There’s a Max Mara coat that’s haunting me. I see it on Instagram, in Vogue slideshows, and with fall here, I’ll likely see it on every New York City woman over the age of 30. It’s camel-colored, long, and embraces the body like a heated apartment in the middle of winter. It’s the kind of coat you grow old in. It’s what I always imagined the people who compile Vogue slideshows would wear to work when I aspired to be a person who compiled Vogue slideshows. It’s a wardrobe staple that shouts: I have a nanny, a condo, and a 401k that I contribute more than 20 percent of my income to. Anyway, it could’ve been mine, but I didn’t want it enough.
I was thrift shopping with my mom. It was summer and hot—too hot for long-sleeved shirts, let alone coats. But there I was, sifting through the outerwear rack, and there it was, in that outerwear rack, squeezed between other wool pieces. I brought it to my mother—who happens to be my biggest shopping enabler and the most frugal woman I know—for her thoughts. “Oh, you have to get this,” she insisted, to my surprise. “It’s a classic.”
I wasn’t convinced. I was in my early 20s at the time, when a coat of that stature was more intimidating than enticing. After some mild back-and-forth, I ended up putting the very discounted coat back on the rack. I’ll never tell her this, for fear of hearing those dreaded seven words (“you should always listen to your mother”), but... she was right. I should’ve gotten it.
I have a number of shopping regrets, many involving things I did buy, but it’s the items I've walked away from that really stick with me for weeks, months, even years later. There’s the blue suede skirt that I put back because: Where am I ever going to wear that?There was that perfect white linen dress I could imagine wearing on my (eventual, but definitely not any time soon) honeymoon in Greece. There was the handmade bag in Mexico I didn’t think would fit in my suitcase, which proved a lesson I've learned the hard way: Pieces bought while traveling are always worth it. If it’s made locally, this is doubly true. There’s basically every item I add to my Need Supply wish list that inevitably sells out. The mustard Madewell jumpsuit I added, then removed, then added again to my cart, only to have it disappear from the site. I ended up writing to customer service about it, making sure to blame the website for allowing me to add the item to my cart in the first place when it wasn’t available anymore, rather than my own indecision. “We’re so sorry this happened,” they wrote back. “If it comes back in stock, we’ll let you know.” It never does come back in stock.
Over the years, I’ve been trying to become a more selective and conscious shopper. I think of a piece's life cycle and what other items in my closet I can wear it with before I swipe. Given the state of our planet, I also try to steer clear of any fast fashion items I’ll want to give away within a year. With my past non-purchases in mind, the most important question while shopping has also become: Will I regret not getting it if I see someone else wearing it?
Then again, as much as the longing may sting, perhaps it's worth considering that those pieces don’t make it into your closet for a reason. Maybe that Max Mara coat would’ve, in reality, been too heavy, the sleeves too long, the color too faded. These are the kinds of flaws that reveal themselves over time, or that you conveniently forget when caught up in your nostalgia. Maybe the clothes that got away get away for a reason, and that’s to make room for something better.
Or, maybe you should just listen to your mother more often.