The Case for Impulse Purchases

The Case for Impulse Purchases

If you are looking for advice on how to dress (appropriately, stylishly, thriftily) — there’s a lot of guidance out there. A common theme in these books is the need for discipline — list-making, budgeting and dressing-room tactics — and it’s good advice. I’m dispensing some of that advice on this blog. But here I’d like to make the case for indulging impulses periodically, too. Some of the best purchases I’ve made were impulse buys.

Impulse buy
Impulse buy: bracelets (Gavilane Paris)
Impulse buy
Impulse buy: sweater
Do you see what I mean?
Impulse buy: jacket

Impulse buy: sweet ride
Impulse buy: sweet ride
Impulse buy: jacket
Impulse buy: scarf
Impulse buy: scarf

What, exactly, do I mean by “impulse buy”? Because the Internet has changed the time-scale of our lives, the answer requires a little thought.

When I was a child, shopping meant getting into a car, driving somewhere between the hours of 10:00 and 5:00 p.m. (maybe 6:00 p.m.) during the week (independent stores were closed on Sunday) and buying something on the spot with the understanding that: (1) if you didn’t buy it then, you might not have another opportunity to come back later and (2) even if you had the time to come back, the item might be gone.

Today, you can shop from the comfort of your bed at any time of the day or night. So, there is no time or place imperative forcing quick action. Under these circumstances, I would say that an impulse buy is chiefly a purchase that you had no intention of making until you saw It and It captured your fancy. An impulse buy is also anything you buy while on vacation, particularly if you are rushing to calculate the exchange rate, and make a horrible error in doing so. (More than once The Directrice has returned to her hotel room and said, Wait a minute, I thought the dollar was worth . . .)

To be clear, I am not encouraging you to exceed your income or to fill your closet with distinctive but not terribly useful garments.  I am only recognizing that impulses are triggered by instinct and emotion, and in the realm of dressing oneself those guides deserve a little deference.


15 thoughts on “The Case for Impulse Purchases”

    • Dorothy — You are TOO KIND. I like the blouse very much and am so glad you are enjoying the posts. If you’ve been reading the comments, you will see that readers of The Directrice are creative and thoughtful, too — which is such a treat for me.

  1. I have also found that some of my best purchases have been impulse purchases, though I’ve never quite been able to figure out why the magic has happened in those particular cases. (I do think that purchases carefully planned and shopped for can induce a sense of dissatisfaction because this process often involves searching for what I want, not really finding it, multiple rounds of buying and returning, and then finally settling for something that is maybe 85 or 90 percent what I want. The missing 10-15% tends to mar the purchase psychologically, whereas if the item had been something I wasn’t looking for, I’d be thrilled with the 90%!)

    I do a lot of secondhand shopping, which means impulse buying in that old-economy sense: you have to snap it up when you see it, because it might not be there when you come back. My sense from this is that all the list-making and discipline that are so often recommended actually make for better impulse purchases: these activities sharpen the instinct and intuition.

  2. Well said! I’ve just put a deposit on a very expensive Cubist-inspired skirt which won’t even show up for a few months. As an infrequent skirt-wearer, when I wear a skirt, I want to Wear a Skirt, and this is truly Skirt of the Gods – it will not pass this way again.

    I found your site via You Look Fab and enjoy it very much (you had me at Increase Mather). My office recently went full time business casual and your ideas are thoughtful and helpful.

    And, if you don’t mind my saying, love the hair. I recommend to you the short story “Jane” by Somerset Maugham, about fashion and appearance vs. reality. It contains a line that made me think of you – the story takes place in the 1920’s and the middle-aged heroine reluctantly but finally agrees to cut her hair:

    “…when they passed through Paris on their way home Gilbert led her (she felt quite sick, her heart was beating so fast) to the best hairdresser in the world. She came out of his shop with a jaunty, saucy, impudent head of crisp grey curls.”
    (Just delete the grey – not you!)

    • Hi Binkle — I am so glad that you found your way to this site and are enjoying it. Thank you for reading and commenting — I will check out the WSM story. Stay tuned for Cotton Mather; I am sure I will have cause to roll him out at some point, too.

  3. I now do a fair bit of impulse shopping via my iPad. In searching methodically, my eyes ever will travel off course and I will purchase something un intended. Can end up a favorite; my heart often isn’t into careful. Lovely things you found that way. The cropped sweater is a hit out of the park. Kate

    • Hi Kate — For full disclosure, I should have said that some of my impulse purchases turn out to be head-scratchers. But not many, and fewer and fewer as the years go by, so I must be learning as I go!

  4. I have become almost exclusively an Internet shopper. I used to love to shop but the stores are all the same and the interesting shops are few and far between. So the unusual and unexpected find doesn’t happen too often! Speaking of your hair, I have thick, wavy, curly hair. ( but I’m older than you are and it’s salt and pepper) and I brought my iPad to my hairdresser’s last time I got it cut so she could use pictures of your cut for inspiration. So now it’s similar to yours, maybe not quite as short in back. Yours looks great!

    • Thanks, Julia! How great that your stylist was able to use the images. I’ve never imagined that anyone, anywhere, would use a picture of me as a model for, well, anything. The miracle of these connections!

  5. Well, that Ducati comment really made me laugh!
    Also, I’m all to familiar with the faulty exchange-rate purchase. The husband bought an expensive pair of shoes in Italy last year that turned out to be about 33% MORE expensive than we thought. But hey.

  6. So well said! And good reminder/warning re exchange rates as I am headed overseas later this month. With things like jewelry and jackets, I especially find the impulse/in-person buy is often a good one. I have a very hard time finding jackets that fit well, and when one does I snap it up, even if it is not something I was hunting for specifically. I’ve stopped trying to buy them online, it is just too hard to predict what will work. But the jackets that work well get worn over and over, so I know they are not a bad buy. As for jewelry, I love to buy that as a souvenir on vacation — unique, memorable, as well as small and easily packed. To me, the impulse buys I regret are more often in the special occasion arena — lovely shoes or dresses or purses that only get worn a handful of times and don’t really warrant their cost or closet space.

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