My Wardrobe, Myself

The intersection of clothing, emotions, and life

Today’s post introduces a new category on the blog, in which I share my “keep or return” decision process with items I’ve purchased. In some keep or return posts, I will already have reached a decision, but I’ll break it down for you. In other instances, like today, I’ll still be wrestling with what to do, so I’ll lay out the pros and cons and hopefully gain clarity through that process. I also welcome your input, as I’m sure some of you have contended with similar decisions and will have good points to share.

keep or return decision

I’ve been pondering what to do about a particular item over the past couple of weeks. It’s not usually this difficult for me to decide whether or not to return something. Buying too many items contributes to my oversized wardrobe much more so than an unwillingness to let things go (although I do struggle when it comes to purging pants and shoes).

Usually, if I have any doubts about what to do, I try on the piece in question and trust my instincts when I look in my full-length mirror. Failing that initial clarity, I’ll revisit any unworn items as their return deadline looms, at which point I can usually reach a conclusion without too much deliberation. This time, however, none of that has worked – and I’m still as confused as ever!

Outlining My Dilemma

Here’s my dilemma, starting with a bit of background explanation… I’ve always liked the look of puffer vests. I’ve shared my love of wearing a “third piece” in order to look more put-together, and I think a puffer vest can uplevel a simple long-sleeved top and athletic pants ensemble (which is something I often wear). They also look great with jeans and booties, which I wear frequently during the cooler months.

Despite my admiration of puffer vests, I’ve struggled with finding one that’s suitable for me. I had one once a few years back, but I didn’t hold on to it for very long because it was too short for my tall frame and ended in a less-than-flattering spot. Another fit challenge is that when a vest fits me well at the bottom, it often gapes open under the arms. I’ve tried on countless puffer vests over the years, but a good fit eluded me… until this year. I wasn’t even particularly shopping for a vest, but I came upon a “Holy Grail” option by chance.

As those who have been reading for a while know, I’m a big fan of Athleta, as they offer tall sizes in most pieces and their styles work well for my casual lifestyle. When I tried on their Whisper Featherless Vest in the store, I was excited at the prospect of finally finding a puffer vest that was suitable for my shape. And as luck would have it, someone had returned a tall size to the store, so I didn’t even have to wait for an online order to be delivered to my home. After using some rewards points and a store discount, I happily left the store with my “white whale” item in tow.

Athleta Whisper Featherless Vest

I love so many things about the Whisper Featherless Vest: the length, the high-low design (longer in the back than the front), the gathering in the back for a more fitted silhouette, and the diagonal square quilted pattern. I also like that it’s comfortable and not bulky, as well as the fact that the collar can be folded down if desired. Additionally, it has a two-way zipper for a better fit when the wearer is seated. It’s not your basic puffer vest, which is what I love about it. Although it’s a casual piece, I still think it’s in line with my “style guideposts” of dramatic, polished, and elegant (in as much as a puffer vest can be elegant, anyway!).

Here’s a look at a couple of outfit possibilities for the vest (from the Athleta website). I often wear joggers, so I could definitely see myself wearing ensembles similar to these.

Whisper Featherless Vest outfits

The Crux of the Matter…

That all sounds just great, doesn’t it? But the truth is that I purchased the vest a month and a half ago and I have yet to wear it! Athleta switched to a sixty-day return policy, so I need to decide fairly soon if I want to keep the vest or return it to the store. When I think about why I haven’t worn the vest, here’s what I’ve come up with…

When it’s cold outside (for where I live – it’s all relative…), a vest doesn’t provide sufficient warmth by itself. My arms get cold more so than my torso area, so I often need to wear more than just a top on the cooler days. That means that I would need to add another layer over the vest in order to be warm enough. I could definitely do that, but my usual habit is to just wear a top and a jacket. I have a few “fashion vests” (dressier styles) that I enjoy wearing, but my pattern with those is to wait for days that are a bit warmer so I won’t need an additional layer. Here’s a look at my current vest collection (not including the puffer), as well as some old outfit photos for how I’ve styled two of them:

my current vest collection

This is my current vest collection – The left two are hip length; the others are much longer.

four vest ensembles

Here are some ways that I’ve worn two of my vests (outfit pictures from 2016 and 2017). 

