The Five Questions You Should Always Ask Yourself Before Buying Something on Sale
It has become a rite of passage here in the InStyle fashion department that, upon joining the team, you are tasked to claim a personal tagline—a motto of sorts modeled after the ones the Real Housewives recite during the show’s opening credits. Mine, a collaboration with senior style editor Ali Pew, who is an avid fan of the program (admittedly, I have never seen it) is, “I’m always shopping…and it might just be for your replacement.” Shade aside, the line distills me down to my very essence: an avid, addicted, semi-professional shopper. High, low, online, brick and mortar—I wade through it all, happily. And while I like to think it’s less about empty consumerism—a meditative approach to problem-solving, maybe, during which I can check out and let my unconscious take over, or a form of pure entertainment, like my own obsessive version fantasy football—I have bought a lot of things over the years. In fact, for a while there I became really good at buying really bad stuff, mostly at sales.
So in the midst of final clearance season, those heady, final moments when designer goods get knocked down to a very tempting 70 to 80 percent off, I wanted to pass along a quiz I constructed of the five questions you should always ask yourself before purchasing anything on sale. By no means is it foolproof, but I’ve found that it has improved my hits-to-misses ratio considerably, and might just help you avoid a serious case of buyer’s remorse (skinny bright red Balenciaga corduroys what?). I'll even take it in real-time below, as I'm currently debating a navy suede Marni bag on Yoox.
1. WOULD YOU WANT THIS AT FULL PRICE?
Two things go into this. First, the thrill factor: The wise Marie Kondo once advised to only hang on to things that bring you joy, and the same goes for incoming inventory. If you find yourself rationally listing all the reasons why you should like something (“the multiple interior pockets!" or “the cropped length is so good on my short frame!”) yet feel no spark, odds are you’re settling in the name of a bargain-induced shot of adrenaline. Secondly, examine how well it suits your practical needs. We’ll get into this further in question four, but for now simply focus on the barebones utility of the thing. Example: If you struggle to walk in kitten heels, put down the four-inch stilettos.
About that Marni: Yes, it thrills me—navy suede is so chic I want to be buried in it, and the gold hardware would elevate my sloppiest of outfits—but the shape is smaller than anything I currently use. So no, I wouldn’t pay the $1,000 + original asking price. That doesn’t knock it out of the running, but my Spidey sales senses are tingling.
2. IS IT ACTUALLY YOUR SIZE?
Forget about if the item in question is flattering for a second, but like, literally, are you able to zip it up—or the opposite, does it fall off your frame? Beware of the lies-to-self that usually pop up at this point, that you’ll take something to be tailored or lose weight. Because when was the last time you did either? (Or at least, I haven't in the past 15 years). The point is, you shouldn't have to put so much effort into your clothes.
About that Marni: N/A
3. CAN YOU THINK OF THREE THINGS ALREADY IN YOUR CLOSET TO WEAR THIS WITH AND THREE OCCASIONS IT WOULD WORK FOR?
Pass if you have to purchase even more pieces just to put together an outfit. Also, we're talking about real-life events, not that formal gala or beach BBQ in the Hamptons you're still waiting to be invited to.
About that Marni: Yes! It pairs well with literally everything I own, and it I can wear it to work, dinner, or running errands on the weekend.
4. DO YOU OWN ANYTHING LIKE IT ALREADY?
Let's be honest: you don't truly need another pair of black ankle boots (though buying these is justifiable if they serve different purposes—dressy or casual, with skirts or jeans, etc.).
About that Marni: Hmm. I own two other suede bags—one in navy but it's a completely different duffel shape, and another in black that's a little bigger but not much different beyond that. We are inching closer to this being a no-go.
5. WHAT'S YOUR PAST SALES-PURCHASE SUCCESS RATE?
Got a whole section of your closet dedicated to "things I can maybe recycle for Halloween?" Proceed with caution, even if you aced the first four q's.
About that Marni: I've maintained a pretty good track record for the past two years—about one no for every 10 yeses.
The consensus? I'm buying the damn bag but not without hesitation as it didn't entirely pass points one and four above. But that brings me to maybe the most crucial question of this whole process, and that's, "Can you return it?"