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 our column “How I Shop.”
Whether you’ve seen her on Instagram, in a street-style gallery, on WhoWhatWear.com or, like me, have the frequent (well, until recently) pleasure of sitting next to her at fashion dinners and shows in Los Angeles, you’ve probably been inspired by a Kat Collings outfit. I’m nearly always hit with pangs of outfit jealousy when I see her. The taste level, eye for styling and knack for identifying cool new brands she imbues into her work at Who What Wear — where she’s been editor in chief since 2015 — is consistently represented in her own personal style as well.
In her role at the popular shopping site, Collings oversees an editorial team, does content strategy, workshops stories and even provides trend direction for the publication’s clothing line. In other words, it’s literally her job to spot trends so she can always be abreast of what’s going on in the market. It’s also fair to describe her as the publication’s outward “face” — or one of them, at least.
“At Who What Wear, our editors, we speak a lot from the first person and we do a lot of sharing our own outfits in stories, so I think each of our editors has a little cult of readers that like to follow them,” she explains. (Instagram-wise, she has about 35,000.)
But instead of living and dying by the trends WWW so aptly calls out, Collings has her own distinct way of dressing, mixing buzzy new labels with rare vintage finds and putting her own spin on the many pieces she’s gifted or borrows for fashion weeks. Still, she admits she’s still figuring out what her “real” style is, separate from her work and the gifting and pressure to dress up for photographers that can so often influence it.
I caught up with Collings in the early days of quarantine to hear all about how she shops for herself. Read on for more on how she’s navigating external pressures to dress a certain way, the advantages of being in LA versus New York, her favorite places to shop and why impulse-buying a wedding dress isn’t always the best idea.
“For my fifth grade graduation I got to go to the Gap and pick out a dress and a cardigan. I was jazzed to pick up something new that was just for me, just for the special occasion, and it was this pale blue, silk-like dress and this pastel yellow cardigan and I just felt like a million dollars in this little young lady outfit.
Nowadays, I gravitate towards tailored pieces and then I like to build on menswear staples by adding some personality, whether that’s a vintage patchwork belt or cow-print mules or something that’s got a little bit of funky art-school teacher vibes. I wear what makes me feel comfy and makes me feel like the coolest version of myself. It’s always in development.
Especially working in an industry where you get sent a lot of stuff, it can be hard to know what your real style is. You can have an appreciation for different things without them feeling like your true style, so I think I’m getting better over the years about knowing what’s truly me and what makes me feel good rather than something I appreciate or think is pretty on other people but isn’t exactly my style.
Working in fashion has sped up my perception of the trend cycle just because it’s our job to spot trends early, track them closely, cover them at all these different levels of their trend cycle, and I think I get tired of trends faster, which is a shame but it makes me weary of buying into trends even though I totally still do that. I try and hone my sense of what’s a trend that’s worth investing in: Say, for example, cardigans is something that is trendy now but feels like it has more staying power. Or when kitten heels first resurfaced, they’ve definitely stayed around versus trends that really feel like they’re going to burn so bright and hard. It’s almost like a falling star, then they just burn out so quickly because they’ve become so saturated and become such a marked moment in time.
Sometimes I feel like New York, in America at least, is an epicenter of newness and sometimes I am thankful that I live in LA because it’s a little bit outside of that trend cycle that is endlessly churning. I think stuff that I might be self-conscious of in New York, as funny as it sounds, I’m like, oh this is still cool in LA.
With gifting, I do wonder what my personal style would be like if I purchased everything I wore. I think it would be a lot more specific; I think my style naturally becomes a bit more scattered because I get such a range of things gifted, and same for presenting at fashion week in such visible ways. It can sway you to dress more for someone else than yourself — dressing for the street style cameras. I’ve been thankful there’s been a swing towards a bit more minimal and clean and neutrals. It feels a little closer to how most people dress in everyday life, so that’s helped temper that impulse. A lot of it comes as you get more comfortable in the industry and more secure in your personal style. These things that can sway you in one direction, whether it’s gifts, whether it’s dressing for photographers, have less power as you go on and you get closer and closer to what feels right for you.
Getting dressed fo the office, I have three-to-six meetings a day that I want to present myself for. We have a casual office because we’re LA-based and a creative office but I aim to inspire with my dress and put forth the image of a leader.
With attending events in the evening, I can sometimes pop back home and refresh. Sometimes at the events I go straight to, I feel like I look a little too much like the working girl and a lot of times in LA, with the fashion industry being a bit different than it is in New York, it’s a mix of influencers and other people in the fashion industry and they’ve prepared a bit better.
Given that I live in LA, traveling to New York and any other cities [for fashion week], I feel like if you live in that city you don’t have to plan as much and maybe there’s a little more anxiety in the morning when you’re trying to put together an outfit. I take photos of things [before I pack]. I’ve been trying more and more to just rewear items I love. I’ve learned that sometimes my fashion week brain is not the same as my everyday life brain so I don’t get as much wear out of things that I bought just because I felt like I needed something to wear for fashion week, so I’m trying to buy less and I do also borrow a couple things — sometimes brands reach out and offer. That can be a fun way to support brands you care about personally or are excited about, given it’s a time of more visibility for editors and people attending fashion shows.
I try to limit myself to buying only one or two things for the whole fashion month, and then what I’ve already got, then some borrowed. I just do the best I can and try to be gentle on myself because it is a time for people where it can be easy to scrutinize yourself and feel not up to snuff. So I just try to be gentle on myself and keep the self-esteem as high as possible.