With the longer vests, I can’t really wear a jacket over them because the length clashes (the vest is longer than the jacket/coat), but I do sometimes wear a jacket over the two shorter vests. I could do the same with the puffer vest, but there’s another explanation for why I haven’t worn it. As I’ve written about previously, my wardrobe is basically divided into at-home items (which are also worn when I go on walks) and out-and-about items. Some of the pieces I own fit into both categories, and the puffer vest would be part of that group of “crossover” items. It’s versatile in that it works well with both my joggers and my jeans/pants.

But I wouldn’t wear the vest to go on a walk, as I always wear short-sleeved tops for walking, and the vest only really looks good with long-sleeved tops. I wear short-sleeved tops on walks because I often get hot and need to remove my jacket for a while to cool off. If I lived in a cooler place (like where my family lives in the Lake Tahoe area), I’m sure I would wear long-sleeved tops for walks and not have to worry about overheating, but Southern California temperatures don’t generally dip all that low.

So, if I wouldn’t wear the puffer vest on a walk, I would only wear it for out-and-about occasions. I could see pairing it with an at-home ensemble and my nicer sneakers to run errands, and I even played with some outfit possibilities for such a purpose the other day. I felt great in those outfits, but will I actually choose to wear them all that often? I think I might not because I already have so few occasions for wearing my out-and-about clothing, and I usually choose to wear those pieces whenever I’m going somewhere that isn’t about exercising.

My Options

Now that I’ve laid that all out, I need to decide what to do about the vest. I could keep it and decide to just be okay with the fact that I likely won’t wear it a lot. It’s basically a “timeless” piece that I could own for years, so perhaps it would reach a decent cost-per-wear over time.  I could definitely wear it when I visit my family in Tahoe, but I typically only go there once a year during the cooler months (I prefer the Tahoe summers). Or I could return it because it’s something that’s great in theory, but it doesn’t work particularly well for my lifestyle.

If I decide to return the vest but later regret my decision, I might get another opportunity to purchase it next fall/winter, as Athleta often repeats their styles in future years. However, this is the second year the vest was offered (as per the Athleta staff), so it might not come back for a third year. If that’s the case, I still might be able to find it on eBay or another resale site. It might even go on deep sale on Athleta’s website later this spring, but the likelihood of finding a tall small vest at that point is probably pretty low, as tall sizes tend to sell out quickly.

The truth is that I have plenty to wear, and I also own a number of jackets that serve well as third pieces with my casual outfits. I like the easy “put it on and go” aspect of the puffer vest, but I haven’t actually done that in the weeks since I purchased it. I think its best season is probably spring and fall, though, and spring only just started. It’s possible that I might start wearing it now that the temperatures will be more “in between.” But do I want to take a chance on my maybe wearing it and miss out on being able to get my money back?

The Whisper Featherless Vest was not an inexpensive piece, even with the discounts I received, so I don’t want to keep it and regret it. Maybe I’m just not a puffer vest person and I should instead enjoy the look on other people. Yes, I’ve wanted one for a long time, but perhaps I liked the idea of it more than the actual piece itself?  I also don’t live in a true puffer vest climate, although it gets cooler here than a lot of people think. I do see people wearing puffer vests in San Diego, but the question is will I wear one here? That’s the $64,000 question that I need to answer soon!

Your Thoughts?

I’ve belabored the points long enough in this post, so now I’d like to turn it over to you and get your thoughts.

  • What do you think I should do about the vest?
  • Are there questions or considerations that you thought of that I didn’t mention?
  • Have you faced a similar “keep or return” dilemma? What helped you to make your decision?
  • Do you like these types of posts? Would you also like to see similar “keep or purge” posts on the blog?

I appreciate any input that you have for me, whether it be questions or thoughts. I’d also love to hear your personal “keep or return” stories. We can all learn from each other’s challenges, dilemmas, mistakes, and regrets. Please feel free to share whatever thoughts you have about the topics in this post.

