As a lazy homebody, I shop for almost everything online—except clothes. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer to go to the mall, try on multiple sizes, and visit a few stores to find the perfect fit.
But things are not so simple in the midst of a pandemic. Some states, like California and Florida, are suffering from strong infection surges and authorities are asking people to stay home. And even in places where stores are reopening due to low infection rates, there are a lot of people who still feel uncomfortable going out for anything non-essential, like clothes shopping.
If either is your case, and you simply need to wear something other than those gray sweatpants, you’ll have to venture online.
Measure yourself and look for size charts
You might know that you usually wear a large, but a large at one store is not the same as a large at another. Knowing your exact measurements is the first step to finding the right fit online, so grab a flexible tape measure—or a piece of string—and write them down.
I could detail how to take each measurement here, but it’s best to see it in video form—so check out this video for female-bodied folks and this video for male-bodied to start. It doesn’t hurt to watch a few video guides, as they’ll all have little tips and tricks to get things just right (like measuring yourself with and without a bra for a more accurate fit).
Then, when you’re shopping on a site, look for the brand’s size chart to see where you lie. You may find a link to the sizing chart on the page for a given item, or you might find it at the footer of the store’s website. In theory, it’ll let you know whether you’re a large or an extra large for that particular brand, and control the kind of fit you want for a particular piece of clothing.
I wouldn’t stop there, though.
Find your best-fitting clothes and compare them
Many folks will tell you that taking your measurements is the most important tip when shopping online. I disagree—it’s an important first step, but it only takes you so far. Some brands may not have entirely accurate sizing charts, thanks to vanity sizing, sub-par quality control, and the wide variation between each of our bodies (not to mention personal fit preferences). Even if the size chart is accurate, it only shows you the closest match to your measurements—not whether an item will fit the way you want. Instead, you’d be better off using some of your favorite clothes as a benchmark.
You know what I’m talking about: that one t-shirt that fits you perfectly, or that one pair of jeans you’ve never been quite able to find again. Grab your favorite items from your closet, note the brand, style, and size, and see how it compares to other brands.
There are a few online tools that can help you in this endeavor, but they’re often startups, which means they come and go like feathers in the wind. Fitbay, for example, was a tool that compared clothes from various brands, and used your measurements to match you up with “body doubles” to find clothes that fit similarly. The service is now defunct, but two infographics—still viewable at Bustle and Lifehacker—can help you determine which brands will fit your body type based on Fitbay’s research. Secondhand retailer ThredUP has some of its own findings in graph form as well.
True Fit is a moderately useful tool as well—it isn’t a standalone app, but it’s built into many retailer websites. You’d be forgiven for glossing over the “Find Your True Fit” link on the item pages, as it doesn’t exactly stand out—but this service allows you to punch in the size of a few of your favorite items alongside your height, weight, and body type to find out whether a given item will fit. For example, after creating my profile, it told me a small would be my size in this shirt—but that it’d be just a tad on the looser side rather than a perfect fit. I wish it were a bit more detailed—it doesn’t let you pick what style your favorite items are, only the brand and size—but it’s a step in the right direction. Look for it on the item page for any retailer that supports True Fit.
If you aren’t sure where to even start, SizeCharter is a standalone tool that does something similar. Plug in your favorite brand or give it your measurements, and it’ll return a list of the best brands for your body type (sorted from top to bottom), with specific sizes for each one. That way, you’ll know you’re more likely to be an eight at Gap, but a 10 at Forever 21. (It doesn’t take into account everything, though, so you’ll still have to do some try-ons at home.)
None of these tools and tricks are perfect—far from it. But they’re better than guessing based on what size “most” of your clothes are.
Try a little augmented reality
Augmented reality—the act of imposing digital assets on real-world imagery—is the next big thing in clothes shopping. While it hasn’t gained widespread reach yet, there are a few apps that let you “try on” clothes using your phone’s camera. You won’t necessarily get an idea of what size you should get, but it will still help you understand the intended fit in the design and get a feel for how the color and style will look, decreasing the need for annoying returns.
Zeekit lets you browse curated collections of clothes from Adidas, H&M, and other brands and overlay them on a photo of yourself to see whether that yellow hoodie will actually look good. (The better lighting you can get for your photo, the more true-to-life it’ll appear.) And hey, even if they don’t have the exact item you want, they may have something similar, which is still better than flying blind. Forma is a similar app, though it’s more of a Pinterest-esque style “look book,”—it doesn’t contain the popular brands and links to buy that Zeekit does.
Augmented reality is a bit more common in other categories—Sephora and L’Oreal let you try makeup shades using a photo, for example, Warby Parker has its own virtual try-on for glasses, and Amazon lets you put virtual furniture in your living room—but clothing brands like Gap have been talking about the tech for years, and Asos has tested it in their virtual stores on a few occasions. It’s only a matter of time before we see it become more common, so if you see a “virtual try-on” option appear in your favorite apps, give it a go. In the meantime, if you’re really mulling over a purchase, you can always cut-and-paste an outfit onto a photo with a free image editor. (Yes, I’ve actually done this before.)
Check the return policy
None of these things guarantee a perfect fit every time—they just increase the likelihood. But no matter how hard you try, you may still need to return something that doesn’t suit you—or that you don’t actually like—which is why you should check that return policy before you complete your order. In particular, see if the retailer requires you to pay return shipping or a restocking fee. Many retailers, like Amazon, won’t, but others may. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—it’s a small price to pay for being able to size up or down when necessary, especially with notoriously generous return policies like Patagonia’s.
In a similar vein, I wouldn’t buy any “final sale” clearance items unless you already know that brand, style, and size fit you well. Make sure the company is still available for customer service if need be (some call centers and online chats are closed right now) and check the company’s COVID-19 updates to see any temporary changes to their return policy—many are broader than usual right now.