Building a versatile wardrobe is important for every busy gal - because when your wardrobe is optimized, your whole world can change. You’ll get dressed easier, you’ll look more refined and polished, and you’ll have no trouble transitioning from business meetings to after-hours events. To get to that level of wardrobe clarity, a bit of shopping is required, which might be frustrating and tedious - especially if you are tight on time and/or budget.
My job as a Wardrobe Stylist and Personal Shopper is to help my clients find the ideal pieces for their curated wardrobes without breaking the bank, and I also spend a lot of time teaching my clients valuable techniques on how to make shopping more stress-free, efficient and even (gasp!) fun.
I’m sharing 5 of my favorite Stylist Shopping Secrets, so take a read – and please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions!
If you’re looking to create a robust wardrobe and don’t know where to start, be sure to check out my article, “How to Build a Wardrobe for Success: “Lusts” and “Musts” to make your closet complete”.
ACE THE LIST
It’s very easy to get distracted if you start shopping with no particular goals in mind. You can wander aimlessly for hours, feeling uninspired without finding anything you love, or worse, you could end up buying random items you won’t easily be able to incorporate into your existing wardrobe. When you go grocery shopping, you usually make a list, don’t you? Well, I recommend applying the same planning strategy to your clothing shopping.
One good way to start building this list is by going through your existing wardrobe, and looking at what you own with a critical eye. Ask yourself: how often do I wear each piece? Does it fit with at least 3 other pieces in my wardrobe? Do I love the way I feel when I wear it? What accessory do I need to make this outfit feel & look complete?
This exercise helps you identify the missing pieces – so you can start jotting down your “needs and wants” list (which you can keep digitally or in a pretty notebook – whatever inspires you). This list should grow with seasonal items, trendy pieces you see celebs and Instagram bloggers showing off, and any items that you need to replace because they’re getting a lot of wear. List-building is a process, so the earlier you start, the more efficient your shopping will be the next time you go. I also find it helpful to make notes on the “priority level” of the items on your list, along with the budget you want to allocate to each item and any other specifics you want to look for (for example, red suede pumps to go with your green skirt). The next time you find yourself in the store, whip out your list and cross-reference it with what you’re eyeing - it will help you stay on course and be more objective with your purchases.
START WITH A VIRTUAL “WINDOW SHOP”
If you’re not a patient shopper, if you’re time-starved, or if shopping is just not your thing, it’s good to think of ways to alleviate the stress of the experience to make it more efficient. One of my favorite tips is to familiarize yourself with brands you love and follow them online to eye their inventory and new arrivals - before actually heading into their stores. One great thing about virtual shopping is that you can do it from the comfort of your couch (with glass of wine in hand), and you can check out all the details up close at your own pace. Plus, some sites even give you suggestions to help you create outfits. Virtual window shopping allows you to come up with a plan of what you’d like to try on in the stores, so that when you arrive, you’re not wasting time walking around, but rather enlisting the help of a knowledgeable sales associate to round up the items for you. PRO TIP: print out the list of items you want to focus on and bring it along so you can more quickly head to the dressing room.
WORK THOSE PERKS
Waiting for items to go on sale may not always work for you. In this case, I recommend a few other tactics to score better pricing. Some stores have loyalty/birthday programs, offering special discounts the month of your birthday (here’s looking at you, Anthro), or they may offer special perks like free shipping, tailoring and reward points for your purchases – which can add up to gift cards and gifts with purchase down the line (like Bloomingdales Loyalist).
Signing up to these in advance of your shopping spree is a great idea – as you’ll also receive notifications of special promotions, new arrivals and outfit inspirations.
USE YOUR VIRTUAL SHOPPING CART
To uncover savings, while you’re looking online at your favorite shopping sites, it’s a great idea to pop the items you’re considering into your cart or wish list. Not only will this become your “Shopping List” for that particular store, it will also allow you to track the prices for some of the items you’re lusting after, as any markdowns or sales will be reflected in the shopping cart when you refresh it periodically. This mostly applies to items that are not an immediate priority on your list, or when you’re willing to wait until they go on sale. Your patience will be rewarded and you can reap some mega savings with this technique.
SAVE SOME LEGWORK
To reduce the time you spend shopping, one thing I recommend is to call the store nearest to you in advance, and ask a sales associate to find the items you’re looking for, confirm they are in stock and then place them on hold (most stores will hold items for 24-48 hours, or at the very least till end of day). This way when you arrive at the store, your clothes will be waiting for you to try on – and you can save time that you would have spent walking around the store hunting (plus you’ll be sure your sizes are available). Additionally, most stores can search inventory across all their locations to check for sizes and availability - so if an item isn’t available at your local store, they’ll give you a list of other stores that might have it, or maybe even ship it to you (sometimes at little or no cost).
Growing up, I hated how I looked. My mother is Irish, Polish, German, and Dutch, while my Dad emigrated from Nigeria. I was a biracial girl living in a majority Caucasian town. Not only was I surrounded by people who looked different than me, but I also rarely felt represented in the media. This lack of community during my adolescence gave me little to no self-esteem, self-worth, or self-confidence, which led me to want to change everything about myself: my hair, the accent I picked up from my African family, and even my skin color.
I remember a particular dream I had when I was younger. It started with me at the hair salon getting my hair relaxed straight. Now, in real life, whenever I would get this treatment, my scalp would feel a burning sensation. It felt like firecrackers were exploding on my head. Sometimes, I wouldn't be able to hold in my cries and would tell the hairstylist to wash the chemicals out immediately. Other times, I would wait it out because I wanted straight hair, and as the saying goes: "beauty is pain."
