Reader Jenni sent me this question via e-mail:
is there such a thing as a perfect garment off the rack? and if not, what aspects are more or less important to not compromise about?
for example, when i shop maybe i’ll see a great print that expresses my personal style, but the neckline makes me look dumpy. or i’ll find a dress in a great cut for my figure, but the color is not right for my skin tone or a match for my wardrobe. or there’s a shirt with a super flattering neckline, but has details at the shoulder or waist that don’t look good, or pockets on the boobs (not good for me!). it can definitely be frustrating!
i’ve been educating myself a lot about what to look for in clothes that will work for my figure and coloring. now instead of going to a store and feeling overwhelmed by choices, now i find that there is nothing exactly right because of having so many criteria. is there a way to effectively prioritize those criteria? or is it going to be different for each person?
First things first: For some people, there are loads of perfect off-the-rack garments. If your body is in the sweet spot where mass-marketed clothing brands want and expect it to be, you can waltz into any mall store and buy anything. My experience leads me to believe that the people who fall into that sweet spot are a very small subset of women aged 17 to 23. I don’t mean to say that anyone over the age of 24 will never find a perfectly fitting, pre-made garment. I’m 40 and curvy, and I’ve hit the jackpot plenty of times. It’s possible. But it’s not the norm.
There’s a lot of style rhetoric out there decrying the purchase of imperfect garments. And I get that. Why the heck should you spend your hard-earned money on something that doesn’t quite fit or flatter or work?* This becomes especially important if you’re on a tight budget or if you have a very defined personal style, but it’s a shopping maxim that most people take to heart. Almost-right just isn’t good enough.
So how do we reconcile a desire to spend on ideal items only, with the decidedly not-ideal available inventory? What if our bodies are tricky to fit? Long where manufacturers expect short? Round where clothing designers prefer flat? And what about Jenni’s example of a gorgeous printed garment with an unflattering neckline? If there seem to be approximately zero perfect-for-us garments for sale on planet earth, where do we compromise?
Jenni has guessed correctly: It’s going to be different for each person. If you know how to hem, you’ll be more likely to compromise on pant, skirt, and dress length than those who must take long duds to the tailor. If you have a body part that you adore and want shown off at all times, you’ll likely buy garments that highlight that part and work around the rest. If you are a stickler for how colors work with your complexion, you’ll focus on color and create some fit-related work-arounds. And if you’ve got a large clothing budget and a great tailor, you can pick your battles.
One way to deal with this potentially overwhelming conundrum is to consider your dressing priorities. What is most important to you in a garment?
- Does it need to be comfortable? Comfortable in a certain area of your body?
- Washable? Easy to care for?
- Is color a biggie? What are your best shades?
- How about fiber or construction?
- What do you have plenty of in your closet right now? What’s lacking?
Then consider how you want to present your body through clothing. What are your figure flattery priorities? List out your top five and rank them in order of personal importance.
If you find shopping to be frustrating due to lack of perfect options, tuck these two lists into your wallet. Then, when you come across a garment that just about works, you can remind yourself how it fits into your dressing priorities.
*Quick reminder: Should you slip into a dressing room, try on a heap of goodies, and find that every single option makes you feel awkward or frumpy or wrong, remember: It’s not you, it’s the clothes. Always.
Image courtesy PlayfulLibrarian.