Monday, January 1, 2018

2017 Shopping Budget Roundup

Presently feeling very uninspired about how I'd like to dress. I suppose what death by elocution posts, like these recent images, are usually the closest thing. My actual wardrobe on workdays is mostly dresses like in this post with whatever shoes, coat, and legwear are appropriate for the temperature.

Happy new year to all! I hope that everyone had a wonderful holiday season, and that better things will come in 2018. Today's post is a reflection on last year's fashion spending and my plans for this year's budget. (See my equivalent posts for 2016 here and 2015 here.) A separate "best buys" and "worst buys" post is also coming in the next week or two.

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Fashion Budget 2017 (and Earlier) 

Towards the end of the year, it became very clear that I wasn't going to come in under my planned maximum shopping budget of $1800 for 2017. Indeed, I sailed way past that number, coming in at $2883.12 for the year. I'd accumulated a backlog of things I felt I needed for work, and also indulged in some things that I thought were pretty. Note that, as with other years, I didn't track things like underthings and socks, though those are a negligible expense most years. Now that I've been blogging for three years, and closely tracking my shopping for most of that time, I have quite a bit of data on my own shopping to analyze. For the last few years I've spent:

  • 2015: $2729
    • In hindsight, this was a silly number for someone who was a student most of that year. When I started this blog, I was an often-foolishly extravagant student. Even if I had read minimalism blogs for a while, and used the combination of You Need a Budget and KonMari-style decluttering to great effect in cutting down other categories of unconscious, impulsive spending, getting my fashion spending and shopping under control has been a longer, ongoing process, one that can be charted through my history of monthly budget posts. Even by the middle of 2015, I thought there was progress, though it's not been completely linear. Also, to this day, I'm still far from immune to sudden unwise shopping impulses, that sometimes leave me rather befuddled later on, if I end up ordering and keeping the item.
  • 2016: $1545.99 + $400 = $1945.99
    • I did my budget a little differently in 2016, with a tighter limit than 2015, but no limit for an "off budget" pair of work shoes and a new suit. I wanted to leave myself open to buying, say, a Brooks Brothers suit or something more expensive. I ended up with J.Crew Factory suits and the Cole Haan Catalina Wedges instead, which were within the average range of what I could reasonably spend. By the end of the year, I generally felt like I had a good handle on my shopping, with no particularly noteworthy mistakes. Now, with the benefit of additional time, I see that a few more purchases proved to be less wise, my Everlane Modern Point shoes, for instance. They just won't break in, and are a little odd to walk in. As it turns out, the Ann Taylor and Loft sweaters from that year also held up very poorly. Mysterious holes abound, after very few washes. 
  • 2017: $2883.12 
    • I feel like I backslid a bit this year in terms of my progress with more conscious shopping. It may be understandable, as my lifestyle and work wardrobe needs went through major changes. My first biglaw firm was a permissive business casual environment, where I rarely saw anyone I worked with (we conferred by phone or email), and it was going to be a while before I actually needed business formal. As I got my new job quite late, I generally shopped as if I was going back. The new place is ostensibly similar in dress code, but because it's much smaller, I don't feel like pushing the envelope as much towards the casual end of the spectrum. I have business-formal occasions significantly more often. It was a big change, and I addressed it with a lot of shopping. 

Shopping-Related "Growing Pains" 

This past year, I also felt afflicted by some "growing pains" in terms of knowing which retailers or brands I could rely on. Out of the many fashion-interested, minimalism-leaning bloggers out there, I generally feel like one of the less discerning in terms of where I shop. I've gone on record saying that I thought many criticisms of "fast fashion" being so low quality as to actually be unwearable after a season or two were overblown. Only a year ago, I said I actually preferred fast fashion-y sweaters from Loft for work, because machine-washable unfussy-ness was really important to me. I should have issued a retraction sooner because, well, all the Loft and Ann Taylor sweaters I bought that year held up terribly, even as pieces from longer ago are still mostly fine, and continue to be in weekly rotation.

It left me feeling adrift, because those brands had been a mainstay of my work wardrobe since I started needing one. They were fine-ish as recently as 2014, but suddenly are not fine at all in terms of quality, value for money, and design. (It doesn't help that they have both leaned hard into cold shoulders, oddly placed ruffles, and strange sleeve details.) I don't know where to look to next for my work clothing needs.

I enjoy online window shopping for recreation. It's fun to browse pretty things, even items that don't fit into my lifestyle. For better or worse, because it sometimes leads to impulsive ordering (and tons of returns), it brings me joy, and I used to get a good amount of that joy from Loft, Ann Taylor, J.Crew, and the like. Other people generally got fed up with those brands and their quality issues much sooner than I, but by now, even I see it, how between the design choices and the quality problems, there's barely a single item per season that I could even bring myself to order and try on. Combine that with the sheer volume of sale emails, where that 40% off absolutely everything sale is no longer a rare thing, that I might need to wait a month or longer for in order to snag something particular, and I end up even more confused as a customer. It also makes their product feel even cheaper, knowing that they definitely plan to sell it all at 40% off or more.

Once my current set of work staples, all those Ann Taylor and Loft dresses, wears out (which should take far more than a year), I'm not sure what I'll do to refill it. I haven't gotten around to writing about my MM.LaFleur shopping experience, but spoiler alert, it's not that (mostly petite-unfriendly, generally overpriced). Talbots doesn't seem like the right direction, and I find Brooks Brothers stodgy, and difficult to shop from online to boot. Most people in my demographic who used to buy Theory haven't been impressed with their value for money proposition for a while, nor is their sizing likely to work for me anyway. In short, I'm at a loss.

Fashion Budget 2018

For 2018, I have two shopping-related goals, first to shop much less in terms of total number of items acquired, and second to, when finally choosing to buy something, have some of the "joy" back, to think that this item is beautiful, and that I am really enthusiastic about it. My closet is in a good place, with all of my actual needs, save for a pair of jeans, currently fulfilled by items that are in pretty good shape. Any new shopping I do will really just be for "fun", unless something unexpectedly gets worn out and needs replacing. I haven't felt that instant excitement and "wow" factor I'm hoping for with too many items in the last year, maybe just that Marc by Marc Jacobs hobo (similar) and the Ted Baker wrap coat.

It's still helpful to me to keep an absolute upper limit on my shopping in mind for the year, so it's tentatively $3000/year (approximately $250/month, though I never worry month to month as long as I stay under for the year). It's a luxurious, indulgent budget, even as a private sector attorney, but I'm secretly actually hoping to come in significantly under, while still finding a small number of things I really enjoy. I'm not due for, or particularly inclined to desiring, any big ticket items for now, no super-fancy handbags or coats, so significantly under the maximum should be possible.

Any ideas on where to look next for workwear staples? Anyone else feel like the number of sales and promotions have gotten entirely out of control, even compared to this time last year, when sales were already rampant? The reliance on discounting and the extent to which customers have been trained to wait for sales are hardly new phenomenon, though it still feels like a growing trend with some specific mall brands that didn't used to do it quite as often. 

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