Step 1: Get the lay of the land. If you’re not a seasoned shopper, a little planning is required. Without spending a dime, take an afternoon to stroll around the mall or a large shopping area, zeroing in on brands and stores that appeal to you. “You’ll develop a sense of what you’re in the market for and feel far less overwhelmed during the real outing,” says Saboura.
Step 2: Start shopping. When you first arrive at a store, scope out the mannequins and display areas to get a feel for what’s in stock and how to put outfits together. “The people who dress those displays know what they’re doing,” says Saboura, “so take advantage of their expertise.”
Step 3: Work from the bottom up. “Most people make a critical error here by doing the exact opposite,” says Saboura. “With all the different choices and varieties, tops are far more difficult to find than bottoms―which means that building an outfit from them can be an uphill battle.” Instead, find the foundation of your ensemble: A well-fitting skirt or pants, and use that as a jumping-off point. Once you’ve found the main components of an outfit, hit the accessory areas―first shoes, then jewelry, then bags, says Saboura.
Step 4: Put everything you’ve amassed on hold and take a breather. If you’re planning to shop around, now is the time to hit other destinations. (There’s nothing more annoying than arriving at a store laden with purchases only to discover stuff you like better.)
Step 5: Revisit the items you’ve put on hold and edit them. Purchase only pieces that really stand out―nothing so-so makes the cut. And keep in mind that you don’t have to justify your choices by event or season (“These jeans make me look like a Victoria’s Secret model, but I really should go with that ill-fitting dress for Aunt Vicki’s anniversary party”). “Train yourself to nab great finds when the fashion gods are smiling on you, and you’ll gradually build a wardrobe that has the perfect outfit for any occasion,” says Saboura.
Step 6: Head for the tailor. Before you leave the store, ask if free tailoring is available―you’d be surprised how many big chains offer it in-house. (Club Monaco and Banana Republic are two examples.) If not, make a beeline for your favorite local tailor. “It’s rare for clothes to fit flawlessly right off the rack,” says Saboura. “And just a few inexpensive tweaks can make an everyday garment look couture.” No time today? Leave items that require tailoring in the car or in a bag by the front door. Once they cross over into your closet, they have a funny way of avoiding nips and tucks.