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7 Rules of Shopping, From a Seasoned Expert

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Zara in Seoul. Photo via Zara.
Zara in Seoul. Photo via Zara.

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The great thing about having shopping as part of your job description is that you get to do all sorts of fun things and tell yourself they're in the name of research. And it's not even especially a lie: the more shops I go to, the more I understand about retail, and what makes a good store. And I'm always checking out everyone's style, which is unstoppable in New York. But mostly—who am I kidding?—I'm looking for stuff to buy. And I've learned a few things along the way, which I will share with you now.—Kim France

Eileen Fisher in NYC. Photo via WWD.

1. The skinny mirror is my friend
I used to think there were few things worse than checking yourself out in a dressing room mirror, loving what you saw, and then a moment later discovering that the mirror was strategically propped against the wall in that magical way that takes ten pounds off everyone who stands before it. Then I realized skinny mirrors are wonderful things, and here's why: most of us are deeply judgmental when we look at our reflections. We get a little body dysmorphic, and choose to see a version of ourselves that's bigger than we actually are. So when we look into a skinny mirror, it just evens things out. Brilliant.

A Mulberry sample sale. Photo via Racked NY.

2. Sample sales are not my friend
Even the most highly organized, invitation-only sample sales have a baseline manic vibe, and that can make a person go one of two ways. The first group responds to the mania as though it were mere background noise; they enter a Zone and can not be distracted from their mission. They have done their homework, and somehow zero right in on the most desirable and scarce items. Then there are people like me; normally rational individuals who suddenly lose touch with concepts like budgets and personal taste, and fail to compute that a $1500 shearling marked down to $1000 is still a $1000 shearling. I typically keep my wits about me just enough to get out without doing anything more than minor damage, but it's come dangerously close to bad news on more than one occasion, so I've had to revoke my sample sale privileges. It's better this way.

3. Don't be afraid to size up
I once heard that Donna Karan tells her customers this, and I think it's brilliant advice. There is no crazier reason not to buy something than because it doesn't fit you in your size, and yet I see women do this all the time. First of all, sizing is all over the map these days: I've tried on pieces by the exact same designer in the same size and had them fit differently, and I'll bet you have too. And if I didn't size up, I'd never buy certain European brands: I just count on sizing up at places like Maje, Sandro, and Zara, and if I don't have to, it's a pleasant surprise. Also, an awful lot of the time, the next size up is just going to look better. There's no shame in this, ladies.

Photo via Shutterstock

4. Never buy jeans in stores
Some time back, Levi's commissioned a study to discover how women felt about shopping for jeans. Is it at all surprising that respondents used words like "soul sucking" and "loathsome" to describe the experience, and put it right up there in terms of desirability with swimsuit shopping? When one takes into account how much we all love and rely upon our jeans, it seems especially unfair that we should so loathe the procurement of them. But the fact remains: nothing can flatter like a great pair, or accentuate the negative like a bad one, and the only way to differentiate between the two is through trial and error.

My solution has been to avoid stores entirely, and shop for jeans online. A drastic step, but one that I've found very dignity-restoring. If more stores followed the lingerie boutique model and had big dressing rooms with real doors, and robes to wear while the sales help searched out different sizes and styles, I might feel different. But too many dressing rooms seem custom-made to create feelings of vulnerability: they're cramped, unflatteringly lit, and separated from the store's customers by a curtain that never totally does the job 100 per cent. Much better to import desirable pairs to the comfort of my bedroom. I am well aware that this might sound nuts, but if you have a decent idea of what works on you, and are loyal to a couple of brands in particular, I'm telling you, it's the way to go. Yes, it's a slight pain to return the discards, but pretty much everyone does free shipping both ways, which makes it totally worth it.

Fitting room of horrors. Photo via Shutterstock.

5. Choose shopping partners wisely
Some people like to shop alone; others require company. I can go either way, but when I do choose to go with somebody else, it's only a very good friend. Shopping with somebody you're just friend friends with never works, or hasn't for me, because shopping may be superficial, but it is also oddly personal. When you're with good friends, you share a frequency that allows you to do the circuit of a store in roughly the same amount of time; to know it's time to cut bait on a snore of a boutique with just a glance. Good friends tend to like the same places as you, or at least happily tolerate the places that are more your taste than theirs. They like to explore the same new places as you. And, of course, they can always be counted upon to provide the unvarnished truth regarding whatever you're just stepped out of the dressing room wearing.

6. Leave no mission to the last minute
Nothing drains the fun out of shopping quicker than being on a must-find mission. The minute you have to go looking for a midnight blue heel that needs to be a perfect match for a bridesmaid's dress is the very minute all midnight blue heels seem to disappear from the shelves. This, mystifyingly, never fails to be the case. Whenever such a circumstance presents itself to me, I give myself the advantage of time: last-minute panic only makes things worse. I also initiate all searches online, even if I'm just scoping out local stores to save myself a trip.

Inside Nicholas Kirkwood. Photo via Racked NY.

7. Remember who you are
Some stores are incredibly good at pulling you into their whole gestalt. I can not enter Nicholas Kirkwood without immediately becoming somebody else, somebody with a far more fabulous life who requires cheeky, bright heels for every day of the week. The last time I was there, I all but had my credit card out for a pair of orange and pink chevron-striped kitten heels when I remembered that my life does not currently require orange and pink chevron-striped kitten heels. I beat a polite but hasty retreat to the exit, and just in time. This has happened to you somewhere too, no? It is not our fault. Designers create entire—deeply appealing—universes inside their stores, and we are sometimes all but powerless to resist them. But unless we want to end up $700 poorer and in possession of an ensemble that incorporates trousers and a kilt, we must.
· Girls of a Certain Age [Official Site]
· My Eight Favorite Boutiques Anywhere, Shoppable at Home [Racked]
· Lucky Magazine Founder and Former EIC Kim France Is a New Racked Contributor [Racked]