The Case Against Buying Fashion Items Just Because They're On Sale

Are you a sucker for a good sale? Don't worry, you're not alone. We've all ended up going home with fashionable (or not-so-fashionable) pieces we'd later regret. At the time, they were such a steal we just couldn't say no. But for anyone trying to reduce their waste and take control of their finances, this way of thinking is officially out of style.

It's no secret that America has a problem with consumption, from food to clothing. According to the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG), the average American discards 81 pounds of clothing each year, and 85% of our clothes end up getting burned or thrown into landfills. One contributing factor to this wastage is the fast fashion movement, which has lured us in with cheap, trendy clothing that soon falls apart or loses its relevance in the quickly changing tides of fashion.

However, this rampant shopping spree doesn't have to remain your norm. There are plenty of reasons to ditch fast fashion and pump the brakes on your clearance spending. Buying fashion items just because they're on sale is a quick way to empty your wallet, overstuff your closet, and set yourself up for disappointment. Here's why and how to change your shopping habits.

The problem with bargain hunting in fashion

Don't feel too guilty about that tendency to hit "Buy Now" when browsing clearance items. We're literally hardwired to enjoy bargains. A study in Neuron suggests that we evaluate both gain and loss when making purchase decisions, pitting the gain of the item versus the loss of resources. Hence, the perceived value of a low-priced item is naturally more attractive to our brains.

It doesn't help that we crave novelty (per Buffer). The urge for new, cheap goods has probably played a role in the rise of fast fashion and our love for the sale section. But the shine is wearing off this business model, and many people are turning away from the hyper-consumerism that drives it." A lot of people are getting really sick of fast fashion," vintage clothing aficionado Sarah Fewell tells The Guardian. "People used to watch hauls on YouTube and be like: 'Yeah, great.' Now if you click on a haul and read the comments, everyone's like: 'Oh, there's so much stuff, it looks really bad quality.' People are a lot more aware."

Some shoppers try to avoid the fast fashion monster and get nicer items at discount prices by shopping at outlet locations. In theory, this is a good strategy. But in practice, shoppers aren't always getting the name-brand quality they're hoping for. As Racked reports, many outlet stores are stocked with lower-quality items made specifically for that discount price point, sacrificing durability and premium materials in the process.

So what can a savvy shopper do? Ultimately, your purchasing decision should rely on more than the price point. If you're struggling to determine when a clearance item is worthwhile and when it's just a trap for your wallet, here's how to better evaluate your sale selections.

How to decide whether sale items are worth buying

The siren song of a fashion markdown can be hard to resist, especially if it comes from a brand you love. But a discount doesn't do you much good if you're getting clothes you'll never wear. Remember: Buying cheap items is still more expensive than buying no items. To make sure you're only purchasing fashion pieces that add value to your wardrobe, establish a few additional criteria for those low-cost deals.

First of all, does it fit well? Just because you can physically squeeze into a garment doesn't mean it's flattering. Another no-no is purchasing bargain bin fashion you wouldn't have considered at full cost (via Lifehacker). If you're only interested in the price tag, that's a sign you aren't in love with the style. Thinking, "It's 80% off and so trendy" still won't inspire you to wear clothing you don't personally feel comfortable and confident in.

Also, consider the item's longevity. Is it a classic piece that you can use for years, or will it be out of style within months? Fad fashion can be a poor investment, so it helps to recognize the difference between trendy and timeless wardrobe pieces.

By the same token, it's usually better to pay a slightly higher price point for better-quality clothing that will last. As Lands' End points out, quality clothing tends to be more durable and look newer for longer. Plus, it's more likely to be in good, donatable condition when you decide to move on to something new. Fast fashion, on the other hand, can end up looking dingy or unkempt within a few washes. So if that top is cute but likely to fall apart, it probably isn't worth your money — even if it's on sale.