In my last two posts, I recapped my best purchases of 2021, starting with my favorite at-home acquisitions and ending with the top pieces I bought for my out-and-about wardrobe. Now it’s time to switch over the other side of the equation, those items that I shouldn’t have bought. Fortunately, I made a lot more good purchases last year than bad ones, so my track record is improving (yay!). It’s actually quite normal to periodically make a shopping misstep, but if we take the time to look at why things didn’t work out, we’re less likely to repeat the same type of error.
A few months ago, I evaluated my biggest shopping mistakes of 2020, most of which are no longer in my closet. In fact, just three of the items reviewed remain, including one that I plan to list for sale shortly (the other two are basically “benchwarmers” that may be purged soon). I haven’t been doing much with online clothing sales recently (my last update on that topic was in March), but I have a stack of items waiting to be listed, most of which were purchased prior to 2021. I’ll do another update about selling my closet castoffs on eBay and Poshmark soon, but now let’s take a look at the pieces I definitely should have passed up or returned last year.
Some Photos and Statistics
Here’s a snapshot of my worst purchases of 2021:
With the exception of the tops at the left and right sides of the bottom row, I still own all of the pieces shown. However, most of them are currently in my “holding zone” box, as I’m not sure whether to keep or purge them. Since they’re all off-season items, I’ll determine their fate after the weather warms up, when I’ll likely pass on a lot of them.
Fortunately, none of my 2021 “bad buys” were all that expensive, but when the costs are combined, it’s still a decent sum of money to have basically wasted. But hopefully the lessons I encapsulate in this post will help me avoid such wasteful expenditures in the future – and also provide some useful tips for you with your shopping.
Before I analyze each of my 2021 mistakes, I want to first do some high-level analysis of these ill-advised purchases.
Out-and-About vs. At-Home Items
First, let’s look at which areas of my life the pieces were bought for. The following four items were purchased to be worn out and about, specifically during the summer months:
The remaining four garments were bought to be worn either at home or for exercising:
Here’s how my worst purchases can be broken down by category:
- 3 pairs of pants
- 4 tops (all short-sleeved)
- 1 purse
Sadly, I purchased two each of two types of tops, which only served to compound my mistakes. In my last post, I stated that buying “multiples” isn’t always a bad idea, but it was in these two instances. A key difference between my 2021 mistake tops and the successful Loveappella print tops I wrote about last week is that the latter were basically perfect upon arrival. They didn’t need to be “rescued” or reshaped by means of what could end up being risky alterations.
As I’ve written about many times previously, I’m a big believer in the power of alterations, but they need to be used judiciously. However, I don’t always do this, as was the case with two of the mistake tops shown above. With the other two tops, I ignored potentially problematic issues instead of trusting my instincts. I went against my better judgment because of the low price of the items in question, which brings me to my next point…
On Sale vs. Regular Price
Almost all of my poor purchases – seven – were bought on sale, and the remaining item (the purse) was acquired via eBay. Many of us are less discerning when the price is low (the “sales goggles” phenomenon), and we can overlook important item characteristics in the face of a “good deal.” That was definitely a factor for me, as you’ll see when I analyze my mistake items below.
It’s always good to ask ourselves if we would buy a discounted item at full price. If the answer is no, we should seriously reconsider buying it on sale. “It’s a great deal!” is usually not the best reason for making a purchase, unless the item also ticks many other important boxes. This particular lesson has been a difficult one for me to learn, as I still have remnants of the “more is more” mentality that I harbored for many years. It’s far better to own fewer good quality pieces that we’re excited to wear than a large number of discounted items that we feel ho-hum about!
Mistake Item Analysis
Now let’s go through the individual items and analyze why they were my worst purchases of 2021. I’ll address some of the items on their own and others in tandem because they’re either duplicates (the tops) or very similar (two pairs of pants). In each section, I’ll outline my lessons learned from those particular “bad buys,” and I’ll also highlight some of most important lessons at the end of this post.
Old Navy Keyhole-Back Workout Tops
I decided to try these tops because my favorite Old Navy workout top had been discontinued in 2020 and, like many Old Navy products, this style was offered in tall sizes. Not many stores offer tall sizing (which I don’t need for everything, but I often like the extra couple of inches of length), and the bulk of workout tops on offer these days are too loose and boxy. I prefer my workout tops – and pretty much all of my tops – to be fitted (but not necessarily snug). The discontinued tops were perfect for me because they had a streamlined fit and a V-neck that wasn’t cut too deep. I also liked the quick-dry fabric and the varied color options. I still have a few of the old tops in my closet, but they’re becoming increasingly worn out and won’t last much longer.
