Questions to Ask Yourself While Shopping

I love fashion. And for a long time, one of my favourite pastimes was shopping for clothes.

However, becoming aware of the harms that the fashion industry has caused (and continues to cause) made me question my shopping habits. For me, conscious fashion is not about sacrificing personal style. I’m still me: I still love pinks, reds, purples, and blue; I adore polka dots, frills and cute retro details (with a side of rock and roll).

But now, with a focus on quality over quantity, I’ve armed myself with a set of questions that help guide whenever the temptation to impulse buy a piece that won’t last a single season takes hold:

Do I need this?

Stripped down to its barest meaning, ‘need’ is a very narrow category. Underwear and socks. Pjs, and a couple sets of workout clothes (which if we want to be really really frugal about could be some old shorts and t-shirts). A couple pairs of perfect jeans, and t-shirts to match, workwear, and outerwear.

Some needs are context-dependent. I personally do need a pair of waterproof snow boots that are rated to work down to -30 degrees celsius. But I live, work and commute in Canada and so that need might not be one that you have.

Do you need this piece to keep your soul alive? To speak to your aesthetic muse? Because it haunts your every dream and waking moment? Is it a wardrobe basic that will be worn to death? The meaning of ‘need’ can be broad — but be honest with yourself. Could you survive tomorrow without this piece? If so, you probably don’t need it.

If you do need it, then have at it! If not, it’s time to move onto to the next question:

Is it well-made?

This is a skill that I’ve honed over many years of thrift shop scourging. The first thing I do after a garment has caught my eye is feel the fabric. It’s an instant assessment that helps me figure out whether the piece is quality or crap. Generally I go on instinct: does it feel comfortable, or like sandpaper made of plastic? From there I usually look at seams and the fabric itself to try and assess quality.

It goes without saying that fast fashion should be avoided, as you probably aren’t going to take anything from those shops to a forever home. But even mid-range and high end garments can be ill made and ill-fitting with just a better label stuck on them. Be sure to research brands before buying. Are you buying outlet? Does the brand produce inferior quality fashion specifically for outlets? Sometimes a deal is not what it seems, and you may be just getting what you pay for. 🙁

Will it last at least #30wears?

The concept of wearing pieces at least 30 times is not one that I can take credit for: this one comes from Livia Firth and Eco-age. And while it may seem to apply better to formal wear, it can also be a helpful question to ask in the midst of a shopping trip. When you’re about to be seduced by something fabulously trendy but so not you, make sure that the investment is worth it.

Does it match with anything currently in your wardrobe? Or better yet, will it wear well with multiple pieces? These questions can be a simple litmus test to investigate the longevity of a piece even before you whip out your wallet.

Will it help with your Closet Detox Challenge?

I am forever getting weird looks from salespeople for turning garments inside out to inspect the label. I look for what type of fabric it’s made out of (synthetic or natural), the care instructions (easy care, gentle care, dry clean), and where it was made. It’s also a great way to figure out whether you have a vintage piece. A union label is the easiest way to spot one (or lack thereof to spot a fake).

Be sure to use these clues to help you decide whether the piece will help you Detox your Closet or whether it’ll add to health, environmental or social problems.

Does it make you feel good to wear it?

Finally, if you’ve answered yes to all of the above questions, make sure it’s a piece that makes you feel powerful, beautiful…like your best self. There’s no need to waste time, money, and energy on trends if you just don’t like them!

Using these questions, I now use clothes shopping as competition against myself. I need to give myself any and every excuse not to buy it, rather than any rationalization to buy it. Doing so helps me build and maintain a tightly edited, sustainable wardrobe and ironically, it’s actually kind of fun! You can use pin this simple graphic and refer back to it whenever you’re torn over whether or not to buy a piece:

Do you have questions that you ask yourself while shopping for clothes? What tips do you have for creating a sustainable wardrobe? I’d love to read them all in the comments below!