Marilee's Fundamental (and Fabulous) Pre-Shopping Exercise

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When you’re on a mission to build a smart wardrobe, decision fatigue is your worst enemy. Discovering what you love before you shop helps when it comes time to drop hard-earned dollars You’ll be better equipped to scout out the things that make your heart sing if you identify what you like before you set foot in a store. 

People are consistent. Always. I guarantee you’ll be intuitively drawn to particular wardrobe pieces time and time again. It’s simply the way we’re wired and getting in touch with what we’re instinctively drawn to is important when trying to achieve a cohesive look.

Know what you love before you shop

Your time is best spent by dialling into what you love before you start to shop. You’ll spend less time deliberating in a crowded store. You’ll browse with boosted confidence. Best of all, you’ll avoid expensive purchases on things you think you sort of maybe love and instead invest in hardworking pieces that yield immeasurable joy.

Assess and evaluate your personal style preferences. The goal is that you can identify what you’re consistently drawn to so that you can shop effectively and continue to build a wardrobe on that which you already love. Here are two methods I endorse.

1. Create a Personal Style Binder

Objective: Build an analog resource for style inspiration and educational materials.

I suggested creating a style binder in my 11 Strategic Style Solutions guide. The reason is two-fold. vOne, a binder is a perfect home for the educational resources I provide. Two, a style binder will become a living, breathing resource you can return to over and over again. I do a similar exercise with my start-from-scratch interior design clients and it works like magic. 

Consider this 20th-century Pinterest. I prefer this method to Pinterest only because I find grabbing inspiration from the web can start to feel like drinking from a firehose. There’s too much out there. Give me a comfortable chair, a cup of coffee, and a well curated magazine any day. 

Buy your supplies

I suggest you purchase a simple 3-ring binder, some plastic sleeves to collect images, and 2 or 3 current fashion magazines. You might try Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Marie Claire or InStyle.

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Tear out your favourites

As you flip slowly through the pages, identify the things your eyes are drawn to. Pictures of favorite shoes, jewelry, jackets, boots…whatever catches your eye with delight. This exercise will not only guide you in understanding what you naturally gravitate to, but it‌ ‌will also guide you in your future purchases.

Take time with each page. Is it the fabulous red handbag, the heel of a shoe, the polka dot dress, the bright floral prints, or the muted monochromatic outfits? (Monochromatic simply means varying shades of the same colour.) The more images, the better!  Pull out the pages as you go and create a pile that represents what you love.

Sort images into categories

Sort by whatever consistencies you begin to see. The goal is to identify patterns in what you love. Are you attracted to the same colors? The same kinds of patterns and textures? Similar silhouettes? Similar accessories or metallic finishes? Do you like layered looks or simple and uncluttered outfits? Pay attention to the consistencies that emerge.

Stash as you see fit

Do whatever works best for you based on what you tear out. Many of my clients place pages into sleeves. Some people staple or paste them to looseleaf pages. You do you.

Head to your closet

If you want to take this one step further, once you’re done with your magazine exercise, visit your closet as though it were the first time you were seeing your clothing. In other words, really study what’s hanging there. 

Why do I want you to do this? To see how consistent your current closet is compared with what you sourced in the magazine exercise. Are you seeing a representation of what you intuitively gathered in your search or not? 

Consider the following:

  • Do you see a recurring colour or is there a mix of all kinds of colours?

  • What about patterns?

  • Do you love bling, and see lots of sparkling embellishments on everything from your T-shirts to dresses? 

  • Are you more attracted to solids and neutral colours?

  • Do you love pumps or are you more of a ballerina flats girl?

Make some notes. Where there are similarities, write that down. Where there are discrepancies, write that down too. The goal is to have a closet that reflects what you truly love. If you do this exercise before you build a wardrobe, you’ll have a better idea of what it is you’re shopping for. No more aimless wandering in pursuit of something you can’t describe.

2. Practice on-purpose browsing

Objective: Immerse yourself in the possibilities and take notes.

This exercise is similar to the magazine one but you’ll be thinking on your feet. The principles are the same: observe, identify that which you love, consider the consistencies, and take notes.

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Start by taking the pressure off. You aren’t looking to buy. You are looking for ideas. Tuck your credit cards and cash away and pretend you left them at home.

Be mindful of how the things you see make you feel. The goal is to pay attention to the things you prefer and then look for consistencies in your preferences. Roam through your favourite stores and explore a couple new ones. You might surprise yourself.

Stay alert as you browse, consider the following and make mental notes:

  • What do I like about how the mannequins are styled? 

  • Which colours stand out to me?

  • Which fabrics are most appealing?

  • Am I repeatedly drawn to certain patterns?

  • Which silhouettes am I attracted to again and again?

  • Which accessories are the most captivating?

If you’re feeling up to it, experiment and try a few things on! Don’t worry about saying no to spending. Commend yourself instead! You’re practicing being a smart shopper. I often enter a fitting room by stating that I’m gathering ideas for future purchases, take care to tidy up after myself, and leave with a warm “Thank You, I’m going to keep looking.” There’s no shame in being a conscious consumer.


Discovering what we enjoy wearing takes time and experimentation. As our lifestyles and bodies change, so will our personal style preferences. This is a lifelong journey of discovery, friends.

Saving time, energy, and money requires forethought. As you build your wardrobe, you must pay attention to the things you love when you’re not shopping so you can make effective use of your time and money when you are.

I’d love to hear from you as you complete one or all of the suggested exercises. Do you feel better equipped? I hope so. Drop me a comment and share your story.