I’ve been thrifting since I was 13. Back then, I didn’t have a defined style and didn’t know much about my body so if I saw something that looked cool, I’d try it on. And I learned over time that clothing sizes are totally arbitrary, and sometimes a piece that says it’s three sizes too small or big will fit perfectly.
I’ve been shopping mall stores since high school. Early on I just went for the styles I saw my friends and peers wearing, but eventually I branched out. I played it safe for a while, but eventually started hauling unusual styles and cuts into the fitting room with me. Which yielded lots of duds and the occasional gem. I learned that some things look funky on the rack, and others may be designed far outside my comfort zone, but I’ll never really know how they look until I get them onto my actual body.
I’ve been shopping online since about six seconds after Zappos launched. The arbitrary sizing issue actually worked against me in this realm, especially initially when online clothing vendors were working out the kinks and didn’t always list garment measurements. But through gobs of trial and error, I learned how certain brands cut and fit, which materials felt best, which shapes and style suited me.
And now? Now I can look at a dress online and tell if the Designated Boob Room is too big, if the collar is gonna bug me, if the waistline is too low. (Usually.) Now I can grab a blouse from a thrift store rack and gauge whether or not it will fit, even if I can’t be 100% certain it will look good. Now I know which styles work for my figure, so when I’m out shopping I reach for styles that I’m not sure will work for my figure. And I learn.
The surface lesson here is simple: Try it on. Whatever it is, if you like it try it on. Trying on is free and you will occasionally find a brand or style that is unexpectedly amazing. When it comes to online shopping, stick to vendors that offer free shipping and returns at first so you can play around with sizing and cuts at low risk and with relatively little hassle. Be bold, make educated guesses, try on EVERYTHING. Because when you stick to what you know forever, you run the risk of stagnation. And because an understanding of your figure and its specific shape will help you make more informed shopping choices. And because every so often, you’ll unearth a style that you thought would look horrendous on you, but ends up making you feel like a goddess.
The deeper lesson here is this: You can learn some things about your body by looking at it in the mirror, using it for exercise or sex, listening to its needs and wants. But you can learn other things about your body by seeing how it interacts with clothes. You can learn about how your specific curves work and relate to each other, and which garments show them off or tone them down. You can learn where your waist is, whether you want to highlight it, and how to create illusions that move it up or down on your torso. You can learn what feels comfortable to you in fibers, structures, and designs and please your body by wearing comfortable clothes as often as you can. You can learn about your unique proportions, your distinct scale, you can learn about your body as it relates to itself instead of as it relates to the bodies of others. You can move away from generalities like big, petite, and curvy to hone in on a set of highly specific facts that apply to your body only.
Try on everything. See what you learn.
Image courtesy Orin Zebest
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