Unfortunately, the keyhole-back tops were a “bust” for me, for several reasons. First of all, the fabric was slippery and didn’t stay in place, so I had to fuss with the shirt multiple times during a workout. Additionally, while the keyhole-back is an interesting detail, it’s not practical. During the daylight hours, it could lead to either a sunburn or strange tan lines, and at night it’s too cold and drafty on anything but the warmest summer evenings. The neckline was also a bit too open and low for my personal preference, especially when I bend and move around during a workout (which I’m only doing at home at the moment, but hopefully not forever).
My final issue with these tops was the curved hemline, which seems to be a mainstay of almost all of Old Navy’s tops these days (the discontinued tops that I loved had a straight hemline). I don’t find curved hemlines flattering on my figure, as the shortest part of the curve tends to stop right above the widest area of my hips. I have curvy hips that I’d rather play down than accentuate, so I prefer straight hems that hit either a few inches above or a few inches below my widest part.
Because of all of the issues mentioned above, I opted to pass these two tops on several months ago. I now have a better grasp of the types of details that do and don’t work for me in workout tops (and tops in general). The Old Navy keyhole-back tops didn’t cost much, so my lessons weren’t expensive to learn. However, I still want to make sure that I solidify my deal-breakers in my mind so I can avoid them moving forward:
- No more keyhole-back details, too low and wide necklines, fussy fabrics, or curved hems!
Athleta Breezy V-Neck Tees
I bought these two tees on sale last spring. I’ve long been a big fan of Athleta’s pants and jackets, but I haven’t had much luck with their tops. Many Athleta tops are too big and boxy for my preferences, but since this style looked more fitted on the models, I decided to give it a try. I first ordered the tees in size medium tall, which is my standard size at Athleta, but that size was too large. I exchanged them for size small tall, which I thought would be better, but those tops still had some fit issues when they arrived. Rather than returning the tops, which I should have done, I opted to try to improve the fit by means of alterations. I don’t think I would have done so if the tops had been full-priced, so that’s a lesson learned right there!
The tops were looser than I wanted in the torso area, so I had them taken in, which allowed for the side slits (a detail that I recently realized I don’t like) to be closed at the same time. Back then, I had yet to pinpoint curved hems as a problematic garment feature, but the combination of that detail and the somewhat scratchy fabric led to my not wanting to wear the Breezy V-neck tees. I don’t feel that they look flattering in the back, as the curved bottom overly accentuates my own curved bottom, as well as my larger hips in proportion to my narrower torso. Although I like to highlight my slim upper half, sometimes doing so also draws attention to my curvier lower half, which I prefer not to do.
In the past, I might have opted to go back and have the hem on these tees altered to be straight across, but I think I won’t choose to “throw good money after bad” this time around. I think I’ll cut my losses and set the following intentions:
- Don’t purchase tops (or any garments) that include details I don’t like (i.e., curved hems, side slits, scratchy fabric).
- Don’t try to “remake” garments by means of alterations.
- Do stick to only basic types of alterations, such as hemming and slightly taking in items at the waistline or under the arms.
Black Print Old Navy Twill Pants
As I’ve written about many times before, it’s hard for me to find good-fitting pants with sufficient length for my long legs. It’s even more difficult to find interesting styles of pants that fit the bill. When brands do offer tall sizing, it’s often only for very basic styles, like dark-wash jeans and black pants. I long for more variety in my bottom pieces, so I have a tendency to “settle” when I find bright or printed pants offered in tall sizes. Add a “good sale” to the equation, and the settling can be even more prominent, as was the case with these pants.
They were billed as “ankle pants,” but when they arrived, the length seemed to be in “no-man’s land” territory on my legs. They were longer on me than on the model, so they didn’t appear to be deliberately cropped. It would have been better for me to have them hemmed a bit shorter to match what’s shown on the model, but I instead opted to have the hem let down as much as possible. My reasoning was that I already owned quite a few pairs of cropped pants, and I really needed more full-length trouser options in my closet.
Sadly, the additional length wasn’t enough, and the pants still look too short to be considered a true full length. Even stretching the length when the pants were wet didn’t result in a length long enough for my preferences (this method sometimes works with jeans, but these pants aren’t as “pliable”). Now I’m faced with a few options for these Old Navy twill pants, which were purchased at the end of the summer season and have yet to be worn. I could do an additional alteration to shorten the pants to a true ankle length, I could roll the pants to a suitable cropped length, or I could cut my losses and pass them on.
