Reader Request: Constructive Criticism in the Fitting Room

dressing room criticism fitting room

Reader Nancy e-mailed this question to me:

I think it would be great if you would write an article about shopping with others. I have problems with this, stemming from shopping with my mom as a teenager. I have had more body issues from those awkward times than from most other experiences. What made me uncomfortable were the comments about clothing that didn’t fit or flatter. If I tried on a pair of pants that didn’t fit, she would say something like “your hip to waist ratio is off, those pants make you look out of proportion”, or if a shoe made my legs look stumpy, she would tell me I should go for a narrower shoe so I don’t look so short. Those ways of saying certain garments looked terrible on me did quite a number on my self-image when I was a teenager. After I moved out of my parent’s house and started to shop by myself, I realized I am completely smokin’! I look great with my own personal hip to waist ratio, and I don’t have to be tall with long legs to be pretty.

My question is this: How do I offer my opinion on a garment that doesn’t fit without denting the person’s confidence? I go shopping with my friends and little sister, and I’m not quite sure how to give my opinion if something looks bad on them. Eventually I want to have kids, and I don’t want to insult a young girl who might be uneasy about her new lady-body and make her feel like there is something wrong with the way she looks.

Constructive criticism is never easy to dole out, and there are some people who will end up feeling hurt no matter HOW diplomatic you are. But here are a couple of techniques to try:

  • Never blame: Part of the reason why Nancy’s mother’s comments hurt was that her descriptions of Nancy’s proportions and body shape may have felt judgmental and accusatory. When offering an opinion, avoid any language and phrasing that involves blame. People can’t change their basic body shapes, and there’s nothing wrong with a figure that isn’t tall, thin, and/or hourglass-shaped.
  • Find positives about everything: Even a dress that doesn’t fit has its upside. Is it a great color? Does the neckline totally work? How’s the length? Does it bring out eye or hair color? Before you discuss the negative, highlight some positives. “I ADORE that pattern on you – so chic! – but I wonder if a different hem length might work better …”
  • Use “I” phrases: It’s an oldie, but a goody. “I’m not sure about those on you,” is a better bet than, “Those don’t work on you.” Couching things in terms of your own views makes it clear that you’re expressing opinion, not fact. And bear in mind, too, that your opinion isn’t gospel. If your shopping buddy disagrees with you, that’s her prerogative.
  • Offer alternatives: If something isn’t working, don’t focus on that … see if you can find a different piece that WILL work. If a skirt is a strange length and fights your friend’s figure, grab a longer or shorter one and say, “Why don’t you try this one instead?”
  • Share anecdotes: If things are just spiraling out of control and you sense your friend is starting to lose confidence, share a story about a crappy shopping experience YOU’VE had. Commiserate and encourage. Take the focus off your friend and make things feel mutual.

Image courtesy Artbandito.

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  • Meg

    These tips are helpful in ALL situations when constructive criticism is called for, not just the fitting room. Thanks for the tips!

  • Fashion Flirt

    When I worked in retail this was a definite concern of everyone who worked in the store. I worked for an athletic apparel company that is really popular in Canada – everyone from little girls to women with walkers would come in to buy our clothes, and there were so MANY times that a woman or man would come out of the dressing room and not have the right size on at all, or the style was completely wrong.

    The most important thing to remember is that honesty is the ONLY way to deliver the fit feedback. If you are honest about the WRONG garment, then the person to whom you are delivering the fit feedback will KNOW that you are telling the truth when they've found the right garment.

    The biggest problem I used to have was with the dreaded Camel Toe. Older ladies would come out with stretchy yoga pants hiked up somewhere around their ribcages (because most of their pants fit that high), their camel toes starting around mid-back and ending around their belly buttons. It took me a while, but finally a simple: "The pants are actually meant to be worn several inches lower on your hips" was what I wound up going with, and it was remarkably effective.

    I take that approach when it comes to fit feedback for everything now. Matter-of-fact, largely emotionless, simple truth. If you're frightened to tell someone that the pants they are trying on don't fit, they're going to pick up on it, and likely have a negative reaction to it (emotions are catching, anything with a negative edge to it is going to come across).

