How to Shop Like a European

I’m standing in line at the department store, my arms stuffed with bags, shoes, blouses, and jeans. Items are practically rolling out of my hands, yet now that I’m standing here thinking about opening my wallet, I’m starting to realize…

Those heels were a little tight.

I have a blouse that looks exactly like this one at home. 

This bag is a little small to fit everything I need. 

And then I glance behind me and see that there is another woman, holding one swimsuit, looking enthralled. 

How many times have you convinced yourself to buy something in the store by saying to yourself “I’ll find somewhere to wear this” or “I can afford this”? And then how many times have you found yourself shoving that same item in a bag headed for the Salvation Army six months later?

In America, we overcompensate. Instead of buying one designer, classic piece that we can wear for the rest of our lives, we buy 15 trendy tops from Forever 21 which are going to fall apart and go out of style in a matter of weeks. We end up with empty wallets and closets full of nothing to wear. However, across the pond, it doesn’t really go down like this. Instead, European women tend to opt for smaller closets full of truly interesting, timeless pieces that they knew they couldn’t live without when they stood in that line in front of the cashier. If you’re sick of throwing dollars away to cheap chain stores and clothes away to thrift stores, see below about how you can learn to shop like a European.

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  1. Keep a list handy of items you’re looking for. In the notepad on your phone, make a list of some pieces you’re on the lookout for like white jeans, a pair of brown wedges or a skinny leopard print belt. Then when you get to the mall, glance at your list so you can keep an eye out. Having a list makes you less likely to buy things you don’t really need and more likely to pick up signature pieces that you considered beforehand.
  2. Imagine three events you would wear this piece too. If you find something you like but you’re not sure if you would wear it, consider the rule of three – is there at least three separate events/locations you could wear this to? If you can’t think of three quickly (to the bar, to work, and to a BBQ) then it’s not worth it.
  3. Tell yourself you can come back later. If you’re debating an item but can’t make a 100% decision, tell yourself you’ll continue on your shopping trip and if you’re still thinking about it at the end of the day, you’ll come back. Car salesmen put pressure on people to buy right away – you don’t have to put pressure on yourself too.
  4. Ask yourself if you think you’ll be wearing this in three years. If it’s a classic, beautiful piece you  love, you’ll be sewing holes back together and getting an item dry-cleaned until the tear-stained day you have to throw it away. But if it’s something trendy and cheap, it’s going to be gone in six months. Through promotions and moves to new cities, is this something you’re going to want to have in three years?
  5. Buy what fits now, not later. Never, ever buy something with the intent to fit into it after your diet, after your workout or after the winter because it’s not going to happen. Instead, buy what fits you now and tell yourself that when the 15 is off, then you’ll reward yourself with a new pair of jeans.
  6. Think of the price in terms of how much money you make an hour. If you make $10 an hour and you’re trying to decide if that $80 dress is worth it, realize that is one entire day at work. If the dress isn’t worth the eight hours you spend slaving away at a desk, put it back on the racks and look elsewhere. Your time is valuable.
  7. Ask yourself if you can find this cheaper somewhere else. You may loooooooooove those brown gladiator sandals, but don’t you think Target may carry them too at a quarter of the price? Ask yourself if you can find this somewhere else for cheaper at a comparable level of quality. And hey, if you’re wrong, you can always come back (or scour the Internet).
  8. Consider if you can make three separate outfits with this piece. Following the rule of three referenced in Tip #2 – try to put together three separate and different outfits you could pair each piece with. If you can only pair that leather high-waisted skirt with a crop top, is it really worth it? Or is it worth it instead to go with the black sleeveless button-down you can wear with white jeans, mint pants or jean shorts?
  9. Evaluate the material. That top may be pretty, but if the material is cheaply Sears-esque and sort of itchy, you’re not going to wear it more than once. You don’t want to be aching to get out of your clothes by 5:00 pm everyday. That designer top may look like the cheap generic version, but if one is significantly more comfortable and sturdy than the other, it may be worth it.
  10. Ask yourself if it feels like you. I want to do the crop-top trend too, but the second I put one on, I feel way too exposed to go anywhere outside of my own bedroom. Even if something is trendy and cool-looking, if you feel like you’re trying to be someone else when you wear it, you’ll never put it on again.
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