Remember that Sophie Kinsella book-turned-film Confessions of a Shopaholic? I used to dream of attending sample sales and finding a pair of red stiletto boots that I would buy through a combination of impulsive rationale (an oxymoron or just a moron?) and obsessive jealousy at the thought of someone else getting her feet into them before I did. Although I could never hope to actually attend a New York designer sample sale – yet – during the decade between the ages of fourteen and twenty-four, I amassed an impressive collection of clothing. I use the adjective impressive only to describe the sheer diversity of items I had collected – back then, quantity still outweighed quality.
Early Eighties maroon leather boots that were in desperate need of resoling, a pair of faded denim flares that I was never tall enough to don without heels, an indecently tiny United Colours of Benetton bikini that I unashamedly wore from size 6 to size 10, a rather moth-eaten fur coat from the 1940s, a salmon pink men’s silk shirt with a torn pocket, a pair of navy patent leather platforms from the late Seventies that cost me R10.00 at a flea market, a faded yellow Mamelodi Sundowns t-shirt from the old Greenpoint Market, a thrifted Louis Vuitton baguette bag that to this day I have no idea if it was genuine or not, beige suede boots that I spraypainted (yes…) purple and then indigo blue and all manner of creations that I coerced my mother into making me – most notably a batwing dress in monochrome leopard print that plunged all the way down my front and, with my cropped blonde hair at the time, made me resemble a go-go dancer from 1983.
It was this hodgepodge of habiliments that I was faced with each time I got dressed – a collection that I was originally very attached to, but eventually began to tire of. Although I’m unsure of when trend turned to personal style, as I’ve always had a fondness for thrifted pieces and fashions past, it was around my twenty-fifth birthday that I embraced that most millennial of movements – minimalism. Though contradictory as that observation may be (since we are the generation who wants it all, now), I feel connected to the less-is-more approach – from wardrobe to way of life. Don’t worry, I’m not going to go full Marie Kondo on you now; instead let’s stick to the former – my wardrobe. Getting rid of the items I described above plus so many more was definitely a cathartic action. While I was sure to keep my more valuable vintage pieces (the fur coat was not one of them), it felt good to send off the majority of my closet to both charity and a few willing buyers and begin building it again from scratch. This of course has to be seen as a process – just like buying furniture for your home. Purchase everything at one store in one go and you will compromise your personal style. It’s all about honing your own unique taste in clothing through carefully considered choices and looking at your wardrobe as a long-term investment. Although the perks of this is that you’re able to wear your investment as soon as you’ve got it home – or sooner. In saying that, I also don’t advocate putting a mad shopping spree on your credit card or store account – I don’t have either of these and so stick to the “buy the best you can afford at the time or suck it up and save for it” rule. Again, treat your wardrobe as you would an investment. Don’t make hasty decisions and learn to shop the sales like a pro. The first step in a successful sale venture is to know your uniform – what styles suit your body type, what colours compliment your skin tone, what does the particular look you have in mind say about you? A uniform is a small selection of clothing that you know always make you look your best. Perhaps you might change up shirts or shoes, but you’re basically retaining the same foundation in every outfit you wear. This might be blue jeans and a crisp white shirt, a classic shift dress or a skinny polo neck paired with high-waisted peg trousers – the point is that your uniform ensures that never again will you have a “I don’t know what to wear moment”. To build on that, if you adopt a uniform, you’re also unlikely to ever have a bad or misguided fashion moment ever again.
Considering the fact that clothing and fashion are the first introduction of ourselves that we make to the world, it’s important to make sure yours is a positive one. While simply being confident and happy in your own skin is definitely a starting point, what we choose to wear often defines us and in an increasingly aesthetically-driven environment, this can be just as important as personality. I also believe that our choices of clothing represents who we are – and that we invariably change, adapt and grow into the dynamic environment that makes up today. Thus, while my love for the entire wardrobe from films like Almost Famous and Boogie Nights is likely to remain unchanged, I’m also less likely to drop a few hundred Rand on a Penny Lane shearling coat the next time I go thrifting. Although if you ever see one, hit a girl up.
As for finding my own style, on a personal level I will confess that I have steadfastly remained inspired by the 1980s – albeit I’m now seduced by the sharp lines, oversized styles and neutral palette of the period from 1986 to around 1993. I have also always been happiest in trousers which is why the late Thirties to the mid-Forties has always intrigued me – all those sharply tailored suits and aggressive shoulders paired with stained lips and sculpted brows. Taking my inspiration yet again from film, I’ve graduated to the austere style of Sean Young’s character in Blade Runner, to the subtly sexual androgyny of Kim Basinger in 9 and a Half Weeks, to the video vamps in Bryan Ferry’s Slave to Love. Voluminous men’s shirts, sleek leather loafers, peg-shaped trousers, oversized coats, utilitarian denim and chunky silver earrings make up a goodly portion of what I now look for in clothing – new or thrifted. This look also ties in well with my body shape; I’m an apple (stick arms and legs, pot belly, zero waist) and so spend most of my time on the hunt for clothing that will play up my good bits – my legs – and disguise the areas I’ve created through my penchant for eating all the toasted cheese sandwiches. These days, my “uniform” I almost steadfastly stick to neutrals of black, ivory, optical white, navy blue, beige, tobacco, chocolate, camel, charcoal and champagne, with the occasional pop of a terracotta wrap dress or a pair of palazzo pants in oxblood to shake things up. I’ve found that I’m no longer attracted to print, to mixed colours, to acid brights. In fact, bar a classic Twenties paisley print, a Fifties floral or retro Seventies geometry, I’m not altogether keen on any kind of pattern at all.
Which brings me back to what I was originally saying about shopping the sales successfully. As soon as you discover what styles suit you best, you will no longer fall prey to the impulse buy – and while that means no more PVC catsuits bought in an early 2000’s Britney-inspired moment of weakness, it also means that each item that your closet holds will be a considered piece that you will get enjoyment out of for years to come. Below are a few pointers I make frequent use of when shopping the sales:
- Quality over quantity. Less really is more, especially when you’re buying with the longterm in mind.
- Buy the best that you can afford. Unless you’re vegan, leather is always the better choice for shoes, belts and bags.
- Treat your clothing as an investment and avoid buying “fast fashion”. Leave behind the flimsy tops and overly trendy pieces and rather go for classic lines and simple styles in quality fabrics that won’t age fast.
- If in doubt, go for neutrals – you can always brighten up an outfit with a silk scarf or a colourful lipstick.
- Black is always the new black.
- Never allow price to dictate your final decision to buy something – rather imagine that the piece in question was retailing at full price. Would you still want it? If yes, then it’s meant to be yours. If no, then put it back and walk away – don’t justify a bad purchase just because it happens to be “a bargain”. It’s not.
- Always buy in your size. If something isn’t available in your size, walk away.
- Check yourself. If you have never had the desire to wear dungarees before seeing them on sale, the chances are that you won’t likely wear them anyway. Walk away.
Granted, the above might make shopping at the sales a little less exciting, but imagine the money and time you’ll save? And instead of sitting around with a heap of clothing you aren’t wearing, instead put that money towards a really special purchase – such as a new pair of boots or a bag. Treating your wardrobe and thus yourself with beautifully crafted clothing with quality finishes that last is one of the greatest personal investments one can make.
Maxmara Wool Coat // Vintage
Ecru Trouser Suit // ZARA sale
Black Tee // FORTUNE
Leather Loafers // Country Road
Leather Bag // Country Road sale
Silver Hoop Earrings // Vintage from the Bay Harbour Market
Images by Candice Bodington of Candibod.