Style + Ask The Edit

Ask Belle: Best Shopping Advice

Hi Belle!

Love, love, love your site.  You give a lot of great advice, what’s your best shopping advice?


A few years ago, I expanded my blog business to include closet makeovers like those you see on shows like “What Not to Wear.”  To date, I’ve cleaned out over two dozen closets, and I consistently see women of all sizes, styles and salaries making the same two mistakes.  Luckily, they’re easy to remedy.

Pieces vs. Outfits.  When you walk into a store and see the hot item on the mannequin, you can get swept up in the awesomeness of the piece.  But wait, stop.  Before you buy ask yourself, “What else is my closet can I wear this top/skirt/dress with?”

As an example, let’s use the cobalt blue pencil skirt that I bought last night.  I can wear this with my white chiffon blouse and my grey tie neck top.  I can wear it with my berry-colored crewneck sweater.  I can wear it with a graphic tee and flats.  

If I want to start wearing it tomorrow, I can pair it with black tights, a black sheer blouse and black tall boots.  Or I can grab my charcoal sweater and a pair of snakeskin pumps.

By thinking in terms of outfits, not pieces,  I can get a sense of how valuable a piece will be to my wardrobe.  Knowing how much wear I will get out of this skirt with my existing pieces helps me decide if the skirt is worth the price.  In this case, it was.

Put Your Money Where Your Time Is.  I see it all the time, the woman has a closet full of Old Navy, H&M and Forever 21 pieces that she wears to work.  But then, in the back of the closet are cocktail dresses and special occasion items that set her back hundreds of dollars per piece, and they’re just gathering dust.

Ladies, stop spending your money on the pieces you’ll wear once and settling for every day pieces that can only be worn once before they fall apart.

For example, I don’t spend money on casual clothes very often, because I don’t have a casual life.  I work a 60+ hour week, the bulk of my time is spent at the office.  So the bulk of my clothing budget is spent on office attire.  So stop keeping your money in the dark, dank back of the closet, and start splurging on the clothes and shoes that will be worn the most frequently.

As for cocktail attire, I buy most of those items on eBay, discount sites like The Outnet or I rent them from Rent the Runway.  Because why waste good money on a great dress that might only be worn once or twice?  Unless it’s a wedding dress, that’s a unitasker that you don’t need.

The Follow Up.  And if I could offer one more short piece of advice, TRY THE CLOTHES ON.  Do not buy anything that you haven’t tried on in the store (unless you’re ordering online).  Trying the clothes on let’s you know if you need a different size, whether the color works for you, if the piece flatters your figure and whether you’ll need alterations.  Store return policies aren’t always generous, and who wants to make the extra trip if you don’t have to?  

Since I started religiously trying on clothes five years ago, I’ve learned more about what works for my body and purchased less.  You’ll be surprise how many “must haves” on the hanger turn into “no ways” in the dressing room.

What’s your best shopping advice?

P.S.  If you live in the D.C. area and want me to help you muck out and restyle your wardrobe, e-mail capitolhillstyle (at) gmail (dot) come for rates and rules.  I’m booked up until late February but putting together appointments for spring.



  1. E says:

    My best shopping advice that I always follow is, if you're unsure about an item after trying it on, raitonalizing its price, etc., and you're still thinking about it a week later, just buy it.

    I've had that regretful feeling of not buying something I really loved MONTHS later, when I realized it would have been perfect for a certain outfit.

    January 31, 2013/Reply
  2. giggling gourmand says:

    Agree on the advice to buy quality pieces. I think you're better off with fewer quality items than tons of mediocre stuff. Also, get to know how certain brands fit you; living in the shopping Sahara that is DC I am often forced to buy online and it really helps when you know you're always a 2 in DVF or whatever.

    January 31, 2013/Reply
  3. joy says:

    As an add-on to number one, recognize what pieces will be total workhorses in your wardrobe – even if they're not the most eye catching on the rack. For me, it's long-sleeved blouses. I think they tend to look dumpy/frumpy on the hanger, and when shopping online usually the styling on the model is NOT AT ALL how I would style it – so I usually keep scrolling. But I know I need one and I know it will make so many outfits. I wanted the BR silk tie-neck from earlier this year but sadly by the time I discovered it, my size was gone.

    January 31, 2013/Reply
  4. Beth says:

    This is why I love dresses. Instant outfit! I would be curious about the opposite of what Belle mentions: how can you tell if a “meh” on the hangar actually is smashing when you put it on (other than trying everything on, instead of weeding it out ahead of time)? For instance, I keep hearing how people swear by Eileen Fisher. “Eileen Fisher would be my desert island designer”.. but if I look at her stuff in her store, it all seems so shapeless to me.

    January 31, 2013/Reply
  5. Elizabeth says:

    Best piece of advice I ever got was “You love something the most before you buy it .” If you're ambivalent about it before spending money on it or trying to find a place for it, you're not going to ever love it.

    January 31, 2013/Reply
  6. Katherine Nolden says:

    Love this post! I'm in law school right now and I feel like the majority of my wardrobe is all casual and I need to make the switch to buying work outfits instead of another pair of jeans… ahhhh being an adult

    February 1, 2013/Reply
  7. Amy T says:

    My shopping rule is that when I try it on in the dressing room, if I want to wear it out of the store, then I buy it. It's the simplest rule I've ever come across and that's why it works.

    February 1, 2013/Reply