What my mom taught me about shopping for clothes

I have been thinking about this post for a few months now, but it’s taken me awhile to flesh out my thoughts and actually write the post. My more introspective “behind the blog” posts take me the longest to think through and write, but they often turn out to be amongst my favorite posts.

The trigger incident for this post happened this past summer when I was with some friends and mentioned the no-clothes-shopping challenge, “Shop Free for 3,” that I participated in. It immediately sparked a conversational thread among my friends about why they dislike shopping — and actively avoid it if they can. So a ban on no clothes-shopping for a few months seemed totally normal to them, whereas for me, it was a challenge. (Although it IS easier to not shop once you get into the habit of not, you know, shopping.)

Shop graphic

“Shop” by Steve Snodgrass is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I totally get how shopping can turn into a traumatic experience, as it’s all wrapped up in body image and how stores so often limit the range of clothing sizes and discriminate or show bias against persons of different sizes. But then I started wondering about my monthly clothing budget posts, and how those posts could be viewed from a reader who doesn’t like shopping. Because here’s the thing:  I realized that I am a person who DOES enjoy shopping for clothes, and that’s the perspective I have when I write those posts. Are these posts totally unrelatable if you don’t like to shop? (I’m actually asking here. Please leave a comment and share your perspective!)

Continuing down this reflective path, I started thinking about WHY I actually like shopping for clothes, or at least the experience of shopping, and what in my life has contributed to that attitude. And I’ve been returning to that path off and on over the past few months. And I believe it all goes back to my mom and what she taught me about shopping for clothes.

Shopping as a social experience

The main reason I think I enjoy shopping is because I see it as an experience, one that is social. This stems back to my childhood. I didn’t grow up shopping a lot; rather, shopping was infrequent and therefore a treat. My mom and I would go shopping together once a year, before school started, to get my school clothes for the year. If I grew a lot that year, then a mid-year shopping trip was in order. When I transitioned into high school, Texas — or at least the county I grew up in — started doing “no sales tax” weekends in August, which also facilitated this kind of shopping. So shopping was a special event to look forward to.

And because my mom and I were together, it was a social experience, and an enjoyable one. My mom and I were very close back then, and I am grateful that we continue to be very close today. I had a personal champion with me, someone I knew who loved and supported me. And my mom was honest about whether or not she liked something. That combination — an honest opinion coming from someone who I knew loved me 100% — reinforced for me that if something didn’t fit or look right, that it wasn’t about me as a person, it was about the clothes. In a way, that then served as positive body reinforcement, something vital to establish at a young age, in my opinion.

And that kind of honesty is still something I seek as I now primarily go shopping for clothes with my husband! Shopping, therefore, is STILL a social experience for me. I do not like to go clothes shopping alone, because I am used to — and prefer! — someone there with me, not only as support, but also to provide honest opinions and reactions to clothing I try on.

Try things on

That’s another point:  my mom was insistent that I try. things. on. That was part of the deal. How could you know if something fit if you didn’t try it on?! And take several sizes with you to the dressing room, just in case you’ve grown a size or two. Again, that message:  if something doesn’t fit, it’s the clothes, not you! And if something doesn’t fit, move on to the next thing.

Librarian for Life + Style | Dressing room pics from Kohl's shopping trip

Trying things on while clothes shopping

Have a plan

My mom and I would usually do all our clothes shopping for the year on a single day or over a weekend, so that meant we had to have a plan and maximize our time shopping. So we went to stores that would:

  1. most likely have my size
  2. have a lot of options and sizes
  3. fit my style and age range, and
  4. if possible, also have sales and/or coupons.

We also had to be efficient while at the store, so I got used to the idea of both of us scanning the store first for possibles, choosing items in multiple sizes, and then trying on as many things as possible at one time in the dressing room. This is still how I operate while shopping. My mom taught me that method, and I use it even today. And I continue to prefer brick-and-mortar shopping over online shopping, because I still feel the need to try clothes on.

Shopping was not without its frustrations, of course, then or now. I still get tired trying on clothes — I do reach a threshold of “I cannot try on one more item!” — and I have been known to get cranky if I really like something that my shopping partner does not. But looking back over those shopping excursions with my mom, I still remember them above all as enjoyable experiences. (I have no idea if my mom remembers them as enjoyable, hah!) And I’m grateful that my mom — whether she realized it or not — instilled within me body-positive lessons and a positive outlook about shopping for clothes.

