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Connie Wang: How I Shop

The fashion features director of Refinery29 sticks with her Midwestern values when shopping — or more accurately, thrifting.
Connie Wang. Photo: Montgomery Ward

Connie Wang. Photo: Montgomery Ward

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."

I've long admired Refinery29’s Fashion Features Director Connie Wang for her unique personal style, whip-smart writing and humorous social media persona. Luckily, upon meeting her in real life, I learned that what you see is what you get with Wang: she's as honest, approachable and relatable as she seems online. The same can be said when it comes to her shopping habits, as she's refreshingly thrifty and resourceful. I imagine there are probably not many fashion editors out there who could talk as passionately about digging through discarded clothing inside warehouses in Queens or about a pair of Gap jeans that they bought 15 years ago (and continue to wear). Read on to find out about how she developed her personal style over the years and her favorite go-to consignment sites and thrift stores.  

"I was born and bred in the Midwest and I can't get my head out of that sort of mentality, where I always go first to the sales section or clearance section. I feel like 50% of my closet is thrifted — I don't like going to a store that's already been curated for me. I love going to a Goodwill or a charity shop and having to really dig. When I was younger and had more free time, I would go to these dumpster thrift experiences, where they have dumpsters of discarded clothes and you fill your bag up for $5. I found really amazing pieces that were dirty and try to fix [them]. It's a really gross process, but something about the idea that there's treasure hidden behind these garbage items really speaks to me.

I know Christene [Barberich] mentioned this in her shopping story, but there is this one Salvation Army that she likes to go to. I don't know what they're doing, but there's something about this Salvation Army. I have this copper-brown metallic, oversized, '80s quilted jacket. When I describe it, it sounds really ugly, but I love how it makes me feel like a brown M&M. It's either made for someone who's seven feet tall or it's a purposely oversized thing. I love that jacket and it was $4. I also got a pair of Bongo jeans from the '80s that are yellow leopard print. I think one time in its history it was a bright yellow, but at this point, it's almost like a neutral to me and it matches with everything. I love them to death.

I shop very infrequently. I might do it once a month. I'll buy one thing from H&M per year or season maybe. And one thing from Zara a season. I always buy something from H&M's Conscious collection. I know how awful a lot of fast fashion is, but I do think they're moving in the right direction. I treat fast fashion the way I think a lot of people treat designer in that I buy one item and I expect that to last for a very long time. I have Gap pants that I've been wearing since high school, 15+ years in some cases, and they stretch with me. 

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I don't think I've ever spent more than $400 on a single item, and even then I felt like I was about to die. Working around a lot of beautiful products, you get used to the idea of high price tags. But when it comes to actually shopping for myself, my brain switches and I'm the real me. So when it comes to designer stuff, I will buy  consignment or at a discount. I'll look at eBay or The RealReal or the Material Wrld or Vestiaire Collective. I call Yoox 'nouveau vintage' because it’s off-season items that aren't old enough to be actual vintage, but not new enough to be current season or on sale. I would say 99% of my new purchases now come from online. Stylenanda is one of my favorites. FrontRowShop is something I love, too. 

When the shopping bug hits me, I will go and add a million things to my cart and I will leave them there for a week. I'll weed things out. Usually, I end up with zero things. I'm satisfied as long as I had the option to buy it. I need time to marinate on my decisions. As soon as there is any pressure on me, I always make the wrong decision.

I always regret buying things when I'm traveling. Always. I love going to really nice department stores or specialty stores in different countries. If you're going to London, you have to go to Liberty London. If you're going to Tokyo, you have to go into Dover Street Market. But there's a lot of strange pressures that you don't get when you're normally shopping. The worst thing is this Kokon To Zai bolero felted jacket I bought. I went into their store because I really liked the label and I bought the cheapest thing that they had. It was so ugly. It was this long sleeved bolero cropped jacket with these shoulder pads. I never wore it once and I spent way too much money on it.

Figuring out a personal style... It makes it sound like personal style is some sort of fixed destination. And I think that everyone's personal style should always be changing. Or if it's not, you have some sort of understanding of the world that I do not. I think my style at this point is very masculine. Taking classic, traditional pieces, but always giving them the sort of messed up, avant-garde spin. There's this sort of deconstructionist Japanese influence that I'm always looking towards. I have like 10 white button-up shirts that are asymmetrical or super oversized. I like the look of pants that don't really fit. And because my shirts and my tops are a little bit oversized too, they hide any waistband problems. I'm a minimalist at heart in that I don't like working very hard to put together a look, but I always find pieces that are strange inherently. So when I'm putting things together, it's minimal in the construction of it but it's maximal because everything is a little bit off.

I feel that for a while in my life I wanted to look really professional. Intimidating also. And that was one of the weirdest style moments of my life where I looked like a person I don't even recognize anymore. First of all, I didn't have the money to do that. And second of all, the idea of this 'fashion editor in a tower' is just so silly to me. It's not the person that I am. It's not the work vibe that I like to espouse and not the way I write even. Especially at Refinery29, we're growing so rapidly and we're meeting so many new people and so many new clients, I always want to look approachable. So when I'm meeting with clients or have interviews, I kind of like catching people off guard. I take a little bit of pleasure in challenging people's assumptions of what a fashion editor looks like."

This interview has been edited and condensed.