Guest Post: Erin on Dressing Room Strategy

My girl Erin writes a blog called The Fierce Beagle.I have to be careful about sneaking peeks at her posts at work, because they inevitably make me snort with laughter, causing my boss to peek her head out of her office to ask if I’m OK. In addition to being wickedly funny, she is compassionate, insightful, kind, and incredibly gorgeous. But hands off, ladies, she’s also happily married.

When Erin told me she had some words of wisdom for all those about to shop, I jumped at the chance to share those wise words with all of you! Here she goes:

* * * * *

Last week I had an hour to kill at the mall, so I decided to shop around for an Easter dress. At one point—I think it was about 40 minutes in, while I was contorting my way out of a slightly-too-small side-zip dress—I realized my main problem (in addition to boobs that were way too big for that particular sheath) was lack of strategy.

What kind of blogger would I be if I didn’t invite you into my ill-lit dressing room to point, laugh, and benefit from my bad experience? So I came up with a dressing-room strategy that I think everyone can use. Incidentally, it also works for first dates.

Wear comfortable and attractive but not-too-sexy underthings. I’ve accepted that trying on garments is a must. Wearing cute, comfortable undies with decent coverage makes the process less cringeworthy and annoying: Getting in and out of the clothes is enough trouble without having to pop a boob or butt cheek back in every two minutes.

Loosen up. Guys, I’ve pulled muscles trying on clothes. I mean, the whole point is trying to find something that fits, so you should be prepared for something that doesn’t. Before you start trying on clothes, do a few light stretches—and, if you’re up to it, some high kicks and fist pumps. If you think you have a potential winner in a garment, try moving around the way you would when you’re wearing it in the real world. Trying on a blazer for work? Raise your arm like you’re gesturing to that rad infographic in your upcoming presentation.

Predetermine an exit strategy. Before you jump right into an unfamiliar piece of clothing, figure out not only how to get it on (Over the head? Step in? Raise your arms and shimmy?) but also how to take it off. I’m thinking specifically of that dress with the sticky side zip that nearly defeated me. Jeans and t-shirts are easy, but fitted and/or fancier garments—delicate fabrics, unusual wraps, semicomplex closures—tend to be tricky. And in my experience, it’s best not to have to leave the dressing room half-naked with a pricey frock stuck around your forehead.

Have a buddy check in with you. I prefer to shop alone, but there have been low moments when I’ve been plastered to the dressing room wall trying to dislocate my shoulder and wrestle my way out of a garment whose most marked quality is a Chinese-finger-trap-like fit. Knowing there’s a kindred soul nearby—someone unafraid of seeing you in your skivvies—will save you from the kind of desperation that leads to asking a stranger to help you disrobe. Plus, a friend can provide some much-needed mid-session encouragement.

Don’t starve yourself beforehand. Face it: a two-hour crash diet isn’t going to make the flab and bulges disappear. Before you shop, fuel up on something nutritious that will provide some good energy so you don’t run out of steam (and, in my case, all hope of success and belief in the goodness of humanity) with four untried items to go.

Maintain an attitude of cautious optimism. Don’t go into the dressing room cursing everything you dislike about yourself, believing there’s nothing off-the-rack that will ever work for you. Try to be realistic: Not everything will work for you, but finding just one item that makes you look and feel like yourself is worth the effort.

Any other dressing-room advice out there?

Image courtesy alles banane.

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  • Amy

    I find it absolutely critical to have done my hair and makeup before I attempt clothes shopping. Nothing worse than trying on clothes that don’t work when the rest of your look doesn’t work either. (I also find it key to have flattering clothes and makeup on when I get a haircut. It keep your spirits up when you are sitting in the chair looking like a drowned rat before the haircut begins, and when it’s done you look mahvelous).

    • So true!! It’s hard to see the finished product of a piece of clothing if the rest of you isn’t done either. I also think it helps to feel good in clothes when you feel good about your general appearance. I can think of quite a few times I popped into a shop, tried a few things on, and all I could focus on in the mirror was my stringy hair, or redness on my face from lack of makeup that day. The clothes could have fit great, but I felt icky so walked out empty handed.

      • Yes! Hair and makeup! How could I have forgotten? If I’m going in to try on dresses or cute clothes, I should definitely look the part. Too often I’ve found myself staring in the mirror wearing a fab piece of clothing while my face looks haggard and my hair is plastered all to one side because of static.

  • An excellent post. Definitely not one to read at the office, since laughing and rolling on the floor does attract some sideways glances ;-P
    As for advice on trying on outfits: as a well endowed gal I always bend forward a few times to check if the neckline stays in place. As for trying on underwear/swimwear: I’ve been known to jump up and down the dressing room vigorously to see if the cups will hold my breasts in place. Hence, I only buy underwear in stores where dressing rooms are big enough.