    Things I always kept in mind:

    WHO is the person I am giving fit feedback to? Is it my best friend, who told me I needed to start doing more squats to firm up my thunder thighs? Or is it a woman who has recently lost 50 pounds and is still really uncomfortable in her skin and doesn't know anything should fit her new body? The person matters, and fit feedback should always be catered as much to the individual as possible. I will tell my mother how much I love or hate something she is trying on in a completely different way than I would a friend, for example.

    WHERE are you delivering the fit feedback? Is the fitting area busy? Are there people everywhere? Can a ton of people overhear your comments? If so, try to be discrete. Not only can it make your shopping companion feel terrible to know that other people can hear what you're saying, but it can make other people really uncomfortable, too.

    WHAT are you doing? Are you sitting back and judging outfits, or are you being an active part of the shopping experience, and helping your friend (or customer) by running and grabbing other options or sizes without them asking?

    WHEN are you delivering the fit feedback? Is this someone who is going through a body change? Weight loss, gain, pregnancy, injury, illness, stress… If you're privy to this information, and your friend/customer tries on something that is a little bit too small, but you know she's working really hard at the gym to lose weight, then make mention of the fact that it is too tight, but also point out that in a few weeks it will fit perfectly, and then forget about it.

    (Con't)

  • Fashion Flirt

    When I worked in retail this was a definite concern of everyone who worked in the store. I worked for an athletic apparel company that is really popular in Canada – everyone from little girls to women with walkers would come in to buy our clothes, and there were so MANY times that a woman or man would come out of the dressing room and not have the right size on at all, or the style was completely wrong.

    The most important thing to remember is that honesty is the ONLY way to deliver the fit feedback. If you are honest about the WRONG garment, then the person to whom you are delivering the fit feedback will KNOW that you are telling the truth when they've found the right garment.

    The biggest problem I used to have was with the dreaded Camel Toe. Older ladies would come out with stretchy yoga pants hiked up somewhere around their ribcages (because most of their pants fit that high), their camel toes starting around mid-back and ending around their belly buttons. It took me a while, but finally a simple: "The pants are actually meant to be worn several inches lower on your hips" was what I wound up going with, and it was remarkably effective.

    I take that approach when it comes to fit feedback for everything now. Matter-of-fact, largely emotionless, simple truth. If you're frightened to tell someone that the pants they are trying on don't fit, they're going to pick up on it, and likely have a negative reaction to it (emotions are catching, anything with a negative edge to it is going to come across).

    Things I always kept in mind:

    WHO is the person I am giving fit feedback to? Is it my best friend, who told me I needed to start doing more squats to firm up my thunder thighs? Or is it a woman who has recently lost 50 pounds and is still really uncomfortable in her skin and doesn't know anything should fit her new body? The person matters, and fit feedback should always be catered as much to the individual as possible. I will tell my mother how much I love or hate something she is trying on in a completely different way than I would a friend, for example.

    WHERE are you delivering the fit feedback? Is the fitting area busy? Are there people everywhere? Can a ton of people overhear your comments? If so, try to be discrete. Not only can it make your shopping companion feel terrible to know that other people can hear what you're saying, but it can make other people really uncomfortable, too.

    WHAT are you doing? Are you sitting back and judging outfits, or are you being an active part of the shopping experience, and helping your friend (or customer) by running and grabbing other options or sizes without them asking?

    WHEN are you delivering the fit feedback? Is this someone who is going through a body change? Weight loss, gain, pregnancy, injury, illness, stress… If you're privy to this information, and your friend/customer tries on something that is a little bit too small, but you know she's working really hard at the gym to lose weight, then make mention of the fact that it is too tight, but also point out that in a few weeks it will fit perfectly, and then forget about it.

    (Con't)

  • Fashion Flirt

    ASK questions. Lots of them. Some of the best fit feedback conversations I've had have started from some of these questions.

    "Those pants look pretty good, but I saw something in the store that I think will look even better – want to try it out?"

    "You know, this tank top fits you perfectly in the waist, but is a bit tight in the bust – going up a size might work out, or trying a whole new style. What do you want to use it for?"

