TIPS FOR ONLINE CLOTHES SHOPPING (and avoiding nasty returns)

We’re all seeking that elusive “family-work-home-friends-me balance,” so who has time to battle crowds in retail stores searching for a piece of clothing that speaks to you? Let’s face it, half our weekends are already spent doing errands and chores. Fortunately, shopping online has eliminated most woes involved in clothes shopping … or has it?

If there is one thing more annoying than time spent shopping online for the perfect piece, it’s receiving it only to learn it doesn’t fit!  To avoid that disappointment, here are some tips to help you choose clothing which does fit.  Now, this does require taking some time in advance to perform a few steps, but in the long run you will save time and aggravation, and will feel good when wearing that stylish new piece!

The Measure of a Woman

Nothing is more important than knowing your measurements. You may feel like not wanting to know your measurements, but trust me, they are the key to successful clothes shopping.  And if you’re like me those measurements change from time to time – so having current measurements is a good idea.  Why are knowing your specific, individual measurements so important?  Because every brand creates its own size chart, and every brand designs on a particular body-type (very possibly not your body-type). There simply isn’t true, standard sizing, especially for women size 12 and up (which is many of us).  And how can there be standardized sizing when there are so many variations to women’s physiques?

 Mattel® is finally creating Barbies®
representing real female shapes, hopefully
more clothing designers will follow suit.

TIP #1:  Take Your Measurements.  Taking your own measurements is easy and you’ll want to at least measure your bust, natural waist and lower hips. Hold your body in an erect yet natural position (without sucking in your tummy – you know you want to!).  Depending on what you are purchasing other measurements might be helpful, such as arm length, torso length and inseam.  If you’d like help measuring and a friend or family member isn’t available, then try your local dry cleaner who may have a tailor to assist.  Be sure to write down your measurements, in fact – recording them in a document is recommended because there’s more useful information mentioned below that you’ll want handy for future reference.

Not All Size Charts are Created Equal

TIP #2:  Collect Size Charts.  Probably there are garments in your closet that fit well which you love wearing.  So, here’s the plan.  First, go to your closet and pull out those pieces.  Second, write down which brands they are and what their sizes are.  Third, go online to those brand’s websites and find your piece or one very similar in structure.  Pull up the size chart associated with that piece. (Caveat – brands can have more than one size chart and they can vary.) Fourth, record the measurements they use for the size of your garment.  If you have a snipping tool on your computer, you might just grab an image of the size chart (snipping tools are fairly cheap and handy to have) and place that image in your reference document.  Do this for each brand that creates garments which fit you well.  Lastly, take a good look at how these size charts are similar or how they differ. 

You’ll want to notice their range of measurement for your size, for example, the bust size may be 34-36, and you, let’s say, are a 36.  This means you are at the high end of their range, and therefore the piece will fit you more snugly than a woman with a size 34 bust.  Alternatively, let’s say the range is 36-38, then the garment will be less snug on you.  How people like clothes to fit is subjective.  One person may prefer a little roominess for comfort, and another might like a little snugness for a more fitted streamlined look.

For a long time I thought the "W" on the size tag meant "wide."  It doesn't - it means "women's" - as in, women's sizing.  Women's sizing is made to be a tad looser than missy sizing (usually by at least an extra inch of fabric if not more). This is important to know, because a women's size 12 is a looser fit than a missy size 12.  Missy sizes might range from 0 to 12, and women's sizes might range from 10 to 20.  Plus sizing might be roomier than women's sizing, and plus sizing might be size 14 and up.  Everything depends on the brand and how they chose to construct the garments and create the sizing.  It pays to get to know brands and their size charts!

These charts you’ve collected are going to be an important point of reference when purchasing clothing on-line, because they tell you which dimensions/variances in garment construction work for you.  What’s hidden behind these size charts is the body type used in the design/construction of the garment.  Everyone has a body type: pear, apple, round, oblong – small or large busted – tall, average, short and so on.  It has been eye opening to me how a women’s blazer I’ve designed can fit two women wearing the same size, yet look quite different on each of them, and all because of variances in height and shape. 

