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What You Wear Matters … When You Shop

by Miranda Marquit

Most of us know that when we go to a job interview, it’s important to wear the right thing. We want to look our best. It’s also true that it’s a good idea to get dressed up when you go to a nice party. And, in some places, it’s still considered socially proper to get dressed up for church (although you don’t have to go to church black-tie).

Even though it would be nice to say that clothes don’t matter, and that it’s what’s on the inside that counts, the reality is that clothes send a message. The quality of the clothing, and how it fits you, says something about you. The recent snafu over Oprah’s shopping trip in Switzerland underscores that fact. Reports are that Oprah backpedaled a bit on her original claims and said that she wasn’t wearing anything that day that indicated that she was wealthy.

So, when you’re shopping, it really does matter what you wear, at least if you’re planning on getting a certain kind of service.

Setting Expectations

Business CasualYour clothes set expectations about who you are and what you can afford. If you dress up nice, and then head somewhere that requires some type of price negotiation, you could have a harder time getting a good deal. Wearing designer clothes to the car dealership (unless it’s some type of exotic import dealership) proclaims that you have money, and you can probably afford whatever is on the lot. The salesperson is not going to drop the price very much. However, if you dress down just a little bit, the car salesperson will assume that you do need a break on price, and be more willing to negotiate to get the sale (head in at the end of a month in the last part of the year, and you can get an even better deal as the salesperson scrambles to make quota).

Whether you are visiting a flea market, or shopping for an engagement ring, dressing the part can set expectations that you need a bit of a break. You don’t have to dress like a complete slob in order to get a good deal, but if you dress in “regular” clothes, you are more likely to be seen as someone who can afford to buy, but not pay a whole lot.

On the other hand, if you are shopping high end department stores, or high end boutiques, you might want to dress up a little bit. If the shop you visit doesn’t go in for price negotiations, you need to show that you can afford what you’re buying. The shoes are especially important. One of my favorite movies is Sneakers. At one point, when prospective clients show up, the head of the operation asks about their shoes. That’s the first thing that he had the “lookout” assess. Expensive shoes = person with some degree of wealth.

You’ll get better service from people who know you can afford to buy. The reality is that few people wandering into a shop looking like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman actually do have the means to make high end purchases. If you want to be taken seriously in a fancy shop, you need to look the part.

What Do You Wear When Shopping?

Most of the time, though, it doesn’t matter what you wear shopping. If you are making your purchases at places like Kohl’s, Target, Wal-Mart, or any of the other department stores aimed at the middle class, what you wear isn’t going to matter — unless you look like a disaffected teen that someone thinks will shoplift.

The basic rule of thumb is to look like you belong. Whether you are shopping the local gardener’s market or taking a trip to Tiffany’s & Co., you need to dress as though you are one of “them.”


Published or updated August 23, 2013.
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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 krantcents

Although I am neat and clean, I purposely dress down when I shop. It is my way of avoiding the sales person onslaught. I never have had a problem.

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2 susan

I always dress down when I go to a flea market /antique shop so that I am in a better position to bargain. On the other hand, when I go to Nordstroms for shoes, I wear my Ferragamo’s. I agree with you.

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3 BillyBob

This was a fun read. I never thought about how to dress. I am within 1 year from having to furnish a complete house and basically buy a lifestyle (again) in the US. I can afford what I want, but I am pretty frugal. I guess I’ll pay attention to what I wear when I start buying. I am pretty much a blue-jean cotton-button down type of guy anyway. I would also add to this “be careful about being seen parking a nice car” as if you pull up in a BMW 7-series, or something similar, your careful wardrobe selection goes right out the window.
Thanks for this interesting article.

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4 Usiere

Interesting post. I tend towards dressing down. I have been looked down upon though when I entered one upscale shop, but I prefer to wipe off that look by actually paying for the item, if that is what I actually went o buy. Like the Godfather, I prefer you don’t see me coming :)

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5 Funny about Money

LOL! Is that the truth! Just came across this from a carnival at Crystal Stemberger’s site.

BillyBob is right about the car, too: I used to drive a Mercedes. Learned NEVER to park in a site where I could be seen getting out of the car by someone inside the store where I was going.

Also during the Mercedes period (was married to a high earner at the time), I learned that you can’t shop in an upscale boutique or in a store like Saks in your comfortable WT grubbies — the staff simply will not wait on you, period. The snobbishness in these stores is truly vile. It actually was one of the reasons I stopped being married to said high earner…that’s really not how I want to have to live.

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