Will it Fit Me Like That?

I’d estimate that I do 80% of my clothing, shoe, and accessory shopping online. And while shoes and accessories are slightly easier to procure without hassle, buying clothing online carries quite a few risks. No two companies measure their garments in the same way, and most use standardized size charts that aren’t applicable to more than half of the available garments. You’re unable to check potential purchases for material and construction quality. And, of course, nearly all online retailers use models.

Above is a photo of a lovely gal who models for Garnet Hill. She’s wearing a very cool oversized sweater, and it looks marvelous on her. But she’s a model. Just about everything looks marvelous on her because it’s her job to make clothing look as marvelous as possible. And she has undoubtedly fooled many women into thinking that this sweater will look great on THEM because it looks great on HER.

Viewing clothing on hard, cold mannequins or just laid out on plain white tables seldom feels as alluring as looking at clothing on actual humans. But clothing models are generally pretty similar in figure – tall, long-legged, slim – and many of us aren’t quite as tall, long-legged, and slim as the models wearing the clothing that we’re considering purchasing for ourselves. Not to mention that garments are often pinned, clipped, and altered to fit better for catalog photo shoots. It can mess with your perspective, logic, and self-esteem to view a garment online, order it, put it on, and discover that it looks funky on your body even though it looked elegant and chic on the model.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself when considering a modeled item for purchase and wear:

Have you tried on anything similar in person?

You can’t have had direct experience with EVERY style of garment available, but there’s a good chance you’ve been exposed to a decent majority. If you’re looking at a gorgeous wrap dress online that looks sultry and stellar on the model, but have tried on a dozen wrap dresses in your day and they’ve all drooped and hung weirdly on your own bod, try to call up that memory before hitting “buy.” And even if you haven’t tried on the exact style, search your memory banks: Do pants at that length usually make you recoil in horror when you try them on? Does anything with Designated Boob Room ride up or sag down? Mentally scroll through your shopping experiences and see what matches up.

How does this model’s figure differ from yours?

Is she shorter? Broader shouldered? Narrower hipped? Larger busted? DON’T make judgments on yourself or her. Just stick to the facts and take note of how your two figures differ. Then consider how those differences might affect proportions, drape, and overall fit.

What shapes and styles are your favorites?

If your closet is packed with wide leg pants and you’re eying up a pair of skinnies, give that some thought. If you have only ever worn wispy silk scarves and are pondering a thick, over-sized cashmere wrap, ask yourself why nothing similar is part of your wardrobe already. I’m not saying, “Stick to what works and never try anything new.” Oh no, no, no indeed. But remembering which cuts and styles work for you and make you feel amazing, and noting differences between those and your potential purchase can, at the very least, prepare you for an ill-fitting garment. Seeing items different from our own norms that look stunning on models can trick us into believing that those items will work for us, too.

Designers and manufacturers have long maintained that tall, long-legged, slim women are ideal models because they allow the clothing to drape almost as if it were on a hanger. Some manufacturers have started to incorporate a few more body types into their catalogs, but that mostly means adding a few size 10s in with the size 4s. No big busts, no women under five feet, no pear shapes. So many of us are still left guessing. Clothing on models looks flattering and fabulous, but that same clothing may look awkward and awful on non-models. Pondering a few questions and doing a bit of comparison can help you make a slightly more informed purchasing decision.

And eventually, when we’ve finally sussed out a clothing showcasing system that actually encompasses genuine human diversity, we won’t have to bother with any of the irritating guesswork.

Image courtesy Garnet Hill.

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  • ki.

    This is such a helpful post since I have definitely bought some stuff online that doesn’t fit – a jacket that was too broad for my shoulders and high waisted pants that looked like crap on me! I’m definitely going to refer to this post the next time I shop for clothes online 🙂

  • If I know I’m looking for a piece that isn’t similar to anything in my wardrobe, I tend to shop in store. Unless it’s cheap, then I experiment. I try to remember what pieces don’t work on me even when I shop in store. Wide legged pants are not my style, ever, so I avoid them. Shirts or dresses that have an elastic band at the waist always blouse out on me in a weird way, so I know disappointment is coming if I try them. It’s just about remembering what looks the best on you, but trying things even if you just love the piece!

  • deb

    I am always skeptical of clothes displayed on a model who is posing with her hand(s) on her hip(s). I usually think she’s posing that way to give the garment a more flattering shape. Since I can’t go about my daily activities with my hands on my hips, I rarely purchase.
    I love sites (like Asos and Zappos) that include videos!

    • Sal

      Yes – aren’t the videos SO helpful, deb? The Zappos ones amaze me. Shoes can look entirely different on a person than they do photographed on their own.