Hand Dyed Crepe de Chine Silk
satisfyingly lustrous, a delicate texture, exceptional drape

Fabric Love

TIP #3: Consider the Fabrics:  Me in a fabric store with its rolls and bolts of fabrics in multitudes of colors and patterns and textures and weaves (oh my!) on large metal shelving from floor to ceiling – is me at five years old in a candy store.  The creative person inside me is beating down the door to get out.  If only I could sew.  I’ve taken sewing courses and have done my share of swearing at my sewing machine.  I learned early that I personally would not be sewing samples of my own designs.  What I would give to be half the seamstress my grandmother was.

Entire books have been written on fabrics and covering them here is beyond the scope of this blog post.  However, when you are purchasing a garment online, take a moment and look at what fabrics it’s constructed with.  Often fabrics are blends of percentages of different textiles.  Do an internet search on the fabric/textile for descriptions and reviews.  Is the fabric durable or will you only get to wear it a handful of times?  Is it scratchy or silky against your skin?  Does it pill?  And be aware that even preshrunk fabrics will still shrink a tad more.  Does the blend contain a stretchy textile and if yes, what is the percentage?  Most like a little stretch in their fabrics, but too much and you’re wearing gym clothes.

For those of you interested in sustainability, a sustainable blend with a 3-5% stretchy synthetic fiber is still considered biodegradable by some.  I was not able to confirm this.  A study by Cornell University did show some biodegrading after three months of composting, but not enough to officially call it biodegradable.  Perhaps the upside is that it is only a small percentage of the overall fabric blend.  

And the big one – is it machine washable.  Structured garments generally should be dry cleaned not only to keep their shape, but for the sake of the fabrics.  You should be able to wear a structured garment, like a women’s blazer, for years (even decades) if cared for properly – which makes up for the initial cost and the cost of dry cleaning along the way.  If you are washing a garment which has a percentage of natural fibers, then wash in lukewarm water.  Extreme temperatures of either hot or cold make the fibers curl up and contract – which changes the integrity and fit of the garment.  Again, there is just too much to know about fabrics to share in this little corner of the world.

Custom Me!

TIP #4:  Tailored Clothing.  What, you’re not rich?  Me neither.  But the truth is there is only one way to have perfectly fitting clothing, and that is to have them tailored.  Men often do this if they purchase a suit off the rack.  They have the pants hemmed to their height and perhaps even the suit jacket adjusted to their size/shape.  A friend has all his suits made from scratch.  And while that certainly sounds like a luxury – he wears those suits for decades – more than getting his investment back.  If you want to look well put together, this is certainly a means to that end.

You might also look for brands with made-to-order options.  The fashion industry is in crises from relying on an old retail model which is crumbling under its feet.  Some brands are evolving by turning to a new model of sustainable manufacturing, where the clothing is made when you order it.  Usually these systems are efficient and can mail you your made-to-order garment in about three to four business days. You provide your measurements and/or ask for adjustments to a style. For example, perhaps your arms are a little longer than average, you can request an additional half inch be added to the sleeve.  There can be limits to the adjustments made, because if you ask for an extra 6” just at the hips, that might throw other garment construction off.

In conclusion, to avoid nasty returns and successfully purchase clothing which fits, know your measurements, get familiar with size charts, understand the fabrics used  – and a little tailoring will take you from acceptable to fabulous!

By Janice Trayes, CEO of Connecticut Country Clothing (

1 comment

Ciao Janice :-) ! Tutte le donne con un pò di peso in più hanno problemi…Potremmo realizzare per la tua linea bellissimi cardigan o maglie over giovanili che non si trovano produttori. Ti può interessare? Spero in una tua risposta. Un cordiale saluto, Ivana

Ivana Maiolati December 02, 2018

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