    "Are you comfortable in those pants?"

    "What is it you like about this tank top?"

    Anything that ends in a non-judgmental question, one designed to open a dialogue, will end well. It shows that you are interested in what the shopper is looking for, that you want to work WITH them to find the perfect garment. And remember that often what you see and dislike, the shopper sees and dislikes, too!

    In the end, the most important thing, as I mentioned, is honesty. I always prefer my friends be completely honest with me, because that way I'm less likely to walk out of a store with something I'll never wear (and mirrors lie, Cher was right, don't trust them, trust your friends!), or something I'll hate in two days. It might not be something the shopper wants to hear, but so long as it comes from a place of care and concern for the shopper's interests, then it will be OK.

  • nestra

    I try to phrase my comments based on the clothes, reminding (usually my bf) that the clothes aren't cut to flatter her figure. It doesn't matter what a person is built like, there are clothes that don't look good on them. It is just a search for the clothes that do!

  • Erin

    when I work in the fitting room I find that there are some people that nothing is going to sound good to their ears, (I had some lady break down and start screaming that I thought she was a cow because I mentioned that the pants were too short, and she probably had grabbed a petite pair by accident, when really she was a missy size)
    But in general, pointing out that it's the clothes that aren't highlighting you are usually the best way to go about it I've found.
    Such as "You've got such a tiny waist and that dress just isn't showing it off"
    "Honey, you've got those great legs, and that skirt is simply frumpy. How about we try something a bit shorter?"
    ect.
    because remember, it's always the clothes fault, not your body's.

    while I'm not known for my social tact, a lot of the customers seem to appreciate my bluntness and have joked around that the two things I do not allow in my fitting room are bricks and muffins πŸ™‚
    because the two things I can't stand seeing are gorgeous girls walking out with pants that give them muffin tops because it's the wrong cut, and people swathing themselves in fabric to look "smaller" or hide when they had such cute little figures under there.
    but I like your other suggestions too, I might try a couple out today at work. πŸ™‚

  • Alison

    I am a big fan of, "That's okay, but it doesn't DO anything for you." Which implies that the clothes are here to serve your smokin' body vs. your body is less than smokin'. Then dive into finding a different length, color, whatever.

    I am also a big fan of pointing out what does work – i.e. "See how the armholes are positioned perfectly, your rack looks AMAZING!" I learned all that stuff from my mom (unfortunately with a lot of the well-meaning censure described by your OP) and I am determined to use it for good rather than for eeeeevil.

  • Aynna banahna

    I'm so glad you posted about this and that she asked. I hate shopping with other people, because I feel like I'm always inconveniencing them when they come with me, and when I'm with them I never say the right thing. These are great things to keep in mind. Thank you!

  • June

    It could be that the deliverer of said criticism (ie, Mom) has more impact than any of the words she says. I know in my youth, anything my Mom said was instantly interpreted as harshly critical in my teenage brain.

  • vileornament

    I think a conversation about fit can really be perceived as overly critical if it is just you, the observer, delivering a monologue to whoever is giving a garment a test run – no matter what you, the observer, are actually saying.

    I've found that a good place to start is a, "What do you think of it?" or "How do you feel in it?" Honestly, if someone loves something to death and you, the observer, don't happen to like it, who cares? You're not wearing it. But more often than not, I think, a question is a good invitation to discuss (emphasis on discuss) the pros and cons of the garment. Ask rather than tell: "Do you think these pants are too short?" vs. "Those pants are too short." If the issue is how they are wearing the garment, ask, "Can I give this a yank?" Open a dialogue and use humor. I think taking the process overly seriously just leads to hurt feelings.

    If something looks amazing, though, always always always say so.

  • Anonymous

    I found it helpful to not criticize the person, but the garment. If it does not look flattering, then it usually an issue with the cut/size/style/current fashion etc. If you emphasize the nicer parts of it (color, style etc.) could that not lead to more disappointment that it did not work out for whoever picked it for those reasons in the first place?

  • Sarah

    Well said Nestra!

