Reader Request: Resolving Post-purchase Fit Issues

Reader Susan e-mailed me this question:

[A recent post] made me think about a pair of my jeans. They fit great in the store, they fit great if I walk around the store, but in real active life they slide down. I have a belt, but it’s weird that it happens. Tops that wind up too short, shoes that don’t fit in places where they seem to in the store, clothing that catches in spots where you wouldn’t expect … it sort of drives me nuts. I guess I’m an active person, always sitting on the floor, running, and moving in places where most adults don’t!

I sent Susan to this post, which suggests a few tests that can be applied to garments to see if they’ll be comfortable in the long run. Many of those vaguely goofy seeming tests – including sitting, standing, sitting again, sticking your arms straight up in the air, hugging yourself, and touching your toes – will go a long way toward telling you how a garment will behave in active, real life. But I’ve got a few more general thoughts, too.

Know your body

You’ve had your body … well, for as long as it’s been a body! So, in all likelihood, you know all about the aspects of it that can be tricky to fit, the bits that get sensitive, the features you want to accentuate. If you feel disconnected from your body as it relates to clothes, throw on a few of your favorite outfits. Why do they work? Is it that a certain dress fits your shoulders and waist both, instead of one of the other? Is it that a certain neckline does great things for your bust? What is it about those garments (and combinations of garments) that just WORKS for you? And, once you’ve figured that out, ask yourself what about your body is consistently tricky to shop for or fit.

For instance, I am pretty comfortable buying a full skirt online without trying it on. A pencil skirt, though? Not likely. My waist-to-hip ratio is such that I have trouble with fitted bottoms. I’ve learned this through long years of trial and error, and it informs my purchases.

Know your wardrobe

This is pretty closely related to the previous point, but deserves a bit of the spotlight, too. Since you’ve already gone to the trouble of hauling out your faves, take a closer look a them. What do they have in common? Are all of your pants wide legged? Are most of your tops v-necked? Are the majority your shoes Mary Janes? What common threads run through your whole wardrobe? This information can help you predict which styles will work well for you in the future.

Now, of course, this may sound a bit limiting. I’m certainly not saying, “If your favorite skirts are mini skirts you must wear only minis from now UNTIL THE END OF TIME.” That would suck. And be boring. I believe that trying new styles – even styles that you’ve totally hated in years past – is an important way to push your sartorial boundaries. But! If you’re on the lookout for items that are less likely to cause fit issues after purchase, those items may have characteristics in common with your current, best-fitting garments.

Know that some post-purchase fit issues cannot be predicted

This is the bad news: Some garments with lots of spandex will sag. Some skirts will migrate. Some shoes will pinch, but only after five hours of wear. No matter how much dressing room gymnastics, body research, or wardrobe foreknowledge you apply, some clothing and accessories will trick you. So, here are some work-arounds:

  • Befriend a tailor for simple alterations
  • Hone your layering skills for tricky garments
  • Befriend a cobbler for shoe stretching and repairs

And if those options either fail or irritate you:

  • Open up an account at a local consignment store
  • Take note of friends and relatives who wear your sizes

I wish I had a foolproof set of rules about garment styles or fiber content breakdowns that would prevent post-purchase fit issues, but I just don’t. In my experience, no brand, style, or fiber is 100% reliable or unreliable. There are simply too many factors. But hopefully some of these guidelines will help you feel a bit more prepared.

Anyone else frustrated by post-purchase fit issues? How do you cope?

Image via Real Simple.

  • http://secondhandwardrobe.com Cheryl

    So true that “no brand, style, or fiber is 100% reliable or unreliable.” I cope by buying almost all of what I wear at thrift stores. Each item of clothing costs only a few dollars and can be donated back if I’m not pleased in the long run. For shoes and boots, I own a shoe stretching device and the liquid that makes the leather stretchy. I also can alter/repair my own clothing. Many of the problems prove to be fixable with just a little time and a needle and thread. If an item winds up being beyond repair, I take it to the City Mission. They make money for their programs by turning unlovable clothing into usable rags.

