great shopping mistakes of history (including a quote from Thoreau)

The title and thematic structure of this post were inspired, if that's not too strong a word, by the Olympic-class droning of Mr. Boring, who taught history at Conformity High (gimme a C!)  Mr. Boring was lazy and hated grading, so the History assignments went something like "Three Major Battles of (American/European/Ancient) History. Discuss each in one paragraph, being sure to mention (a) the combatants and (b) the outcome. Neatness and punctuation count." So we produced "Three Important Presidents, including the years of each one's term and one major event that took place in that term," "Two European Dictators of the 20th Century and why they were a danger to America..." You get the picture. He graded by weight (light preferred) and by sight (no visible footnotes). This was the Advanced class! It left me with a burning antipathy to the tenure system, only marginally mitigated by following year's class with Mrs. SmartA**, who actually enjoyed it when a student had an original thought. OK, now on to A Short History of Shopping Mistakes in the Late 20th-Early 21st Centuries.

Introduction: Earliest memorable shopping mistake: shopping for the 8th Grade Winter Dance, dresses required of the young ladies. Looking back, in the abstract this was a great dress. It was black-and-white mattress-stripe silk taffeta with a black silk ribbon belt, scoop-y neck, tiny cap sleeves and slightly belled skirt. The mistake was in not verifying how many more of them were lurking in the stockroom. I was horrified to enter the gym and see the three creepiest nerds in the class all wearing my dress. Apparently they had planned to dress alike in the hope of attracting attention. They did. So did I. Any sympathy I might have had for them vanished in an instant and I spent the rest of the evening in a phone booth begging my mother to come get me. Now.Please.

We continue:  The It Sweater. Everyone but me had a particular cardigan from a particular store, and it was selling fast. So fast, in fact, that by the time I got there, the only ones left were a pale mint green one size too small or one in a truly awful sienna brown two sizes too large. I went for the pretty pale green. Not only did it not fit when buttoned, it hung funny when left open, and the pretty pale mint green went with nothing that I had. I looked like I was trying too hard. Bad mistake.

The bright red Calvin Klein coat. Nothing wrong with this, it looked great, it fit great, expensive even at 75% off at Saks clearance consolidation sale, but the coat was begging to come home with me, and so it did. I just didn't have any place to wear it, and so I didn't. This is not exactly the coat in question, but it's close. You can see that red's a lot of coat. I love the look of a red raincoat on a gray day, so I thought I'd love a red wool winter coat. Dunno, it just didn't work.

Time passes. I learn that clothes suitable for out-of-town assignments depend more on where I'm going than who I am: I can be whoever I need to be to get the job done. I am not my clothes. My clothes are one of my tools. Thoreau said it best: Beware of any enterprise that requires new clothes.

The overscale plaid satin New Year's eve blouse and peplum jacket with velvet skirt, plaid sash. Suffice it to say that when something seasonal is marked down mid-season, there's a reason. There are a few things that are only worn once: wedding dress, prom dress... How often could this get-up leave the house? Wasted money.

Speaking of wedding dressess... Mine was meant to be a round-necked ivory hammered satin tea-length creation with long lace sleeves. It arrived, almost too late, without the sleeves. Instead, in the box there was an ivory mantilla that came below my knees. Did I mention there was a judge presiding? The mistake: I should have paid more attention to the paperwork. To this day I'm not sure what happened. "I'm not marrying your sleeves," said a croak-y voice and I kissed him and he turned into a handsome prince. That part was no mistake.

Buying unreliable cashmere more than once. My own fault.

Buying one component of an outfit that's meant to have a matching or toning other component, before making sure that the other piece of the outfit is available. In my size. This leads to early disposal of an unworn item, or, just as bad, looking like Little Orphan Annie was your stylist.

Buying stuff while travelling (usually after a long and viniferous lunch). Navy leather jacket that had to have the sleeves expensively shortened from the shoulders (his). Antique brass headboard. And footboard. It's so antique it jingles when we get into bed, or even if one of us just sits on it. We tighten it up regularly, and it loosens up regularly.

Strange furry jacket with cute collar (mine - no place to wear it, because it's the wrong length for a pencil skirt, but with pants it looks like exotic skiwear from an indoor airconditioned ski slope in Bahrain).

$10 dress from the bargain store that I bought to wear to a firm dinner when I was sick of wasting money on formal dresses that I'd wear once. Spent the entire evening worrying that the dress would "malfunction" when I should have been working the room.

What are your shopping mistakes? Does an expensive or embarrassing blunder live in your memory? Have you overcome a bad shopping habit?


  1. Shopping blunders a-plenty. The most recent was a few years ago. A perfect LBD for someone with the confidence to flaunt cleavage-I am not that person. The otherwise perfectly well made and bargain priced dress was never worn. My shopping partner that day and her DH (at the time) told me "if you've got it, flaunt it" me. The dress was recently taken to consignment.

    Other shopping blunders have involved dresses too dressy for an event. I did that a lot when I was really young. I still like dressy dresses, but I don't buy them anymore. At least I've learned one lesson :-)

    1. H, JulieStyles, I've had problems with over-dressing, too, generally because there's something new in the closet and I want to wear it that day, right now, no matter whether it belongs where I'm going or not. Life lesson: velvet is not for offices.

  2. There's not enough room here for me to list my shopping mistakes, haha. You've had quite a few, but mistakes means further defining your own style and taste, right, so it is all good? ;o)

    1. Hi, Lisa, I love that! So if I look a little goofy or askew, it's because I'm on a learning curve, right? You bet!

  3. What like I'm the first person to have ever walked into a cocktail party wearing a clogging/square dance dress (complete with ultra-flouncy crinoline)?
    From the horrified gasps & subsequent half-assed hidden laughter you'd have thunk I was the first to do that.
    I won't bore you with the details that lead up to said event or even why I was wearing a clogging get-up....but suffice to say - I haven't worn it since & I strongly consider that dress to be one of my biggest shopping mistakes. Ever.

    1. Thanks for the glorious giggle.

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