  • I seldom buy clothes on-line, because returning it is so tediuos. That’s why I only buy labels, items I’m sure will fit and look good.
    I’ve been buying on-line for 6 years now (I make aprox. 6 purchases a year) and in all this time I’ve returned two things, a dress because I bumbled up the size and a pair of sunglasses.
    I like to buy the more unusual items, risky fits in person.

  • Izabela

    I have a much easier time purchasing clothes and accessories online but I always avoid shoes (unless I’m totally familiar with the brand). Then again, even when I purchase clothes online, I have to be familiar with the brand; I won’t buy something online if I’ve never worn that brand, especially sale items (a lot of times final sale is FINAL sale). But when I do experiment, and when I can’t resist the call of that gorgeous blazer, I always read reviews before buying. They are the most helpful in terms of color, fit, sizing, and all that good stuff. If a site doesn’t have reviews, I’ll check the return policy and make sure that I can return the item if it doesn’t meet my standards.

    • Eleanorjane

      Yes, reviews are very helpful!

  • I buy things, if they don’t work on me, I send them back. It’s not me, it’s the clothes. I guess it used to bother me more when something I REALLY wanted just didn’t work on me, but now it’s like, pfft, whatever, and I generally will write a candid review on the website to help others figure out what they’re getting into.

  • Valentina

    I rarely buy clothing online, and your paragraphs above outline many of the reasons. Honestly, I don’t have the time to look through hundreds of choices, then wonder about fit, pay for shipping, and still be disappointed. When I go to a shop, I try things on, buy what works, and I’m done. It’s easier for me to take a chance on something in the fitting room rather than at home. In addition, I am able to support small, local, and usually independently owned businesses. I know this isn’t a goal for everyone, but it is for me.

    • Elizabeth

      Agreed. I do not buy online unless I have tried it on in the store. Too many missed marks this way.

  • Just yesterday I did some shopping at Banana Republic, then came home to place an order online for a size/color combo they didn’t have in the store. I was shocked at how differently the sweater I ordered looked on the model online compared to how it looked on me in the store–almost like a completely different garment! I’m short-waisted, so the flared sweater that looked long and flowy on me (as I wanted it to) looked practically cropped on her!

    Zappos has videos? I need to check those out!

    • GingerR

      I find that my most successful on-line shopping falls into this category -I’ve tried something from that retailer on at a store. Then I go home and buy it in exactly my size, or a different color, or the right length from their online site.

      Unless you are thin as a model and hanger-like yourself there is no subsitute for trying things on.

  • Eliza

    A few more suggestions:
    I like to shop across various retailer’s sites all at once to get a feel for what’s out there comparatively. I often look at twenty sites when trying to find one blouse.

    I look at other items on the site to gauge the overall quality of garments from brands I don’t know. If the majority of items look cheaply constructed, I usually pass. Exceptions (for better or worse) can come from brands that stock their own clothing but carry accessories from others, so I’m particularly carefull in those areas.

    I sometimes do an image search for items, to see if I can find it on a non-model. Rarely successful, but occaisionaly pays off.

    I don’t buy clothing where I see dangling threads in the photo. If the garment is having trouble when it has presumably been primped and styled within an inch of its life, it is obviously not going to work for a mere mortal like me.

    I mentally blacklist any site where I have trouble. There are a few sites where I’ve been really disapointed with fit, materials, or sizing (I’m tall enough to resent sites that skimp on hem length!) They also tend to have the most seductive advertising (funny descriptions, an aesthetic I find inspiring, etc). After getting burnt a few times too many, I’ve completely stopped looking at their sites.

  • LinB

    I DON’T buy clothing online. Or by catalog. And seldom in a department store — I have passed the age at which department stores are pitching clothes; and the recent economy has left me unable to afford them, anyway. In the 10 + years that only hiphuggers were stocked in department stores and in catalogs, I bought not one pair of pants/slacks/trousers retail. I found gently-used items in thrift stores, or sewed for myself.

  • Thanks for the insight! As a teen, I did some catalogue shopping and things rarely looked good on me, even though I mostly ordered two sizes to begin with! This is why I stopped buying clothes anywhere else but in the store (exceptions make the rule ^^), it’s too “risky”. What’s giving me the most pause is skirt length. I’m about one half of a model in length and double of a model in width, plus I have a butt that the skirt just has to hang over, for better or for worse… And so, skirt lengths rarely turn out to be at the same spot for Mrs. Bündchen and myself 😉

    Relatable Style

  • Michelle

    The sad thing is when you are both plus sized AND pear shaped, there are no clothes on models that will look right on you. All plus sized models have a waist, none have stomachs. Their weight is usually in their butt and thighs.

