Whether you love it or hate it, we’re all having to rely on online shopping.
As a stylist, I can tell you that for many women, myself included, this is challenging.
Being unable to try on clothes makes it tricky to find the perfect fit. Even fashion experts make errors, such as the Victoria Beckham trousers I bought without noticing the low pleats on the hips — they made my thighs look huge.
Knits and loose-fitting loungewear are relatively safe purchases, but finding trousers, jeans and jackets cut just right is hard even for the most seasoned internet shoppers.
Prue White revealed her top tips for minimising return trips to the Post Office. Pictured: Cashmere jumper, £210, skirt, £85, samsoe.com
Yes, you can use online guides, such as sizecharter.com where you type in your bust, waist, hip and leg measurements, but they’re not perfect and measuring errors are easily made.
So to minimise tiresome return trips to the Post Office, here are my insider online shopping golden rules.
BE HEIGHT SAVVY
If you’re at either end of the height spectrum, think about the average woman’s height in the country where the label you’re browsing originates. It sounds bizarre, but it works.
Scandinavians, for example, are generally taller (the average Danish woman is 5 ft 6 in), while the French and Spanish tend to be shorter (the average French woman is 5 ft 4 in). For those with long limbs, the Scandi brands are your domain. Think Acne, Stand Studio and Samsoe+Samsoe, which have great trousers and skirts. If you’re petite, French and Spanish brands will likely be a better fit: check out Maje, Sandro, Claudie Pierlot and Zara.
Viscose tie-neck top, £35, monsoon.co.uk
For jeans, Levi’s designs cater for all heights, ranging from a 26 in to 34 in inseam (inside leg).
CHECK THE FABRIC
Do not let pretty pictures trick you into buying delicates if you’ve never washed anything by hand or you live miles from a dry cleaner. The fabric also determines how the garment will hang. Natural materials such as cotton, wool, linen and silk are usually my preferred choice, but synthetic ones have their uses, too: a good viscose top, for example, will usually hang quite neatly and is good on curvier figures as it skims rather than clings.
TRICKS OF THE CROP
Prue said if a stylist can’t make an item look good on a model for a full-length photo on a website, you’re unlikely to make it look good on you
Dress, £38, next.co.uk
Can you see a decent, full-length view of the model wearing the item on the website? If not, there is likely to be a good reason for that.
If the stylist can’t make the product look good on a model, you’re unlikely to make it look good on you.
Consider the picture carefully. If their arms are crossed or there’s only an over-the-shoulder view, keep scrolling. The more angles you can see, the better. Some brands offer close-up crops, as well as full-length snaps, such as with this Next midi dress.
BEWARE THE JACKET MINEFIELD
When you try on a jacket in a shop, you can tell instantly if the shoulders fit, but onscreen it’s almost impossible (and very tricky for a tailor to adjust later).
Websites don’t tend to give you these measurements, so the only answer is to study very closely how it fits the model, noting how tall the website says she is.
The length of a jacket is crucial: if you’re fairly straight through the body or round through the middle, a longer jacket will help to flatter and shape the torso. If you’ve got wider hips and a narrower waist, look for shorter styles that stop above your broadest point.
Jacket, £150, T-shirt, £55, and jeans, £60, boden.co.uk
If you do take a gamble and order one, when the jacket arrives, make sure it fits neatly at or just inside the edge of the shoulder; it shouldn’t pull across the back or under the arm and the shoulder shouldn’t stick out unless you’re tall and slim and can pull off the oversized look. Most of us can’t!
DON’T GET HUNG UP ON BELT LOOPS
While the waist on some garments is critical to the design, belt loops are often there simply to stop the belt separating in transit. Consider moving the loops up or down, or removing them entirely — especially if you’re fuller round the middle. Belts should highlight your narrowest point, and getting it right makes an enormous difference to a garment’s fit.
IMPROVE YOUR SIZE ODDS
The only time it’s worth factoring in a return trip to the Post Office is if you are lucky enough to have time on your hands and can afford the temporary outlay of ordering two sizes.
No one likes making a return: there’s nothing more dispiriting than boxing something up again, not to mention the waste and extra costs.
But ordering one size, then exchanging it for another, only to realise it’s the style that’s wrong, will result in even more wasted time and resources.
Tweed biker jacket £325 Shop
Red blouse £25.99 Shop
KNOW YOUR INSEAM
Pictured: Sweatshirt, £115, trousers, £180, boots, £145, reiss.com
With trousers, alas, it’s too simplistic to say: ‘If you’re 5 ft 4 in, you need a 28 in inseam.’ It’s really down to proportions: some short people have disproportionately long legs, and vice versa.
Your favourite close-fitting trousers already in your wardrobe will be your best guide, so get out your measuring tape. Measure from the gusset all the way down the seam on the inside of your leg: this is your inseam length.
Look at where the crotch sits on the model: close to the body like a skinny trouser, or slightly dropped? If it’s the latter, you’re going to need an inseam that’s an inch or two shorter. Conversely, if you’re planning to wear any type of heel with the trousers (especially wide-leg, boot-cut or flared pairs), you’ll need an extra couple of inches in your inseam.
And if you’re petite and often need to turn up trousers or jeans, go for skinny or straight-leg styles. Anything with shape to it, like a bootleg or a flare, will fall incorrectly on the leg once it’s hemmed.
Check the model’s height and the size she is wearing — most websites list this under product details.
Then picture what that length will look like on you. Will it need tailoring? If so, do you love it enough to spend more on it?
Many of my clients have garments languishing in their wardrobes for want of a simple hem adjustment. So ask yourself: will you get around to taking it to the tailor or dusting off your sewing machine? If not, don’t buy it.