Joyce Chang: How I Shop

The editor in chief of 'Self' is cool, calm and organized when it comes to her wardrobe, but says that shopping, like sports, is a metaphor for life: you have to be open to the possibilities.
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The editor in chief of 'Self' is cool, calm and organized when it comes to her wardrobe, but says that shopping, like sports, is a metaphor for life: you have to be open to the possibilities.
Self Editor-in-Chief Joyce Chang. Photo: Self

Self Editor-in-Chief Joyce Chang. Photo: Self

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 column, "How I Shop."

To say Joyce Chang has had a busy year is a bit of an understatement. Since the editor-in-chief of Self joined the brand — the Oct. 2015 issue starring Jessica Alba marks her anniversary — the magazine redesigned the print issue and won a Society of Publication Designers award for it in May; increased ad pages in September by 108 percent year-over-year; relaunched its website in March and broke traffic records in July, up 23 percent from the previous month; and hosted its first "Up & Out" studio fitness weekend event for 3,000 people in New York City in June. Self was also the first to feature an Apple Watch on its cover in March. 

I chatted with Chang on Tuesday to find out how she's built a wardrobe fit for a Condé Nast editor-in-chief with a rigorous fitness routine. It turns out that she's extremely practical and organized when it comes to her closet, though she likens her growing sneaker collection to a "rising tide of water." Read on to find out why she's obsessed with the Net-a-Porter app and why finding the perfect fall bag is like finding a boyfriend — it's a commitment, you know?

"How do I shop? Sometimes it feels like [I'm doing it] constantly, and then sometimes it feels like never at all. It's kind of feast or famine. Right now it's fall and I just want to shop for fall things and everything looks great to me. And then there are times when I'm just so busy, I think I might never shop again.

I do a lot of Net-a-Porter shopping, which is really easy and I find it very relaxing. When I have time I'll sift through on my iPad. When I'm shopping in-store I actually cross reference the Net-a-Porter app with what's available, so it's like comparison shopping. Sometimes things can be a little different in each of the stores. I'm an active Net-a-Porter app user because you never know when you might have an immediate need to get something from Net-a-Porter off your phone, and it's really easy to use.

I like both [stores and online], I'm an equal opportunity shopper. It's a total meritocracy of shopping for me. I live uptown and it just makes shopping really easy because I live right off of Madison. Madison is a terrific shopping street and Barneys and Bergdorfs are right there. I do find in general that because I don't have a ton of time, that going to a department store and doing a sweep of the floors is probably the most efficient thing for me. But if I'm relaxed, I'm much more open to finding that unexpected thing, I'll have an iced coffee and wander around a neighborhood. 

[My style has] become particularly focused since I've been at Self because our fashion point of view is so specific. My eye has really honed in on that. I think it's actually how women want to dress — modern, strong, clean, unfussy, cool, easy, comfortable and a little bit sexy without trying. Designers that I think do that pretty consistently are Cushnie et Ochs, Jonathan Simkhai, Stella McCartney, Derek Lam, Clavin Klein, Narcisco, Rag & Bone. Right now I'm wearing an Acne dress. There's a lot of designers that have that really cool, modern look that is very "Self." I was sitting at the Altuzarra show and I wanted everything there. I felt this was a terrific season, it's been an amazing time for this kind of fashion — the sort of sporty, easy, streamlined look. It's such a great time to be at Self because fashion is really telling the same story that we're telling.

I love things that are soft and feel good. I've always loved knit dressing a lot because I like how easy it is and there's so much out there. I like things that are so well designed and so pretty that you don't need a lot of extras. You can just see how good it is as soon as you put it on and it just looks great. And it's not distracting. You want people to say, "You look great." Not necessarily, "That's an awesome top." 