    I do love vive la femme though — the models in the newsletter are the owner of the store and the ladies that work there. Not modeals.

    http://vivelafemme.com/

    Wish I could afford to shop there more!

    • ily

      Yep, that’s true for me as well…I carry all my weight in my torso; basically none in my hips/butt/thighs. A model that is my size isn’t going to look anything like me. One more reason why I rarely buy clothes online…

  • Mel

    Goodness. I can barely find clothes that fit when I’m IN the store….what are the chances of on-line things fitting???? Uh….none.

    The only time I buy on-line is if I’ve tried it on in the store and they have a better color on-line, or a better price.

    It seems like things that look great on me in the store look terrible in the on-line ads. The things I’ve purchased that were fabulous I had passed right by when looking at them on-line! Weird, eh?

  • I sew a lot, so I’ve found that the worst experience is not buying clothes that don’t fit but MAKING clothes that don’t fit. Similar to mail order, you can’t really try them on first. I get around that by doing exactly what you just described: comparing pattern measurements to clothes I already own or patterns I’ve already sewn, knowing that certain styles won’t fit well or at all (no tight skirts or wide leg pants for me), and paying attention to the garment photo. If a photo of a style looks bad or cheap on the model, it’ll look even worse after being sewn up.

    Interestingly, all that sewing experience has made me better at sussing up fit online.

    • Sal

      Actually I think that makes total sense! The more you know about your body AND about clothing design and construction, the easier it is to eyeball potential new garments.

  • Kate K

    I think another important question to ask yourself while online shopping is “Will the clothes that look AWFUL on the models look really good on you?” I’m 5’10” but I have a large chest, a poochy tummy and curvy hips. This definitely creates issues when it comes to looking at most website models BUT there have definitely been items that look, quite frankly droopy and ridiculous on the models, but that work perfectly with my figure. I started to recognize this when I bought a top from Banana Republic and loved it so much that I checked to see if I could find additional colors online. I found it but with the way it looked on the model, I didn’t think it was the same top. What worked on me didn’t look good on her.

    It’s tough thinking (and shopping) this way but sometimes you can find some great pieces. I think you need to understand your body, be willing to take a risk (and send things back if necessary!) and be able to look beyond the model. I also think customer reviews can be really really helpful (which is why I always submit a review of an item I”ve purchased online.)

    • Sal

      Great point!

  • Heather

    ok, that sweater in real life is going to look (I think) a lot like the sweater I stole from a boyfriend 10 years ago. How will that look cute on anybody without a wind machine everywhere she goes???

  • Angela

    I live in Canada and our online shopping is not as advanced, nor do all US retailers ship over the border. So, before I get to the US, I browse the area online, and go and try some brands on while I am there.

    Then when I am back in Canada and see something I like, I ship it here. I actually have great luck with JC Penney pants, they fit me better and are cheaper than what I can find here. I have made a mistake with style but I send them back and am only out the shipping and duty, which is still cheaper than spending the day or weeknd in the US.
    I also buy here online but only stuff I have tried on, like Old Navy or Rickk’s tops and sweaters, ..I take a good long look at the model too, if the piece makes her look anything less than stick like, I know it will not work for me (not that I am a stick, lol but I figure it is then bulky)
    I have a lot less trepidation online than I used to. tops almost always buy, bottoms only if I have tried them on

  • Anne

    I’ve been buying clothes on line for about 12 years. I started after my first son was born and we lived about an hour from any real shopping. Since then I’ve culled a handful of online retailers and I don’t venture very far from that list. I keep with them because I understand their sizing and they’ve proven to have good customer service. Also, as mentioned above, I pour over garment reviews when they’re available. I also shop online primarily with vendors who offer free shipping. Finally I will often fill my shopping cart and then wait until that vendor offer a good discount. I’ve rarely had a problem that wasn’t fixed by a good tailor, but in the event that it hasn’t worked out, I pop the article back in the mail, or, in the rare instance when I buy something on final sale, it goes straight to the local consignment store.

    • GingerR

      I find on-line shoe reviews to be helpful. Usually if something runs small in the reviews it works to size up.

      I’ve had less success with clothing reviews. Bodies are too different. When I read the weights and heights of the reviewers I’m always amazed at the range of sizes a 5’5″ 135 pound woman can wear.

