What do I look for when I buy new things?

I’ve been struggling quite a bit with trying to limit impulsive shopping, with some results even. I barely even buy anything on sales now, and mostly slowly get new things to fill in gaps I’ve identified earlier. Barely and mostly, mind you, I’m not impervious to making bad decisions on the spot. But most of the bad decisions I make are fortunately limited to my personal life or health, and much less to clothes.

But on one of the Facebook groups I sometimes visit, one of the users asked for an opinion on which of the three suits he should buy, and the only information given was the composition of the fabric (wool/poly blend, or pure wool). Is that really the only thing you should consider when thinking of a new purchase?

I’ve thought about it for a while, and came to the conclusion that it’s really not that important at all. I mean, sure – fabric can make or break a garment, and great fabrics are an absolute joy to wear, with my camelhair jacket being a prime example for me. However, I don’t think this is where you should start.

So this is my hierarchy of needs. It’s about as pseudoscientific as the famous one by Maslow, but I find it useful.

Do I need this thing?

I wondered if I should include this step, but ultimately decided to do so. If you need a suit because you’ve got a suit-requiring event coming up, this one is obvious. However, when you just browse things, and want to expand your wardrobe, this is an important thing to consider.

You might see a really nice jacket, or a suit, or a shirt, or whatever – and the question you should start with really is Do I need it?. If you don’t, the item you’re spending your money on will not see much use.

The need here is, of course, very subjective. It will, in case of clothes, rarely mean that the item you’re considering is essential for your survival. But is it something that works well with your lifestyle and personal style? It may be a great formal three-piece suit, but why buy it, if your work attire is a shirt and a cardigan, and the last time you had to wear a suit was your uncle’s wedding back when you were eleven? Or it might be a beautiful pair of trousers, but their colour doesn’t work well with almost anything else in your wardrobe, and as much as you love them, you can’t think of a way to fit them into an outfit you’d feel comfortable in.

So think of items you could put into good use, the ones that’ll fill some gaps in what you already have, and then buy stuff that ticks those boxes. Things you know you need.

Does it fit well?

Once you’ve decided that yes, you want to buy this thing (or this kind of thing, say, a tweed jacket) – this is the most important aspect you need to focus on. Buying an item a size too large or too small is almost invariably a bad idea. Buying a garment that does not fit your body will make you uncomfortable in it, and you won’t like the way it looks on you. As much as, say, the shape of the lapels might make your heart beat a little faster when you see it on a hanger, it’s just no good if they’re misshapen on your chest.

Be aware of what can be easily altered by a tailor (in fact, I’ve got an infographic just for you!), and what is just not worth it and leave the thing behind – even if it’s difficult to do so! – if you see it just doesn’t fit. You’ll save yourself the inevitable disappointment.

Do I like the style?

If it fits, do you like it? If the piece you’re looking at fits well, but you don’t like the tiny lapels, or heavily padded shoulders, or something else – it may eventually lead to you leaving this piece at the back of your wardrobe and not wear it nearly enough to get your money’s worth.

This one is tricky, because it requires you to know what your tastes actually are. And it may sound like the easiest thing in the world – you like what you like, right? – it’s really not. I noticed my preferences became more and more specific over time, and there are things I bought or ordered that no longer fit those preferences.

But once you figure this out, it becomes easier. You know what is a dealbreaker in terms of style for you – like heavily padded shoulders are for me – and no matter how great the rest is, you know you won’t wear it, right? So leave it in the store.

Is it good quality?

It’s intentionally the last step here. I know it might be controversial. But I think wearing stuff that fits you and your style overall gets better results than wearing things that are high quality, but not really what you wanted or needed.

Given the choice between two almost identical items, of course go for the one made of better fabric and more carefully, if your budget allows for that. But if you have to choose between a cheaper suit in a wool/poly blend, that fits so much better and you like it so much more, and a pure wool one that you don’t really like all that much – don’t hesitate.

Good quality is a perk that makes the clothes you like even better. But it will not make you fall in love in pieces you wouldn’t like anyway.

At some point you might want to focus on quality of stuff you own. And it’s great, I love this approach and I try my best to do just that – but always, all the previous steps must be considered.

Here’s where I stand. What are your thoughts?