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What's Your Style Strategy?

Do you "shop the mannequin?"

A friend recently let me in on a style secret he’d been keeping. After a couple of drinks (for courage, of course), he leaned in and whispered, “Megan, when I go shopping, I just walk into the store, check out the mannequins in the window…and buy whatever they’re wearing.”

Sheepishly, he lowered his eyes and asked, “Is that cheating?”

Well, yes and no. Yes, this course of action takes the skill (and I would say, fun) out of selecting clothes for your wardrobe. But there is an argument to be made for cutting the guesswork out of stocking your closet. In fact, my friend’s strategy may just be keeping him a sane and healthy shopper.

Below, more on men’s shopping behavior and how to develop a style strategy:

In The Paradox of Choice (a book that explains literally everything about why we are the way we are…seriously, go read it), Barry Schwartz argues that eliminating options in consumer behavior can greatly reduce anxiety. Most people are one of two “types:” maximizers or satisficers.

Maximizers consider every alternative before making a choice. Meaning, they might find a plaid flannel shirt that meets their criteria (price, color, fit) in the first store they look, but they’ll still stop into every other store at the mall to make sure there’s not an even more perfect plaid flannel out there.

Satisficers, on the other hand, make decisions aiming for a satisfactory or adequate result, rather than the optimal solution. Meaning, they’ll buy that first flannel shirt as long as it meets their standards (which are generally the same as those of the maximizer), without worrying that there may be a better shirt still out there.

Schwartz argues in favor of a satisficer mindset, as maximizers tend to:

  1. spend extra time shopping with the same results, and
  2. feel less confident about their purchases.

Maximizers wind up with a perfectly good shirt, but constantly worry about the one that may have got away. Satisficers wind up with a perfectly good shirt, like it more, and worked to find it a whole lot less.

So Schwartz would most likely affirm my friend’s “shop the mannequin” strategy. He gets an outfit he feels confident in, and he doesn’t spend all day at the mall.

On the one hand, I totally understand this men’s shopping behavior.

When I worked at Abercrombie & Fitch a million years ago, we would receive huge binders twice a month from corporate headquarters on how to style the store set-up – from the mannequin forms to the exact angles of each t-shirt stack on a table. It took me a month just to master all the ways to fold a pair of jeans.

And the mannequin forms? Forget it. That was a manager’s job. With countless details to get just right, A&F HQ couldn’t afford to leave that task to anyone but a trained professional. Knowing that every detail of a retail store’s look has been thought out by style experts, means if you follow a store’s lead, you will look good.

Of course, there’s also a couple drawbacks to this shopping strategy.

One is that the clothes on the mannequins are almost certainly full price. From Gap to Gucci, window displays are carefully selected to showcase the brand’s latest and greatest offerings. Though, Schwartz would argue (and I’m inclined to agree) that if paying full price beats worrying about if you’ve pulled together an acceptable lewk, then it’s worth the extra cost.

The other issue is that when you shop exclusively head-to-toe looks, you wind up looking like…well, the mannequin in the store window.

It doesn’t show much of a sense of personal style if you wear one brand head-to-toe. If anything, men often look less competent, stylistically speaking, when they dress exclusively from one store, or wear the same outfit over and over without getting creative and mixing in different pieces from different brands.

Not that there’s anything wrong with an assist. You’re reading this now because you recognize that having some help in the style department serves as both a time-saver and a reassurance that you’re walking out of the house looking right.

Of course, I do hope you eventually take off the training wheels as you learn to trust your style instincts more. But for now, do what feels right for you. Even if that means walking up to a sales associate with your head held high, pointing at the mannequin and saying, “I’ll have what he’s having.”



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