I place buying a piece of wearing apparel right up there with the purchase of a car or a house.

First, I ask myself, "Do I need this? Will I love it in five years as much as I love it today?" This is followed by opinions from three sources who do not stand to gain personally from my acquisition. Then I divide the price by the number of times I will wear it to average it out in dollars. While it is being wrapped, I ask, "How many days do I have to return this?"With all of these safeguards you would think that I'd be considered a prudent shopper. Think again.

When Ultrasuede became a status symbol, I lusted for months after a buff-colored suit. The investment was too big for impulsive buying. I stalked the suit for weeks, tried it on, put it back on the rack and went home to meditate on it. Two weeks after I bought it, I boarded a Braniff Airlines plane to discover that it was the basic uniform of every stewardess in the fleet.

It happened again at a school open house. I had shopped for a suit for months. It had to be something that could withstand the trends and still remain basic; something I could dress up or down depending on the occasion, yet would set me apart from the crowd. The principal of the school, a nun, was wearing one just like it.

One night I arrived at a reception for former President Carter's mother, the now-departed Miss Lillian. She was wearing a long, hunter-green silk gown that was pleated from top to bottom and tied with a satin green ribbon around her waist. My memory is quite clear on it because I was wearing the same dress. What to do? Go over and say, "Oh, I see you bought the other one," or slip out and take a cab home? With my luck, the cab driver would be wearing the same dress.All I know is that I am sick of going to parties in a gold jacket that I thought could go with everything, only to have someone say, "Oh, you sell real estate now?"

After a while you lose your confidence. In the dark part of my closet I have this two-piece slacks outfit that I anguished about for weeks. I bought it because I was tired of being conservative and predictable. I was bored being practical. Besides, the salesperson said jungle camouflage prints were in.

Two days later, I saw a million servicemen and women on television in my slacks suit leaving for Saudi Arabia.

Thank goodness I didn't buy the matching hat.