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Thou Shalt Shop With the Precision of a Military Campaigner


There is an art to good shopping. It does not involve going off half-cocked and buying any old rag out of desperation. It requires the strategic planning of a seasoned military campaigner. The lay of the land must be studied minutely; no stick or stone should be unturned; the enemy within must be found out and utterly routed. A strategy is formed, tactics formulated. Timing is of the essence. The fine art of military shopping heeds the danger of deploying precious funds when under the influence of intense emotion or acute tiredness. Just as one should not go grocery shopping when one is hungry, so should one not go swimsuit shopping the very day before a beach holiday.

Once, years ago, I was forced to buy a swimsuit at extreme short notice while on holiday in Sydney. It took a veritable whirlwind shopping tour and an hour to make my choice: a minimalist CK-style tankini in olive (olive!) by Seafolly. The boyfriend whined that an hour was a ridiculous length of time to spend on the choice of one garment, and I quickly disabused him of this ignorant notion. He was clearly inexperienced, for you and I recognise it for what it was: a true fashion miracle. (The choice of a despised colour was a minor error of judgment, excusable in this instance I believe in view of the ultimate shopping feat – only equalled in valour to finding a pair of jeans within an hour.)

Of course it’s possible to employ the services of an in-store stylist or personal shopper, but where would be the fun in that? Today we don’t have to go hunt and gather supplies for food in the dangerous wild, but that instinct is inborn and can be satisfied through the gathering of frills and furbelows to decorate ourselves, if not our nests. (Although we may have to fight off crazed bargain hunters on occasion.)

But how do we avoid costly errors and wasting time in desperate forays on shopping malls that only result in panic purchases and anxiety attacks?  

Shopping with the military precision requires research, patience, an objective eye, a good understanding of one’s style and figure, gut instinct, time, and the willingness to walk the extra mile to the other end of the mall again to compare garments just one more time.

Study the Lie of the Land

As you have now cleared your closet (see Commandment #5), you know what gaps there are in your wardrobe. However, before you make any purchase, some research is required. Read those fashion newsletters and blogs, flick through those magazines, scroll through the shopping apps, take a walk and scout what people are wearing on the streets, what is dressing the shop windows and is on the shop floor.

Research the trends for the coming season and determine what appeals to you and what will fit in with your look and your existing garments. This does require some patience and investment of time, but the results are far more rewarding than simply going out to the local mall for a quick-fix of disposable fashion. Remember, a bargain is never a bargain unless you actually need or want something and actually wear it.

Be objective about which of the current trends will suit you – it is easy to dismiss some if they don’t suit your style or persona, but more difficult to gauge whether certain shapes or styles will flatter you unless you know your figure well, and how to enhance it.

Being clever about choosing great separates … will end those despairing cries at dawn of, ‘I have nothing to wear!’

Formulate your strategy

Assess what you need for your wardrobe; dresses are super-easy, but it is separates that will really extend the possibilities of your wardrobe. But before you buy anything too unusual, be sure that you will actually have something to pair it with at home. Being clever about choosing great separates and a few choice accessories will end those despairing cries at dawn of, ‘I have nothing to wear!’ as you stand before your bulging closet in your undies.

When you do finally venture out into the shops, take a list (mental or written) but go with an open mind. It’s smart to be cautious and compare similar garments from different labels, or if something is particularly expensive to sit on it for a while to be really sure you want it on more than a whim (I call that fashion fermentation). But do be prepared to fall in love and when you do – listen to your heart.

Heed Your Instincts

On more than one occasion I have been more pragmatic and forever regretted it (a white scarf beautifully and intricately embroidered in red). On other occasions I have passionately fallen for something and promptly bought it on the spot – and never regretted it (the red Dorothy glitter Mary-Janes).

I particularly heed that inner voice when I have these moments shopping overseas, because when will I next be in Morocco, or Vietnam again? I remember saying that to a friend whenever we hesitated over something whilst shopping in Hong Kong – I still wear nearly all those things I loved back then, and that was eight or ten years ago. (And what wonderful memories souvenirs bring back.)

It is worth remembering that many chain stores will update their stock very quickly, so if you do not make you mind up just as fast, chances are that garment will be gone (or it may have made it to the sale section, which is a bonus and probably a divine sign that you should buy it immediately).

Do have your basics that you return to time and again – and for these buy good quality – but always keep an eye out for those unique items that make an outfit brilliant. Sometimes you come across these when you least expect it, when you are not even shopping for clothes. The red and white embroidered scarf I saw in a gallery shop; it was very expensive and I didn’t really need it, so I regretfully passed it by. Many years later, I still have never seen its like (and not for want of searching) and I wish I had bought it. I have only last week seen similar scarves in Zara and Australian department store David Jones, but neither of these – though cheaper – is as nice and I can’t bring myself to buy second-best.

Always be Prepared

It is even more dangerous when vintage shopping to pass amazing garments by, because you know full well that you never will see their like again. Not all vintage fairs or markets have changerooms, so it’s a good idea to keep a tape measure in your bag in case you are unable to try them on – obviously keep a note of your current measurements too.

Online shopping is fantastic for scoring bargains and labels unavailable in your hometown, especially if you buy from the other hemisphere at sale time. It’s particularly great for those of us living Downunder, since we are a season behind the rest of the world. But all the same rules as for brick-and-mortar stores still apply, ie, don’t impulse buy simply because something is cheap.

I know many people who won’t buy online because they are afraid a garment won’t fit – again, know your measurements, read the reviews of other shoppers, but if it’s still a disaster you can always return the offending item (remember to read the store’s policy on return items). You can always start with an inexpensive item such as a t-shirt or top, or something on sale, to gauge your size before you make a bigger purchase.

If you can learn to be a disciplined and savvy shopper – and not necessarily one with a bottomless bank account – you will end up with an enviable wardrobe that will never let you down.

Deployment Tips

  • wear comfortable shoes, though if shopping for an evening dress for example, bring the shoes you intend wearing with it
  • wear skin-toned underwear that will not show under most garments
  • for serious shopping, shop alone – do not take a man with you unless he genuinely enjoys shopping for clothes and his opinion can be trusted
  • ask stylish friends where they shop (recommended shopping districts if not actual labels), and make use of local shopping guides available in print form or as phone apps 
  • subscribe to sale websites and newsletters and have notifications delivered straight to your inbox


Come back in a week or so for the Seventh Commandment of Miss Moses: ‘Thou Shalt Throw Away Worn Out Shoes When They Art Beyond Redemption’. If you’ve just tuned in, or would like to refresh your memory, click here to review all the Fashion Commandments. 

Many thanks to the Melbourne Theatre Company wardrobe department for the loan of the soldier’s coat and bicorne.

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