On my first day at InStyle, something clicked: It's one thing to love fashion, but it's another to know fashion, and my newfound colleagues could teach a masterclass on the subject. Behind-the-scenes, the magazine really was the fashion-filled shopping paradise that I’d always dreamed it would be. Editors sign for packages all day long, there are racks filled with sequined gowns and luxurious knits, each prettier than the last. Not a day passes where I don't spot a buttery bag or so-expensive-they’re-comfortable heels that I’d love to add to my closet.
Yet somehow, since transitioning from a college student to an InStyle.com writer living in Manhattan, my monthly credit card bills have gone down. As it turned out, my appreciation for fashion came with a newfound savvy, and I became a better shopper. How did I pull this off while being tempted by beautiful new arrivals every day? Here, five tips that helped me transform my shopping habits.
Wait for Mr. Right
Before InStyle, my approach to shopping was formulaic. I picked a store that I trusted—J.Crew, Madewell, Topshop—zeroed in on item I wanted, and then waited for a decent discount to justify the purchase. It didn’t matter if the sweater wasn’t exactly the cable-knit that I was looking for, or if the jeans were a tad too tight on my hips. If the price was right, I was sold.
But unsatisfied with my first, imperfect choice, I continued to shop around, acquiring one too many sale items that I didn’t love—and spending more than I would have had I just splurged on that full-price sweater I really wanted. That Kate Spade satchel on sale at Nordstrom Rack looked great until I found a Zac Posen shoulder bag at a Barneys Warehouse sale that I had to have. Eight months later, I’m now once again shopping for another bag.
But this time, I’m doing it right. I didn’t jump for the Marc Jacobs bag that caught my eye (the shape wasn't quite right). I know better than to make the mistake of buying a bag online without knowing it has the adequate number of zippers that my purse full of tangled headphones so desperately needs. Granted, it’s taking me a lot longer than usual to find a bag—but I’ll happily sacrifice opening another gift on Dec. 25 in favor of scoring the perfect satchel.
Widen the Search
Last December, I could probably count my go-to shopping destinations on one hand. My small-town mall didn't exactly provided me with a world of options, and my college student-budget prevented me from exploring more boutique alternatives. Stores like Madewell and Anthropologie delivered well-made products in fabrics that felt luxurious to the touch, but I wound up purchasing the same shirt in a new color and material almost every season.
Enter InStyle, which introduced me to dozens of new brands, updating my wardrobe without breaking the budget. Zara, Aritzia, Shopbop, and ASOS were added to my bookmark list, while brands like Cos, Mango, and Bandier landed a spot on my radar.
With more places than ever to choose from, I was able to comparison shop for each new addition. Rather than settling for something that was just okay, I expanded my horizons—and cut down on my spending in the process.
Shop In Person
After spending eight hours staring at a screen all day, the last thing I want to do when I get home at night is spend more time looking at my laptop. In college, my favorite way to procrastinate was by online shopping, and most of my impulsive, regrettable, and difficult-to-return purchases took place on the web.
Now, I carve out time to hit stores in real life, meaning I have to think a lot harder about whether that third pair of over-the-knee boots are actually worth lugging the oversized box all the way uptown. When you’d give up breathing space on a crowded subway for shoes, you know they’re worth it.
Identify Aspirational Pieces
I’d sacrifice my first-born child in exchange for this Céline bag. (I’m joking—I don’t have a child.) But the sentiment remains: By finding an aspirational (and totally unrealistic piece) that I’m utterly in love with, I now have a standard for finding a new purse. If I don’t love it as much as I love this satchel, I’m not buying it, no matter how good the sale. Impulse buying be damned.
Develop a Uniform
At age 22, I’ve finally figured out what silhouettes work for my body type, and which definitely don’t. After recently discovering that wide-leg pants can actually be crazy flattering, I’ve started to fill my closet with interchangeable pieces that give the illusion that I go shopping every weekend, when in reality it’s closer to once a month.
My favorite pair of black silky culottes can almost double as a jumpsuit in the summer with a tank tucked in, but give off an entirely different vibe when paired with a chunky sweater. Those mom jeans everyone loves? They go from weekend to workwear with a simple swap of sneaks for stilettos. My Manhattan-sized closet has never felt so luxurious.