Overcoming Confirmation Bias -or- How to Be a Patient Shopper
Many moons ago on Facebook, a former school chum of mine posted a link to a quick problem-solving test like this one. You are given a series of numbers, you try to guess the pattern, test your guess, pat yourself on the back for being so darn smart - and then realize that you were totally, abysmally wrong, because you only sought out to prove your own theory and never sought out to challenge it (bear with me; I promise that this does relate to shopping).
This phenomenon is called Confirmation Bias, and it basically means that many people tend to a) look for evidence that affirms their existing beliefs, b) quit testing their hypotheses once said affirmations are found, and c) forget all about the tests that might prove their hypotheses wrong. In relation to shopping and style, a good example is when you rationalize a purchase by limiting your internal dialogue to positive affirmations:
This will look great with X, Y, and Z.
I don't have anything in this color yet.
It's a great price.
This is actually useful in a time crunch, because you can often reach a pretty good conclusion and then move on with your life. You'll most likely go home with added variety (a new thing that you like and can wear) - but what happens when you don't want to settle for a pretty good answer?
Well, then you have to put your science-y hat on and see if your theory can stand up to brutal, nit-picky criticism.
See that little green tank top? It may sound silly to many of you out in Retail Land, but the fact is that I've been searching for that green tank top since this summer. Because I wanted an olive green tank to wear with a rose gold jacket that doesn't get much wear... and because not all greens are created equal, not all fabrics are created equal, and not all styles are created equal. Overcoming confirmation bias and tempering it with a bucket of cold challenge questions can help make sure you not only go home with added variety but also added utility.
Variety only provides you with another option, while utility gives you a new opportunity . For example, a new top that pairs with all the same bottoms as your existing tops adds variety; a new top that helps you wear your existing bottoms in a different way adds new opportunities - e.g. helping you match a new dress code, participate in a new trend you love, or extend use of an item into an added season. I have a lot of clothes in relation to the size of my closet, so when it came to my green tank top, I really wanted to temper my general excitement over pretty clothes with utility questions:
This will look great with X, Y, and Z - but isn't it too bulky to fit under your jackets?
I don't have anything in this color yet - but will this shade look good with my hard-to-wear jacket? And what about my pants?
It's a great price - but will this fabric make you itch? or sweat? or look lumpy?
On and on this went for months and months. The thing was: I was not in any type of time crunch regarding this tank, and I certainly didn't want to have a whole mini-wardrobe of olive tank tops clogging up my closet. It took a long time, and I didn't bring home many a pretty pretty blouse, but in the end the item I brought home doesn't just satisfy the superficial desires of my shopping list - it also satisfies all the deeply neurotic demands I know I place on my clothes over the long haul. I can wear it alone, layered, in the heat, in the cold, half-tucked, fully-tucked, untucked, and with almost every other color in my wardrobe.
Again, not everyone has the time and inclination to be this fussy about utility, but it's great to keep in mind when you are facing space, budget, or mix-and-match issues.