Hair & Fashion

Shopping as an Art Form

photo by Maureen Lunn at

My sister-in-law, Sheryl, possesses the uncanny ability to walk into any store and put together an unbelievably amazing outfit from random separates. To watch her fingers dance across the racks, shifting and sorting, occasionally holding things up to herself, keeping and discarding, making complex decisions is truly incredible. It doesn’t hurt that she is a size 0 – what doesn’t look good on a size 0? – but still, she really knows how to shop.

For a long time, Sheryl was outfitting three children, herself, as well as her husband. I have always told her that she should be a professional shopper because then she could get paid to spend all her time in the mall, but it’s not a joke. Shopping for five people takes time. A lot of time. Oh, and did I mention that my sister-in-law would do all this putting together of perfect outfits while talking to friends on her phone?

I have to really concentrate.

Really. Concentrate.

I do not have Sheryl’s super-power. Unless I see the outfit fully formed on some mannequin, I’m pretty lost.

My friend Ellie also has shopping super-powers. That girl can find a bargain like nobody’s business. One day we were looking for boys’ boxer briefs. (Exciting, I know.) I quickly picked up a package of Fruit of the Loom marked 4 pairs for $5.99; I was ecstatic. Meanwhile, Ellie moved two feet beyond the display to a box marked “Clearance” and found 6 pairs of the same brand for $4.99. Suddenly, I was less than enthused with my find, but content that I didn’t miss out on the better deal a mere 24 inches away. Just the other day, Ellie and I happened to be at an amusement park with our children, when she ran into someone who asked, “Hey, do you happen to know where I might find a fanny pack?” (I actually thought this was a totally ridiculous question and almost said, Nobody should know where to buy fanny packs in 2010, but, seeing as I didn’t know this woman, I refrained.) Not only did Ellie know where to find a fanny pack — (“Wal-Mart, right next to the women’s underwear”) — but she then produced the aforementioned fanny pack. Who carries around a spare fanny pack? Ellie, Lord love her.

Meanwhile, another friend — Sara — has been busily planning her wedding. Sara found her wedding dress for $9 at a consignment shop. When she noticed it on the rack, it still had the original tags on it and had been dramatically slashed from its price of $1925.00! Okay, so what if it was a 2005 model? That makes it vintage! Sara’s wedding is going to be phenomenal, not only because two people who really love each other are getting hitched, but also because of all the little touches that she keeps finding and buying for bubbkes (with coupons from Michael’s and A.C. Moore, of course). Sara has long been the “The Queen of Curb” and has collected amazing items for her homes over the years from items that others decided to throw away. Several years back, she found a gorgeous buffet on garbage day which she promptly slid into the back of her car. I absolutely covet this piece of furniture, but I must confess, had I seen it roadside, I probably would have just driven right by.

When I was in New York City not too long ago, my friend (and favorite City Mouse) Nancy brought me to Canal Street, at my request. If being on Canal Street is what Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder feels like, I totally get it now. I was completely over-stimulated. Every where I looked there was something to see, to touch, someone making noise, someone offering something. People wanted us to go into super-secret back rooms and make decisions about items in under two minutes. I could barely move. Where I was paralyzed, Nancy was cool. She knew what she wanted and how to find it. Nancy came forth victorious; I wound up with 12 self-adhesive moustaches for my son to bring with him to summer camp.

What is wrong with me that I do not have the ability to shop like these people? When did they give the lessons on how to really shop? Was I absent that day?

Are you a good shopper? If so, where did you learn how to do it? And can you share some tips?

10 thoughts on “Shopping as an Art Form

  1. This has never been a strong point for me. Hence I bring my friend Robin, so she can tell me if it looks good together. I am, however, really good at finding deals on anything. I do not pay full price for most things that I purchase =) I guess you could call me the deal seeker…

  2. I hate shopping. Unless I am buying gifts for someone else or know exactly what I’m going into the store for. Otherwise I’m overwhelmed. A lot of times I’ll make up something I want (like, an outfit) in my head and then get super-frustrated when I can’t find it. My sister is an expert shopper. I usually call her when I’m looking for something.

  3. Mediocre, at best. Sometimes I get lucky with bargains – but I don’t shop enough to know when my favorite stores start marking down, etc. I try to take a list to help me avoid impulse buys – though it doesn’t always work! But yes, I know just what you mean – 12 stick-on moustaches vs. fabulous furniture….that’s me! I’d better go shave. . .

  4. I grew up with a mother who shops like the women you describe in your blog. Although compared to some, I have great skill at bargin hunting and finding amazing pieces at stores most of my friends wouldn’t venture into, I do not consider myself an expert shopper for everything. My talent lies within the decorating field. Weather it be for a party or my home. Clothes shopping makes me nervous and I seem to always come home with the same things. Having 3 girls to shop for and a mother who has a keen eye for how they are “put together”, I must score the catalogs and internet for ideas and make elaborate lists for each girl.

  5. My shopping tip is to find a marvelous shopper and become her friend. She will love to do it and make you feel like a million bucks. I have a friend like that. It’s a real knack some people have and they select what really looks good for you. Now that’s a FRIEND.

  6. Are you sure you haven’t borrowed MY sister-in-law? How many cellphone attached size zeros with shopping sonar are there, anyway? Fingers dancing across racks = great image.

  7. It has to be the right day for me! Sometimes, I can go in see something straight away & bam! Another day, I can spend ALL day wandering around & come back empty handed!

  8. The key to my success as a shopper has been to really believe that I will find the perfect outfit. I believe it with the conviction described in the book “The Secret,” and it usually works. I shopped for my wedding dress two months before the wedding. I didn’t even bother to look in my hometown. I knew I would find it in New York, and that It would be well within my budget. The second store I went in had the dress — for $190. It was a prom gown. A very chic one. I had the whole weekend left to enjoy (and search for accessories).

  9. As you described your sister-in-law and your friend Ellie, I can honestly say I am a good shopper. I have always been able to find an outfit within ten minutes or less and would never understand why other people complained about going shopping until someone really explained to me it really is not as easy as it has been for me. Working in the mall for almost three years is what I think taught me where to shop and how to put outfits together so they are affordable and still look classy. A tip to buying really affordable clothing is shopping at the end of the season to find affordable clothes for the next year. For example, a perfect time to shop for winter clothes is January. It might sound crazy, but working in the mall has showed me that every year since stores are very low on sales the prices for clothing and shoes are marked down drastically. For instance, I have bought coats that were originally 8o dollars for ten dollars, and last year I was able to buy boots for four dollars. I had a friend say to me: “Most of the stuff you buy be out of style by the time you would be able to wear it again.” But in reality, I have noticed clothing trends do not change too much to the next year, so it does not have much effect. I hope that tip helps for when you choose to go shopping again.

    1. Zuleika:
      You are a better woman than I am when it comes to shopping! I am truly clueless. It is true, you do always look really well put together. You will never hear me say “I found this for $9.99!” like my sister-in-law does. (Well, you might, but that’s because I bought the item at Target, and it was marked at $9.99! Meanwhile, she will get the same item for $2.99. It’s incredible to me. By the way, did you notice that I wear primarily black turtlenecks and jeans? Yeah. It’s my uniform.

      Where do you work? Can you teach this teacher? 😉

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