Fashion's 'Cookie Theory' Could Curb Unnecessary Spending (& Upgrade Your Wardrobe)

Let's be honest for a second. How many of us are waiting to click "purchase" on our online shopping carts, brimming with all manner of sartorial choices in the hottest colors for summer 2024? Now raise your hand if you feel a little bit worried about spending a large sum of money on that piece you're absolutely in love with.


Enter the "cookie theory," a savvy trick that can curb unnecessary spending (and upgrade your wardrobe!) as proposed by wardrobe stylist and author of "Wear It Well," Allison Bornstein. In a recent TikTok video, the fashion guru describes how in the false effort to reduce our spending, we end up buying cheaper options that fail to satisfy. Then, of course, we buy another similar, cheap option hoping to get as close as possible to the clothing item we actually have our eyes (and heart) set on. Unfortunately, none of these less expensive alternatives hit the spot, leaving us unsatisfied with a closet full of copycat clothing instead of the pieces we really want.

Bornstein likened this to the experience of being on a diet and trying very hard to avoid that cookie, only to end up eating a bunch of other things instead. While these other options don't ever seem to satisfy our cravings, they do pile on the calories. The idea behind the cookie theory? Allow yourself that one thing you're really craving — whether it be a chocolate chip cookie or a high-end garment.


The cookie theory explained

As Allison Bornstein puts it, some itches can't be satisfied until they're scratched — no matter how many cheap or less-guilt-inducing substitutes you look for. "Let's say that you have your eye on a suede blazer and it's a little bit pricey, so instead of buying the suede blazer that you want, maybe you buy a suede blazer that's a little bit less expensive," the fashionista explained, detailing the logic behind her theory. "But it's not really the one that you had your eye on ... Then maybe you buy another blazer that is kind of similar ... And then you have like three suede blazers but you still do not have the one suede blazer that you want."



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♬ original sound – Allison Bornstein

See a pattern here? Much like our craving for a cookie that leads to a disastrous intake of other wannabe sweets that we don't really want, our desire for that specific clothing item never really goes away. So, it makes more sense to buy the one we do want from the get-go (even if it's a little pricey), instead of buying one cheaper option after the next, trying to get as close to the ideal as possible. As Bornstein explains, "Metaphorically, you've eaten like 20 chocolate rice cakes, but you still want the cookie."

Tips to cut back on online spending

Applying the cookie theory is a fab option if you're itching to buy that one special item but you feel guilty about overspending. Based on the cookie logic, cheaper options end up being more expensive over time, so treat yourself with what you really want (and save some money while doing so). Nevertheless, applying the cookie theory doesn't instantly give you a free pass to go out and spend all your money — and if you're suffering from impulse spending, you might want to consider zero-based budgeting.


If you're making a lot of impulse purchases that are immediately justified by the cookie theory, Allison Bornstein has a few more words of advice. In another video, she suggests asking yourself questions like, "Do I get a deep-down full-body 'yes' when I see myself wearing this item?" "Does it suit my style or do I just really like the way it looks on somebody else?" "Do I see myself wearing this next year?" Plus, it helps to separate between "wants" and "needs" when it comes to your shopping habits. Does your desired purchase qualify as one of those forever pieces you should have in your wardrobe? If not, then you might want to put a hold on your impulse buy.

On the other hand, if your answers to Bornstein's questions are on the affirmative side, then take a cue from the wardrobe stylist. Be patient, save your money, and buy the piece you really want. Eat the cookie — not the chocolate rice cakes.