only gets worse between brands. This makes buying something off the shelf challenging to say the least. 

The fix:

When out with clients I try my utmost to limit the size talk, instead focusing on fit and feel, and I encourage you to do the same. 

Next time you’re shopping for clothes, try taking two of the same garment to the fitting room without looking at the size on the label. Gauge this on the actual size of the garment in relation to your body, not in relation to the size you think you are. Try each piece on ‘blind’ to the label size, and monitor the fit and feel. Go with the one that works best for your body without any reference to the number on the label. Hopefully you will not only enjoy a fabulous fit but feel the liberation that comes from paying no heed to a label that can vary so widely within and between both styles and brands.   

Well there you have it! While I’ve always been a bit partial to the deadly sins (there is always confession after all), when it comes to shopping? It’s a heck no! Let’s avoid these five mistakes and the quickest way to do so? With me by your side. Shall we? 

Hi, I’m Nicole, and I’m a personal stylist obsessed with helping women in business and corporate roles to experience effortless, stylish dressing, allowing them to stand out for all the right reasons. I bring strategy, solutions and expertise to my clients. I fully understand the challenges women face when trying to achieve a wardrobe that actually works and I take the pain out of shopping for clothes and deciding what to wear. I transform something that feels fraught and complex into a streamlined solution expertly tailored to you.

Cover Image credit: Fi Mims Photography