  • Cel

    I’m large bosom’ed and I know for a fact that I cannot fit into ANY top that has designated boob-covering triangles. I would need two triangles for half my chest. Just… no. So no matter how badly I want that top/dress, or how pretty I think it is, I resist. Exceptions to this are when I already plan on wearing the item over something more modest, nixing the lack of coverage, and if the item doesn’t have a separation/cut off point directly below the bust. The later being because tops often ride up my chest, positioning what should be snuggly under my breasts partway across them, and that just looks weird if it’s an obvious division.

  • Catherine

    I’m always surprised at how few websites let you see actual measurements of garments. I understand there’s not room for that in catalogs, but there’s plenty of room online.

    Given how different companies size their clothes so differently — the same woman might be a medium, large or extra-large, a 10/12 or a 12/14 — measurements can be a big help. But you usually have to email customer service for them and hope.

    • Eleanorjane

      The main online clothes shop here has general measurements of the sizes in each range they produce, but they’re WILDLY inaccurate, so it’s not much help.

      Luckily there’s an actual store near me so I can go and try things on, check out the fabric quality etc.

      • Anne

        Boden always lists the actual dimensions of their clothing. A J. Crew customer service agent measured some clothes for me and was very accommodating… even though the item was supposed to be “Final sale.”

    • Uniqlo shows actual garment measurements on their British and Japanese sites, which is one of the reasons I love them. Last month I ordered a pair of Uniqlo jeans in a size and cut I’d never tried before, and the fit was pretty much perfect.

  • D

    I’ll generally only buy shoes and accessories online; it is difficult to find pants that fit me at all, and I’m really particular about tops and dresses. Customer reviews are really, really helpful when I’m ready to take the plunge and buy something without trying it on. Even better if the review is from a person I know and trust, I’d rather chat with my buddies about their awesome dress than trust someone I don’t know and can’t see.

  • Sonia

    Bwaaaaaaaa ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! “Designated Boob Room!” I love that you named it because adorable summer tops with D.B.R. are always the bane of my existance — soooooooooooo cute on the hanger, soooooooooo horrifying on me. Thanks for the laugh, and the great post!

  • Mar

    I too shop mainly online, and after a couple of years of purchase disasters, I’m finally getting better at trying to guess what might or might not work for me. I really liked your tips, Sally, and I think for me, the first one is the one I use most – imagining if I have tried on something similar, and how I have liked it. Also, I think the more you get familiar with a brand, the better you will be at guessing what items could work and what not – for example, I’ve stopped buying structured dresses from an online site since I’ve come to realize that most of them are short waisted while I am long waisted, and I prefer to highlight my natural waist.
    And lastly, I also rely heavily on reviews, keeping in mind what I think will be the fit issues with my body. With shoes, I sometimes search all over the web for reviews for a particular model, combining zappos, amazon, endless, etc, regardless of where I am thinking of purchasing it.

  • My number one question is always “How easy will this be to return?”

  • KiwiMichelle

    Sal! You must have been inside my head!
    I was at one of our local malls yesterday and I was thinking about this very thing as I wandered about. I even snapped a photo of one of the Mall adverts in which you can clearly see the clip on the back of the models vest 😀

    I don’t buy online, unless I have been able to try something on in a shop first. I’ve found that being a short plus-sized pear makes it really difficult, even if measurements are provided. I’m large of thigh and even if my hip measurement equals that of the hip measurement provided, it’s no guarantee that I’ll be able to get the garment on!

    P.S. Thanks to one of your posts, I actually dropped a pile of clothes off to the tailor on Tuesday. As Cynthia said, it’s not me, it’s the clothes 🙂

  • I tend to shop more in stores I just don’t have a model body. Not that I mind the one I have its great but between the boobs, the runner butt/legs, and the yes I’ve had kids and been over weight tummy its just hard to get a good idea from the models. When I do I only pick stores with a good return policy.

  • Erika A

    I do shop online but only for select items from retailers where I know their styles already fit me.

    I’m 5’5″ so one of the things I enjoy is seeing a model in a shorter dress and thinking, “that would be a work-appropriate length on me!”

    One of the hardest things for me to buy online or from a catalog is blouses. I have narrow shoulders compared to my large bust, but I still have a normal sized waist. This means that pretty much any shirt that is tailored will either gape, pull, or bag in the wrong spot. Sometime it does multiple wrong things at once! Stretchy shirts without a full placket are easy for me to buy online, but anything that has more than three buttons, or darts, is something I must try on in person. As the posted above said, measurements would REALLY help!

  • Kenzie

    Shopping online takes so much of the fun out of it! I love being able to try stuff on whether or not I can afford it or its practical to buy.