    • Since I recently readjusted my self-perception to understand that after having a baby I now also have large boobs, these are tips I wouldn’t have considered in a past life. I shall now bend forward and jump.

  • Thanks for this. Dressing room traumas are absolutely universal. My strategies include: 1. wear undergarments that are silky, clothes slip on and off more easily. 2. Try to use stores with larger dressing rooms, a room the size of a shower stall in a motor home just doesn’t work for me. 3. When trying on pieces that must go over the head, put a handkerchief or tissue between lips to avoid staining the fabric from lipstick. I used to work in the ladies department of a large department store. Loss due to such stains was staggering. Once stained, the item had to go to the damaged file. 4. Take photo’s with cell phone or camera if you can’t decide on a major purchase. You can revisit the item for a day or so and decide when the pressure is off. Great post. We all need a little humor with fashion!

    • That’s great advice about the lipstick, and causes 90% of my post-dressing-room neck cramping (since I try to cage my face with my hands while getting into clothes so as not to makeupify them).

      And the thing about the dressing room size = crucial. Your description was hilarious, btw.

  • My favorite pieces of dressing room advice these days tend to be: have it sent to your house and try it on, then take advantage of generous return policies. 🙂 But that doesn’t always work, so:

    In the dressing room, DO believe what the mirror tells you. Don’t take something home anyway thinking it’s probably just the bad lighting that’s the problem.

    • Right on. Bad lighting makes you look sallow and deathlike. It doesn’t make buttons pull or zippers pinch.

  • Love this. Especially Loosen Up. If it doesn’t fit beautifully in the dressing room, it’s not going to fit any better at home. But if you absolutely love it, consider alterations. Some things, like jeans, rarely fit perfectly off the rack.

    • That’s a terrific point…I’m a believer that if you love something and its thisclose to being perfect, you should definitely try to make it perfect for you.

  • If I’m not sure which size to try on and don’t want to take multiples of the same garment into the dressing room, I’ll take the larger size – even if it turns out to be too big, that’s preferable to trying to put on/take off something that’s too small.

    Related: I’ve found that learning to eyeball what fits me generally works better than just looking at the size tags. I know what sizes I typically fit into, but I still study garments and try to gauge how they’ll fit me in various places (bust, waist, shoulders, length) before taking them into the dressing room. My judgement isn’t always perfect, but I have more success with this method than my previous “oh well, I’m usually a size X so that’s what I’ll try on”.

    If I’m going out with the intention of trying a lot of things on, I’ll dress accordingly – fewer layers, a skirt instead of jeans, shoes I can easily take off.

    Lastly, seconding the importance of eating beforehand. I keep ending up in the dressing rooms thinking “I look awful in all these clothes, nothing will ever look good on me, why do I bother?” and then realising my judgement is off because of low blood sugar.

    • JennyDC

      This is sort of weird, but if you put the waistband of pants around your neck (like the pants are a cape) you can at least get into the neighborhood of a size that will fit you. I’ve tried this with brands I’ve never worn before and can usually get the right size by trying 2 (maybe 3) different sizes. It’s no guarantee because pants can be cut differently through the hips, thighs, etc., but if you don’t know where to start, give it a whirl.

      • I almost don’t even bother looking at sizes anymore. I do the eyeball thing too. And I second the bigger-is-better notion in this case. If you’re having a rough day, you could purposefully go about 4 sizes bigger, so you can then proceed to go 4 sizes smaller 🙂

        And that’s really funny about the pants-cape thing. Just the sort of thing that makes me want to try it.

    • Kylara7

      Spot on…low blood sugar is a mood killer for sure and nothing is right when you’re feeling crabby and woozy!

  • These are all great tips. I think the best piece of dressing room advice I have ever heard was from Clinton on What Not to Wear: Remember that when clothes don’t fit, it’s that THEY don’t fit YOU, not that you don’t fit them. It’s a small thing, but it completely changed the way I feel about trying on clothes.

    • Don’t you just love Clinton? That statement has become my mantra. It makes me feel so much better toward myself. And really kind of homicidal toward some clothes, incidentally.

  • Great and very practical advice! Funny too. 🙂

    My one and only rule that I always adhere to when buying clothes is:
    don’t buy it if you like it less than what you came in.

    This attitude works wonders for clothing that “almost” fits or is discounted…
    I just look at myself with my own clothes on and compare!

  • Lisa W.