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23 thoughts on “A Tricky “Keep or Return” Decision

  1. Amber says:

    This is the sentence that sticks out to me, “it’s something that’s great in theory, but it doesn’t work particularly well for my lifestyle” which is sort of a red flag for my own over-shopping tendencies. I love to analyze and research things to the point that I can find the most perfect —fill in the blank— but something can look good on paper without really adding much value to my life. I generally can handle a regret of letting something go over a regret of keeping something – especially if it is expensive. But my “return the vest” leanings could be my own fashion bias speaking here. I don’t like puffer vests on me because they add torso bulk and aren’t flattering for my body type. Perhaps a puffer vest lover can pick out another sentence you wrote and argue the opposite side! In the end, does the vest spark joy ala Marie Kondo? Even that method isn’t foolproof for me, but sometimes works.

  2. Sally says:

    Hi Debbie,

    General Comments About Items to Return in General:

    You know when something is right as you don’t even question it and you wear it.

    I would say that the fact that you are uncertain enough to write a post and get other’s opinions on it, and the fact that you haven’t worn it, you reach for something else instead, means it’s not right and you would be better off returning it.

    Also, holding on to something in case you may wear it in the future can be problematic, as if you do eventually decide to wear it, your weight may have changed and it may not fit and by then it’s too late to return.

    Also, see how you feel when I say return it. If you immediately resist my suggestion then you should keep it.

    If I am unsure about something, does it make me look fat, does it fit properly, does the colour or pattern suit me, is the length right, where would I wear it etc.,I ask my husband. If he says it looks fine keep it, usually that clarifies it for me and most often I return it, because he doesn’t have to wear it or feel comfortable in it.

    If you keep it you are settling for something that isn’t quite right, style wise, comfort or lifestyle.

    Comments About Puffer Vests:

    Some people love them, some don’t.

    I personally don’t, because they add weight around the torso and make you look bigger, even the slimline ones. They are called puffer for a reason and they puff you out.

    This may not be a problem if you are very slim on top, but if you have a big bust or have gained weight around your middle due to menopause, it will make you look bigger and look like you have a barrel shaped body.

    Also, if it is cold enough to wear a puffer, then your arms will be colder than your body, even with a long sleeve top, as your body has the warm of the top and the puffer, but your arms only have the warmth of the top. You would be better off wearing a jacket or coat instead of a puffer.

    If you wear a coat or jacket over the top of a puffer that will make your body even bulkier.

    If your arms are warm enough in just the top, then why do you need the puffer?

    If you tend to have a cold body and warm arms, then this might work, or if you are doing an activity that requires you have full movement of your arms and they are not restricted by a jacket or coat.

    People who love puffers will disagree with my comments and that’s fine as everyone has different body shapes, style, lifestyle and preferences. These are just mine.

    Either way, your response to everyone’s comments will help clarify things for you, but your initial gut response that you aren’t sure is usually right and you should return it.


  3. Andrea pascali says:

    It seems you’re torn between having found the perfect item based on a desire, and the reality of it not fitting with your needs. I had a similar dilemma this winter. I love the idea and look of a vest and since my working life and lifestyle has changed over the years I can justify owning such pieces and i
    spent time looking for gilets as we call them in the UK to wear when a lightweight layer is needed for driving, popping to the grandchildren, visits by car, etc. Also, I have occasions where a third layer is needed but I don’t want too much warmth, for example, English transitional seasons. I purchased several last winter, but purged them all as they were too short, bulky for a large chested woman or uncomfortable around the collar and I didn’t feel quite right when wearing them. Finally I found a longline pleather/pu gilet, not a puffer style, that is perfect, ticks all the boxes and I’ve enjoyed wearing. Could your love of vests be satisfied by sticking to the types and styles you already own and that work for you? The idea of a puffer may appeal, but the practicalities render it unsuitable for your particular needs – however, the style of vests you already have may offer you the aesthetic you’re looking for, but in a more useful way. I’d say return it – but what would I do? I would keep it because I know that in keeping an item that I felt was so perfect in every way, it would satisfy my cravings and stave the continual search. Also, we can have items of beauty and joy in our wardrobes that may get worn less frequently but still have a rotational value over a period of years. The vest is a classic style that will have it’s uses over the years for travel etc but may not be in as regular rotation as more frequently worn pieces. If that doesn’t bother you, keep it. If you’d rather have items you have in regular rotation, return it.

