Keep a shopping list for clothes

Guest post by Andria

Got holes in your closet? Try the clothes shopping list! (Photo by: Tammy StrobelCC BY 2.0)
I’ve never been a big clothes shopper. Growing up, my mom would take me to the mall for new clothes twice a year: before school started and right before Christmas. I might get a third trip if I’d outgrown my shorts by the next spring, but I was okay with avoiding the dressing-room-dance as much as possible. As a teenager and young adult, I’ve struggled to figure out how my female friends spent hours just browsing and trying on new outfits.

Don’t get me wrong, I like clothes — but these days I’m much more likely to accidentally stumble on a new favorite dress in a thrift shop than to go searching for one in a department store. I think the last time I made any large acquisition of new clothing was a clothing swap.

My lack of fashion-seeking prowess has led to a wardrobe that, while totally me, has some major holes in it. Like the hippie skirt I love, but rarely wear because it’s so hard to match the colors with my tops. Or the shirt that’s too low-cut to wear without one very specific cami, which is usually in the laundry due to its popularity. You get the idea.

This morning, while putting away laundry, I had a baskets moment about my wardrobe situation…

I was reminding myself for about the hundredth time that I need to get some new white camis, and it occurred to me: why not keep a shopping list for clothes? In the kitchen, I keep a running grocery list on a pad of paper. As I notice things run out or get an idea for a meal, I add those items to the list. Then it’s just a matter of grabbing it when I run to the store. Why not do the same thing for clothes?

Next time I pull out that skirt, I can write down to find a top to match it. And next time I lament my lack of a wide belt, I can write that down, too. It doesn’t mean I’m more likely to find myself at a department store, but next time I get dragged shopping or am out thrifting, I can hunt for things I’ll actually use, instead of finding another cute blouse that doesn’t match anything.

What about you? Would keeping a clothes-list help you develop a more useful wardrobe?

Comments on Keep a shopping list for clothes

  1. This is genius. I also end up with tons of stuff I no longer wear because nothing goes with it, or a dress with an uncomfortably low neckline that needs a cami.

    I also think it’s important to think of accessories in terms of what they’ll be worn with. I have several pairs of gorgeous earrings that I just don’t wear, because when I wear an outfit that matches them, there’s a more suitable pair of earrings. So these days I try, with every accessory purchase, to think: “What do I have that will match this?”

    I’ve also recently discovered that it’s not a bad thing to have several of the same thing. I used to never have a pair of black leggings handy, because I tried to go for variety when shopping, so I have two black ones, two grey ones, and then a yellow one. The yellow one matches only one shirt, but the black matches EVERYTHING, and was thus in the laundry basket more often than in the cupboard. So next time I went shopping, I stocked up on identical black leggings. Same with camis for a low neckline.

    • Second the “buying multiples” tactic. I am very particular when it comes to buying cardigans – I usually buy ones I like in multiple colors. For work, I have several A-line, knee-length, black skirts to go with my black suit jacket.

  2. This is a genius idea! I’m going through a wardrobe crisis right now. I have a 9 month old and while most of my clothes fit again, there are some things that I just can’t quite fit into and need to replace (or look like a stuffed sausage – never a good thing). When I’m out shopping (rarely) I’ll see an item that’s already in my closet but doesn’t fit anymore, but I seem to forget it doesn’t fit and pass on buying said item. I can’t wait to try this!

  3. Keeping a clothes list is definitely a good tactic for me. I have an amalgamation of clothes that span many years and many different styles. It’s infrequent that I get something “new” and I usually can’t match it with much.

    My biggest problem now is that NOTHING seems to work together and I can’t really afford to overhaul my whole wardrobe. I’m due for some thrift store trips =\

    • Sometimes I find that taking a day and organizing my closet helps me get over this feeling of “I have nothing to wear!”
      I would start with pieces you love to wear, and find the items that look good with them. From there, branch out into clothing you “need” for work or special events. Then with what’s left, try a Google image search and see suggestions for how other people wear clothing like that.
      I’ve got a friend who had a pair of kelly green pants, and she had no idea how to wear them. I suggested a black t-shirt and a leopard print sweater – a combination she never considered. And the next day she posted a photo of her at work in that green pants outfit!