    THANKS! All the advice here is just right on! I can only add that when I’m standing in the dressing room staring into the mirror, thinking, “Well, maybe…..” then I need to put whatever it is back on the rack. If I think, “Perfect!” then I know it’s worth considering as a purchase. This applies to fit first, then appropriateness, color, etc.

    • I do that too. I actually have four tiers of distinction: Not Yet Tried, Maybe, Yes, and No. Maybe is just my way of saying No really slowly, because I inevitably give myself a stern talking to and come to my senses.

  • Jen

    Bring heels if you are trying on skirts and dresses. My legs always look stumpy if I’m wearing flats or no shoes in the dressing room so I end up not buying the dress/skirt when it would have looked awesome with the appropriate shoes.

    • Yeah, I made a mistake by wearing corny patterned socks. Nothing says “classy” like a lovely dress and last year’s holey St. Patrick’s Day socks.

  • It isn’t just the office where you get sideways looks for rolling on the floor laughing. My toddler thinks “Mommy is really silly” this morning. I mean I’m not even watching “Chuggington” or anything. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a dress stuck halfway off, cursing under my breath and thinking frak I’m going to have to ask the sales person to help me out of this thing. Getting a dress (particularly side zipper shealth variety) off over my girls can be a real challenge.

    I’ve found myself in group change rooms several times recently. Pop-up stores, big sales and designer studios seem to like the group dressing room. So full coverage, comfortable underwear that your mom would approve of are absolutely required. But I’ve found my spanx make me look like a “smart” shopper without people thinking I’m just trying to hide the bumps and stuff.

    • GROUP changing rooms? That sounds like the best idea since…no, there’s nothing that sounds worse than that.

      I’m going to have to start doing the spanx for changing rooms. Good thinking.

  • The corollary to Cynthia’s comment about believing what the mirror tells you is that if it looks good in a dressing room mirror, it will probably look good anywhere.

    • Too true! I’ve also heard that if your makeup looks good in daylight, it’ll look good anywhere. Not really the same thing, but sort of.

  • Kylara7

    Great tips both in the post and in comments 🙂 I will freely admit that I do not enjoy shopping and the whole trying on things–having to traipse in and out of the dressing room, take my clothes off and then put them back on multiple time, having to guess at the stupid female sizing range–puts me in a bad mood. I avoid the shops where you have to find an attendant to let you into the dressing area and who hovers around or the terribly small stalls with bad lighting!

    My new “trying on clothes” strategy has evolved out of my thrifting experience: wear clothes that you can try on OVER. I like black leggings (with a pull-on skirt over) and a fitted tank top or camisole under a buttondown shirt or cardigan. I find some things I like and take a chance on some sizes, then go find one of those mirrors on the wall or at the end of a shelf, take off the skirt and overshirt, and just try on the clothes in the aisles. It irritates me much less and is more efficient. 🙂 I really don’t care what other people think at this point and in fact, I’ve gotten more “good idea!”s than weird looks. I just find shopping to be so overstimulating, stressful, and unfun that I have to do what I can to make myself go out and do it.

    My last tip: self-tanner the day or two before trying on swimsuits, short dresses, or anything too revealing, especially if you live in the North as I do and the spring fashions come in way before the snow and dark and cold have left!

    • GingerR

      I second the self-tanner suggestion!
      If you’re like me and swimsuits aren’t your favorite thing but you’ve got to have one a body that isn’t pale white will help you envision yourself having fun in the article of clothing much more easily.

      • Gosh, this was chock full of smart. I’ve been considering self-tanning my legs for a while, and I just may have to take the plunge now.

        Also, I once went into a dressing room and had a dude who worked at that Trendy Store toss a pair of “city shorts” I hadn’t asked for over the door and then he ordered me to try them. Um…you’re not the boss of me, am I right?

        • Kylara7

          OMG…that would have really set me on edge! Even my mother knows not to a) order me to do anything, and b) pick out clothes for me (she now buys me accessories, like scarves and earrings when she feels the urge to shop for me at holidays and such). And yeah, I highly recommend the self-tanner; even the gradual tanning tubes of body cream make a difference in the pale months 🙂

  • Don’t allow yourself to believe or think that it’s YOUR BODY that’s the problem. Your body is just fine the way it is, and if the garment of clothing doesn’t fit, it’s the wrong garment of clothing.

    I think shopping is a time when it’s easy to get sucked into body-loathing, even when you normally feel great about yourself.

    Also, feel free to stop & take a break if you’re getting discouraged, irritated, and/or tired.

  • Michelle

    Loved reading this post. As far as advice, I thought I would share a recent experience of mine shopping for skinny jeans…. I knew the jeans were going to be tight when I pulled them on. What I didn’t count on was how hard they were going to be to get off. It was a tiny dressing room with no place to sit. I leaned against the door frame for balance as I attempted to peel them off. Next thing I know the “locked” door to the dressing room gave way and there I was laying sprawled on view for all the customers, men & women, with a pair of jeans down around my ankles. Not my most shining moment.

