Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Reader Request: Online Shopping

Several days ago, reader Alex asked me in the comments if I had any suggestions for buying clothes online. I thought that this was a meaty enough topic to do a whole post on, particularly since I do buy a fair amount of clothes online and have had my ups and downs with the process. What I'll mainly discuss here is clothing, because ordering shoes online seems to be a lot less scary a concept for most people.

The outfit photos that accompany this post contain purchases from some of my favorite online shops. The details about specific shops that I buy from are in the second half of the post, but first I'll share the things to keep in mind for any online clothing purchase.

Know your figure. If there's one key to success in online clothes shopping, this is it, folks. If you don't have a good understanding of what looks good on you and why, you should stick with brick-and-mortar shopping for now. Before attempting any online clothing purchase, you should have identified what your body shape is, and know which styles to embrace and which to avoid. If certain types of clothing are hit-or-miss for you, for instance jeans, then they may be best to avoid in the online realm altogether.

Do your research. I always try to look for reviews before ordering from a new online shop, particularly if the price point is high. The blogging community alone contains a wealth of information about shopping experiences, so before you place your order, make sure you've mined the appropriate sources of information thoroughly. The more you can learn about the quality and fit of the clothing, the more confidence you'll have in ordering. Look not only for product reviews, but also for experiences people have had with shipping and returns. Bear in mind, though, that many people only get online and rant when they've had a bad experience, and that single bad experience might be the exception to the rule. If I see more than one bad review I'll sit up and take notice, but if everyone else is singing the store's praises, I'll overlook a negative comment here and there.

Determine the correct size. This can be a tough one, and there are definitely stores that require advanced online shopping skills. In general though, don't assume you can always order your usual size when shopping online. If available, check out the site's size charts and make sure they agree with your actual measurements (and if the shop doesn't provide size charts, you can always inquire). Pay close attention to whether the items are measured flat or by circumference, and at the very least know your own measurements for bust, waist, hips, and inseam. I find that the really good shops will have detailed measurements for each type of clothing article they sell; for instance, they'll have separate charts for dresses, pants, and tops. Shops that include size equivalents for other countries usually give me more confidence too, because I find that some size scales are more standardized than others. This is particularly true of shoes, where in my experience the euro sizes are more reliable than the US ones; when I'm contemplating a new brand, I always buy whatever equals my euro size and ignore what the US size is.

Pay attention to the age group targeted by the shop. Don't expect that juniors-sized clothes will always have the typical odd-numbered sizes; many shops carry clothes in standard sizes that are really more of a juniors fit. The good ones will tell you up front (Tulle is one that does this), but by paying attention to the store's stock, you can usually deduce it for yourself. Look for an abundance of super trendy items; right now what I'm seeing are lots of too-short hemlines (think tunics or long shirts that are sold as dresses), metallic leggings, and the more extreme 80's styles. I usually assume that stores that sell mostly on-trend clothing are targeting a younger age group, and buy one size up from my usual.

Start modestly. If you're ordering from an online seller for the first time, it's a great idea to limit your first order to just one or two carefully-selected pieces. There's nothing more frustrating, or troublesome, than ordering half a wardrobe's worth of stuff and having none of it fit. And always make sure you've read the store's return policy before you place your order.

Consider custom ordering. There are few things more satisfying than having a piece of clothing custom-fitted for you, and these days the internet is loaded with great shops that will do just that. Most clothing sellers on Etsy will gladly make their items to fit, and the real beauty of this approach is that you know the fit will be perfect every time. Most independent sellers charge no additional fee for custom fitting, and many can whip up their designs within a few days of placing the order, so don't be shy about shooting a message to your favorite seller with a request for custom work.

Here are some online sellers that I love:

The Red Dress Shoppe: (gray dress in the first photo) I've ordered from RDS many times, and have always gotten a perfect fit. Why? Because the shop has several different size charts that they match to specific items, rather than a single chart for everything. They don't offer much in the way of plus sizes, but they do point it out in the item descriptions when plus sizes are available.

Attila Design: (pink top and black skirt in the second photo) My favorite Etsy clothing seller, Tiina is a delight to work with and will custom fit any piece. Currently the wait is several weeks because she's swamped with orders, but her stunning, one-of-a-kind designs are well worth the wait.

Violetville Vintage: (vintage gray suit in the third photo) This eBay vintage seller has detailed descriptions of the sizing on each piece, not only providing the actual measurements, but also the modern size equivalents. If you're in the market for high quality vintage, this is the place.

All Saints: (brown herringbone skirt in the fourth photo) Despite the weirdness with the clothing labels not matching the online charts (described here and here), I still stand by this shop as one of the best online sellers out there. One of the things that has really impressed me is that the fit is very consistent item to item. Pricey, but the clothing is high quality and unique enough to be worth it.

Gilt Groupe: (Acne jeans shown above) If you've always wanted to own a high-end designer piece but haven't been able to afford one, Gilt is for you. With brands such as Marc Jacobs, D&G, and Donna Karan marked down 50% or more, designer is now within average folks' reach. I love the zoom-able photos and clean layout, as well as the recommendations for fit. If you're not currently a member, just click here and become one!

Revamp Vintage: This LA-based shop produces gorgeous vintage reproductions, such as the 1940's day dress shown to the right. All pieces can be made to order, and the turnaround is surprisingly quick. They use high quality fabrics and pay careful attention to the details. Not necessarily for everyday wear, but these are pieces you'll treasure for years to come.

Sock Dreams: I couldn't not mention Sock Dreams in a post about online shopping, since I've ordered from them more times than I can count, and in fact most of my socks and tights came from there. If all else fails, you can certainly order socks and tights online without fear, and this Portland-based shop is a great place to find beautiful styles with accurate descriptions of the sizing and feel.


Alex said...

Thanks so much, this is super helpful!!

Of course, the sticking point for me is the first tip... not everything that catches my eye will work with my body, and I have a hard time telling before I try it on. I guess that just comes with practice!

Thanks again =)

Cara said...

Great post! Thanks so much - I always browse online, but chicken out before checking out! I used to do much more when I lived in a much much much smaller town with no clothing stores, and when I was more interested in the brand than the style, which made it easier to determine sizing, perhaps it's time to try again! I will admit, however, I'm the exception to your thought that shoes are easier to buy online - perhaps it's because I have small, narrow feet, but I'm petrified of buying shoes online, and the only time I'll do it, is when I've tried on the pair in store, but they don't have them in the colour I want!

Anonymous said...

As always, completely fabulous tips. A dear friend and fellow blogger is JUST entering the world of online shopping, and I'll definitely point her to this post!

Ericka Hayes said...

I recently discovered your wonderful blog. Thanks for the very helpful post; the red dress site looks especially tempting. Also good to see a fellow Fluevog fan blogging.

WendyB said...

It's a help if you know a designer's fit really well...and when that's not possible have a good tailor!

Jean said...

I absolutely LOVE you in the 40s dress and hat, you look gorgeous and so so stylish.

ambika said...

The only familiar one to me is Violetville so I'm off to check out the others...

violetville said...

I was just thinking about your wonderful blog the other day! I remember you posting not only about the lovely suit you bought from us (which still makes me excited to see!) but also about the red Aquatalia boots you bought last Fall (which I had also bought) and how excited I was to see those on your blog as well! I've just pulled them out as the weather is getting colder here, and I thought of the photo you posted wearing them. I hope I look just as lovely as you!

sapphire said...

I've had a hard time shopping online and you laid what I should know before getting online. I haven't measured myself, problem 1, and have not done that much research, problem 2.

So thank you for the well thought out post!