Like many women with little money and less time, my approach to jewelry shopping has been scattershot at best. My “collection” is made up of gifts from others, beads I’ve strung myself, pieces I’ve bought in desperation when I had nothing to wear with a particular outfit, and the occasional impulse buy.
All of these tactics have their limitations. Gift-givers never know us as well as we know ourselves. My homemade necklaces, though customized to my own specific needs, are rudimentary at best because I am not a skilled artisan (but no, my originals are not made of macaroni and paper clips. Thanks for asking).
The bought-in-desperation pieces are often ok for the need they were meant to fill, just barely, but they are never special. Rare, perfect finds don’t occur under desperation shopping circumstances. Inspiration doesn’t strike when one is suffering from POSS (Pissed-off Shopping Syndrome, marked by headache, irritability, blurred vision, and hunger-induced dizziness).
Most of my favorite pieces were impulse buys. When something reaches out and smacks me on the head, demanding to be purchased even though I don’t really need it, then it’s usually something special. That’s what happened with this bracelet, purchased at an artisan’s fair while I was on vacation.
Unfortunately, the limitation with impulse buys is that sometimes I don’t have anything to wear with them. Or, I get the piece home and discover that it can’t be paired with the outfit I’d planned because something is just a tiny bit off: the color, the pattern, the length of the chain, the shape, the size, and on and on and on.
So it’s probably no surprise that I spend a lot of cranky mornings trying on multiple pieces of jewelry only to figure out that none of them quite work. And I wear the same few pieces over and over and over again, until, as in a bad love affair, these formerly beloved items become tedious and annoying. I try to convince myself that hey, these are my signature items — problem solved! I’m not boring, I’m distinctive! But I’m not buying it and neither is anybody else. As much as I love this amber & silver necklace,
which was also, incidentally, purchased at an artisan’s fair, I think everybody may be getting sick of seeing it, day after day after day.
I recently had a shopping experience that demonstrated just how bad the problem has become, while also pushing me toward a possible solution. I had a gift certificate for a local boutique that has become one of my favorite spots for jewelry shopping. When it comes to jewelry, I tend to favor things that have a free-spirited, hand-crafted, Bohemian or arty look to them. I love all kinds of beads, plus earthy-looking pieces with interesting metallics, wood, or other textured and natural materials. Whoever buys jewelry for this boutique is definitely on my wavelength, because this is exactly what they have. (For those of you who are more familiar with chain stores, the style is somewhat similar to the jewelry at Chico’s, although their pieces tend to be a little too big and bold for me).
But anyway, there I was, with money to burn…. and I couldn’t find anything. That it itself was not the problem. Sometimes, while shopping, nothing reaches out and smacks me on the head. In those cases, it’s better to just move on. But I was aimlessly looking at random items and, for some reason, I couldn’t seem to visualize — at all — what clothes I had at home, and what pieces might go with what. It was as if every item of jewelry in the store morphed into a jumbled, blurry kaleidoscope of colors and patterns that swirled around and around in my head without settling into any coherent picture. It just made me feel tired. Overwhelmed. Discouraged. And a little POSS-y.
Now, I could blame it on fatigue, the heat, the fact that I was a quart low on iced coffee, or any number of other factors. But I think I was having an epiphany. And that epiphany was: when I shop for accessories, I have no clue what the hell I’m doing. Enough waiting for lucky lightning to hit. I need a system.
So I went home to do a full jewelry and wardrobe inventory. I decided to focus on necklaces, since they are key pieces and since, for some reason, I don’t seem to have quite as much difficulty fitting earrings and bracelets into my outfits.
It took me a few minutes (and a couple of rough drafts) to figure out what information I needed and how to organize it. I wound up making a table. In the first column, I listed all the tops that are in current rotation in my wardrobe. I grouped them into three categories: large, open necklines near the top of the table; smaller open necklines halfway down, and high necklines at the bottom.