  • http://ejegmama.blogspot.com/ Stephanie

    On more then one occasion now I have opened up the back waistband of a pair of jeans with a stitch ripper and added a bit of wide no roll elastic to keep them up as the stretch out during the day.

  • http://www.stylinstacy.com Stacy

    I have to really love something to bring it home with me nowadays. It has to fit fantastic and fit well into my closet. I have been known to buy things, though, that didn’t fit fantastic and I had to alter. Dresses are very hard to fit for me, since I am sort of an inverted triangle. My shoulders are wider than my hips and I have an above average sized bust (not huge but not small). If a dress is fitted it won’t fit me in the hips if it fits me in the bust. I buy to the bust/shoulders size and then take it in the hips (it is easier to take away fabric than to add what isn’t there!). I can sew, though, so these things aren’t a huge deal for me.

    • Thursday

      Being able to alter clothing is a life saver for me. I have the opposite experience of you, Stacy – hips that are proportionately much wider than my waist and bust. In fitted styles, I buy to fit the hips then take in the top half.

  • http://dashingeccentric.blogspot.com/ tiny junco

    Know your fibre content.
    100% cotton will sag more than 98% coton/2% spandex, synthetics tend to keep a garment from sagging, etc. – read labels and track what works for you.

    Know your fabric weaves.
    Jerseys are floaty and clingy, ponte de roma (a doubleknit) has structure and stability. Which works best for you? Also, some weaves are sturdier than others and less prone to snags (twill vs. boucle, for instance).

    Know your construction techniques.
    Look at seams – how are they sewn, where are they placed? What about interfacing? Stephanie at 7:42am’s idea is brilliant, and you can find it in some ready to wear.

    Susan, i know this stuff is very picky and anal to worry about and learn about. But, like you, i tend to massacre clothing if i’m not careful about choosing what i wear – and that is even more of a pain! Sal’s tips are spot on. Pay attention and learn as much as you can, it is worth it! Good luck, steph

  • KL

    I have debated the ethics of this practice before–and obviously decided that it reconciles with my personal ethics–but this problem is why I like to shop at Anthropologie and Nordstrom. Both stores will allow you to return clothing that has already been worn. I would never abuse the policy by returning “worn” clothing, but I have returned clothes that sat on my body for 12 hours and stretched out or itched or whatever in ways that were uncomfortable. A full day’s trial is usually enough for me. I returned a bra at Nordstrom that gave me a painful red mark on my sternum, and the SA didn’t even let me finish my awkward explanation before cheerfully processing the return.

    • Shaye

      I agree with this. I buy the bulk of my wardrobe at thrift stores, but if I’m going to pay full price, I tend to do it at places with no-hassle return policies. Many places, not just high-end stores, have favorable return policies, and knowing that makes me give those places my business. I feel like the markup on most retail garments is such that if a piece doesn’t work after a few wearings, I should be able to return it. I’m not here to subsidize a retailer’s QC issues.

      Nordstrom and Anthro have famously generous return policies, although for the price point, they’d better. But even Kohl’s has a generous return policy, and I’m also not shy about asking to return items to places with less generous policies, even if the nature of my return goes against their stated policy. I’ve talked several Target customer service reps into taking back what I felt were defective items by pointing out that one of us, in this situation, was going to have to eat the cost of that item, and I’m not the one who sold a shoddy product.

      (Besides, retail markup even at mid-range stores is so high that they still come out ahead in the long run. After all, those 70% off clearance items may not make them a big profit, but they aren’t LOSING them money.)

  • http://bucklebuttonzip.com Buckle Button Zip

    Great tips for the dressing room fit movements. So true. My pet peeve are tops that ride up and skirts that end up back-to-front. Just this week, I was constantly checking to see where that back zipper had actually gotten too!
    x Laura

  • http://sarahsavvystyle.com Simply Sarah

    Love your blog – following you now! Can’t wait to sift through and especially see your section on thrifting!!!

  • Soph

    Thank you Sal and everyone for just plainly acknowledging that shopping can be more difficult and needing self knowledge than just opening up a magazine or reading what has unfortunately just become advertising in some high end clothing blogs and going I like that. And instead of going into self loathing (various degrees) to just roll up one’s sleeve and maintain as much joy as one can in the process.
    Thank you, Sal, for all you do to help reshape the love of dressing oneself from fantasy escapism to actualized self love. Amazing. And needed.

    • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sal

      My gosh, Soph, that YOU for your kind words!

  • http://atleastiwill.blogspot.com Carolyn

    I think the hardest part is accepting that certain styles will probably never work 100% with your body. I’ve got a long torso and boxy hips which means any stretchy cami will at some point during the day roll up to my waist, leaving my most insecure six inches of flesh exposed. While I still buy them, I know I can’t wear them unless it’s under layers, and even then my hands need to be free every couple of minutes to pull it back into place. Nothing’s worse than working on a project with your coworkers and feeling your midriff slowly becoming exposed with nothing you can do about it…

    • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sal

      That is SO TRUE, Carolyn. And it often does take years of frustrated wearing to really accept that certain garments are never going to do exactly what you want, or look exactly how you want.

    • Cleo

      Perhaps you could try some clothing tape between your cami and pants/ skirts? This thing, which I just tried based on Sal’s advice, works miracle for some issues.
      I admire your wisdom though :)

  • sigourney

    I might try stephanie’s tip too. Being a V-shape jeans tend to slide down over my non-hips later in the day. Great idea!

  • Dee

    I am thinking along the lines of what KL says above. That is, returning clothes, shoes etc that don’t work out. The problem is that so many retailers have changed their return policy in the last few years – where in the past they would take back anything you were not satisfied with, no questions asked. I know a few stores still do that, Nordstroms being one, Lands End and Coldwater Creek are others. I certainly would not abuse that policy but I know many have, and with the economics of the last 5 to 10 years many retailers have been forced to do change their policy to 30 days, unworn, with tages on, and so forth. I really should stick to buying clothes at stores like Nordstroms, especially bras. I have to wear a new bra a few hours before I know whether its going to dig into me and drive me crazy. By then I have cut off the tags…can’t wear it with tags digging into me! I have several drawers of beautiful bras I just can’t wear!! (I do donate them eventually to charity.) But the truth is I have a number of pieces of clothing, and pairs of shoes that have not turned out to be good purchases. It is frustrating and I think you can only do so much.

    • Shaye

      I mentioned to KL above that I’ve had pretty good luck returning items even when outside the retailer’s stated policy. It can’t hurt to ask – I feel like, it’s not as though I wore it and just changed my mind. If I wore something and it didn’t perform in the way I expected, if I paid full price, it’s going back, even if I have to be firm. My mama taught me that. :)

  • GingerR

    I take note and don’t buy that brand/style again.

    I have trouble with shoes that seem like they’ll be comfortable for my 1 mile commute in the store but then develop problems.

    If they rub I can wear them with a heavier sock and usually they work out. The more annoying thing is when they don’t fit well and flop around. I had some Mary-Janes with a strap that seemed secure in the store when I tried them out. On a long walk the narrow velcro wouldn’t stay stuck and they flopped around. That was my last time for that brand.

  • Carrie

    Hmmm! Good points, all. I have experienced this, certainly, although I have managed to cut down on some of these post-purchase fit problems by reading online reviews of items of clothing and shoes prior to buying… and I don’t restrict myself to the reviews shown just on the vendor’s website from which I initially started perusing the item. Case in point: I recently wanted to order a cute pair of Steve Madden sandals on Amazon, but no reviews had been posted yet. I googled the make/model of the shoes, and sure enough, pulled up reviews from other vendors (Macy’s, I think) that warned me I would need to go a full size up in these shoes. The reviewers turned out to be right! Even though I ultimately ordered through Amazon because the price was better, doing some homework elsewhere on the web helped me avoid a sizing problem.

    I also just used to ignore all the user reviews given at the particular site for the sake of expediency, but now prior to purchasing I’ll comb through and really read those reviews. (It’s still much less time-consuming than navigating big-city traffic and wandering around stores to see if something catches my eye.) Some websites have helpful rubrics for reviewers that include categories such as “fits true to size” or “too big in the waist” or whatever, thus facilitating a truer idea of a garment’s fit on Real Live Humans.

