One of the first things you'll notice when starting your own curating journey is this: Shopping is hard. Sure, browsing the aisles and clicking through online shops is still as easy as ever but finding the right item to expand your wardrobe - the one that fits your style concept and wardrobe structure perfectly - is hard. A long list of criteria can turn even a simple task like buying a basic t-shirt into a four hour ordeal. So...what’s the solution?
The first thing you should do is accept that you can no longer expect to just walk into a store and immediately find what you are looking for. Your standards have changed and so should your approach to shopping. My advice: If you are serious about building the perfect wardrobe you need to literally practice shopping like you would a sport, a language or an instrument. Then, once you are a pro-shopper, the act of finding a new item to add to your wardrobe will be just another one of your well-honed techniques and your wardrobe will be your best portfolio.
So what does it take to turn pro? A little prep time and a few short cuts up your sleeve. Read on for five simple tricks that will help you both de-stress and streamline your shopping process.
Define your target (before you hit the shops)
If you are on a mission to build the perfect wardrobe, most of your decision-making should happen before you enter a store (online or not). As a curator, the majority of your shopping efforts will go towards finding very specific items that suit your exact needs and your level of pre-shopping prep should match that specificity. Without a clear definition of what it is you are looking for (i.e. your target), you will have to mentally compare every single thing available to your style concept and wardrobe structure in order to figure out if it is something you might need, which is just exhausting and you are much more likely to give up and settle for something that's just ok half-way.
A clear definition of your target is essentially like a filter that you can use to quickly scan each section in a store, preserve your energy and NOT get distracted by other pretty pieces that you were not looking for and that would only eat up your budget. So, before you go shopping, figure out a set of criteria for your target item including what role it should play in your wardrobe, what colour, fit and fabric you want, and how much you are willing to spend. You do not have to define every single tiny characteristic, but the majority of an item's elements should already be decided upon pre-shop. "Pastel blue or mint lightweight cardigan" is fine, "some type of sweater" is not.
Create your own brand guide
An essential component of any stylist's and interior designer's kit is a go-to list of brands and shops that they know align well with their own personal style. You probably already have at least a mental list of all of your favourite shops, but to really make it work for you, try to spend a bit of time expanding and deepening that list into a little brand guide. As a first step, find at least twenty brands whose overall aesthetic you love. Include your old favourites but also expand your horizont a little and actively look for alternatives to broaden your selection. Next, really familiarise yourself with each brand and figure out which items/styles of their collection you like the most and which suit you best. For example: One brand might do especially great jeans for your body type, another might not offer clothes you like, but amazing accessories in your favourite colours.
Then, find out as much as you can about each brand's online shop: how often do they add new pieces, which pieces are limited editions, which are part of the permanent range (nothing is worse than spending weeks to find the right item, only to discover it's sold out and won't come back), what is their return policy, shipping costs, production methods, etc. In order to create a truly helpful brand guide for yourself you will need to put in a bit of leg work, go to lots of different stores (or order online), try on their stuff and take notes. Whatever time and energy you put into your brand guide now will save you a multiple of that later on, when you really need a specific item or want to overhaul a bigger section of your wardrobe, because you already have a short list to work off from and know your way around.
Know your measurements
If you are not a fan of spending hours in changing rooms and dealing with sizing differences between brands, having your measurements memorized is an easy fix. Sizing differences between brands often do not just manifest as a general smaller/larger difference (e.g. French sizing tends to generally run smaller than UK sizing) but also as differences in the proportion between individual points of measurement. If you know your exact measurements a quick check of a brand's sizing chart will tell you not only what size to try on first, but also whether their items match your body type's proportions or whether you can exclude them from your search straightaway. For example, if a brand recommends a size 34 based on your waist measurement, but a size 40 based on your hip measurement, chances are the brand's items won't do your body any favours.
Develop short cuts for fit & fabric
If your goal is to build a functional, long-lasting wardrobe you should pay as much attention to the fit and the fabric of an item, as to its look. Unfortunately, both fit and fabric are relatively tricky to get right, just because we all have different opinions on which type of fit suits us best and what fabrics feel good, plus: unless you try an item on it's difficult to really tell how it will feel/look on your body. The best way to reduce the amount of time you have to scramble finding the right fit and fabric is to develop a few easy rules of thumb.
Just like for your brand guide, you will need to try on a lot of clothes for this one and also experiment with fabrics/fits you don't have in your current wardrobe or have never tried before. As a first stop, take about an hour or so to go through your wardrobe and write down your most and least favourite fits and fabrics. The devil is in the detail here, so don't just pay attention to the main fabric and overall shape of a piece, but to its exact fabric composition and every aspect about its cut (does it have extra darts under the bust, where do the sleeves start, etc.) Then go to different stores, try on as many different fabrics and cuts as you can and note down which ones you love and which ones you hate. For a broader sample size, also check out brands that are both below and way above your usual price range.
Let go of the idea of perfection
Even though I am obviously all for waiting until you find that perfect item, I also believe that a big part of successful curating is knowing when to settle for an item that ticks 95% of your boxes, instead of wasting a huge amount of time and energy. Sometimes, the item you have so closely defined might just not exist/be available to you right now, unless you get it custom-made. At some point, aiming for perfect just stops being practical and, as a curator, you need to know when to draw the line and settle for something a little less perfect, just so you can move on to other things. Sometimes you might also just want a damn pair of socks or a t-shirt and cannot be bothered to compare everything to your style concept. That is ok too. Whatever you are doing, always remember that the 'quality over quanitity' approach and the accompanying goal to search for perfect items is supposed to benefit you, your style and your closet, not stress you out. So: If you really need a specific item, but just cannot find one that fits all of your criteria, get the second best and move on.
*image via homework.dk