The pants cost around twenty dollars, but the alteration added another fifteen or so dollars to the overall price. I wish I would have either had the pants hemmed shorter or returned them, but instead I attempted the riskier alteration and it was a “fail.” When pants are almost long enough but not quite, I usually end up feeling not polished enough, which means that one of my three style guideposts (“polished”) is out the window.
I guess my decision on the pants will depend on how I feel when I try them on again after the weather warms up, but hopefully I’ve learned this important lesson:
- Don’t “settle” when it comes to pant lengths! If the pants aren’t long enough to wear with my desired footwear, I should leave them in the store or return them.
You may not need tall sizes, and you may be able to hem a pair of pants so the length is just right for you, but sometimes it’s just easier to move on and look for a better fit. This is especially true for those of you who don’t find it particularly challenging to find pants that fit you off the rack.
Blue Cropped Pants from J. Crew and J. Jill
More pant failures here, but for different reasons than the ones addressed in the previous section. I grouped these two pairs of pants together because they’re quite similar, but their issues are not the same. Let’s actually start with the pants on the right, as those were purchased first, and I wouldn’t have bought the other pair if the first option had worked out.
While it’s not all that obvious in the photo, the J. Jill cropped pants were fairly wide-legged. I should have returned them for that reason, but I’ve had pants successfully narrowed multiple times and thought I could do the same with this pair. Everything else about the pants was what I was looking for: the color (similar to denim, but without the heaviness), the comfort, and the versatility for the summer months (or so I thought). I believed that if only they were narrower in the legs, they could become a “wardrobe workhorse.” Even though recent trends have been for wider pants, I’m a slow adopter and still much prefer narrower styles.
Unfortunately, the alteration was not successful, and my tailor was unable to produce the desired end result despite several tries. The reason for the failure was related to the fabric of the pants, a linen and cotton blend with a “crinkly” texture. Because of the fabric, the altered width of the pants didn’t look uniform all the way down, and there was a bit of “puckering” in places that couldn’t easily be ironed or steamed out. I haven’t gotten rid of the pants yet, but I may end up doing so when I go through my holding zone this spring. It feels like a huge waste of money and time, but at least I know what can and can’t be done with this type of fabric in the future.
Because the J. Jill pants turned out to be so problematic, I remained on the lookout for a similar style. I wanted lightweight denim-like pants to wear in the summer instead of white pants, which I don’t wear because I’m sensitive about the size of my hips and thighs. When I saw a blogger who’s similar to my age, height, and size (this blogger – I especially recommend her weekly videos) wearing the chambray J. Crew cropped pants, I thought they might work for me. She doesn’t wear tall sizes like I do (she’s two inches shorter and not as long-limbed), but the pants were available in a tall – and on deep sale. The only problem was that they were final sale, so it was a big risk for me to purchase them. Of course, I should have just said no, but I can be too stubborn and determined at times!
When the pants arrived, they were probably at least a size too big for me. I guess my perception of the blogger’s size in comparison to mine was off, but she does state that she usually wears a size eight or medium, which is my typical size in bottom pieces. Regardless, the pants weren’t wearable “as is,” so I had to either get them altered or pass them on (since I couldn’t return them). I opted for the alterations, which weren’t cheap because I had to have both the legs and the seat area taken in.
These J. Crew cropped pants might end up working well as a summer item, but by the time the alterations were finished, we’d already moved into the cooler weather season (I bought the pants in the fall). So, I’m going to have to wait until this coming summer to see how much of a fail this purchase might be. Even if I do end up wearing the pants, though, it was still a mistake for me to buy them.
Here’s a recap of my lessons learned from the J. Jill and J. Crew cropped pants (some of the lessons mentioned in the previous sections also apply here):
- Be mindful of fabric in regards to alterations. Jeans and more substantial pants can be easily narrowed, but I shouldn’t attempt to do so with “flimsy” or “crinkly” fabrics.
- Don’t “throw good money after bad.” Sometimes it’s best to just cut my losses rather than spend more money trying to “rescue” a bad purchase by means of alterations.
- Don’t buy final sale items unless I’ve already tried them on and know they’ll work out for me.
- Beware of buying items shown on bloggers or “influencers,” as they often alter their photos and/or pose to show garments in a positive light. It’s okay to take a risk sometimes if returns are possible, but it’s good to be aware of the potential issues.
Black, White, and Red Print Cirque du Soleil Purse
My final 2021 mistake purchase was motivated by nostalgia. Around fifteen years ago, I owned this exact same purse and carried it extensively until it wore out. I bought the purse in Las Vegas after seeing one of the Cirque du Soleil shows there. Although my style has changed a lot over the years, I still love the unique and artistic feel of the bag and the fact that it’s mostly black and white (so it coordinates well with most of my wardrobe). It features lots of pockets and holds a surprisingly large amount of stuff (I love my large bags).