    Of course this method won’t work for all items or for some peoples’ preferences (I am an avid online shopper, but I know many are not), but searching for reviews prior to buying for the past 2 years has kept me from making countless purchases, period.

    • Shaye

      Totally agree about seeking out reviews on sites other than where you intend to buy!

  • Kat

    Jeans always, always, always stretch out on me. Jeans that practically give me camel toe and muffin top in the store will be falling off my hips and behind by the end of a 2 hour stretch of wear. I wish there was a better solution than “buy the too small pair in the store” but that’s my best bet. Ignore the pair that fits in the dressing room, buy a size smaller, suffer when putting them on, and then have perfect jeans in 20 minutes. Stupid, but it works.

  • Anne

    Susan, I totally feel your pain. No matter what strategies I employ, my jeans always end up gapping in the waist. I have made peace with the fact that I will have to have just about every pair taken in. I also finally learned to wear them and let them stretch out first; that way I don’t have to have them altered a second time. Quite frankly I’d rather do that than wear pants that are too tight in the rear or thighs. That just makes me cranky.

    I have noticed that I do better in skirts that have a set-in waistband. That “no waist” style skirt just droops and spins on me. I have started to figure out which brands tend to fit my body the best and I’m coming to terms with the idea that it is better to spend more money on items really fit and flatter my body than to keep buying less expensive things that I might be able to “Make work” when I get home.

  • http://thehardestbitisthetitle.blogspot.com Erika

    It might sound like a cop out, but I don’t normally have a lot of free time, so if something doesn’t work out, it gets handed on to a friend who it *will* work for, or it goes to one of the charity shops. They can certainly do with the money, and when I was a broke student, finding something good was always a cause of celebration! Paying it forward (or back, not too sure which).

    If it’s something that I love, I may hang onto it for long enough that I can “regift” it without too much angst. Vivienne Westwood said something along the lines of “buy less, buy better”, which is pretty much what Anne says as well. Get what you truly need in as good a quality as you can afford and wear it.

    Mind you, it’s taken me some years to get to this stage, but it’s worth it.

  • http://susan-daysgoby.blogspot.com/ Susan

    I just pay attention to the style, I’m plus sized (mostly) and perpetually cranky so I like comfy things. I learned years ago that if I want to avoid muffin tops and jeans that fall, I need to (go ahead, yell) stay with higher waist jeans. Almost always I can find a pair of Not Your Daughter’s Jeans that fit the bill.

    And I always ALWAYS read the fiber content tag (98% cotton — 2% spandex is my go-to fabric) No polyester EVER!! So itchy. And we live in Cajun country where it gets hot & sticky enough as is. Polyester is of the devil in my book.

  • Aging fashionista

    What a great topic! Some mIstakes I’ve made more than once:
    Neckline too low, shows cleavage inappropriately,
    Gap in bustline on buttondown,
    Immediate pilling on cotton jersey fabric,
    Shoes that pinch although they felt great on store carpet (duh)

    My advice, in addition to Sals excellent suggestions, is to wear the garment around the house with other clothes with which you will complete the outfit (sort
    Of a dress rehearsal) If it doesn’t work or if there are quality problems within the first few wearings, I agree that you should return. However, anyone else had the problem off using a coupon for several garments purchased at the same time but, when you return only one, they credit you for only the full price minus coupon discount? Thus if you had a $25 coupon your refund on a $50 top is only $25 even tho you also bought a $50 skirt that you keep. Is that fair?

  • http://notemily.tumblr.com/ notemily

    I tend to buy pants that are too big, for some reason. I HATE waistbands that are too small or pinch, partly because I have IBS so any kind of discomfort in the abdominal area is too much for me. So when I try on a pair of pants that’s loose, I’m like “ahhh–comfort!” and I buy them even though they inevitably end up slipping down during the day and I have to pull them back up. Belts help, but again, I’m not a huge fan of the feeling of a belt in that sensitive area. Mostly I just deal with having to pull up my waistband every few minutes. It’s silly, I know, but I prefer it that way.