Know Your Body Before You Shop


I can generally pick up a garment, give it a quick once-over, and know whether it’ll make me look like a goddess or a garbage heap. How? Well, I shop frequently and try on a LOT of clothing, so some of it is trial and error. But I’ve also made a point of learning my measurements, my body type, and my personal failsafe styles.

Learning about your figure is key to efficient shopping. Shopping becomes exhausting when you have to try on 15 dresses before finding one that’s even passable, much less great. But if you can eyeball the racks and go for styles that should work in theory, you’ll have a better chance of picking items that work in practice.

How do you formulate your personal theory?

Hone your visual judgement: Pick out five perfectly-fitting tops from your own closet. Try to select from several categories of top, such as blouse, sweater, tee, cardigan, and/or jacket. Then pick out a top that is either very fitted or actually too small. Pick out a top that is either very boxy or actually too large. Set perfectly-fitting top number one on your bed, and place the too-small top next to it. Swap in perfectly-fitting top number two, three, etc. Then do the same thing with the perfectly-fitting tops and the too-large top. By the end of this drill, you should have a vague idea what a top that would fit you looks like. Repeat with skirts and pants. It ain’t foolproof, but it should help.

Take notes: OK, I know this sounds like a serious drag, but hear me out. Set up a memo in your phone, or allot a page in your planner to clothing-fit notes. Whenever you try on a garment that is either beams-of-light-from-above-and-angels-singing wonderful, or crawl-in-a-hole-and-die awful, jot down a few words about why. Is it where the waistline falls? The length of the hem? The neckline? The contoured seaming? Stop, breathe, analyze, and jot. You will learn SO MUCH about what looks amazing on you, and you’ll bring that knowledge on every future shopping trip.

Measure yourself: Measure your shoulder width, actual boobs, below boobs, narrowest part of waist, widest part of hips, and inseam. You can also measure garments that fit you perfectly – which is especially helpful if you prefer that your skirts and dresses hit your leg at a specific spot. Write your stats on a cheat sheet. You can bring your handy dandy tape measure shopping with you and measure garments in the corresponding spots, if you just hate wasting time in the dressing room. Knowing your measurements is also absolutely invaluable for online shopping.

How well do you know your figure? Do you know your measurements? Your CURRENT ones? When was the last time you checked? Can you hold up a garment and tell whether it’ll pull in the shoulders, or sag at the hips? What other methods can be employed to learn about your figure as it relates to clothing shopping?

Image courtesy incurable_hippie.

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  • Lillie

    These are great tips and will definitely save a lot of time when you're shopping. I have gotten to the point where I know what will work for me and what will not. Learning my body has been an education and I don't stray away from the foundation that I have established. Many more people need to follow up with this advice and correct those fashion errors that do absolutely nothing to compliment their body styles.

  • Toby Wollin

    I took the measurements of the things that fit me best and put them on a card that I keep in my wallet. I also keep (much to the embarrassment of people who have shopped with me in the past)a small retractable cloth measuring tape in my purse. When I find something I like, I whip those two items out, do a quick measure in the appropriate places before I even go into the dressing room.

  • Marianna

    Great tips. I hate measuring myself because the numbers bum me out, but I'm pretty good about eyeing a garment and knowing if it will work or not. I don't have any specific techniques that I use… I think it just comes down to trial and error for me, and shopping a lot!

  • Kristen

    Good post. I am re-learning my current measurements now, post-baby and breastfeeding. The tops are easier to find than the bottoms. ๐Ÿ™‚ And I have pulled out the trusty measuring tape a few times.

  • K.Line

    Totally excellent suggestions. I think that, as we become "better" shoppers, we can start to eyeball/intuit the measurements of our bodies reflected in the clothing. Once you have a sense of a fabric's stretch/non stretch, seams, drape, ease, style against your own shape, the world is your oyster. If it takes jotting down some facts and figures to get there, what's the problem?

  • futurelint

    I do actually know my measurements, only because I am at that magical age where EVERYONE I know is getting married and so I have started collecting bridesmaids dresses… I'm pretty darn good at eyeballing whether or not something will fit me, which comes in handy! Still, I prefer to be able to try things on, but it's not always possible in antique or thrift store or on etsy!

  • Sheila

    You know, this is such an excellent post, Sal. I think I have a pretty good idea of what looks good on me, and it is invaluable when I am thrifting or hunting through consignment stores. It avoids so much time wasted in trying stuff on…I know it's not going to look good if it has an empire waist, for example (a very bad style on me).

    Great words to shop by!

  • WendyB

    I play it by ear ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • angie

    These are super points to bear in mind, Sally. We all want to keep the shopping process as painless and as efficient as possible!

    As well as I know what works best for my figure, I actually also make a point of trying on items that I am hesitant about, and are out of my comfort zone. There are often ways to make them work and I really enjoy the challenge of making them work! But then, I do this for a living so Iโ€™m expected to do this I guess! (Plus I have the time to do it). Always pushing my own fashion envelope to keep things interesting, AND by the same token, finding dressing and style solutions for clients.

  • Kelly

    I'm getting pretty good at developing an eye for what will look good on me. After you shop consciously (like the way your suggestion lays out) for a long time, it becomes second nature. Although I still try on a lot of clothes, many more than I buy, I can do a much better job of scanning the store and the racks and honing in on things that will work for me.

    And I know most of my measurements. I re-measure my bust, underbust, hips, and waist a few times a year (for online shopping, bra sizing, and monitoring my health). And it seems like every year or so I end up having a reason to take all sorts of other measurements, like my shoulder width or arm circumference. Strangely enough I have no idea what my inseam is!

