Lessons From the Dressing Room: Try On EVERYTHING

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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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5 Responses to “Lessons From the Dressing Room: Try On EVERYTHING”

  1. Elle berman

    I totally agree, and would add that if something is really beautiful, and you love it, buy it even when it is too large and have it fitted by a good seamstress… I have had great success with this, and also can see if something will fit by just looking at it. I do usually try it on though!

    xx, Elle

    it is great that you buy clothes, this way, I do- as well!

    xx, Elle

    http://mydailycostume.com

  2. Vivienne

    I LOVE this post Sally and that sentence “You can learn about your body as it relates to itself instead of as it relates to the bodies of others” deeply hits home.

  3. what not

    Yes! I thrift a lot and will try on anything that strikes my fancy even a little. Because it’s thrift, I end up trying varying sizes, brands I’d never bother with in their own stores, new silhouettes–all offering me a new lens through which to see the way my body fits into clothes.

    It’s taught me so much about my body, and I’m much better than before at recognizing what will and won’t fit or work with my figure flattery priorities. It’s one of the most helpful things I’ve ever done, style-wise.

  4. Monica H

    Sally, one thing I find especially helpful about this is the idea that knowing what fits you and what will work well on your body is a *skill* which can be *learned* through practice! Before I started reading your site, it had always seemed as though this was a *talent* that some people posessed and others (namely, me) did not. And while it is true that certain people may be gifted in this area, it is something that I can learn through trial and error and practice! I will say that my experience is that I could not learn it the way my engineer brain wanted to learn it – by understanding the underlying principles and applying them in a problem-solving way (which is part of what had me conclude I was hopeless). But, with practice and observation and experimenting, I have gotten SO MUCH better at it!

    The one caveat I would add is that people with special size needs should be cognizant of this before they start. Looking back, I realize that trying on everything in the thrift store or the mall when I was younger is part of what had me conclude that I must have a “weird” body (since nothing ever really fit me). Turns out, I need to be wearing tall sizes, which are not available at the mall or thrift store. Thankfully, they are available online, with free shipping and returns. 🙂

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