There’s definitely an element of impulsiveness [in how I shop], but I like to [give each item I want] a 48-hour chill down period where I try and see if I’m still interested in it and still thinking about it as obsessively. It’s remarkable to me how often something excites your heart in the moment and then you so quickly move on, especially when you’re exposed to so many different brands and new exciting things. So there’s a good mix of impulse buys. I’m not the most practical shopper, I definitely don’t have a list each season. Once in a while, if I do have an event or something like that, I will shop specifically for that event, like a special wedding or something. But fashion, to me, should make your heart sing and be fun, so I try to let those moments guide my purchasing decisions.
Some of my favorite brands, I love Peter Do. There are some Australian brands I’m really loving, like Christopher Esber, Albus Lumen. I love Rejina Pyo. I love Ellery. Brands like Proenza Schouler have always been very close to my core aesthetic. I also discover a lot of new labels on Instagram. My three most recent were this brand called Panconesi. I also love Foster Studios and Leigh Miller jewelry. There’s so many emerging brands that I just catalog relentlessly in my folders.
I also find stores [on Instagram] that I either would love to shop at now or would love to shop at in my travels — like Adaptations New York is one that I’m curious about, and there’s this store in London called Jeryco that I’m curious about.
One thing I love about LA is I do feel like we have really good vintage here, and I think it can be sometimes less expensive than other cities. So I love Scout on Melrose; I can’t go in there without purchasing something. Another vintage store I like is Mixed Business in Silver Lake. The Painted Bird.
For e-commerce, Frankie Shop is a no-brainer. I definitely purchase a lot from the Net-a-Porters of the world. Sometimes the price difference on the American sites versus FarFetch or MyTheresa — and I think this probably has to do with import taxes — sometimes it can be a few hundred dollars, so I definitely do price compare if I’m getting something from one of those stores. I haven’t visited Lisa Says Gah lately, but they’re one of the OG e-commerce people who were really doing different type of imagery and started that. I love Lucia Zolea, which is vintage e-commerce. There’s a lot of vintage e-commerce that I mess with to be honest. O. La Roche is one of my favorites, and good prices.
[With buying vintage online,] there’s always inherently mistakes that happen so you just have to be mentally prepared that something might not be exactly what you wanted. I would say know your brands, because once you know vintage brands that you love you can get really familiar with the sizing. If you think there may be a little red flag about it and you’re like ‘oh but that part in that photo, it looked a little weird,’ it probably is weird. You have to factor into the price, like, are you willing to take the risk that this might not be exactly what you wanted or it might have a funky smell or something like that. You just have to be a risk-taker, which, as a Sagittarius, I feel very comfortable with.
I once bought this vintage turtleneck sweater which was really ’80s in a bad way. It had a giant neck and huge puffball sleeves. It was one of those triggers — you know sometimes with the vintage, it’s like ‘be the first person to comment or send the money via PayPal’ who wins it, so I find in those pressure situations I don’t always make the best decisions.
I did buy a wedding dress on an impulse. It was a sample sale situation and I was feeling pressure and part of my personality is I love feeling like I’ve made a decision. I was like great, I’ve made a decision, let’s move forward. Then I definitely had to do the go-back-the-next-day thing — luckily it was a two-day sample sale — and be like, ‘I’ve made mistake,’ which is honestly the worst nightmare because it was embarrassing being that person who is asking for an exception and a break from the rules. So I got store credit and I bought this other dress that can maybe work for a rehearsal dinner, it’s a little bit more versatile. It’s funny, while I was there I was like, ‘this one is a little better,’ and I was like, ‘no, you’re not buying a second wedding dress right now with the mistake money.’ So that was probably the biggest little misstep I made in the past year, but you know, it’s ok. Not everything is going to be the exact soundest decision you’ve ever made in your life.
I have a section of my room of things I’m looking to transition out. First, if something reminds me of one of my friends I’ll text them, then also I do resell or just donate. If I haven’t worn it for a couple seasons, it’s probably a good indicator. I’m a Sagittarius so I like to get rid of things and I like to be having movement, whether I’m buying things or getting rid of things. I do have some pieces that have stayed for over a decade and that I still continue to love and I hope to grow that sector of my wardrobe. This takes a little more effort, but if you really want to see what you have and haven’t worn, you can flip all your hangers a certain direction and then as you wear the clothing, put it back in the opposite direction and you can see which ones you wear, as a little experiment.
There’s this bra on Amazon called the Boody eco-wear bra. It’s just the most comfortable bra in the entire world. Especially in this working from home time, I’ve become weirdly more sensitive than ever before in terms of outfits that I’m wearing and the bra I’m wearing. I always make sure for longer-haul flights that I have this bra because it literally feels like nothing.
Bags and shoes to me are a great place to spend, just [because of] the cost per wear, and weirdly jewelry. I have a hard time splurging on jewelry but that’s even better cost per wear than bags and shoes. As I’ve gotten a bit older I’ve been experimenting with making the transition from more costume jewelry to fine jewelry. It lasts longer, the metal isn’t going to turn green in a year, so the investment is actually smarter and there are a lot of brands that do more affordable fine jewelry.
Those trend pieces that you feel like everybody else is wearing and so you need them now — there are so many affordable options now for those items that I feel like that’s an area not to splurge on. I also think vintage can be a great area to do a medium splurge on. Say you’re getting a vintage Comme des Garçons top, it’ll be maybe $150. Compared to new, that is a great savings and nobody else is going to have it and you’re giving a second life to items. The fashion industry is wasteful and so much of it is disposable — that’s another reason why I think vintage is a good investment.”