Until about 2010, I lived and died by Old Navy clothing. They made cute, affordable clothes that fit right (most of the time), and until about 2009-2010, they were pretty good quality items, too. Then something happened and their sizing was no longer legitimate or consistent and the quality and fit of the clothes tanked. (This is all my experience.) Despite this switch in experience, I stubbornly continued to shop there. For some reason I’d branded Gap, J.Crew, Nordstrom, Express, Ann Taylor — pretty much every store that targets my demographic in some form — as “too expensive” and instead stuck to Target (which had JUST introduced the Isaac Mizrahi line, which was often “too expensive”) and Old Navy, feeling awesome about “deals” I scored.
I assumed it was unrelated at the time, but I frequently had “clothing tantrums” where I would stomp around, throwing clothes (literally), because I wasn’t happy with the way anything looked on me. I had a closet of deals, but they weren’t really “deals” because I never got any use out of them … I spent money on something I never benefited from, or that didn’t make me happy.
About the time I moved back to Washington and managed to drop a lot of weight, I went through my wardrobe with my sister and mom and they axed about 75% of it. Lack of fit was exacerbated by the weight loss, but even some of the styles of clothing I was wearing wasn’t flatting for my figure — usually I’d bought it because it was on sale (“hey I need a cardigan and this one is $13, all cardigans are the same, right?” NO).
I promised myself that as I rebuilt my sad, fracture wardrobe, I would stick by the following rules, all of which can/should be followed by “no matter the price”:
- Try. On. EVERYTHING. (Or only order online if there’s free returns.)
- If I’m not instantly thrilled when I look in the dressing room mirror, it’s a no.
- If I have to try it on twice, I don’t buy it immediately — I put it on hold. If I can’t stop thinking about it while I’m doing the rest of my shopping/something else, it’s a yes.
- If I can’t think of at least 2 outfits I can create with my existing closet plus the piece item in question, it’s a no.
- Machine wash? (I HATE HANDWASHING)
- And finally, is it good quality? I’m learning more and more about specific things to look for (how tight are the buttons sewn on? Is the zipper strong? How is the stitching in the seams? How is the texture of the lining?)
This last one is the big one, and leads to the inevitable question of cost. While it’s not always the case, I’m starting to respect the cost/quality argument. This was most prevalent in the world of denim for me: Old Navy jeans stretch out in about 30 minutes, and I wound up having to wash mine after each wear (waste of resources, not good for the fabric, etc.) So, with this lesson in mind I went out on a limb and bought a pair of Dylan George skinny jeans and a pair of AG boot cut jeans. This combined purchase was one of the most expensive ones I’ve made on clothing, EVER. Having worn both pairs of jeans religiously for more than a year, I regret it not one bit. I can wear both pairs repeatedly without washing, and neither has stretched out, ripped, worn, etc. I can pull them out of the closet and throw them on because I know what they’ll look like — the same as the last time I wore them. I need less pairs of jeans because I don’t need to keep so many in rotation.
I’ve been reassured by this, and have branched out a little bit. I finally committed to a couple of nice purses (one as a work/laptop tote and another as a mid-size handbag). I started investing in my skin and haircare … thanks to Sephora’s amazing selection of trials, I’m able to see what makes a difference, and what doesn’t, before dropping a load of cash. I’m still learning (and holding out on a pair of black riding boots), but I’m starting to see the real value of investing in something quality.
All of the above said, I still comb H&M and (when I’m brave) Forever 21 like it’s my job for basics, trendy pieces and accessories like scarves and fashion jewelry. I’m no fashion snob by any means, but given my personal style (classic, pearls, basically J.Crew without the scary pattern mixing), this has proven to be an effective strategy for me to build a wardrobe I’m happy with, and lessen (not quite eliminate …) clothing tantrums. Still on the hunt for: Long-sleeve white button down (I am near-impossible to fit off the rack), khaki/camel-colored dress pants, blouses for work (I’m horrendously picky), denim jacket, office/professional rain jacket. Ugh, and a swimsuit.
- AG Jeans — Seriously the softest denim I’ve ever worn,
- Ole Henriksen face products … particularly the serum stuff, night cream and eye cream,
- Carol’s Daughter monoi products — THEY SMELL AMAZING