  • The Waves

    I have to say that I don't know my body all that well. Since my modeling years I have steered away from the measuring tape on purpose, and I guess I am fundamentally a feel-good-dresser. I know that I have items in my closet that don't make me look my best, but I tell myself that I can afford to experiment just for the fun of it. The older I get, the more I appreciate having fun with clothes, and I try to not take myself too seriously.

    Having said all that, you offer great tips here, and perhaps I should look into them more carefully. After all, knowing one's body and dressing accordingly doesn't mean you can't have fun with what you wear! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Whitney Erin

    Great advice…thanks for posting it! I usually do pretty good eying a piece of clothing to decide whether to even try it on or not, but I need to go through my closet and see what fits best and why so I can consistently wear clothes that don't just fit, but actually look fabulous on me ๐Ÿ™‚

  • lisa

    I just try, try, try before I buy. Depending on where I'm shopping I can buy anything from a 0 to a 6, but I've become pretty good at eyeing something and assessing whether it'd be too small on me. If I'm ever unsure, I take the same item in two sizes to the fitting room so I can try each of them on, compare the fit, and see which suits me best.

  • Anonymous

    As a seamstress, I know my measurements but I don't find them very helpful since sizes vary so much — measuring clothes that fit you and then comparing the measurements to clothing in the stores (or to a pattern before you sew) often works best.

    As far as styles, try on every new silhouette you can find as it comes into the stores. If you know batwing sleeves make you look like a complete ninny, you can save yourself an entire season of aggravation trying on batwing-sleeved tops (or worse, sewing a top only to realize it's a terrible look on you!).

    I also ignore colors as well as silhouettes that I know will look bad on me. Sometimes that means there is nothing in a store I even bother trying on, but it vastly simplifies the shopping experience.

  • Editor

    Great article and nice blog!!!

    D e g a i n e

    http://www.fashiondegaine.com

  • Almost 40

    Sweet Sal – great as usual!

    I DO know what looks good on me and I can generally eyeball it. However, I just had a real, grown-up, honest-to-goodness bra fitting! And guess what? My band size is SMALLER than I thought and my cup size is bigger than I though. VERY interesting and it made an absolute difference in how the girls look. I was floored.

    So, the lesson: measure often as things can shift during flight.

  • Eyeliah

    good tips! I had to learn my measurements early on with online shopping. Being a larger than average size I found my bicep and calf (for boots) measurements also helpful.

  • Diana

    These are all fantastic trips! Knowing your measurements and what styles work for you can save so much time when shopping! I too have found that the more I shop and the more I try on, the better I get at recognizing instantly what will and won't work for me.

  • Rosie Unknown

    Wonderful! Super helpful, as always. The only thing I would add is that it's important to take the fabric into account when eyeballing clothing. For example two tops cut from the exact same pattern but made from a light cotton and a heavy wool could be completely different, and might as well be different sizes.

    I know my body pretty well, for example on a recent trip to a thrift store, I got five pieces of clothing. I was in a bit of a hurry, so I didn't try them on before I left. Both blouses fit perfectly, as do both skirts, and the cardigan is jut a bit small.

  • Sabrina

    Such great tips! I learned the hard way. I would go shopping and try on a thousand things that never worked or would go thrifting because I couldn't find anything. But the truth was I wasn't looking for the right stuff. I finally broke down and took my measurments, wrote them down and always keep them handy. Also, I started eyeballing things up againist my body at home and this helped me get a better understanding when I thrifted of where things need to land to know that it will fit.

  • kristophine

    I was just thinking about this when I went shopping yesterday! I tried on a zillion dresses (one of my friends is getting married and I'm flying out for the engagement party), and I had this one moment of perfect clarity, looking in the mirror, where I said, "Huh. You know what? Racerback anything is just not for me."

    I tried another dress–soft gray jersey–and it was like a fabric hug. I looked awesome. I thought to myself, "Yep. Puffy sleeves and hardcore BIG STYLE. That is what I can pull off."

  • RoseAG

    I agree that measurements are more useful when shopping online as "sizes" have a lot of variance and the measurements aren't posted in stores by the racks.

    I'm getting better at recognizing things that are cut for women with big chests, something I don't have. Dresses and tops that wrap are not for me because I have so little to hold the fabric in place.

    I try to keep track of what I get rid of without wearing very much so I can avoid repeating that again. Sometimes it's the place I got the item from that is the problem. Certain shopping environments press my impulse-purchase button. I try to identify those places so I can be more aware.

  • Anne

    Great points.

    For me, shopping goes like this: first I scan the shop for good colours and styles I know that work for me. Then I zoom in on the clothing that passes this test. I check the quality of the fabric, fibre content and the actual cut of the piece. After this I usually don't even have to think about the fitting room as practically no piece of clothing usually passes closer inspection. I'm very picky and although I often go shopping, I rarely buy anything.

    Being something of a bottom heavy hourglass, I ardently wish eBay sellers (for instance) would also automatically mention the measurement at hips — bust and waist are usually given.

  • Workchic

    These are such great tips and will not only save some time but also take the frustration out of shopping for that right size. I have become a pretty good judge of sizes over the years but definitely can use more advice on this subject!

  • Colleen

    I am uncannily good at sizing up garments, probably because I shop vintage a lot where sizes are unmarked or vary wildly.

    One other technique I use for pants and skirts is to hold them up to the widest part of my hips; if they reach halfway around I know that size will fit.

    Another thing is fabric weight and drape. I know I can't do clingy lightweight jersey on bottom. I also hate heavy slips in pencil skirts, it always rides up on me in strange ways so I avoid it like the plague.