I have to go shopping. I hate shopping.

I’m starting a new job soon and need a whole bunch of new clothes. This should be exciting, right? It’s not, though. Two long stretches of unemployment have left me hesitant to spend money on non-essential things, and in general, I do not enjoy looking at my body in the mirror. Especially under fluorescent lights.

What are your best logistical strategies for doing a lot of shopping? For instance, should I hit a bunch of stores in a day, or one store a day for a week? What are your suggestions for avoiding a defeatist, “I hate my body” attitude when trying on clothes? I know that’s a big question, but basically, I’m looking for ideas on staying upbeat and optimistic when it feels like I will never find a dress that fits well and looks good. Crying in H&M was kind of a low point, you know?

Your first mistake was going to H&M! Nothing in there fits anyone, and if you do finally find something in there that’s not proportioned for Gumby or a Weeble Wobble, you should purchase it for a one-time event, like a manure convention or a rave, and then throw it away. Shopping somewhere with better-quality clothes that are meant to last longer than a weekend is a great step toward finding things that fit well and look good.

If you’re on a tight budget, spend more money on basic things in neutral colors that you’re going to wear a lot. Black pants, navy pencil skirt, great-fitting blazer, good jeans, a black dress, a white shirt. Spend less on really distinct or trendy things; you’ll be able to buy a few more of those, and thus avoid being known as The Girl In The Purple Striped Shirt. (You think no one notices, but my sister used to work with this guy whose name I actually don’t even know because he wore the same pants every day and she called him Same Pants. I miss him. I wonder what ever happened to him and his pants.)

As far as the dressing room goes, UGH. Once I got stuck in a dress in Bloomingdale’s on a weekday morning and there was like no one in there and I almost had to call my husband to come get me out. And another time at Neiman’s the saleslady was super helpful until she came back and shouted to me over the dressing room wall, “We don’t have any bigger sizes left,” which made me cry and then sprint to the food court for six Orange Juliuses and the daily special plate at Wok and Roll. Do the following and you’ll be fine:

1. Don’t go into any stores where you can’t afford anything.
2. Don’t get help from any department store employee unless you really are about to suffocate.
3. Look beautiful when you leave the house. No messy ponytail or ugly underpants. Blow out your hair; slap on some mascara; maybe go for a walk or do some Jazzercise first so you feel in shape even if, technically, you’re not; wear cute shoes.
4. Bring a nice friend who will help you and be honest without hurting your feelings. (“Your legs look great, but it might be a little short for an office job!” vs. “You look like a two-dollar whore.”)
5. Try really hard not to hate your body. You’re a bright girl, you’re starting a new job, and just by your email I could tell that you’re dangerously attractive. Trying clothes on under hideous lights in rooms that smell like other peoples’ feet is enough to make Heidi Klum weep into her schnitzel, so really, don’t let it get you down.

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