  4. Sue says:

    I think you answered your question in the text, for instance here: ‘my “style guideposts” of dramatic, polished, and elegant (in as much as a puffer vest can be elegant, anyway!)’. It seems that you feel that a puffer vest, by it’s very nature, is never going to meet your style guidelines. You admit as much where you write, ‘I have a few “fashion vests” (dressier styles) that I enjoy wearing’. After reading this piece, I therefore agree with your conclusion, that you are [maybe] ‘not a puffer vest person’. Besides, as you point out, you already have enough more suitable vests that better suit your climate, lifestyle and style criteria. So, I conclude that you should return the puffer vest.

    I definitely agree with your conclusion that there are things we should just admire from afar. For me, it’s denim jackets and long woollen coats. I dream of finding Sue style versions of each (flattering for my frame and colouring, cute, classic, shapely, …). One day, perhaps. But I have learned that if I am resorting to a pros and cons list because I have doubts, then I already know deep down that [sigh] the garment is not for me.

    P.S. I like this type of post but I think it could be risky for you 😉. We will be magnifying every doubt you have, I think. I totally agree with Sally’s comment about not even questioning a purchase when you know it is right. When we go shopping, my daughter often points out to me that I wouldn’t be hesitating if I knew the piece was the right choice for me. She says she can always tell from the rapture in my eyes and my words if I really love and would cherish the item above all else I own in that category. But it’s still always hard to know your own mind so I vote yes to these types of posts. I think they will help us all.

    1. Sue says:

      P.P.S. I enjoyed this post so much, I read it again. I so agree with Rachel’s comment that this vest represents some type of life you admire but do not live. Frankly, the only arguments you seem to give for keeping the vest relate to fear: FOMO or fear of regret. This has helped me realise why I am hanging onto some of my clothes and shoes that are less than comfortable and do not meet my lifestyle needs. Today, I have cleared some closet clutter I didn’t even know I had! Thank you!!!

  5. Krissie says:

    Great post as always Debbie with added food for thought. Could you make a masterlist and keep it for when you are shopping. List all the activities you enjoy and list the clothes you are likely to wear for them. That way if an item of clothing is not on that list, it means you probably dont need it.
    I live in a hot climate and puffer vests are sold here for our short and usually warm winter, knowing this, if i ever bought one it would be unlikely that I would ever wear it, with the exception of maybe one perfect occasion if the weather was perfect for it.
    Should you keep yours? Now that you have it and it wasnt horribly expensive I’d say keep it. But note how many times you did wear it and for which activity on your master list.

  6. Rachel says:

    Return it. IT’s one of those “good in theory” items that doesn’t work for your actual life. It’s not an “ideal life” piece for me, but it sounds like it fills that category for you…you can let it go.

  7. Jenn says:

    I live in Michigan, where one might think a puffer vest could come in handy several times throughout the year. That’s not proven to be the case for me.

    However, on the occasions that I wear one, I love my puffer vest.

    Keep or return decisions can stump me with my own purchases. I’ve puttered with the idea of creating a mind map to help me, but it’s hard to think objectively about a piece you could potentially love.

    So I guess I’m not much help.

  8. Vildy says:

    Over the years, you show us many varied photos of your outfits, both great and not so great. I was surprised you didn’t show a pic of you wearing this.
    I’d like to see you in an out and about outfit with this vest, one of the ones in which you felt great. My inclination, btw, is to say that if this is a variation of an out and about outfit, then keep it for that and therefor expand the silhouette choice of what you wear on those typical occasions. If this puffer vest look is something you have always liked on others I don’t see why you wouldn’t enjoy it in real life on yourself, giving your eye a bit of time to adjust. *Are* you a puffer vest person? You won’t really know until you put in enough practice to make it more second nature and eliminate the over-scrutinizing.

