Have an overflowing cupboard but nothing to wear? Here’s why we buy clothes we rarely use
We all have that one overflowing back shelf in our cupboards almost always filled with clothes, shoes, bags, or accessories that we absolutely loved in the store, but almost never used once we bought them.
Ever wondered why?
Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist, in a piece in TIME explains the science behind this very common human behaviour.
A common explanation, she states, is that "the shopper did some well-intentioned but faulty thinking during the purchasing equation."
A person goes to a shop, sees a product she or he likes, also sees that something may not quite be right with it, but ends up buying it because it’s on sale.
"It’s a classic example of something called choice-support cognitive bias, in which we ignore information that doesn’t support our desires," she writes.
One shopper she spoke to bought a pair of Prada heels "that squeak a bit and are uncomfortable" but has never worn them.
"They’re Prada. My only pair. They were 75% off! I’m waiting for someplace to go where I don’t have to walk," the shopper told her.
Secondly, Yarrow says most people shop for clothes based on "misperception of ourselves rather than a fantasy about the product".
Elizabeth Bye and Ellen McKinney, in a study, found that 85% of women have clothes in their closets that do not fit. A majority of women surveyed said that they had clothes in three different sizes as they expected their weight to fluctuate. Many women keep clothes of smaller sizes as those served as motivation for them to lose weight.
"The problem is that people often shop visualizing a lifestyle that may not ever exist—that slimmer self, or the one who goes camping, or vacations on glamorous tropical cruises, or attends lavish black-tie events," Yarrow writes.
Then there are people who buy clothes simply because they like something too much even if they know they’re not ever going to wear them. Buying under the influence of alcohol, and regretting it later, is also common.
Miriam Tatzel, another consumer psychologist, told The Wall Street Journal, that it’s the small problems you ignore when buying an outfit that come back around later. "Generally you like it, but it's a little tight or a little baggy. And you think 'Oh well, it's a minor flaw. It won't bother me in the long run.' Then, that turns out to be the very thing that keeps you from wearing it. You think you might have a use for it in the future, but that day never comes."
And the retail industry uses exactly this to its advantage.
Ginny Snook Scott, chief design officer of California Closets, told WSJ that only 20% of an average individual's wardrobe is used regularly and that this applies more to women than to men.
"Men," she said, "tend to wear more of their wardrobe, as they stereotypically have less. They tend to have less than 10 pairs of shoes that they rotate fairly well, whereas women have four to five times that amount, on average."
Of course, there are also reasons for why we hoard those things even though we don’t use them. These could be financial – the very fact that money was spent could be reason enough for not throwing something away. Some people may also get attached to the clothes or accessories emotionally. Or we could simply be hopeful that the pair of black denims could be used in the future.
This doesn’t mean all consumers regret having shopped something on impulse.
Pointing to a study, Ray A Smith writes in the WSJ report, "The conventional wisdom that shoppers regret splurges isn't true, research found. In fact, shoppers most regretted, over the long term, passing up an indulgence for something practical or less expensive."
How do we decide what clothes to buy?
According to designer Michael Kors, "70 percent of the clothes you own should be meat and potatoes. 30 percent should be icing and fluff—that's color, pattern, shine, accessories. Too many women get the proportions the other way round, then can't figure out why they can't get dressed."