    • I hope you don’t mind, but I laughed *so hard* when I read this. And now I’m laughing again re-reading it. The thing is, half of the funny is that sounds exactly like something I would do.

      You are a warrior.

    • Kylara7

      Michelle, I feel your pain. I had a similar thing happen to me while thrift shopping on a hot and humid summer day. Between that and the small dressing room and a tricky dress, I got “stuck” midway between having it on and having it off and had to have a friend come and extricate me…we got a good laugh out of it but all I could think about was what would I have done if I had been shopping by myself… 🙂

  • B

    If you absolutely love it, go large and have it tailored to fit you!

  • I love the add-in about first dates — so true! This is great advice. I find it essential that I wear some makeup and have my hair look decent when I try on clothes. If I feel like crap and look sluggish, I won’t find anything.

    • Yep. Going in looking like a slob is just as bad as having a defeated attitude. Actually, I think they’re concomitant.

  • Holly

    Watch out for the dressing room mirror though. I was in Gap a while back and I was looking at something I was trying on an thinking it was quite slimming. Then I looked at my face and noticed that MY FACE DOESN’T LOOK LIKE THAT. I realized the mirror was ever-so-slightly bowed to make you look thinner. Really.

    • Lol. This reminds me of this widescreen computer monitor we had that made everyone in any picture look chubby. I like to catch my reflection in the shiny door of my refrigerator. I always look really babalicious in it, strangely.

  • Lydia

    Definately wear clothes that you can get in and out of easily (or leggings & cami to try things on top of), and also, wear clothes that you know look good on you before you shop. That way, if nothing you try on works, you can say to yourself ‘I look better in the clothes I am wearing now.’ If you are uncertain of leaving the fitting room in an item you are trying on, it is likely a sign you don’t want to wear it in public. (Learned this hard way).

    Sometimes when I shop, I am motivated to buy the one thing that fits that is ‘sort of what I want’ but is not quite right, (just because it is the one thing that seems to work, and I invested all that time in shopping, so I should get something right?). When this happens, I think of the pile of so/so clothes I just put aside for donation because they never worked in the first place, never will work, and can’t ever work. This way, I walk away, say goodbye to temptation, and I am off to the next changing room in another store as the hunt continues. It isn’t you, it is the clothes — keep hunting!

    • Ugh, I love donating clothes but not rarely-worn clothes that I bought because I *wanted* them to work.

  • Didi

    I take everything into the dresssing room that catches my eye-even if it is a sillouhette I don’t normally wear or think is normally flattering, because, well, you never know. I don’t mind leaving a whole stack behind and finding one gem. If something appeals to me AT ALL, I try it on. If it works, great, and if it doesn’t, I don’t mind because I didn’t expect everything to work out for me.

    • You know, I’ve started doing this too! And it works really well. Apparently I’m a really poor judge of things on hangers, because it’s been some of the things I’ve “taken a chance” on and brought into the dressing room that work the best.

  • Eliza

    I like a black jersey dress with a deep v for shopping. I only have to take it off to try on dresses- skirts can be slipped on under the dress, and I can slide the top off to try on shirts. Fastenings are a hassle when you have to do/undo them a half dozen times, so I try to stick with slip on garments.
    I also keep a fabric (no hole) belt in my handbag. It can be adjusted to cinch my waist, hips, or just under my bust. This is an easy way to figure out if a garment is really too voluminous, or if it will look great belted.

  • Anne @ The Frump Factor

    Very funny! I would also add: do some deep breathing/meditation beforehand. I get VERY cranky and impatient while hunting down sizes on the racks. (Just ask me, sometime, about Hanger Rage. Those damned crappy plastic hangers that get stuck together and tangled up in the *&^%&^% plastic tags and then you can find anything and then……ARRRRRGH!)

    breathe. breathe. I’m lucky if I make it INTO the dressing room in a still sane sate.

  • Also shoes that are easy to slip off and go with to what you are shopping for.

  • Mitzy

    I second the silky cami, your best bra and knickers and some smooth leggings. Also shoes that come off easily, especially for me as I have mobility issues.
    Another trick to check for fit, especially in pants and skirts, is to place the center of the garment on your hip and see if the waist band comes around to your belly button. My mom taught me that. Works especially well with pants.

  • Sabrina

    Im still trying to figure out how to get into the side zipper dresses. Do you step in through the side, pull over your head or is it just not possible not to get stuck? My husband and I laugh so hard everytime I get stuck.