    1. Vildy says:

      I should have said great and not so great outfits in your own estimation. You’re such a very attractive person that I’ll bet most of us think you look pretty great in all your outfits, even the out of favor ones.

  9. Jo says:

    Hi Debbie,

    I really like all the features you pointed out about the puffer vest and I like the outfits you showed with it. It looks like a modern addition to your wardrobe and would be cute over long-sleeve T-shirts as well as lightweight long-sleeve sweaters. Perfect for a casual lifestyle.

    That said, are you comfortable with owning this piece and using the vest only occasionally? To me, it seems like a great piece that you would be glad you own.

    On the other hand, is the vest representative a fantasy life you wish you had? I am guilty of this at times. I think a lot of women are. We envision ourselves as looking current, hip, put-together, slimmer, etc. with the right pieces.

    The most telling part is the fact that it’s been weeks and you haven’t worn the vest. Normally we would be excited to wear our new pieces, unless we are buying pre- or post-season. I remember buying my very first Kate Spade bag around the year 2000. It cost $375, more than any bag I had every bought by far. I felt so guilty that I looked at the purse (with tags on) for weeks while I debated keeping it. Eventually I cut the tags off and started using it. And I loved it. No regrets. I was sorry that it took so long for me to give myself “permission” to keep it and use it. Maybe in a way you feel like you don’t deserve to keep the vest. I hope that’s not the case.

    Please be sure to let us know what your final decision is.

  10. Vildy says:

    Jo’s comment about how we envision ourselves prompted me to reread your post yet again. I don’t think I’m seeing that aspect here. You’ve searched for perhaps years for the right vest and rejected countless others. Why would you want to get rid of the one you finally found – a beautifully designed one, at that – that ticks all the boxes?

  11. sewtypical says:

    Return it. And you’ll have that cash to spend on something summery..

    If you haven’t reached for it in the six weeks that the weather was cooler, you most likely won’t wear it during the upcoming California summer. Why keep it for a year in the hope that you’ll want to wear it then? It’s not the last puffer vest in the world!

    PS I hope that didn’t sound too blunt or even brutal. I enjoy your blog and enjoyed this post.
    🙂 Chris

  12. Cathie P says:

    Mmm the comments are mixed. I think we you put something on and do the happy dance you know you love it. I bought a new dress this summer, it’s a maxi which I had sworn off but when I saw this on the rack everything else was perfect, fabric, black and white spot, perfect neckline. I tried it on and that was it, didn’t even look at the price which is unheard of for me. Turned out to be the dress of the summer and I have worn it almost every time I’ve gone anywhere. Not sick of it, still love it.
    That is probably the best puffer you will ever get, ticks all the boxes, but maybe it’s the fantasy you. I know lots of people love to layer, but I’ve realised I’m not one of them. Sometimes clothes are great for someone else but not for your life. I love coats personally, but live in a subtropical climate. I only need a coat if I travel,so as much as I’d love to have ten I just have to restrict myself. I get the temptation though, if I wanted a puffer that would be the one.

  13. LisaS says:

    Would you buy it at full price or would you buy it again? One problem is Athleta items sell so quickly despite their cost. I have bought so many wrong things over the years thinking unconsciously, I guess, that I will live the life of the ad. I would return it.

  14. Maggie says:

    Hi Debbie,
    I think you summarized the points perfectly. I love the idea of a puffer vest but if it is cold enough for me to need another layer, I like having sleeves. I have an Eddie Bauer down parka that is very light, has a hood and works well as long as it is not very windy or raining. I know some people have a “packable” down parka that they use. Here is my take – if you have always wanted one and it meets every requirement, just accept that you won’t wear it very often but it frees up the “decision fatigue” that we can get while shopping.

    You could always test it out at home and see how much it actually warms you up do get a better idea of its usefulness in your life.

    (The only time I was successful wearing vest was when I just wanted to add another layer to the outfit I was wearing at work but didn’t want my arms to feel constricted. I wore the vest over a long-sleeved tee then to dress it up.)

    Good luck with whatever you decide!

    (I would say that you could return it and look for it on Ebay later but I know that you are sensitive to perfumes, smells, etc.)