    It is never somethign that si wrong with the person trying on the garmets – the style or cut or size of the garmet is wrong. My mom who has owned 1 dress in her life (her wedding dress 30 years ago) asked me to go shopping with her to find a *gasp* dress for a wedding she was going to. She tried on hundreds of dresses until we found the style that fit her best. I never would have thought to say – no, your butt is too flat for that dress or your skin is too pale for that color. Instead, I would say that dress does not flatter you – it makes you look like a box – we need to find a style that shows off your amazng curves.

    I'm glad you posted this!

  • Anonymous

    One other suggestion. WAIT a moment or two to offer your comments. As a bystander, it's easy to tell that something isn't working almost immediately. But when you are actually trying on a dress, your mind is discracted by the zipper, or straightening the hem, or other adjustments, so that moment of realization can be delayed. Wait until your friend/family member has stopped fussing with the garment to offer your opinion.

  • Anonymous

    tgreat post! I think that the comments about ill-fitting clothes should focus on the specific garment rather than the body.
    I shop with my teenage daughters, and am painfully aware of the issue of developing negative body images, especially from someone as influential as a mother.
    As a plus-sized person, I used to always complain about my body not being right for the clothes, but after watching TLC's What Not to Wear with Stacey and Clinton, realized that I was giving clothing manufacturers too much control over my life, and now when something doesn't fit well, I don't blame myself, and try to find shops and designers that are figure flattering.
    That being said, i have had some RUDE sales clerks and shop owners who think nothing of making a plus sized gal feel like a big fat failure….
    I try to develop a relationship with sales clerks at stores that i frequent and they can usually direct me to things that flatter my shape and things that i might like.

  • KrissyBell

    If I think a garment is particularly egregious I try to examine the workmanship. I'll say something like, 'wow, whomever designed this had no concept of proportions' or 'that zipper looks like it might catch everytime you try to zip it up' or, since I am short-waisted and tend to shop with a friend that is long-waisted, I'll say 'isn't it strange that this shirt feels like it was made with my short waist in mind and that one with your long waist in mind'. It helps that most of my friends are seamstresses and have a good handle on what works with the proportions of their bodies.

  • Sal

    Such fabulous ideas and suggestions, my friends. CLEARLY you've had experience giving and receiving constructive critiques. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I am loving the wealth of ways to point out that fault is NEVER in the body, but always in the garment.

  • adventuremeg

    This was a great post. It is such a delicate balance to offer helpful feedback without causing harm, and as you said, we cannot control how our words are perceived. When trying on something, my sister used to ask me if I personally liked or would wear the garment she was trying on. This was a no-win situation because my sister and I could not be more different in our tastes, body shape, and complexions. I tried so hard to re-frame by saying, "It doesn't matter if I like it, it's whether you like it that matters since you'll be wearing it." or "It's not my style, but it fits you nicely." From these experiences I have learned to ask specific questions when I am trying on a garment in order to demonstrate I am interested in constructive feedback. Instead of "Do you like this?" I ask my shopping buddy, "I don't know how I feel about this color on me" or "How do you feel about this length on me?" or even "Is this how it's supposed to look?" It seems to help people be honest if they can tell you're being honest with yourself.

  • Julie

    Great post, and great comments!

    I, too, have learned all the same lessons from working retail, where we want to sell, but we want, more than anything, for the customer to be happy with what we've sold (and come back.)

    The only tip I have to add is: Listen. Listen really hard, and trust and respect the person trying things on. At the end of the day, they're the one wearing the garment, and maybe they love it in spite of everything you say, and if so, there's a great chance they'll wear it with confidence and look absolutely smashing, anyway.

  • c.

    A little story. I've been a tomboy my whole life, shop at thrift stores and, unknown to me bought clothes that didn't look good on me because I bought for "comfort" as in "I can move and breath and stretch and reach" and they don't cut or bind.

    I got married this last summer and went wedding dress shopping with my mother and stepfather. I know, it sounds weird but my stepdad loves clothes (used to work at macy's because he loved the women he got to shop for/with as a young man) (he also does this awesome "gay man shopping" impression that helps)

    I have to say that wedding dress shopping was tiring, exhausing, horrible as you go from store to store to store. Recommendation there: Flutter Boutique is AWESOME, Brides of France is rude and pretentious.