Summing up

Upon reflection, here is a summary of those lessons that I learned, from my personal perspective:

  • Shopping for clothes is a social experience, so bring a buddy with you if at all possible.
  • Be honest with yourself and seek out and expect honest opinions from others who go shopping with you.
  • Shopping is a means to an end, so have a goal in mind when you go shopping. Do not go shopping for the sake of shopping.
  • Try everything on and focus on fit.
  • If possible, take multiple sizes of an item with you to the dressing room.
  • If something doesn’t fit, don’t take it personally. It’s NOT YOU, it’s the clothing.

That sums up some of my personal experiences shopping for clothes, and why, overall, I have always been able to view clothes-shopping as a positive thing. To be clear, I am NOT giving personal advice on how to shop — just relating how I view it, and why. And I’m not saying that I’ve always had body-positive thoughts; believe me, I’ve gone through my share of angst-ridden teen years. And I wrote in this post, entitled “Growing pains,” about how growing five inches in one summer stunted my body image for years. But reflecting back, I truly believe that my early shopping experiences with my mom laid a body-positive foundation when it comes to shopping, a foundation I was able to find my way back to as an adult. I am now a woman who generally does enjoy shopping for clothes — as well as the end result! — but I realize that it is not the case for everyone.

Also, perhaps reading this post will also help provide context to regular readers (as always, thank you!) for my monthly shopping posts, and why I get excited at scoring a good deal… or why I tend to focus on shopping goals, like when I shopped for maxidresses, for black jeans, and for cognac wedges.

Librarian for Life + Style | Maxidress shopping

Last but not least

Last, but certainly not least, I want to thank you, Mom, for not only what you taught me about clothes-shopping and a positive body image, but also for a million other things, including reading and supporting this style blog of mine. I know you read this blog every day — and more importantly, you let me know that you enjoy reading this blog every day! — and I truly appreciate it, and you.

Mental hugs, with love. ♥

Librarian for Life + Style | Me and my mom, 2013

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4 thoughts on “What my mom taught me about shopping for clothes

  1. Jo-Lynne Shane

    I love how you describe shopping as a social experience. My mom and I also used to enjoy shopping together, and I think that’s why I love it to this day. And this right here is so spot on: if something doesn’t fit, it’s the clothes, not you! And if something doesn’t fit, move on to the next thing.

  2. Caroline

    Excellent post! …And your mom looks a lot like my husband’s mother, she was from Germany.
    I’m the complete opposite that I used to be with shopping. When I was younger I had a serious shopping ADDICTION, especially in my twenties. It was a weekly if not daily occurrence to pop into the mall (alone) and check out the sales and put anything and everything, including accessories, on my store credit cards–huge MISTAKE. I was obsessed with my looks at that time and I was a personal trainer–super thin and muscular. I had to ALWAYS look perfect in my mind.
    On top of that -and not helpful to my habits- I sold high-end designer shoes online – Prada, Miu Miu, Manolo, Gucci, etc. I still have literally HUNDREDS of (EXPENSIVE) shoes and clothes that literally sit and collect dust – All for nothing, I really don’t care anything about them anymore. Luckily, lol, I’ve grown to detest shopping over the last 10 years or so (I’m 37).
    I can’t stand going in person to a store, I think it’s due to being burned out early on and getting it out of my system and also realizing how much of a waste of money it all was–I’m so thankful I realized this at a young age! Plus I find the whole ordeal of shopping very time consuming, nerve-wracking, and too much of a hit or miss. I only shop if I absolutely need an item of clothing (rare)–and typically look online first–at discount stores and only in Tall (I’m 5’9.5″). I hardly bother with regular sizes because I’ve found they’re just too short all over, and also too tight in the shoulders and too large in the waist. Really, I can’t recall the last time I’ve been to an actual clothing store or a mall, LOL, it’s been YEARS.
    Also in my experience, I’ve learned that designer clothing is unfortunately a complete rip off, even on sale–they’re made from the same materials (for the most part) that the regular brands are. Clothing in general has gotten cheaper and poorer in quality over the years, as you may have noticed. The only things I’d ever consider splurging on are coats, dresses, and boots/shoes – preferably American made. 🙂

    1. Jen @ Librarian for Life and Style Post author

      Wow, thanks for sharing! It’s so interesting, the different journeys we go on and the different experiences we all have. Also, I loved the comment that my mom looks like your mother-in-law, who’s from Germany. My mother’s side of the family is German-American! 🙂


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