  4. I do something a bit like that! I have a moleskin notebook where I have sketches of my body and types of clothing. Some pages will have a sketch of a style that I find the most flattering and comfortable. I study existing pieces then mark down their cuts and lines so that when I’m out shopping and unsure I can double-check the journal. So one page for A-line skirts with a wide band, one page for long A-line skirts, one page for short! A-line skirts, etc. It’s a little crazy but I love to draw and its a fun way to get more comfortable with fashion.

    On other pages I have sketches of clothing I currently own with a description of the colors and fabric. This helps me make sure that new pieces will coordinate. It also helps me decide if I want to replace an existing piece with something I found while thrifting. If I do replace something I mark “retired” next to the piece I’m replacing and the second I get home it is GONE.

    My shopping list is then compiled from notes in my journal. As I wear something I mark down it’s condition and my feelings about it (not everyday, just as things come up). Then every once in a while I flip through and see what needs updating. Maybe I have several pieces that need mending. Others I just want to donate and replace. A list is then made from those notes and I spend a weekend or two working on it.

    • Thank you so much for sharing your system! I can’t draw to save my life and would probably never use it myself. But for some reason your description fascinated me and it was like looking into a window of a house you will never live in and being like “huh, that’s cool!”

  5. Woah! This is nuts, I just started mine two days ago. I decided that everything in my wardrobe that is 6 years+ old that was a hand me down six years ago- has to go! So I started writting a “replacement pieces” shopping list so I don’t go overboard with my new wardrobe. I am also planning the pieces I want on pinterest so I have a visual idea while I am thrifting for what will work in my closet. Ie: “Have great maxi dress that looks like this- belts a b or c would make it a whole notha’ thing”. Or “Got rid of green sweater, replace with new sweather similar to this” etc etc. Its like offbeathome is reading my liiiife.

    • I’m like this too. I have lots of favourite clothes that aren’t really suitable for wearing out in the public anymore becasue I have loved them to death over so many years. A “replacement pieces” shopping list is a great way to get new threads that you will love because they are based on what you know works!

        • I use my out of milk app for everything. You can have many running lists.
          I keep lists for projects around the house as well as anything else I might look for when thrifting.

  6. That is brilliant- I should keep a list in my closet for those mornings when you try on 4 outfits, but none of them are “right.” If only I had a belt, or a cami this color or…etc.
    I normally have a mental list of clothing, but it tends to fail me if the list isn’t specific enough. I also have some skirts that have weird colors that are hard to match. In particular, I have a beige skirt with green flowers. When in doubt I always go with white, black, or brown, but my system fails this skirt. It’s really begging for a green top of the same color, but I am always off by a few shades and end up returning it…
    So now I really only buy dresses because they are a complete outfit and you don’t have to match tops and bottoms!
    Your list idea could extent to gift ideas as well! Even though I’m almost 30, my mom still buys me clothing for Christmas. She means well, and honestly does well 75% of the time. So I’ve started asking for specific items to fill in wardrobe gaps (brown cardigan, blue scarf, etc.)

    • Some people find it helpful to take photos with their phone of complete outfits. You could even make a “list” of outfits for the week ahead of time, then just pick out the clothes in the morning. I think of it as the modern way to streamline the morning and set out your outfit the night before.

      • When I have a grownup job or a job not in a lab, I might have to try the list thing or physically group them together in my closet rather than take pictures. I like to avoid phones/technology when I can, especially if it involves me in stages of being dressed or undressed, haha.

  7. This is so simple, yet it’s genius and I’m going to do it. You are one of the great thinkers of our time.

  8. A list to remember what I need is an awesome idea although admitedly I often just go buy something if I know I need it.