Going back to my dream, the latter would occur, and I would look in the mirror and see that the chemicals in my hair seeped into my pores and turned my skin white. I thought I looked beautiful. I finally looked like all my classmates, and the celebrities in magazines. I was finally the girl I wanted to be. Then I woke up and saw that my skin didn't magically change overnight. I was disappointed...It was a dream too good to become true.
All these years, I thought I was alone in my struggle, but unbeknownst to me, there are millions of people who feel the same way I did about their skin color, primarily in Southeast Asia. Nina Davuluri, an advocate, public speaker, and Miss America 2014, also has been faced with the pressure to have lighter skin.
Growing up as a first-generation Indian in the United States, the issue of diversity and colorism was not foreign to Nina. Like many of us, she wanted to fit in, and being Miss America meant being the "Girl Next Door," which primarily consisted of being blonde-haired and blue-eyed. Knowing she didn't fit that mold, she wanted to use her voice as an activist to change that narrative. So as the winner of the the 2014 Miss America competition, it was important for her to choose a platform that spotlighted an issue that is typically ignored by the media; one that focused on "Celebrating Diversity Through Cultural Competency."
I had the honor to sit down with Nina and talk about the effects colorism had on her upbringing, her platform as Miss America, and her upcoming documentary that explores the intersection of colorism, skin color, and self-acceptance.
Colorism is defined by Merriam-Webster as prejudice or discrimination, especially within a racial or ethnic group favoring people with lighter skin over those with darker skin. In most groups, the lighter the skin, the higher you are looked at.
"I definitely remember comments from family members relating to my skin color," Nina said. "I grew up with a lot of stereotypes, especially being in a south Asian family where the lighter your skin is, the more beautiful you are considered.
I had relatives say to me, "Don't go out in the sun - you're going to get too dark."
However, it wasn't just comments from her family she had to endure. It surfaced on a national level in 2014 when she was the first contestant of Indian descent to win the Miss America competition. The morning after she won, she remembered reading various newspaper headlines in India that read along the lines of, "Is Miss America too dark to be Miss India?"
Screenshot of Buzzfeed Headline following Nina's Crowning
A study conducted by the World Health Organization found that 61% of women in India regularly use skin lightening creams. In India and many other Southeast Asian countries, a lighter skin tone represents a higher social class. This stems from their history of colonization by Europeans, when fair-skinned people were the rulers and in a higher class. In other words, people who did not have to work all day in the sun and in result, would never get darker skin from the sun. This ideology doesn't only affects India, as according to the same survey, 77% of women in Nigeria use skin lightening products. Nonetheless, in many developing countries, lighter skin is considered the standard of beauty.
"Winning Miss America was really the first time I had a platform to speak out about the skin lightening industry," said Nina. "I think it certainly affects women more than our male counterparts. Not only for our careers, jobs, and opportunities but also for our socioeconomic status. Especially for women living in those countries."
Now, people can only take so much without reaching a breaking point and realizing something needs to change. For me, it was after my hair started to break off. I would wake up at 5 a.m. every day so that I could straighten my kinky curls to fit in with my classmate's long, full, straight hair. It also had to do with the fact that I had gotten my hair chemically straightened since I was nine years old. My once healthy hair was now almost damaged beyond repair and would take nearly ten years to grow back to the same length.
For Nina, she realized something needed to change when she saw a real-life example of colorism affecting someone else's life - a young girl.
"Three years ago, I was in India on behalf of the State Department. I did a lot of work as part of the Obama administration. I was there speaking about empowerment, diversity, education, all the things I advocated for. When I was back in my family's hometown, I remember I saw this woman who clearly came from working in the fields, and she had a daughter who was seven or eight. She stopped at a side street stand and bought a pack of Fair & Lovely for five rupees, one of the most popular skin lightening products that sell on the market. She bought it for her daughter and said to her, 'So you don't have to have the life I have.'"
"I am sure this mother loved her daughter very much, but I think she truly believed that success or opportunities would be better for her if she were lighter-skinned. And this is such a problem, especially in those rural areas and villages," said Nina.
This was the moment that Nina knew this story, and many others had to be shared.
For this reason, Nina and a team from Aurora Vision Films developed the documentary COMPLEXion, a film that explores colorism, diversity, and the skin lightening industry.
"We really wanted this to be a global conversation. To be able to include all groups, colors, all shades, all people, was really important to us as we started really uncovering and unpacking skin and colorism in general. So, what started as several specific instances has involved into something so much bigger and really human acceptance is at the core of it," said Nina.
Colorism doesn't just affect darker skin females, although that is the majority. In a released clip from the upcoming documentary, Nina talks to a fair-skinned Italian man named Matteo, who wishes his skin was darker. Matteo is just one of many stories to be featured that unpack a conversation about the relationship between the environment you grow up and acceptance.
"Depending on what you hear, what you grow up with, what you're constantly seeing in your surroundings, you find a way to either accept that or push back against that ideology" said Nina.
While production for the documentary is still underway, Nina hopes that this documentary brings maximum change not only in the United States but worldwide. We already see this change in the beauty industry. Lines such as Fenty Beauty and Milk Makeup are inclusive to many skin tones and are showing models of all sizes, looks, and colors in their ads.
From my personal experience, more conversations and positive examples are needed, and I believe that this documentary will be a perfect way to achieve both. Growing up, I wish there was a conversation about the relationship between skin color and self-worth and to have known that I wasn't alone in this struggle. And I still wish there were MORE conversations about it. With advocates like Nina Davuluri, films like COMPLEXion, and inclusive beauty lines, I genuinely believe we are about to enter an age of seeing the true beauty of diversity and a society that shows that beauty isn't dependent on skin tone.
To stay up to date on the release date for the documentary, you can follow the documentary's Instagram page.