“It’s here! It’s here!”
You’ve been waiting on the delivery man for weeks and he’s finally dropped off the outfit you ordered online. You rip open the package and pull out the beautiful … wait, that doesn’t look like it did in the photos. Well, maybe it will look better on.
You rush to the bedroom to try it on for the first time, and as you tug hopelessly at the sides wishing that skirt or blouse would finally slip on, you realize that this just isn’t going to work. It may have only taken you five minutes to purchase the clothes on a website, but it’s going to take much longer to figure out what to do next.
This is the trouble with buying clothes online. Say what you will about in-store dressing rooms and their horribly unflattering fluorescent lights, at least they provide us with the opportunity to see how a product fits and buy the right size the first time. Trying to determine your size online can feel like taking a shot in the dark.
But it doesn’t need to be that way. If buying garments online terrifies you or you’ve returned more online purchases than you’ve kept, take the guesswork out of the process with these tips provided by Natasha Fussell, an online stylist at New York-based boutique and website Lonnys.com. Just don’t blame us for your next credit card bill.
Know Your Measurements
Most of us know our shirt, pants, and dress sizes, and use that as a starting point when shopping in store, but sizes aren’t reliable from brand to brand. Stores with a mass consumer base, like Old Navy and Gap, tend to run large, while high-end designers lean toward the small side. Boutiques often carry many different brands, each with its own sizing guidelines. A size 6 in one brand could be an 8 or 10 in another.
To save yourself the hassle when buying online, use your measurements rather than a size. Most sites have a measurements guide for the whole site or for individual pieces of clothing. Get some measuring tape and find your numbers for key areas.
Bust: This is the fullest part of your chest, not the size of your bra band.
Waist: For many women, this is the narrowest part of your torso. Feel just above your hipbones for the natural indentation if you’re having trouble finding your natural waist.
Hips: Go for the widest part of your hips and butt, near the top of your legs.
Inseam: Measure from the crotch down the inside of the leg.
If you’re looking to just get a general idea of your sizes, measuring over clothes will work, but for the best chance of getting the right size the first time, strip down to your skivvies.
“The most accurate way to do it is without all those extra layers and just how you’d be wearing the outfit — over undergarments,” Fussell says.
Finding your perfect measurements won’t do you any good if you choose a fabric that is going to shrink or doesn’t have as much give as you expect. Educating yourself on many different types of fabrics will help you become an online sizing pro in no time.
If you’re looking for something with some flexibility, look for structured fabrics blended with stretchable fibers.
“Silk is one that when cut alone will not change shape, so trying to squeeze into it isn’t really an option!” Fussell says. “However, if it’s sewn with spandex it will have that stretch feeling. Thus, spandex, lycra, and elastane are all words to look for when wanting something that will have give.”
Many natural fibers, like cotton and wool, tend to shrink in the dryer, so check if a product from these fabrics has been pre-shrunk. If not, you might need to size up.
Read Customer Reviews and Descriptions
Chances are, you don’t look like the model on the website you’re purchasing from. Luckily, other customers probably don’t either. Retailers don’t always mention whether a garment runs large or small (and they definitely won’t tell you that it’s poorly made or unsuitable for certain body shapes), so turn to the customer reviews for trustworthy advice. Look for sizing clues as well as general complaints about the product so you’ll know exactly what you’re getting. And don’t forget to pay it forward by leaving detailed reviews about your own purchases.
“These are comments made by real people and give first-hand insight to how the clothing actually fits, because of course everything looks great on the person modeling it!” Fussell says. “Hopefully the reviewer gives details about their sizing, body type, etc. so you know how it was for them and how it would compare to you.”
If customer reviews aren’t available, scan the product description for words that might hint at the fit of the product. Some of Fussell’s examples: “tight,” “form-fitting,” and “body con” will be fitted close to the body, while “oversized,” “boxy,” “generous,” or “menswear inspired” imply a less-tailored fit.
Pay Attention to the Return Policy
Even when following all of our great advice, there’s a chance that the garment you buy won’t fit the way you want or just won’t be what you expected. In these cases, you’ll feel better knowing there’s a customer-friendly return policy working in your favor — something you should check into before you buy from any website.
“It’s so important to make sure you know what all your options are. As well, don’t be shy to ask for help, even if it’s about inventory,” Fussell says.
When shopping online, buying from a store with good customer service is essential. Look for policies that allow you to return or exchange your purchases for any reason and offer free perks like free shipping or the choice of in-store return. It’s a good sign that a company is willing to work with you to make you happy if it provides plenty of information on their website on how to contact them in case you have questions or concerns. Is there an address for returns, a phone number, and email address provided for customers? If not, consider looking somewhere else.