Within each of those three neckline groups, I also grouped the tops by color family, and indicated which were solids and which were patterns. This distinction was based on last month’s epiphany that patterns and solids seem to demand different accessories, because prints tend to compete with similarly “busy” necklaces.
In the second column of my table, next to each top, I listed every necklace in my wardrobe that works well with it. In the last column, I listed any types of necklaces — not owned by me right now — that I think might work with each top. Once the table was filled in, I went back and put an asterisk beside those clothing items that are my old standbys, worn again and again.
You may be thinking that all of this sounds a little OCD. I can only say that, if I do have any obsessive-compulsive tendencies, they have never manifested themselves in any practical arena, such as housekeeping or, say, my job. Besides, the activity itself was actually rather relaxing, and took less than an hour.
The results, however, were surprisingly informative. Suddenly, before my very eyes, I saw the big picture. The major gaps in my necklace wardrobe were immediately apparent, and they weren’t what I expected them to be. I could see exactly which wardrobe staples were floundering away with only one necklace option, and more importantly, I could see why that was true. I could see what types of pieces I might need to buy to fill these gaps. I could see which options had been duplicated multiple times, and whether that duplication was justified by need. I could even see which jewelry items were just not being worn, and I could start to see why.
To sum up:
Revelation #1: There are very good reasons why I wear the above-photographed amber and silver necklace all the time. It’s not just because, as previously thought, I wear a lot of brown. Shorter pieces like this work with both larger and smaller open necklines and, as I discovered when viewing my table, I wear smaller necklines a lot and nothing else works with them. This necklace also works well because its color scheme is very simple — neutral, even — based on a metallic and one basic color. This means it works with both prints and solids, of almost any color, unlike this more colorful, patterned necklace:
which really only works with solid colors. So now I know that I need to look for more short, simple, delicate pieces, probably metallics or made of materials, like wood, that are neutral in color.
Revelation #2: I wear a lot of prints. I need to take that into account when I shop, and stop loading up on so many multi-colored beads. I will always love beads, so I’m not giving them up or anything. But I need to realize that my jewelry wardrobe is skewed in one direction, while my actual clothes create an opposite need. The neutral metallic necklace that I’m looking for would work with my prints. If I want color, I’ve figured out that I need the necklace to focus on one color, only. Thanks to my comprehensive list of tops, I now even know which colors would get the most mileage in my wardrobe.
Revelation #3: Since I’m never going to stop coveting colorful strings of beads, I now at least know to buy them long. Because most of my solid-colored tops are work basics with high necklines, while most of the large, open-necked tops are busy prints. Unless that changes, those shorter, colorful beads are going to go unworn, while the longer ones are perfect for giving those conservative work basics a little more pizzazz.
Armed with this empowering new information, my last step was to transfer the key points into a small pocket-sized notebook that I always carry in my purse. I now have a list of the items I want to buy, a list summarizing the tops that I own — by color and neckline type, and a list of all the necklaces that I own, also grouped by color and neckline type. So the next time I find myself looking at jewelry, I can review all this information at a quick glance.
Now, in theory, all of this information should have been accessible to me simply from memory, without needing to write it all down. But who are we kidding? Once I’m in an actual store, impaired by those awful flourescent lights and the lack of oxygen, distracted by all those shiny trinkets and scary price tags, I lose all ability to retrieve information from both short and long-term memory. And at my age, it ain’t gonna get any better. Now, at least, I have a plan.
I realize this probably won’t solve all my problems. I’ll still get the colors wrong sometimes, or I’ll think that a jewelry item will complement an outfit when, instead, it just competes to create a jarring messy jumble. Should I start carrying photos of all my jewelry and clothes? Should I buy one of those phones that takes photos, just for this very purpose? Just how far am I willing to go in my quest to be well-accessorized? (Or, at least, not dysfunctionally accessorized)?
Well, that remains to be seen. But now I am ready to shop again. POSS be damned.