  15. Katrina B says:

    I’ve puzzled over this for a few days and come to the conclusion that I would be a terrible stylist/wardrobe consultant. I can’t seem to put myself in your mindset about the vest or consider your lifestyle and preferences – I just get stuck in my thoughts about why *I* would or would not keep it. 😂

    I’m impressed, as usual, by the thoughtfulness of the comments. Lots of very good, if conflicting, advice here. I’ll be interested to hear what you decide!

  16. I admit that it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around a puffy vest in S. California, but I’m trying 😀 Let me admit up front, I LOVE quilted/puffy vests and live in them in the winter…as an indoor layering piece (covered by a coat outdoors). Are you thinking of this vest as an indoor/outdoor layering piece or as outerwear? When you say that a vest doesn’t keep you warm enough outside, have you actually tried a puffy vest for this? Because a puffy/quilted vest is world’s different from the 4 lightweight vests you showed in terms of warmth. I know people are skeptical about the “if you keep your torso warm, you’ll keep your body warm” but in mild winter weather (e.g., Colorado…hahaha) I have found that to be truer than you’d think. Until you’ve actually tried the vest, it’s going to be very hard for you to know how it works as outerwear. My personal take on outerwear is that I don’t hold it to the same “how often will I wear it?” standard as I do normal clothing. It tends to last a long time so the CPW is chipped away at over a longer period. I also like to have all my bases covered with outerwear so that when I do take that trip / experience that weather / etc. for which the piece is suited, I have one I like to hand. I don’t get the same low CPW with outerwear as with normal clothing, but that’s OK with me because comfort outdoors is key and worth paying for. If the weather is compatible, I think you need to give it a test drive for an outing and for a stay-at-home outfit. I personally love wearing a vest for extra warmth indoors, but I don’t know whether your home is too warm for it. The fact that you didn’t mention not liking how the vest looked on you is a huge sign to me that you probably have found your holy grail puffy vest, since people concerned about looking slim often struggle with the silhouette.

  17. Debbie Roes says:

    Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who has commented on this post! You have given such valuable and thought-provoking feedback. I apologize for not responding to these thoughtful comments, but I have family visiting me and have been very busy with that. I plan to do a follow-up post soon in which I’ll summarize and discuss some of the points made here, and I will also share my decision (which I have still yet to make, but will soon). I’m so grateful to all of you for your readership, and I thank all of those who took the time to leave feedback on my keep or return decision. It seems like these types of posts are popular, so I will do more of them. 🙂

  18. Gail says:

    Maybe you could deliberately wear it a few times and see if you are happier keeping it for yourself or giving it to someone else via a donation store. I never “got” the idea of warmth being possible w/o sleeves, but then I am always cold!
    I think if you have considered not enjoying a piece, it means you don’t! You can go back and forth a couple of times, but if you have that initial doubt, it seems–for me at least–not to be an item for you to be comfortable with.
    You always look perfectly adorable in your photos, Debbie, no matter what you are wearing. But even if you wore ugly outfits, which you do not, we would love you for your sensitivity and your outstanding writing and empathy.

  19. Murphy says:

    I haven’t commented because I keep going back and forth about my conclusion lol. But I did enjoy this post and the comments and would be happy to see more posts of this type. I’m deciding whether to keep or return a summer top, so I will be asking myself some of the questions posed here

  20. RoseAG says:

    Return it.
    I have a vest a similar length that I bought at Talbots and I hardly wear it.
    I own 5 fleece/quilted vests so it’s not a case of my not liking vests, it’s that the longer length is hard to wear. I wear the shorter vests all time as kind of a semi-sweater when WFH. The longer vest is too long to sit in all day, and as you point out, you need to wear a hoodie under it if it’s really cold.
    I say shop around and see if you can find a regular length vest in a tall/long body.
    Something else I”d mention is, in the photos of vests you’ve liked, none of them have a collar. The quilted vest does and I think that limits it’s wear. The collar is too outdoorish and bulky to wear around indoors.

    1. Vildy says:

      WoW, the voice of experience. You make some really salient points about this style vest!

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