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Do You Need It? An Exercise In Back-To-School Shopping

By Anne T. Donahue

Every September from childhood to my early teen years (before I had a part-time job), one afternoon would be reserved for back-to-school shopping. And while it would inevitably lead to my mom and I fighting over prices, sizes, and the one thing I was allowed to splurge on, I took the best parts of it with me as I ascended up the ladder of age, celebrating the start of a new year as I went.

And this has been a tradition I’ve continued for decades. Every September, I tell myself that I must rehaul my entire wardrobe and start anew, planning for the person I intend to step into and become at the start of a season – even if I never end up rehauling anything because I’m not a rich person, and buying anything full price at the mall is ridiculous, 98% of the time.

Of course, this September is different. My social circle still widely consists of my parents, my cat, my aunt, uncle, and cousin and maybe three friends. I run errands alone in a bid to pretend everything’s normal (it isn’t), and all outfits are accompanied by a mask, preferably in a complimentary colour. So clearly, back-to-school shopping will change. And as a means of helping you with your own autumnal journey, here is the 2020 edition of Do You Really Need It? so I can save you time, money, and a novelty knit crop top you will wear only once and regret buying because it was $75.

DO YOU REALLY NEED IT?

A new coat
I mean, we do live in Canada, so yes. You likely do need a new coat. Do you need to spend an obscene amount of money on a new coat? No. Can you wait until it’s on sale in October? Heavens, yes. Are you mistaking “coat” for “jacket,” hoping I’ll help you justify another denim number when you already have six? Probably. So this is the rule: get a winter coat if you need a winter coat. Get a jacket you don’t need only if it’s egregiously on sale, or you can think right now of five outfits you’d wear it with because it is just that versatile, baby.

Also, if you’re outdoorsy, none of this applies to you. You have your own outerwear needs. Your choices do not concern me.

New, heeled shoes that would be perfect in The Before
This is tricky, because every time I’ve bought heels, I’ve donated them less than a year later because I can’t walk in them and they hurt my back. So look: arguably, none of us need anything we would’ve bought in The Before. Especially if you’re working from home. So, are you working from home? Buy the things you’d wear at home. Or in the blocks around your home. Otherwise, who knows when this thing’s going to end. You may want to burn anything that was triumphed as a trend of 2020, and that will absolutely include fancy shoes.

Sneakers, boots
Boots, absolutely, if you must eventually participate in the winter. Sneakers, absolutely, if you are me and they are now the only shoe that don’t cause physical pain. But please try to find a coupon, I beg of you.

New sweats
Absolutely not, JUST KIDDING: pour all your disposable income into the greatest style choice the world has ever known. We are living in a sweatpants world, and not a single one of us is above the beauty and comfort of elastic waists and the softest of fleece. If I ever hear anybody try and argue against the importance of sweatpants, I will wrap myself in a new, discounted coat, and knock down their door.

Undies and pajamas
I don’t know how to tell you this: you can and should justify new underwear, always. They’re your underwear. If anybody tells you not to care about them (it?) they are out to see you fail.

A fancy, large bag
Why. Why do you need this. Are we taking a field trip together I have yet to be notified about? Are you coming to my house to pick me up for a night on the town and then saying “Hop in” when I ask where your car is? Do you plan on carrying around many snacks, a bunch of makeup, and several dozen CDs? If so, go forth. But if not, we are all about one step from using grocery bags to transport our goods and services to wherever we’re heading because who cares. Stop the madness. Get a tote. Use the rest of your money on food delivery. Or, choose a backpack. But then prepare yourself for how annoying it gets to sling it off, rifle through, then put everything back in every time you have to pay for something at any place.

New dresses
I truly cannot imagine spending cold, hard dollars on something only my next door neighbours will see, but maybe this is an example of how to dress for yourself vs. everyone. Either way, hard pass, or go vintage. (Read: second hand, from Value Village or Goodwill.) I’m sure the mall has a plethora of F/W offerings, but considering how many times most of us even wear a dress every autumn, why on earth would anyone pay $100 for something they can find at Value Village for a solid $12.

Unless you find something cute by an independent artist or vintage store. Then you’re helping support someone else’s dreams.

Anything novelty
You know what I mean, right? Certain crop tops. Sheer things you know would look great in 2019, but in 2020 feel strange because so much of your bubble consists of your family, and it’s just a little too much. Capes. (I can’t imagine wearing a cape.) Robe-jackets. (I tried so hard to make this work for myself, so believe me when I tell you I failed miserably and no thank you – and that was in 2017.) The thing is, it’s not about the trends themselves, it’s about the expense of them. This summer, I almost bought jelly shoes, and then thought: why. Not only are they a cool too-expensive, I have newly bought Crocs, beckoning me for a life of ease and comfort. Ultimately, I just want to be comfortable. I want to be cozy. I want a gorgeous elastic waist, and I want to wear jeans that stretch a little bit, but not too much. I want to think not for one second about the clothes I put on, and I especially don’t as it gets colder and I begin my descent into only wearing sweatshirts.

Which is the magic of September, anyway. I haven’t seen any of those sweatshirts since May, so technically my new back-to-school (life?) wardrobe is only a drawer away, and I don’t have to spend a dime. (Even though I will on a BOGO deal I saw while procrastinating on this piece. But in my defence, my collection of t-shirts has replaced my hopes and dreams for the upcoming season.)

Need a little more Anne? Read more from Anne T. Donahue right here!

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