I was excited to see this Cirque du Soleil bag listed on eBay, as it brought back a lot of positive memories from when I owned it the first time around. I wasn’t sure how old the listed bag was or how long it had been in the seller’s possession, but it’s made of faux leather, which isn’t nearly as durable as real leather. The bag was listed as “new without tags,” and it appeared to be in good condition from the photos in the listing. It’s likely that the bag actually was new in terms of never having been used, but there were definitely flaws on it when it arrived to my home.
The flaws seemed minor at first, but after carrying the bag a few times, I noticed more and more of the pleather coating peeling off in certain places. My husband and I tried to “refurbish” it a bit by scraping off the unsightly peels and filling in the bare spots with a Sharpie. This worked to a certain extent, but I’m sure the peeling will continue, and I doubt I’ll be able to use the bag too many more times.
It’s too bad this bag didn’t work out, as I do still like the style. I guess the most important lesson I learned from this mistake purchase is:
- Don’t buy pleather items via resale unless they were manufactured very recently. Pleather is known to break down easily, and I should have known that a bag that was over a decade old wouldn’t hold up well.
Most Important Lessons Learned
I shared a lot of my lessons learned in the sections above, but I want to highlight some of the most important ones here. In doing so, I hope to not only save myself from repeating mistakes, but also help you be more aware of potential pitfalls you might encounter when shopping. I’ve written about some of these issues previously, but sometimes repetition can be helpful, even for the person who’s authoring the information!
Be just as “picky” with sale purchases as when items are full price.
The phenomenon of “sales goggles” is all too common for so many of us. If you wouldn’t be interested in buying the item at full price, definitely think long and hard about whether or not you should purchase it on sale. A “good deal” is only such if we end up wearing and loving the item in question.
Don’t buy “final sale” items.
There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, such as items that you’ve previously tried on and are certain about the size and fit. I recently purchased one of my favorite Tommy John Lounge Henley tops on final sale (this one) because I own that garment in other colors and know what size fits me best. But if you’ve never seen or touched an item or tried it on, it’s best not to take the risk of buying it when it cannot be returned. The likelihood is high that you’ll be sorry you took the plunge, and you may end up losing money rather than saving it.
Don’t be dazzled by just ONE facet of a garment while ignoring potential problems.
How often have you bought something just because you loved the color, pattern, or some other singular detail? Doing this can often result in mistake purchases because we didn’t pay attention to other details that don’t work for us. It’s helpful to have lists of your wardrobe “do’s” and “don’ts” and to consult them often (keeping these lists on your phone allows for easy access when shopping). You may love the color of a top, for example, but if the fabric is itchy or “fussy,” that top will likely gather dust in your closet. If you’re not certain that an item will be loved and worn, you should leave it in the store – or return it, if it made its way home with you or was purchased online.
Return anything you’re not excited to wear, no matter how low the price was!
I just returned two Old Navy tees that cost only eight dollars each. I decided to do so while I was writing this post because I realized I wasn’t excited to wear either one of them. Many of us have bought things because “it was a great deal,” but it’s far better to pay more for pieces that we actually can’t wait to wear. In most instances, if you haven’t worn something within the first few weeks of owning it, it should probably go back to the store. Yes, there are some exceptions for out-of-season and formal garments, but for the most part, we should be wearing our new items right away.
Conclusion and Your Thoughts?
I’m sure I could think of more “most important” lessons to recap, but this post is already insanely long. I considered making it a two-parter, but I want to hurry up and finish my 2021 wrap-up posts so I can dive into 2022-specific content. I have one more wrap-up post to go, and I’ll also review my 2021 word and share my new yearly theme in a combined essay following that one.
I hope you found this post helpful, even though it was somewhat embarrassing for me to write and share. I often shake my head at some of the stupid mistakes I make with my shopping, but I also know I’m not alone in these types of errors. Even the most proficient and unemotional shoppers (emotions play a huge role for me…) mess up on occasion, as nobody’s perfect. It’s important to remind ourselves of this fact whenever we get down on ourselves for not “getting it right.”
I welcome any comments you’d like to share, especially if you want to tell me and your fellow readers about your own shopping mistakes from last year and what you’ve learned from them. Perhaps you have additional lessons to impart beyond what I highlighted above. If so, please enlighten the rest of us and save us from the potential errors of our ways. I look forward to reading your thoughts and I wish you all a wonderful weekend (or just a happy Sunday for my friends in the southern hemisphere).