Rachael Wang: How I Shop

Style.com's fashion market director on popping into "podunk" thrift stores on road trips, and the only time each year she plans her outfits.
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Style.com's fashion market director on popping into "podunk" thrift stores on road trips, and the only time each year she plans her outfits.
Rachael Wang at New York Fashion Week in February 2015. Photo: Emily Malan/Fashionista

Rachael Wang at New York Fashion Week in February 2015. Photo: Emily Malan/Fashionista

We all buy clothes, but no two people shop the same. It can be a social experience, and a deeply personal one; at times, it can be impulsive and entertaining, at others, purpose-driven, a chore. Where do you shop? When do you shop? How do you decide what you need, how much to spend, and what's "you"? These are some of the questions we're putting to prominent figures in the fashion industry with our new column, "How I Shop."

Rachael Wang is one of the fashion industry's coolest market editors, not only because of her distinctive tomboy-meets-hippie style, but also because she's completely down to earth. (Have you been watching her Snapchat stories for Style.com? She takes you behind the scenes of her busy travel schedule, going on re-sees in Paris or to a store opening in Tokyo. It's kind of addicting.) Wang came to Style.com in August from Nylon, is a stylist and creative consultant and one of the most photographed editors during fashion month. We spoke to her about her habit of shopping by stalking, her closet editing talents and how she has amazing shopping karma. 

"Where do I shop? That's a good question, because I don't often have much time to shop for myself. But I will say I most enjoy vintage shopping or thrifting because I enjoy the thrill of the chase, I always have. I have a hard time walking into a regular store — and I call a "regular store" anything on High Street or straight forward ready-to-wear — because I feel like I'm being told what I should buy. I really like choosing what I like out of everything that may or may not be good. That’s really fun for me. I generally end up in second-hand shops, thrift stores and vintage stores. When traveling, that’s one of the things I really like to do because I feel like you get a good sense of a place when you go to its thrift stores.

"I live in Greenpoint, so I spend most of my free time in Brooklyn when I'm not working. I really love this place called Grand St. Bakery in Williamsburg. Neal [Mello] runs the store there and he has a really good selection of vintage Levi's and Americana, like Army issue thermals and really cool classic, basic things. There’s also Stella Dallas and 10 Ft. Single, which is another really great store in Williamsburg; they have an amazing selection. It’s Japanese-run, so it’s very organized and categorized and I can always find what I'm looking for there. Those are my probably favorite — the most well-curated and totally reasonably priced. What Goes Around Comes Around is in the city and they have an amazing selection. It’s definitely more pricey, but you can usually find rarer things there.

"Los Angeles, I have to say, has a really, really amazing vintage scene. I have yet to figure out why. I think there has been an alternative culture of creative types looking for second-hand for decades, since the music boom in the '70s. That whole bohemian lifestyle has always been there and a demand has been created for this kind of thing. It’s a really fun part of the culture there and it’s not expensive. In every town in L.A. there are hundreds of thrift stores. There’s the most volume there. I really like popping into a podunk place on a road trip going across America, in Iowa or whatever — you always find amazing stuff. That’s why it’s fun for me, you know, the hunt.

"Because I basically do shopping for people as my job, I tend to... it hasn't taken the fun out of it, but it’s my job. In order to refuel my creative energy, I try to do things that are different from my job so that I can build up the energy again to be really excited every week to find the new fun things to share. So I definitely don't do a ton of shopping.

Rachael Wang at Milan Fashion Week in February 2015. Photo: Imaxtree

Rachael Wang at Milan Fashion Week in February 2015. Photo: Imaxtree

"I get inspired easily, so if I see a girl on the street and I think she has an amazing look or she puts something together in a way that feels really fresh to me (or that I would never have thought of myself), I tend to see that and put it away in my brain. Let’s say I see a girl on the subway in Paris and she's wearing a great red polka dot scarf and it’s tied just so. I might bank that in my memory and then all of a sudden six months later, I'm craving a red polka dot scarf for some reason. I think, ‘Why do I need this and have this urgency that I need to wear this thing?’ And then I realize it’s because I saw a girl one day or whatever, but all of a sudden it feels so right now. And I go on a hunt for these types of things. So more than, ‘Ok, it’s spring time, I need to build my wardrobe for spring because the season is changing,’ I'm usually more inspired by specific things or a specific energy. Right now I'm feeling very bohemian and I’m seeking out that kind of stuff.