    However, I learned more about the cut of clothes and what flattered my body in those few days than I have in the previous 30 years. I know what necklines to look for, what sleeve cuts/styles are good on me, etc. etc.

    Some of their feedback was "do you see how the strapless neckline makes you look cut off in that picture because the color of the dress is too high contrast with your skin tone" "do you see how that color doesn't flatter your skin tone" "do you see how the ruffle along the bottom makes you look shorter" and on and on. Sometimes it was hard to hear because I just wanted to be done with shopping (remember that tomboy thing above – hates it) but the empowerment and feedback given was all specific to cuts of the clothes, specific to color/fabric/drape and how it would make me look taller/shorter/cutoff head floating above/wider/thinner

    In other words, it was specific and detailed and therefore very constructive. It was all delivered with humor and grace (probably heavier on the humor side). The value of that will stay with me for life. We took multiple pictures (different angles) and went over the pics at home after eating/resting and then I got told both the good and the bad ie a v-neck actually elongates my neckline and works better with higher contrast colors as I'm then not washed out. Or the empire waistline makes me either very young or old but removes my natural sophistication.

    I could go on, but suffice it to say that wedding dress shopping was a huge learning experience and at that VERY valuable as the feedback I got there I have taken and applied to my daily wear which is changing (and I'm getting compliments to boot)

    Good luck to those out there struggling through these issues – I'd loan out my mother and stepfather if I could πŸ˜‰

  • rb

    I actually avoid going shopping with my BFF altogether now. She is extremely critical and, from stories she tells me, this is exactly how her mom treats her when they shop together. I would seriously rather spend 2 hours in the dentist's chair than 2 hours in Nordstrom with her, no lie. She says things like, "That looks ridiculous on you" and "You have to be kidding me. Absolutely not."

    I'm much more efficient shopping by myself anyway. Everyone has different shopping styles. My friend likes to browse every department of every store, try on loads of things, and buy almost nothing. When I head into a store, I am always on a limited time budget with two small kids at home, so I have a laser-like focus on what I'm there looking for. I try it, I buy it, and I'm gone.

  • Do ALL the Science!

    I've always gone for the "it doesn't DO anything for you," line. Generally when shopping with my sisters we all agree that it's always the clothes, never the body!

  • Sidewalk Chic

    Yes to all of this. I just recently went shopping with my younger sister-in-law who's very self-conscious of her body and doesn't know how to shop for it. She's got a very athletic build and doesn't know how to dress for that. It was really hard trying to find sorority dresses for her — she wanted my opinion on things, but knowing how she felt, I kind of was too sensitive to that and didn't really give her my true opinion on it. These are really great tips for the next time I do shop with her.

    JoAnn
    Sidewalk Chic (formerly Sidewalk Chalk)

  • Audi

    I like comments such as, "This isn't showing off your pretty arms" or, "This is hiding your narrow waist." I always prefer to think in terms of clothing's ability to highlight a person's best features rather than as a means of hiding the other ones. I love your advice about focusing on the good elements first, Sal; I think this especially important for people who struggle to figure out what looks good on them.

  • Sam

    @rb: I totally agree with you. Sometimes two people (whether they be BFFs, partners/spouses or relatives) just shouldn't shop together. My BFF and I have the exact opposite taste in clothing style and fit, so we really don't make any useful comments other than pointing out flaws such as rips or stains. I think women should first and foremost learn to understand their own bodies and tastes, and learn to make independent choices when it comes to clothing. A little advice is OK but it's not healthy to rely on advice *all* the time when shopping.

  • Kate K

    I went on a "girls day out" shopping trip on Sunday with seven of my closest friends and it was amazing watching all of us weigh in on one another's outfits. One of my friends would say "I think we can find better" which I thought was the perfect phrase. It's subtly saying that the garment isn't really working (and it's not the garment's fault, the store's fault and especially not your fault) and it's also reassuring that there is better out there, be it at the store or beyond. And I loved the "we" because it made all of us feel like we were in on it together.

