The List (or: A Little Fashion Arbitrage)

‘Arbitrage’ is one of my favorite words. It has a racy, high drama gloss, and most of the time I use it incorrectly. It really means something very specific about the buying of assets in two different markets to take advantage of a difference in prices in those markets that will ultimately yield a quick (and nearly certain) profit for those who do their due diligence. At the heart of the matter is the notion of doing your homework to see where there are natural opportunities for gain. It involves being highly organized and focused.

Which brings me to fashion arbitrage and THE LIST. As a type A, methodical person, I believe in lists. And when it comes to shopping, I’m on a budget.

equation: shopping + budget = lists

This is true of grocery shopping, no? So let’s apply it to fashion. This is going to sound really anal, but it works. Every August and January, I make a spreadsheet of items that I would like to buy to complete my look for the coming season (fall/winter; spring/summer). Here is a how-to for the would be fashion arbitrageur:

1. Do some reasearch. What are you thinking for the coming season? For instance, I am going for a cross between early Chanel, Great Gatsby and Woodstock this spring: clogs, breezy dresses, florals, feminine colors like peaches, pinks. It kind of depends on your mood. I’m so tired of this cold cold winter that I really want to feel light and airy and pretty when Spring hits.

2. Itemize. Begin the list. What do you need for that look? A couple of things on mine: a rumpled khaki trench, platform clogs, a feminine leather jacket, loose jersey knits, pink tweed, floral dresses. Put everything on there. I have headers and columns, because I love Excel. Here are mine: Item, Inspiration, Target Price, Final Price

3. Closet shop. You already own some of this stuff. But don’t take it off the list, just put a ‘0’ in final price. Yay! You are half the way there without a dollar spent.

4. Set a budget. How much can you afford to spend? Set that total amount and don’t waver from it. I usually break it out by month: $250 per month gives me $500 per season if I shop spring in February/March, and summer in May/June. Now go item by item and put a figure in the ‘target price.’ There should be some compromise. While I was always taught to buy quality, I can’t afford a nice leather jacket and tons of floral dresses. So some of those floral dresses will be coming from Forever 21 or the like, which means a lower target price. The hard part: staying within your budget. Just do it…we want you to look good, but we also want you to retire one day.

5. Compare. Okay, so the inspiration for your shoes are these $350 Sigerson Morrison clogs. Except that you have budgeted $85 to spend on them. Surf and shopstyle to find some similar but cheaper styles. And then sit on it for a bit. Hit your local vintage shops, chances are they have some clogs. Don’t buy anything yet.

6. Consult the Pyramid. Most people don’t make good shopping choices. They buy all new clothes at full price all of the time. This will not keep you under budget, but it will make retailers happy. Make your pyramid…the pyramid of clothes sourcing. Here is mine:

Vintage here can mean something you get from a vintage shop, or it can mean your mom’s closet. And don’t overlook your mom’s (or granmother’s) closet. There are some gems in there.

7. Buy with Discipline. This should be easier now that you have your list. So you see something great. Is it on your list? Does your target price match? No? Put it down (seriously, put it down). Move on. Pat yourself on the back. I always try to come in under my target price. It’s a psychological quirk, but it makes me feel good about my choices. Plus I’m saving money. And it always helps to show the LSH cost savings between the target and final prices.

This all sounds pretty time consumming, but you’d be surprised. I usually take about an hour one night to create my list. And then I do the shopping whenever I get a chance. It’s mostly a mindset: what do I want, how much can I spend on it, how can I maximize the relationship between the two? I find that you end up getting what you want and not overspending or falling prey to ill-advised impulse buys. But I might also just be a crazy over-planner. You know…


One response to “The List (or: A Little Fashion Arbitrage)”

  1. Linda says :

    Great post Merin! From one list lover to another…

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