"Of course, everyone has a budget. I definitely don't spend a ton of money on clothing. I spend my budget on experiences, so more than anything, I save up all my pennies to go travel. I will invest in something that is a really special piece, that I know I will keep forever that will be an heirloom that I can hand to a kid or someone else. But it’s not often. I usually try to buy things second hand or High Street because I feel like I love clothes and the turnover is quick. I continually put it back into the ether, so I’ll buy something second hand, I’ll wear it until I'm sick of it and then I’ll give it away or keep it moving.

"I don't shop that often so I tend to buy in bulk. If go on a trip and find a really amazing thrift store, I could accumulate 10 new pieces because I could buy jeans, a sweater and this or that. Or I’ll be walking by Zara and it happens to be a really great day and they have a blazer that I need and a sweater — I’ll buy three things. So if I come home and I have 10 new things then I kind of have a ‘one in one out’ policy, as my closet is limited in space. If I bring home one thing, I have to get rid of one thing. That’s how I keep it under control.

"I have this job because editing is one of my strengths. I didn't become good at that because of my job, if that makes sense. I think I was always really good at purging and it’s one of the things I did when I was younger. I would help people organize their closets and purge things, and was really good at saying, ‘Do you wear this, do you not wear this? We're getting rid of it.’ I find it to be a very cathartic and cleansing experience. That sounds very hippy and weird but it’s true — your environment definitely affects how you feel. I think it’s really important for us to keep our material possessions to what we need and what we are using and if we're not, then put it back into the world.

Rachael Wang at New York Fashion Week in February 2015. Photo: Mireya Acierto/Getty Images

Rachael Wang at New York Fashion Week in February 2015. Photo: Mireya Acierto/Getty Images

"I generally don't shop for fashion week, because leading up to it I'm so crazed and busy with work that figuring out what I'm going to wear is the last thing I have time to think about. It has become an important part of my job because editors have become very visible when we’re attending shows, whereas a few years ago we were just going about our jobs the same way a business man would be walking to his office on Wall Street. We're just walking into a fashion show, but now all of a sudden, there's this whole street style thing. You really have to take into consideration what you're wearing because you know it may be documented and you just want to make sure you're putting your best foot forward. And this is when you get to see everyone in the industry. 

"I do think about it, but I definitely get dressed that day. I don’t really think about it prior to that and what I wear depends heavily on the weather. I'm very practical and I wear mostly flats because I'm running around all day — for me it’s unreasonable to be teetering on heels. Some women are amazing at it and have done that their whole lives and they feel totally comfortable, but that’s not the case for me. I'm usually wearing flats, and if it’s snowing, I'm definitely wearing boots. I try to dress appropriately for the weather and be polished and represent the brand that I work for at the same time. It’s sort of a balance of all those things. In a way, it’s like going on an interview every day for a month, trying to dress as the best version of yourself.

"I want to look like myself — I try really hard to not get caught up in this whole crazy swirl of street style and dressing specifically to be photographed. It’s really important to me to maintain my identity and to present myself as honestly as I can. That said, sometimes brands that I love will be really gracious and might let me borrow something to wear. I don't always wear borrowed clothing, but if there's something really special that I love, then who can resist? If someone’s offering me a really cute red bag to borrow and I don't own a really cute red bag, then sure, that’s going to be a really fun thing to play dress up with.

"When I go abroad to Paris and Milan, that’s the one and only time a year that I actually plan my outfits. I'm very specific when I get dressed — like, I can only wear this dress if I have a white sneaker to go with it to balance the girliness. That’s how I think, so I have to plan my outfits because I don't want to be in a situation where its day 15 and I'm in Paris and I have this dress but not the shoes to go with it. Then it’s a waste of space for me to have brought the dress. I actually throw things on my bed, like the full outfit — the dress, the shoes, the bag, the scarf, the coat — and I take a picture on my phone really fast just to do the visuals. And I pack that way to make sure. I repeat things so I’ll bring two or three coats and I intersperse them. I’ll reuse shoes, etc. That way when I pack, I've packed only what I need and I wear exactly what I set out to. There may be a day where I switch things up according to weather, but usually it’s so busy and there’s no time to think and I'm working really late at night writing stories. I wake up in the morning and throw on the outfit that I hung and that I took in the picture and that's it.