  • Sal

    Kate K: I LOVE THAT! I'm totally adding "I think we can find better" to my arsenal.

  • Michelle

    One of my favorites is from my gram, who I go thrifting with often. She'll say, "That doesn't do anything for you."

    It's the garment's job to work for you, and if it doesn't, good riddance!

  • The Waves

    When I worked in retail I had to deal with this constantly with customers. I always put myself in their shoes: would I want to know if something didn't look good on me? Hell yes. It is tough to know how to deliver the message though. The key thing is that you must, must, MUST put the blame on the piece of clothing, not the person. It is that the sleeves are too short, not that your arms are too long. It is the cut of the trousers that is odd, not your hips. And it is not that you can't wear a skirt that short, but that another length might look better. Focusing on the positive is important, but don't go overboard – otherwise you'll risk the end result and they will buy the garment because you just told them that the colour looks great on her. After all, a lot of times we only hear what we want to hear. πŸ™‚

  • Inder-ific

    My favorite way of saying "that is not quite it …" is "that's not quite cute enough." Then the problem is that the clothing is not cute/fabulous, not that YOU are not cute or fabulous.

    No matter what your shape, some stuff is going to look better on you than others. The mistake is in thinking that if only you had some ideal shape, EVERYTHING would look good on you, and since you don't have it, nothing does.

    That is so. insanely. not. true. But too many women think it.

  • Maria

    Sal, I love shopping with my daughter (she is about your age). She and I have developed a strategy that works well for us. Before trying on an outfit, we discuss what look she is trying to achieve. Same when I am the one shopping. Fun, funky, comfy, elegant, happy, sober, the good fight look, etc. This helps us focus on the outfit. We also have the "zero criticism rule" regardless of who is trying clothes on. No go on "my legs look like stumps!" "The brown skirt with the embroidery that you have at home works better for you than this one" is OK!

    And when nothing is working out, we take a break. Have a cup of coffee, go for a manicure, stop by a bookstore. This helps relax, regroup and sometimes just decide that we would rather do something else!

  • Emma at Daily Clothes Fix

    When I'm in this situation, I tend to comment on the clothes rather than the person. After all, this is what is being critiqued.

    So I tend to say that "that skirt is a strange cut" rather than the fact that it looks funny on them. Then it's the skirt's fault and we can all go home friends.

  • ashe mischief

    I'm also a big fan of, "It's not my style, but how do you FEEL in it? Do you love it? If so, it doesn't matter what I think!"

    A lot of times that gets the person voicing their own feelings on it, and I can sit back and nod…

  • JennyDC

    We all have many things we look fabulous in – ergo, if we look like ass in something, it's the fault of that particular article of clothing.

    I think you need to keep a sense of humor, too. I sometimes find it extremely funny to see how awful I look in certain things. The pale camel so popular this year makes me turn pale green. My sister looks red as a tomato if she wears yellow near her face.

    Finding something that makes you look and feel awesome may seem awfully difficult sometimes, but there is something out there. It does take time and patience, but I think this blog is a testament to the fact that it's worth it.

  • Valerie

    I almost cried reading this post. I absolutely HATED shopping with my mother. I have agonizing memories of the Husky Girl shop and Chubbies and the resulting annoyance and impatience (Mom's) if it didn't fit or I didn't like what she picked out. The shame just keeps rushing back. I still get hot and embarrassed in dressing rooms if things don't fit correctly.

    And, it turns out, many years later (after doing my own shopping and sewing) I wasn't huge, just large-busted–so of course shirts and jackets didn't button properly.

    If someone asks me for an opinion, I first try to find something positive to say. If it's really bad I might make a suggestion about fit (because that's usually the problem).

  • Passion4Fashion

    I agree… I try to highlight something positive, suggest something better, or ask how they feel in it. Most of the time you can tell by their facial expression whether they like the item/outfit or not. I have a friend that is very body conscious… overly a lot of the time. She has a great body that is MADE for clothes. Slim and muscular in all the right places but chesty/bootiliscous enough to fill out others. I would kill to have her body. She on the other hand does not see it that way. She sees what SHE needs to work on… NOTHING!