    I have a love/hate relationship with clothes shopping. My current body shape/size, not the one most retail clothes are made for, can mean trying on tons of things and finding nothing. Shops themselves can be a pain. I have a favourite pair of jeans but last time I went shopping for jeans, I discovered that even if I pick up a pair in the same “fit” and size as the ones I was wearing walking in, I’m not guaranteed they will fit. Ugh!

    So I have a couple tricks I use. I always look at the fit, brand and size of things that I have and love. I don’t need to write them down but you could. That way you can always take a look when you’re in that store or thrifting. I also try to buy an outfit when I buy clothes. Sure, it’s nice to pick up one solo piece, but I’ve found that if I limit how often I buy clothes, I can afford to pick up outfits during sales. That way I know I have things that go together. I rarely buy jewellery but I try to think about that when I do, if a new outfit needs something new.

    I tend to go for things that aren’t overly trendy so I know they can last in my wardrobe for a while and they are more likely to go with more of my clothes.

    • Dude, don’t get me started on jeans. WHY IS THAT? They’re made out of rubber bands, it seems like, and even different colors in the same size/style fit differently. I thought I’d be OK ordering multiple pairs of my favorite jeans online, but every single pair got here with a different fit! I’d like to line up every single commercial jeans designer in one long line and give them all a giant stooge-slap.

      • Amen to crazy jeans sizes! My best theory is that the fabric can shift or twist a few degrees with each piece of each pair that’s cut, so the give of the fabric is in a slightly different direction. Since denim is a more-sturdy-less-stretchy material and jeans generally fit closer to the body than dresses or shirts, depending on your body shape these variation can lead to a fantastic fit in one pair and a terrible fit in another pair of the same size and style.

        Or all jeans designers are idiots — which I still haven’t ruled out.

    • Get a seamstress! You don’t have to find the perfect jeans. For an extra 20-ish bucks, I can make ok jeans into my favorite jeans. I am hourglass and petite, so I try on jeans to fit my widest and roundest bits. Then my seamstress will pull in the waist and hem them. Viola! (Now I’ve moved to a new city and just need to find a new one.)

      • Hit up the local fabric store and ask for referrals. Bonus if they offer sewing classes, as the instructors are often accomplished seamstresses. I found my seamstress through my wedding dress purchase, but she also works at a local fabric store.

  9. Good idea. It’s really helpful, especially if you’re a thrifter. I keep a little notebook in my purse with lists of all different things that I’m looking for, from glass and plastic utensils for soap-making, to stuff we need for our wedding, to clothes. It helps me stay focused at the thrift store and not to forget to look for specific things while I’m there. It also helps me say “no” to things I don’t really need, which is pretty necessary.

  10. When I buy something, I try to think of “what do I own that I can wear this with” and/or “when can I wear this?” If I can’t come up with 3 reasons and/or outfits with what I currently own (or am purchasing in the same shopping trip), I usually put it back. Just because its 50% off does not justify me buying it if it sits in my closet and never gets worn.

    I love the idea of a list, though! I’m constantly re-washing the same camis and, in the winter, leggings. Would be far simpler to just remember to buy more!

    Also, I keep a list (mentally & on paper) of sizes of clothing I own from various retailers. I’m a huge online shopper, so knowing that I size up at this retailer or down for this designer is very helpful, particularly for those final sale items!

  11. This is supremely genius. I need this. I suck at clothes shopping, I hate doing it, and I never even remember to buy the basics that are necessary (underwear without holes would be good…)

  12. If you have a smartphone, keep the list on there somewhere so you always have it with you! That way you have your list on hand for any impromptu shopping trips.

  13. Brilliant! I just went out looking for new work shirts (which in my office means nice, non-printed T-shirts usually), and thought to myself, “I’ve got a bunch of black, purple, blue, and green. I should get some other colors.” And then I came home with purple, blue, green (though different shades from what I already owned), and red. :/ But at least the new shirts go with the skirts and pants I already had, so I guess it’s okay in the end! But a list might have gotten me to try branching out a bit, rather than zeroing in on the colors I love (and, admittedly, work well with my paleness).

