Now we can find clothing from all over the world that suits our specific tastes, but we can’t try them on first. As a lover of fashion in vintage and secondhand styles that can be hard to find, the digital shopping revolution has been great for me — I love using sites like Poshmark to shop for secondhand clothes, for instance. But I’ve also had to develop new skills to make sure I’m not wasting my time or money when I shop online. Returning items is a hassle, after all. Better to get it right the first time by knowing what to look for, and how to read a listing correctly to make a good judgment about what’s worth it.
With the world of shopping at our fingertips, of course we still have to be mindful to create boundaries around spending. But we can also learn new skills to shop online for clothes that actually fit. Here are a few tips for shopping online for clothing that you’ll like, and not want to return the second it hits your doorstep.
The first step is to know your measurements. Purchase a soft tape measure that wraps around your body, and learn the measurements of your bust, waist, hips, inseam, and height.
When purchasing an item online, always look at the measurements and compare them against yourself. For instance, I’m 5’3”, so I know that if I purchase any dress longer than about 50 inches, I’m going to have to hem it. I also know that shirts shorter than 15 inches are going to be crop tops on me — something I usually want to avoid.
To avoid spending extra time and money tailoring your clothing, look closely at measurements.
Measure some items of clothing already in your closet that you really love. How long is your favorite mini skirt? Midi skirt? What about your favorite sweater — what’s the length from shoulder to hem, from armpit to armpit? Get a general idea of your measurements and the measurements of clothing you already like, so that the next time you’re on the hunt for something specific — the perfect maxi skirt or a new jacket — you’ll know what to look for. I’ve ruled out items when I realized the armpit-to-armpit measurement means the item would swallow me, or the hemline was too short or too long for what I had in mind.
If you don’t want to spend extra time and money tailoring your clothing, it just helps to look closely at measurements.
Be Honest with Yourself
Be honest with yourself about your body type, what styles you can pull off, and what you like to wear. Certain styles look good on everyone, like A-line dresses. Others don’t — some girls can pull off crop tops, and some can’t. (Or, some can pull off a crop top, but they don’t feel comfortable in them.) Some women are flattered by tent dresses, while others get swallowed in them or feel like they’re wearing a bag!
Think about what’s in your closet that you already like. Sometimes it’s okay to take a risk when online shopping, but for the most part, it’s wise to go with what’s classically beautiful, and what looks and feels best on you. If you want to start experimenting wildly, maybe save that for a trip to the store so you can try it on before you make a purchase. Going for classic cuts and styles when shopping online can help you to make sure you know what you’re getting.
Pay Attention to Fabrics
Getting a sense for the types of fabrics you already like to wear can be helpful. Take a look inside your closet and look at tags. Which shirts feel itchy or uncomfortable, and what are they made of? Which ones feel comfortable? Are they polyester, rayon, cotton, or a blend?
Getting a sense for the types of fabrics you like on your skin can help you to avoid the wrong types, as well as items that are just going to fall apart. If you want the piece to last for a long time, try to avoid a lot of synthetics and look for blends that are majority cotton or other natural fibers like wool or linen. These can be more expensive, however. A small percentage of spandex can be nice to give an item some stretch.
Avoid a lot of synthetics and look for blends that are majority natural fibers like cotton or linen.
As cheap as they are, I try to avoid 100% polyester dresses for everyday wear or pieces I want to keep for a long time because 100% polyester lacks stretch, doesn’t last as long, and isn’t as comfortable as blended fabrics (100% polyester can be fine for items for dressier occasions that I won’t be wearing regularly, though).
Sweaters made from synthetic fabrics with a loose weave either tend to lose their shape and fall apart, or aren’t warm, so in the winter I try to purchase sweaters that have a tighter weave and are made of cotton or have some small percentage of wool in them for warmth (too high of a percentage and it’s itchy, so a low percentage is key!).
I’ve also noticed some of my favorite pieces are made from rayon, which is a semi-synthetic fabric. It’s both affordable and comfy. My all-time favorite sweater, for instance, is 80% rayon and 20% nylon, and my all-time favorite dress is 95% rayon and 5% spandex. Start to notice fabrics you like and don’t like, and you’ll have a clue about what to buy and what to avoid when shopping online.
Reviews Are Your Friend
Be wary of bot farms that flood an item with fake reviews. If an item seems to have a lot of 5-star reviews that are just a few words each, take those with a grain of salt, especially if you haven’t ordered from that brand before.
Look for reviews that have some level of detail about quality and fit, as well as some photos. A lack of reviews doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t buy an item that looks great otherwise, but reviews can be super helpful.
Some sites let you filter reviews for body type and height. If you’re short, and a lot of short girls are saying the piece is too baggy, that can be a clue as to how it will fit on you, too. On the flip side, if all the reviews are from girls with a totally different body type than you, take their thoughts about fit with a grain of salt — maybe it will look great on you!
Watch Out for Poor Photos and Photoshopping
Ideally, the item will have been photographed from multiple angles — far away, close up, and from each side. Specific details like zippers, tags, or embellishments will be photographed in a clear way.
Ideally, the item will have been photographed from multiple angles, and details will be clearly shown.
Look out for images that are blurry, unclear, or the item appears to be photoshopped onto the model. (I see this a lot when a seller is trying to showcase different colors of the same item — instead of taking individual photos of the item in every color, they’ll take one photo of the item and just photoshop it in different colors.) I also try to avoid buying secondhand items in which the seller doesn’t photograph the piece of clothing on a model. Sometimes, they will lay the item on their bed or the floor, and you can’t get a good sense of what it looks like that way.
If the images make it hard to get a good read on the item, consider looking elsewhere.
Be Skeptical of Too-Good-To-Be-True Items
Be suspicious of too-good-to-be-true pieces that look amazing in the photos, but are suspiciously cheap. This can often mean quality is lacking, or the photos have been deceptively edited to make the piece look a lot better than it really is.
You may have to rely on your gut on this one. Sometimes I’ll find a dress in an ornate or complicated style — maybe it’s a unique, Victorian dress that has details I know would not be easy to create — and the entire dress is only $20, so I buy it. When it arrives, the fabric is super cheap and thin, it tears easily, or it doesn’t stand up well to washing.
Be aware that you do have to pay more for higher quality or unique items. No matter how good the photos may appear, if what looks like a high quality or coveted style is super suspiciously cheap, it’s probably too good to be true.
Shopping online for clothes requires us to take a much closer look at the details in a listing. If we learn how to pay attention to measurements, fabric, photos, and the cuts and styles that work best on us, we can make sure we find quality pieces that last and that look good on us.
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