    Whenever shopping with her, I watch her face to see what she thinks and go from there. I point out what it highlights… ignore any problem areas or mention that it looks great on your butt but it does nothing for your excellent calves. Or something similar.

    Since she tends to be sensitive about things I have learned a lot on how to be constructive but gentle.

    Everyone needs to hear positives.

  • Kelly

    I'm like some of the other ladies who have commented already – I blame the clothes, not the body.

    I prefer to shop alone because a) it's more efficient anyway and b) most of the people I would shop with have totally different styles and ideas of what looks good. This weekend I went bridesmaid dress shopping with some of my cousins. We had to have the same color but each got to pick our own style. They all like the dress I got alright enough I think, but I don't think they're in love with it. On the other hand, the stuff they totally raved about, I thought looked completely awful on me!

    But I've been on the other end – when helping a friend wedding dress shop recently, I had to try really hard to figure out if I didn't like something because it truly was unflattering, or if I just didn't like the style. The bride and I have different styles, so it was hard for me to feel really enthusiastic about the ones she loved. And I think I was pushing her toward things I thought were awesome, but weren't wowing her.

  • lisa

    I agree with the commenters who've pointed out that blame should be assigned to the garment, never the wearer. It's easier and more confidence-boosting to say "This pair of pants has a really funny fit" than to think "ZOMG my body proportions are all off because this pair of pants just doesn't look good!"

  • Madeleine

    at the risk of sounding flippant, this is easy: ask the person if they feel fantastic in it. If they truly, genuinely, absolutely do, then whatever you say won't make a difference. More importnantly, if they feel amazing, then the chances are that they will look amazing.
    I spent many years working in a clothes shop, and this approach never failed.

  • kaytique

    My favourite comment in the fitting room? "You can do better." Because I can! Not all clothes look good, not all clothes are made well, and just like with men, there is no reason to settle!

  • New here

    I am just reading through this incredibly informative, insightful and beautiful blog (and I’m in love):

    About the issue in this post, I’ve just realized that it has a lot to do with your compatibility with the person delivering the advice/judgement. This helped me realize that one of my friends is simply too different in her tastes from me – I don’t like her style, and she doesn’t like mine. And there’s no way to camoflague that with any sweet talkin’ – I will always feel severely judged by her, no matter how impeccably thoughtful her delivery is (and it is!).

    So I guess it’s also really important to choose the person whose advice you’re seeking.

  • Sonja

    When it comes to shopping with moms, when I was younger I so hated it when mine asked: “Have you put it on?” while she was already opening the curtain and I was exposed to the world half-naked, struggling to put on whatever I was trying on. I have seen other mothers do this as well. Mothers of the world – don’t do this to your daughters, for insecure teenagers it’s the worst thing ever!
    Another related story:
    When I grew up, there weren’t many shops around, and I wasn’t interested enough to travel to bigger cities to shop, so I stuck with a quite limited selection. Also, as a teenager, I had absolutely no idea about what worked well with the shape of my body. And we’re talking about the nineties, when it wasn’t usual (at least in my small town) to wear figure-hugging items. Which I am thankful for, because I was so insecure that tight clothes would have added considerable pressure, but it also meant that I never had the chance to find out that my curves look wonderful with everything that emphasizes my waist.
    I had a shopping experience I still cringe about when I was 17 or 18. I urgently needed a warm winter coat, and there weren’t many options to choose from. My mom went shopping with me and found one that was beautiful: it was warm, had a fantastic colour and fabric, was well-made and of high quality. It even had the slight retro-looked I already liked and still love. And: it was loose and ample, the cut was absolutely straight from shoulders to knees. No emphasized waist, no figure-hugging. I put it on and knew instinctively that it was wrong. My mom and the seller were excited, they loved how it looked and finally talked me into taking it. Horror! I knew it was a nice coat but never knew why it looked so bad on me. I am now able to see that my mom isn’t the best advisor, and in the meanwhile the situation has turned around a bit: my sister and I are trying to make her buy clothes that flatter her Audrey-Hepburn-like body instead of those she has always worn and is comfortable in. Without any success. Sigh.

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