Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Permanently Altered: How I Avoided Red-Tag Seduction

After over a year without new clothes, I recently went shopping for party clothes to wear to an important family event. But four stores and several hours later, I returned home with clothes for my children, but nothing for me. Clearly, my new clothes boycott has permanently altered my shopping patterns. Here's how:

Red-Tag Fatigue: I looked at the sales rack and yawned. In the past, red tags with alleged savings of 60 percent to 75 percent discounts would have made my heart beat faster. But I've done the math and I'm not impressed by red tags. If a garment was originally marked up by 500 percent or 1000 percent over the wholesale price, a 60 percent price shave doesn't sound like such a must-have good deal.

Quality Patrol: Rather than a shopping cart of just markdowns, I was looking for an evening outfit that was stylish, well-cut and affordable. That process takes time. But in the past, I've snapped up clothing that almost fits or almost looks good. I've also spent a small fortune getting clothing tailored to fit my frame. This year, I declined to waste money on near-hits that just sit in my closet or make me look bad.

Is it Really for Me?: One year, at Marshall's I saw a cute outfit that was literally marked down to 50 cents. (Honestly!) It was a two-piece floral cotton outfit that looked sort-of preppy. Wearing that cotton suit with its big fake-gold buttons and white Peter Pan collar, I looked like I should have been lunching with the ladies in Palm Beach. Correction: I looked like a Palm Beach wannabe (a social pretender) in a cheap imitation of a Lilly Pulitzer suit that was poorly cut and soooo not me. Bottom Line: I wasted 50 cents buying an outfit that was affordable, but out of character. I was lured by the 50-cent red tag. This year, a reality check kept me away from the cash register.

Old Clothes Ties: Like a past heartache that won't fade, I'm constantly drawn to the old clothes in my closet. Do I really need to buy a new party outfit? Can I wear something old? Is it possible to update an older garment with new shoes or a hat? Can I buy a new jacket to wear with an older dress? Those were a few of the questions that slowed my progress through the racks.

Wait-and-See: I actually saw several dresses, suits and gowns that I really, really liked. But I left the store empty-handed in order to take time to think about those purchases. It's a wise move and I've promised to sit down at least once while shopping: (I Won't Eat or Spend While Standing Up.) I've made mistakes in the past by making impulsive decisions about clothing, finance and relationships. A wait-and-see attitude forces me to make mindful choices about my money, wardrobe and life.

Need vs. Wants: Of course, I made sure that other family members purchased what they needed and wanted for the party. But when I thought about what I needed, I looked down at my feet. At the end of the day, I went to the parking lot with a $15 pair of leather clogs (marked down from about $60) to replace an old pleather/plastic pair from Payless ($6 on sale) that I had purchased about two years ago. My old shoes were really beat up. I started to leave them on the street for a homeless person, but my children vetoed my plans. Their arguments: 1) No one could fit into my Cinderella shoes and 2) No homeless person would want such a worn pair of slip-on heels.


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