    I used to shop a lot on Threadless but I’m moving away from graphic tees. I can’t think of anything else I’ve purchased online…

  • If I don’t already know the ins and outs of a brand from trying on in-person, I check multiple size charts to make sure they are consistent (if it is a brand that is sold at multiple online sites), and ALWAYS check the reviews. The most helpful reviews are those that include one’s measurements AND height, but since I know I am rather pear-shaped, I assume that a 5’7″ pear-shaped woman will probably have the same problems with a garment that I will, at 5’11”. And yes, I always keep in mind that certain things are just plain NOT FLATTERING on me: boxy coats, most skinny pants, etc.

  • merewether

    At 5’11” I can sometimes find regular-sized skirts and short sleeved tops which fit in stores but must often go online to get tall sizes for items like pants,long sleeved tops, dresses and coats where total length is important. Knowing that models are tallish (although I’ve heard catalog models are more like 5’10”) I particularly note photos where lengths of regular sized items have been fudged. Check the fall/winter catalog or website of many retailers and notice how often long sleeves have been “casually” pushed up. To me that says — sleeves in regular size are too short for a long-waisted/long-armed person.

    • Chris

      I hear ya! I’m 5′ 10″ and am starting to re-learn how to sew again. Just to have some clothes that actually fit me.

      Hard to find anything that fits online and often way overpriced. Stores? Forget it. We’ve all seen Petite Departments. Why don’t they have Tall Women Departments?

  • This is why one of my biggest fears is shopping online. If the return policy is great, like ASOS (free returns in 3 weeks) then I don’t stress over too much, but more often than not, is the return policy really aggravating. I’m a few millimeters shy from 5’3” so I have to take in consideration hem lengths when buying skirts and dresses. Usually the model is either 5’10 or 5’11 so if the hem seems really short, it should fall relatively comfortable on me. But then sadly, if it’s a long hem, it’s destined to swamp me. If possible, I always try on clothes in-store before buying, if the site is a store like Nordstrom.

  • Great post! I also only order online if I can get:
    1) Free shipping. I refuse to pay to try something on.
    2) Can return in store. This means there needs to be a store somewhere near me I can get to for returns, and the items need to be in-store returnable.
    3) Free return shipping if there are no stores near me or if the items are not in-store returnable.

    That way, I’m free to take more risks and try new things when ordering online.

  • Lady Cardigan

    I am underweight, with no chest, and sometimes things do look the same on me as on the models, but generally not. Even as a stick-thin person, I am always reminding myself, “It looks good on her because she’s a model,” and it’s true — they are pros at making things look good.

    But I do find model images helpful in some ways. I have extra-long arms so I always look to see how the model is wearing the sleeves. If she has to scrunch them up because they’re too short (which is almost always the case), I will, too. And it won’t look as good on me as it does on her.

  • MLC

    I have the greatest online ordering success with clothes that have a lot of room for forgiveness. So dresses and and knits work great in that I can take up the hem, take in the waist, or the fabric is just naturally stretchy. I have never had much luck with things like trousers, jackets, and jeans, as there are too many points where the garment must fit perfectly to my dimensions and that are difficult or impossible to alter (shoulders, waist/hip measurements, rise, etc.). I’d rather try these kinds of items on in-store.

    I also have good luck with retailers that display clothes on mannequins, not models, and also provide front and back views, so you can get a better idea of how the garment hangs without the interference of clips and wind machines.

  • That’s why I rely on style names, and also a few trusted style bloggers who have a body type similar to mine. It takes away a lot of the guesswork associated with buying clothes online. I am also more sure of the quality.

    I love shopping online, I hate the crowds at the mall, so it’s great that I was able to work out a method that works for me.

  • Inkling

    I agree with Ginger 100%! As she says “When I read the weights and heights of the reviewers I’m always amazed at the range of sizes a 5’5″ 135 pound woman can wear.” I’m also amazed at how far off the garment measurements can be – when they’re given.
    I tend to stick to accessories when shopping online, unless I’ve tried something in the store, or know that I can rely on a line for consistent sizing. When I do buy clothing I keep in mind what suits me – I’m busty, slim (no hips), and short-waisted and can end up looking lost in garments that are described as “hip-length” and looking pregnant in some empire-style garments.
    Right now I’m trying to find a blogger with my taste and my figure to give me a real-life sense of how online clothes fit.

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  • jaya

    I saw a really cute cardigan on TV today, and researching that, i found this page: http://www.treehillstyle.com/characters_mhuxtable.html . I think this is a great idea to see how the clothing actually fit real people (actors, yet still not models tailored for that clothing line as how the designers want us to see it). my way is actually the reverse of what you are talking about..seeing it on tv and then shopping, rather than shopping and guessing how it might look.

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