Note: This is a guest post from Elysha Lenkin at elyshalenkin.com. After spending years working on commercial shoots, she has expanded her business to include personal styling so she can help women create a wardrobe filled only with items they love and want to wear.
My name is Elysha, and I’ve been a wardrobe stylist on commercials and photoshoots since the 90s. While the premise of my work has always been to dress people to look their best, there’s also an underlying responsibility to manage a boatload of stuff.
On shoots, it’s up to me to provide options. This means that if a client wants someone dressed in a white shirt and jeans, I need to have 20 white shirts and 20 pairs of jeans. I must ensure that the clothes not only fit perfectly (on somebody I’ve never met) but that they look exactly how the client wants. Hence, I provide options.
So I need to know what’s in the stores to make wise purchases. This means I spend a lot of time either shopping for a job or keeping myself current on what’s out there.
In the early days of my career, this was a liability as I was always finding things I “needed” to buy. As I stood waiting in the checkout line with a cart full of items for a shoot, I’d see a headscarf that was the ultimate solution for my bad hair days. Or a cute pair of no-show socks that I’d always wanted.
Similar to the baker who struggles with weight issues, my styling jobs lured me into buying a bunch of nonessential items.
It wasn’t until we underwent a home renovation, specifically we redid our closets, that caused me to change my habit of accumulation.
Because of the way we were reconfiguring our closets, it wasn’t clear how much extra space we’d have if any. So not only did I need to purge what I already owned, but I needed to stop any new stuff from coming in.
The easiest way for me to do this was to go cold turkey. I went on a total spending freeze (of wardrobe and accessories) for 4 months.
If you’ve ever gone on a healthy eating program, you may have noticed how cutting out sugar or gluten (or whatever you’re modifying) becomes a lot easier as time goes on. Your cravings subside as the momentum of your willpower builds. It works like this with a spending freeze too.
And like a healthy eating program that often kicks off a cleaner diet, my spending freeze encouraged me to adopt a whole new set of habits around shopping. I’ve become more mindful with my purchases.
Keeping my closet clutter free is an ongoing process, but to ensure I only end up with pieces I love, I go through a line of questions to establish that the item I’m considering is something that I really want, or need. I’m sharing this line of questions to help you keep your closet a space only for things you love and want to wear.
1. WHY ARE YOU BUYING IT?
The first thing you need to know is why you want to make this purchase. When I’d buy items while waiting in the checkout line, the answer to my why was that the purchased piece would cure my boredom. It was a lot more exciting to think about my new headscarf, and how cute it was instead of staring at the 20 people waiting in line ahead of me. This kind of why isn’t very long lasting. Because once I brought the headscarf home, its purpose was done. Make sure the reason you’re buying something can stand the test of time.
2. HOW IS IT MADE?
At this point, you’d want to pick up the item in question and inspect the quality. If it’s a piece of clothing, look at all the seams and notice if they are coming undone. Are there any rips or tears? In the past, I’ve bought tee shirts on sale only to get home and see there’s a tiny tear near the neckline where they inserted the tag. Similar to your response for the question above, you need your item to be long-lasting. So check it out construction wise to make sure this piece won’t break or fall apart.
3. DOES IT FIT IN WITH WHAT YOU ALREADY OWN?
Have you ever fallen in love with something at the store, and then brought it home to discover that it’s not quite right? Maybe it was an orange floral cardigan that looked amazing under the shop lights as it flattered you in every aspect in the store’s full-length mirror. But then when you look in your closet, you have no idea what to pair it with. Your wardrobe doesn’t match orange floral. The purpose of this question is to avoid ending up in situations like this. You don’t want to buy orphan pieces that sit alone in your closet. You want your wardrobe to be fully integrated so it’s versatile and multi-functioning.
4. DOES IT LOOK LIKE YOU?
When you ask if an item looks like you, you’re clarifying if it suits your style and personality. While there’s a time and a place to take risks and branch out into new styles, you don’t want to make mistakes by buying things you’ll never wear. So to answer this question, simply check in with your gut. Hold up the item, and ask yourself if it looks like you. Since most of us are pretty clear about who we are and what we like, you should get your answer right away.
5. IS THIS PIECE TOO SIMILAR TO WHAT I ALREADY OWN?
Once you’ve determined that the item fits in with your closet and it looks like you, you’ll want to make sure you don’t already own something like it. Often when we love a style, maybe it’s a gray cascading cardigan, we unconsciously buy the same thing over again. This can get redundant and become a waste of space and money. So only buy it if it adds something new. Regarding the gray cascading cardigan, if it’s got a print and a different silhouette that would be something new. But if it will look like your old gray cascading cardigan, skip it!
6. WHEN WILL YOU WEAR IT?
Now it’s time to get specific with the item. If you have to get your calendar out, do this. You’ll need to answer exactly when you’ll wear this piece. If you’re deciding on whether to buy a navy sheath dress, what events do you have coming up that call for a navy sheath dress? Of if it’s a beige straw hat, when will you wear this? By getting clear about when and where you’ll use your new item, you’re allowing the purchase to fit into your life.
7. DOES IT FIT YOUR BODY?
At this point, you’ll want to get into the dressing room to determine if the item will really work for you. Once it’s on, notice not only how it hangs on your body, but also how it feels. Comfort is key as an uncomfortable item will never get worn. I’ve foolishly bought shoes that were too small because they were on major sale. I’d get them home and could never bear to wear them because of a sharp ankle strap digging into my skin. So that savings I thought I was getting turned out to be an added expense in the form of buyer’s remorse. Also look at the darts and seams to make sure they fall in the right place. Raise your arms. Squat down. Do what you must do to know that the item fits well.
8. DO YOU LOVE IT?
There probably was a good reason that you were initially drawn to the item. But now is the time to get truthful with yourself. Were you attracted to it because it looked shiny and new? Or do you love it? Before I bring anything home, I ask myself this question. I don’t need to add any so-so pieces to my closet because then I’ll wear it and feel so-so. I want to know that what I put on my body is something that I adore because this carries over into how I feel for the rest of the day.
Since becoming more mindful with my shopping, I culled my wardrobe into something that I love. And whenever I’m tempted to buy a new item, this line of questioning helps me ensure it’s something that makes sense for who I am, and that it’s something I’ll want to wear.
What kinds of questions do you ask before buying a new wardrobe item?