I just bought my fall bag this weekend — and getting a fall bag is a big deal! It's like finding a boyfriend: you have to be attracted to it, it has to make sense in your life, there's a fair amount of commitment to it because I carry a bag for a long time. I've been carrying my grey Celine bag forever and I've been thinking about what I wanted in my next bag but I haven't seen anything that was better. Then this weekend I was doing a fall shop at Barneys — they sent me a gift card because I spend so much money there, which is good marketing on their part. I found this Marni bag and it's perfect for me because it is roomy and it's light — you don't want a weight workout just from carrying your bag around. It is color-blocked, which is also something that we are very big on at Self, and it has all of the best fall colors so it goes with everything. As soon as I saw it I thought, "Ah, this is it. The search is over."

Since I started at Self, I think about my sneaker game a lot. There's no greater luxury as the editor of Self than being able to wear sneakers to fashion week. And it was really fun to see so many people adopting the sneaker look, too. I have so many favorite sneaker brands: I just got a pair of new Stan Smiths that are fluorescent orange felt [on] the back detail, and I got these Valentino sneakers that we shot for Self last fall. Everywhere I go, people compliment me on this particular pair. I was at the U.S. Open and every time I would stand up to let people pass in the row, they would say, "Oh, great shoes." I love Nikes of every kind. I started collecting the Nike Dunk High Tops. I've been in this business for some time — it's a heels industry, and it's been so amazing how quickly my sneaker collection has caught up with my heels collection. 

I did a story when I was at Cosmo and [a professional] came and organized my closet at my previous apartment, and she just has a natural ability — we did a big clean-out and then, when I moved to my new apartment, she came and helped me create my organization structure. So now that I have a structure, all I have to do is maintain. I know where everything is supposed to go and so I don't have to make any decisions, it just goes there. It's kind of like having a fitness routine. I have an organization routine and a closet routine — dresses go here, jackets go here, tops go here.

I read this book last year, "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up," by Marie Kondo — it's a global sensation — and I really took it to heart. When I buy things I really ask myself, "Is this going to bring me joy? Do I really love it?" And if I don't, I'm not going to just buy something for the sake of buying something. When I went through the process of going through my closet and asking myself, "Does this bring me joy?" I was able to really winnow out the things that I had that were just "things." I'm more tuned to what I really love.

I actually don't have any shopping regrets, I think I'm a really good shopper. The things that I bought at samples sales when I was an assistant... I was looking in my closet the other day and this Chloe skirt that I bought when I was first starting out — I still love. And I've never been an excessive shopper, I'm not someone who compulsively shops because I need to. That's why the Marie Kondo method spoke to me because it is something that I've sort of unconsciously practiced all along. 

I do feel like there is is a quicker rotation of my workout closet than in my wardrobe closet because there's so much stuff to try. There's definitely a tide of things that come my way so there's actually more workout clothes than hours in the day to work out, unfortunately [laughs]. I love shopping at Bandier, they have really cool new designers — it's fun, it's trends, it's not investment wardrobe for your work. But, of course, I have my staples, too.  I love my Lululemon, I love my Nike, I love my Adidas. Newer brands — I really like Alo Yoga, I think the material is really good. I also like Outdoor Voices. I think it's fun and young and their whole thing is, "Go do something." It's very straightforward. I love their Instagram, too.

I'm a pretty practical person, if you can't tell. I have a system and I like things to be easy. When l look at my closet, I want it to be easy and I want my wardrobe to be easy and not filled with stuff that is distracting. I'm not really a patterns person. I like gray, black, navy, white, cream — white is probably my favorite color. I wear while all year round, Labor Day be damned.

But color is a wonderful thing — it makes you look happier, it makes you feel happier. I went to some sort of funny event in Los Angeles that a friend was hosting and they had a color astrologer come and this woman takes stock of when you were born and does some sort of reading of what your color based on your sign should be, and she told me that I should be wearing more pink. Which is a hilarious thing because I definitely do not wear pink. I bought something pink, more of an orchid, and its turned into one of my go-to things. Every time I wear this pinky orchid dress, I get so many compliments on it — so maybe she was right.

Shopping is a metaphor for life like sports is a metaphor for life. You just to have to be open. The clothes you wear say how you feel about yourself and they say what you're about. There's no proven science behind it, but they all have an effect on your sense of self. So you should dress to make you feel your best."