How to shop, find things you love and not bust your budget.

Today I’d like to share with you my 7 best tips for shopping successfully so that you can treat yourself to some lovely spring pieces that make you feel fabulous.

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of shopping with the lovely Alison Harpin of The Beauty Cabin.  Alison is typical of the women I work with in that she doesn’t enjoy shopping for clothes, finds it difficult to spend money on herself (she is a single mum) and doesn’t always love what she sees reflected in the mirror.

We spent some focussed time together in advance of our shopping day to establish her style prescription – that is the colours, cuts and style of clothes that work best for her. Then, armed with her shopping wish list, her budget and her style blueprint, we hit the shops.

When I take a client shopping, I see it not only as a chance to find them some wonderful outfits, but also a ‘training’ in how to shop with their new-found style rules. This means that once we have said our goodbyes, I know that they are more confident about spotting clothes that are likely to work well and be happier creating flattering outfits that make them feel fab.


1. Know your budget.

Alison was worried that her budget would be too small. She had £275 to spend on the day. The amount of money you are able to spend is important to be aware of for many reasons. Some practical, and some emotional.

Your budget will determine which brands to browse and how much you can buy, so ideally your list will have been made thoughtfully with your budget in mind.

Have you ever come home from a shopping trip full of buyers remorse? I know I have. That awful feeling of guilt that you’ve spend so much on yourself when there are so many more ‘important’ things that need addressing?

My solution to this is to try to understand that you do deserve clothes. You are quite entitled to have outfits that make you look and feel good. The knock on effect of this is more far reaching than you could imagine (more on this later!). What isn’t helpful, is buying armfuls of tat that you never wear – or armfuls of any-priced clothes for that matter…then the guilt is justified!


2. Make a list.

If you know what you need, you are more likely to find it. I don’t mean that you’ve decided you need a hip-length bottle green, half sleeved top with a pocket on the left chest. That is WAY too specific and you are unlikely to find – resulting in you feeling frustrated. But knowing that you need a couple of new work outfits or some new casual pieces to wear on a day to day basis that don’t make you feel —-scruffy/dowdy/mumsy…insert your word. Remember to be realistic in your list budget-wise. If you need loads and your budget is tiny, you’ll need to prioritise and consider what will make the biggest difference to your life today. Sometimes this is upgrading your basics (jeans, t-shirts, jumpers).

Alison’s list looked like this:

  • Summer coat
  • Jackets
  • Trousers/shorts or jumpsuits
  • Accessories

She also wanted me to show her some suitable shoes, knowing that she couldn’t buy them yet but so she had the confidence to choose the right pair later in the year.

Sometimes a wish-list changes once you hit the shops. And that’s ok! As long as you stick to your budget, and you make good decisions (see number 6), you are allowed to fall in love with different pieces and reprioritise. Alison’s list changed once we tried on a load of trousers and then tried this show-stopping skirt. The skirt won!


3. Do some on-line research first

Most women don’t want to spend hours and hours browsing. The shorter the shopping trip the better, so I advise that you do some research before you head out, a day or so in advance. The best place to start your search is often a department store website. That way you can be specific about what you are looking for (remember, not too specific!) and search by price-range for each item.

This is a screen shot from the John Lewis website to show you how I would search. The tick boxes on the left-hand side are how you make your selection.

The beauty of researching using a department store website, is that you will be shown lots of different brands, some of which you may not have thought about before. You don’t need to shop in that department store, you may have these brands on your high street. (Other department stores are available! Try House of Fraser, Debenhams, Fenwick, Selfridges…)

Make a list of places you’d like to visit. Plan your route.

If you always return to the same brands and they don’t fit you well (and that makes you feel bad), or the styles don’t float your boat, STOP going there. It’s a waste of time and likely the ‘fit model’ they use in their designs is a totally different shape to you. Some brands cater for curves, and others for straighter figure types.


4. Be ready to shop like a pro.

Choose your outfit carefully.  You are going to be trying on clothes and getting undressed, so don’t wear anything that is a pain to take on and off (too may buttons will slow you down).

Wear a good bra. It’s difficult to make a decision on something if your boobs aren’t in the right position.

Wear comfortable footwear.

Don’t take the kitchen sink. It will slow you down.

Decide on your timings. If you know you can only deal with shopping for an hour, set and alarm and give yourself permission to leave then if you choose. I know that my threshold is higher than most at around 5 hours (with a lunch stop) but definitely struggle after that, so it’s best to quit. Funnily enough, the women I work with who tell me they don’t enjoy shopping don’t seem to run out of energy when we shop together, they are so full of adrenaline and excitement they could keep going longer than me!


