Q is for Quality: Educational Shopping

Quality is the intersection between personal style and design, craftsmanship, materials, fit, and appropriateness. A garment may be well-made, beautifully designed, of exquisite materials but it’s not quality for the woman it doesn’t fit, if it’s inappropriate for the occasion, or doesn’t suit her style.

Most of us don’t recognize quality. But we can learn.

Learning to recognize quality requires effort, patience, and the willingness to step outside our comfort zones.Tweet This

Money is not required. Too often we waste money on badly designed, ill-fitting garments, of poor workmanship that are inappropriate for the particular use we envision. When we go for quality, we save money and dressing becomes much easier.

Here’s an exercise that will help:

  • You will need an honest friend who also wants quality. You will also need a notebook or a smart phone.
  • You and you friend must each practice saying, “No thank you” in a calm, pleasant voice. It’s best to express no in a positive manner: “Thank you very much. We’re just looking right now.” OR “Thank you very much. We’ll let you know if we need help.” (Be aware: many sales assistants hear “Thank you,” but miss, “No” and think you’re saying yes.)
  • Google the most expensive women’s wear shop in your area. Barney’s, Bergdorf Goodman, or Neiman Marcus have stores in many cities. Otherwise, Google “high-end department stores” + the name of your city.
  • Choose a Saturday (or weekday) morning to go shopping (not buying) at the most expensive women’s wear shop in your area.
  • Dress in a stylish, casual outfit such as jeans, a tee, and a jacket/cardi with either pretty ballet flats, sandals, or boots. (Feel free to wear heels if you find them comfortable.) Wear accessories (simple is fine) and makeup (lip gloss is fine). The goal is to blend in with other shoppers.

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  • Spend about one-half to two hours with your friend looking at clothes and shoes on floors that sell haute couture/luxury designers: Akris, Armani, Hugo Boss, Helmut Lang, Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester, Arnold Scaasi, Isabel Toledo, Ralph Lauren, Oscar de la Renta, Chanel, etc.
  • DO NOT LOOK AT PRICE TAGS. (You are learning, not buying.)
  • If you think you’ll be tempted to buy, leave credit/debit cards at home or have your friend hold them.
  • Sit down together for lunch or coffee afterwards and discuss the experience.

Your first educational shopping trips may be nerve wracking. Remember, you’re with a friend and the assistants won’t throw you out. (When I was 15, I went to the priciest shop in San Francisco to try on graduation dresses though I still wore a casual, paint-smeared outfit from making scenery for a school production. The assistant was happy to help me.)

On your first trip, just plan to look at the outfits on the mannequins and at colours, patterns, and fabrics. Let your fingers gently glide over fabrics, sniff them, then check the fiber content tag in the neckline, at the waist of trousers, or in the lower part of a side seam. You might be surprised at the way different types of cotton, silk, wool, rayon, even polyester feel and smell.

On your second trip, Look at stitching, finishing, and details. Try on shoes during your third. On another occasion, try a jacket or coat. Eventually, change into a dress or outfit. (Let the assistant help you and be prepared to graciously say, “No.”)

Once changed, look at your friend’s face first. Trust her initial reaction. It doesn’t matter if it’s positive or negative. Not everything will work. The purpose of the trip is to learn. Look at yourself in the mirror. Trust your own initial response. Are you smiling with pleasure? Do you want to twirl? Are you making faces at your reflection?

Take trips each month and let yourself become accustomed to the experience of quality. Take notes. How does expensive cotton feel? Cashmere? A 100% wool jacket or coat? Which colours attract you? What makes you feel prettiest?

Notice the jacket that seems to improve your posture. Learn from the skirt that hits the slimmest part of your legs. Laugh at the silly dress that fits over your hips and hangs off your bodice. Be appalled at the way a bulky sweater looks and at the glorious feel of soft yarn. Trust your senses and your responses.

And stay tuned for more on learning to recognize quality.

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