"I really believe in following your heart across the board, for everything in life, and it’s the same for shopping. If you really are feeling something, you're gonna buy it and I think that it’s different for different people. I'm very passionate about clothes and I'm very specific about my taste and I'm very confident in my taste. If I want to buy something, I’ll buy it and if I'm not sure, I won't buy it. I just don't really have time or energy and it does matter. There’s always going to be something new and every season there’s new inspiration. Inevitably, somebody’s going to design something that you're going to want to buy, and it’s only material things.

"But if it’s an investment piece, then I’ll generally stalk it. For example, I was just in Tokyo and I bought a Junya Watanabe biker jacket. I actually bought it second-hand but it was still very expensive. This is a jacket that I've been wanting for years; I own other biker jackets, but this one is very special. Junya always sort of makes new biker jackets, so it was a matter of time to decide when I would actually purchase one. It has a larger collar, more of a fitted waist, there’s some silk chiffon underneath the sleeve that peaks out as if you were wearing a blouse underneath, and in the back there’s some cutouts. It’s just a very special, unique one. I tend to do that if I'm going to make a big designer purchase —I think about it for a while; it could be years. I don't feel the urgency.

Rachael Wang at Paris Fashion Week in March 2015. Photo: Imaxtree

Rachael Wang at Paris Fashion Week in March 2015. Photo: Imaxtree

"I do not have a schedule that’s liberal enough for me to leave the office during working hours to go to sample sales. I feel like they used to better than they are now, but I'm not really sure. I haven't gone to them, I think, since I started at Style.com because I don't really have time. I once went to a Saint Laurent sample sale, pre-Hedi, and that was probably the best sample sale that I’ve ever been to. I literally bought a runway dress —this gorgeous, white, almost like a nurse dress, it has all these layers, I wear it all the time — I think it was $100. It was insane, I was crying like, ‘How is this possible?’ I bought a lot of things at that sample sale but I've never experienced one that was as deeply discounted as that. As a bargain shopper, that’s what I look for. It’s hard to go to a sample sale where it’s only marked down 30 percent, because it’s still very, very expensive. Also, the problem with sample sales is that you get this need to buy something because it’s discounted, and then I've regretted it a couple of times.

"I'm a very tactile person and I have a really good sense, if I hold something up, if it will fit or not. I have trouble with that for obvious reasons online. Sneakers, sometimes, I will buy online, because I can't find them anywhere. I get very specific about needing a certain sneaker right now. That’s probably the thing that I shop for in the most voracious way. I start to crave things, stalk it for a minute and then just need to buy it. There are amazing sneaker stores in New York and you can pretty much find whatever you are looking for, but if it’s only available in London, then I have to buy it online. There’s not much of a strategy besides being a stalker. 

"I think some people have it with parking spots — they have good parking spot karma. I have really good thrifting karma. If I'm going to go to flea market, which is a really large place where there’s lots of merchandise and people get easily overwhelmed, I think about what I'm looking for and it usually appears, which to me is magic. Most people think that’s the weirdest thing ever because they’re like, ‘Well, everything is there, so of course you're going to find what you're looking for.’ But that’s not true and never in your right size, and I always find my size. I usually buy something because it’s my size, and I feel like it was placed there by the universe. My husband thinks I'm crazy because he's like, 'It’s always your size, you can't just buy everything thats your size!’ But I think these things were placed here by the universe, because they're for me.

"Hedi Slimane designed a fringe suede jacket for Saint Laurent and I thought, ‘I need this, I'm ready for this, I want one of these.’ He sort of pulled it out of vintage obscurity, but I had been seeing them for years in thrift stores. It just never felt like the right time to be wearing a fringe suede jacket, but all of the sudden, it’s time. I was actually in Pennsylvania and I went to a weird antique mall on the side of the road, one of those funky places, but there was one little rack ... lo and behold, there was brown suede fringe jacket in my size for $20. How could I not? That’s what I tell my husband."