5. Start shopping!

 Try to stick to your wish- list and not be distracted by other pieces. Unless, that is you spot a show-stopping piece. (See no.2 ). Remember you have invested time and energy in planning this trip so don’t waste that. If you spot something else you like the look of, you could snap a photo on your phone and think about it later. Don’t waste your decision making on it. (Some believe that we wake up each day with a certain amount of decision making energy and when it’s gone, it’s gone. I’m sure you recognise that feeling?)

Do try things on. I know some women don’t like to but it’s the best way to check if something feels good. You can always return it if you get home and change your mind but you are less likely to need to do that if you’ve already tried it.

Remember that the lighting and mirrors (particularly in lower end high street stores, aimed at the younger crowd) aren’t always true or flattering. If something doesn’t make you feel good, please don’t feel bad. It’s not you, it’s the clothes.

If the colour, cut, style or print don’t match how you naturally are, you won’t necessarily feel the love. Try other styles, colours that you wouldn’t ordinarily try. You might be pleasantly surprised. I love to take my clients gently out of their comfort zone to show them how amazing something other than what they usually buy, can be.

I always create a shortlist of pieces. We usually know pretty quickly whether something is a ‘yay’’ or a ‘nay’, but it doesn’t mean that every ‘yay’ will be purchased. I remove pieces from the fitting room that are definite ‘no’s’ and we line up everything that is a potential ‘yes’. Then when everything has been tried on, we go back through the ‘yesses’ to see which are right for today. If two pieces are similar, we look at which we prefer. We check washing labels and fabric composition to help make these decisions. Anything that we decide not to get on the day, is photographed (including the label) so that my client can go back and purchase in the future, (when there is more budget) or watch online, ready to pounce when the sales start.  I always write down what has made the shortlist and keep a tally of what we are spending, so there are no surprises when we reach the till. That way it’s easier to stay on track with the budget.

6. Be realistic

For each piece you buy, make sure you know when, where and how you will wear it. Do you have the right things to make it work, or do you need a basic white t-shirt (or whatever…)? Will it go with other pieces you already own? The ideal is that everything you buy can be worn in at least three ways.


7. Go home and play

 I want my clients to love everything they buy. Go home and ‘play’ with what you’ve bought. Your own mirror, shoes and accessories make a big difference to how an outfit makes you feel. If you realise you don’t need or love what you have bought, take it back pronto. Please don’t waste your money. If this keeps on happening, you really ought to consider getting some pro help. An image consultant will teach you the ‘how’ and you will benefit for years and years.

Failing that, get yourself a ticket to my next LIVE event.  I’ll be sharing exactly what I teach my one-to-one clients, so you can empower yourself to shake up your own personal style and make shopping for clothes more fun and fruitful.

 This is what Alison sent me after her shopping day.

Following a fantastic day with Helen, for my Birthday back in November, I was Super excited to spend the day together again shopping our socks off! 

Becoming a single mum at a fairly young age, I fell into a real rut style wise. Being on such a budget I rarely prioritised any money for me, this really caused my confidence level to spiral downwards, especially as I have a super curvy figure and not knowing how to dress had meant I had felt much bigger than my true size 10/12 frame!

Helen has opened my eyes to a whole new world of colour (I’ve hidden in ‘slimming’ Black for far too long) and shape, and has even gone as far as to guide me with scale of print and jewellery choices too.

Our shopping day was brilliant, we discussed a brief of items I needed help with, and how much I could spend beforehand, and upon my arrival (a few minutes late thanks to the ever so ‘reliable’ trains) Helen had already hand-picked an array of gorgeous items and had them ready for me in the changing room! 

We achieved so much in a matter of minutes, that by myself, would usually take ages and be a demoralising journey, relentlessly trying on things and feeling larger and less attractive the more changing rooms I’d enter, but with Helen everything I tried on I felt slimmer, more confident and dare I say it super stylish! Everything from the fresh new hues Helen had me in, to the shapely silhouette that seemed almost sculpted before my eyes, I was beaming with confidence again, and not only that……we came in under budget! 

A tiny £275 was all I’d been able to spare and when you think I got a season versatile Mac, a faux suede biker style jacket (again pretty perfect for all seasons) a faux suede water fall jacket (perfect for chucking in a bag as an extra layer as it won’t crease!) a gorgeous wrap around silky blouse, another statement blouse, and a killer skirt that makes me feel a million dollars (that got me the title ‘Style Hero’ at the checkout!) and a pair of beautiful earrings, Helen is a Superstar Shopper and a confidence boosting Queen to boot! 

I feel renewed and would highly recommend Helen to anyone, we had such a fun day together and I love all my new bits, I can’t wait to wear them all 🙂

What do you think of these shopping tips? Will you give them a go? Leave me a comment and share with your friends. Shopping for clothes shouldn’t be stressful.

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