We diligently edit and review our wardrobes and put together a flexible shopping list, but we simply can’t afford to purchase everything at once. As a result we are forced to prioritize the items on our list. I think of shopping list priorities in terms of 3 levels. The highest priority items are at Level 1. These items are must-haves. Level 2 items are also important because they will have a big impact on the effectiveness of your wardrobe, but you can get by without them at a push. Level 3 items are not all that crucial. You may want them desperately, but in your heart of hearts you know that they are really just “nice to haves”.

Here are my thoughts on what should go at each level. Later I’ll throw in some examples of “what’s priority and what’s not” from my own shopping list. 

LEVEL 1 – Must-Have Items

  • Items that satisfy a climatic need: You’ve moved from Florida to Boston and you don’t have a Winter coat. All of a sudden you need a coat capsule, and the sooner the better. 
  • Items that satisfy a dress code need: You’ve started a new job and are not allowed to wear jeans to work. Your need for dressier non-denim bottoms shot up because your wardrobe of jeans and denim cutoffs will not work.
  • Items that satisfy a fancy occasion need: You have nothing to wear to your friends lavish wedding next month because your normal attire won’t do. Your hunt for a formal outfit is top priority. 
  • Wardrobe Essentials: Your wardrobe essentials are workhorses. Replace the ones that you frequently wear as soon as there is a wardrobe hole. 
  • New bras and undies when your size has changed: Underwear is instrumental in achieving good fit. Weight loss and gain means readdressing your bra and panty sizes before you readdress the rest of your wardrobe. 
  • Haircut: If you are unhappy with your do, it’s top priority to find a hair solution.
  • Eyewear: If you wear specs daily, it’s top priority that they are updated and the best that you can afford. 

LEVEL 2 – High Impact Items

  • Items that complete wardrobe capsules: Sometimes it’s a question of adding a few extra pieces to existing mix-and-match wardrobe capsules in order to extend their remixing potential. It might mean adding a couple of patterned tops, toppers in extra colours, light coloured bottoms, a few dresses, or a pair of two toned shoes. 
  • Items that change up the landscape of your wardrobe: Sometimes all it takes is a few on trend pieces to elevate the rest of your wardrobe. For example, when one of my clients added a modern black leather jacket to her wardrobe, her existing skirt, trouser and dress ensembles looked instantly updated. The same can be said of a pair of new-look baggy trousers, a statement tuxedo blazer with a low stance, a pair of pointy toe ankle strap pumps, boyfriend jeans, bomber jacket, or snake skin booties. 
  • Items that refresh your seasonal look: These are the pieces you add to your existing wardrobe within a fashion season to refresh your style.
  • Comfortable Shoes: Happy feet are always a high priority when you have fussy feet. 
  • Changes to or Duplication of Wardrobe Essentials: Although I listed them as Level 1 priority, they can also be next important. Sometimes, you want to change up the mix of wardrobe essentials while you continue to love and wear the ones in your wardrobe. For example, add a pair of black cigarette pants to your assortment of black essential bottoms capsule, which at the moment consists of a pencil skirt, wide leg trousers, harem pants and straight leg jeans. 

LEVEL 3 – Low Impact Items

  • Elusive Items: You all have items on your list that are hard to find. You look for them every season but are out of luck, and to some extent you’ve given up looking. They are not top priority anymore, but you’d welcome them into your wardrobe if you stumbled upon them. This is precisely how I found my ink blue military coat that I bought last Autumn. It found me! 
  • Items that satisfy a less important trend: There are trends that you love, so they get top purchasing priority because you want to try them right away. Then there’s the rest which moves further down the priority ladder.
  • Nice to haves: They are not a necessity and often a duplication of existing items. To some extent, they are part of your signature look so you’re always interested in adding more of the same to your wardrobe. Or you have a weakness for the item and love buying that type of thing. 
  • Loungewear, workout wear and wardrobe basics: Underwear requires annual replenishment unless your size has changed, in which case it’s Level 1 priority. Basics like socks, hosiery, sleepwear, camisoles, shapewear and sports gear also require annual attention, and for that reason they are usually Level 3 priority for the rest of the year. 

Replenishing my own jeans capsule this year was Level 1 priority because white jeans and faded blue jeans are wardrobe essentials and workhorses. Replacing my black and white flat oxfords with sci-fi silver darlings was Level 2 priority because the style integrity changes the landscape of my wardrobe, and my need for comfortable shoes is always high. Purchasing a white clutch, floral blazer and white moto vest are Level 2 priority because they are seasonal refreshers. Purchasing white tuxedo button down shirts as a new wardrobe essential are also Level 2 priority because I still love my basic white button downs. Items like the perfect modern classic ink blue wool blazer and low heeled knee-high dressy cream boots have been on my shopping list for years, and are at this stage Level 3 priority. As are trends like ankle strapped shoes and geek chic eyewear. 

I am continuously helping my clients to prioritize the items on their shopping list, not only because of budget constraints, but also because of time constraints. Purchasing items that are top priority first is the most effective use of time. And if top priority items become hard to find, we move onto Level 2 priority items because you just can’t purchase something that isn’t available.

Do you think explicitly about priorities in your shopping list. And if so, how do you prioritize?