  14. Another tip: Keep a donate bin in/near the closet. When you pass by something you just know you’re not going to wear again, toss it in. When it’s full – go donate!

  15. I keep a clothing shopping list. Since my budget for clothes is so small, I keep the list so I can target specific pieces to keep my wardrobe filled with classics (and maybe a few tops in trendy colors/cuts).
    Lately I have had more time than money, so I have been keeping my clothing shopping list & inspiration on Pinterest. Once I go back to a full-time office job (and larger clothes budget), I know exactly what kinds of pieces and in which colors I want to purchase.
    I haven’t bought any new clothes in over 8 months, so I am really looking forward to this shopping trip!

  16. I have ALWAYS kept a shopping list for clothes! I have recently been trying to parse down my wardrobe and try to get more staple items that go with everything rather than pieces that can only be worn with very specific other pieces. By the way, Forever 21 is the best place to get camis (no matter what age you are)- they only cost $2.50 a piece!

  17. We have an app that we share with things that we need as well as our “don’t f’in buy list”. You know, when you go to the store and think “I feel like we are out of x. I’ll get some” and then you come home and there are 7 in storage. I don’t know why we never thought of this with clothing!

    • So much this. Forgetting what I’ve got is a big problem for me, and I bet it’s partially down to wanting to forget because I want the shiny new thing. If I buy one more pair of knee-high boots I shall slap myself. Do Not Need!

  18. I use my ebay watch list as a kind of clothes shopping list, but I should probably make a proper one. Having said that I do take one when I go to an actual physical shop to buy second hand stuff because otherwise I never ever remember all the sections I need to check!

    My warderobe *thing* at the moment is taking the plunge and adapting some of my clothes to fits I’ll actually wear. I always have to take in the waistband of jeans, that goes without saying, but I’m scared of the projects that will have more visible results. I’ve done ok with a nightdress that is now a snazzy hot pink summer top, but I’m slightly dreading the patchwork hippie coat with fluffy trim that is destined to become a funky jacket, because it’s beautiful as it is (well it is to me, anyway…). Argh. So many clothes so little space. If they never get worn they’re out of there.

  19. I keep my clothes shopping list on my computer, since I do most of my clothes shopping online. I don’t have a car and there aren’t any clothing retailers in the town I live in. Having my list on my laptop (I use wunderlist, but you could do the same with evernote, pinterest, etc…) makes it really easy to keep me focused when I decide to spend my money, so I don’t get distracted by the bright shiny things that aren’t what I really *need*. It’s hard to think about a winter coat in the middle of summer, and much more tempting to buy a swimsuit that I don’t need as much. But by having the coat on my list, it’s a visual reminder to save my pennies because WINTER IS COMING.

  20. I do something similar. I also have developed rules concerning what I buy so that everything I have matches several other things. I have strict color purchasing rules, for example. It seemed oppressive at first when I first thought of it, but it’s kind of nice now. So many mix and match opportunities! And my closet is much less overwhelming now. I can actually do more with less!

  21. I just want to say that when I saw “Keep a shopping list for clothes” my first thought was “OMG Basket Moment!”

  22. My first thought was “BAHAHA my list would say ‘EVERYTHING’!” But it’s a good idea. Maybe I could split the list into “desperately need,” “need for winter,” “would be great,” “want but could go on Christmas list,” etc.

  23. I have a tendency to find one piece of clothing (I’ll buy multiples) that I want to wear everyday; 5 years ago it was a striped T-shirt that I got at the GAP (I bought 3, since they were on clearance for $3 and fit like a dream).

    I would wear it like a uniform almost everyday; the 3rd one FINALLY fell apart this week and now I need to choose a new item to fall in love with. After reading this, it reminds me that I have to go buy 3 identical items so I can uniform it up again!

  24. I make a list in my smart phone so I always have it.
    I also have a list of what NOT too buy. I am in grad school and because of an internship this summer I realized I really need to start increasing my nice work clothes wardrobe. This means I should stop buying clothes that can’t also wear to work one day when I land my dream job 😉

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