How to Shop for Clothes Online

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Okay, I get it. Online shopping is so hard and so tricky and it’s impossible to find the right size and you can’t feel the fabric and… I lied. I don’t get it. Online shopping is awesome.

I first really discovered the power of online shopping 14 years ago, when I was planning my destination wedding. By day, I was an editor at a fashion magazine in Boston, working 12 hour days and subsisting on bagels and free lipstick. At night, though, I shopped, and planned, and sent boxes of favors and accessories and other fun stuff to my parents’ Florida home. For the honeymoon, I bought cute clothes and shoes and bathing suits by the dozen. Pretty much the only thing I didn’t buy online was my wedding dress, which was custom, because, well, I’m short. And picky.

So if it hadn’t been for online shopping, I’d still be single. And unemployed, because I would have had to quit my job to plan my wedding. Online shopping pretty much changed my life. Also, it’s changed the life of the woman in the picture, above. Look at all the pretty presents she’s already bought herself! And look how comfy she is lounging in those stilettos. That is the power of online shopping. It can make you forget you are lying on a hard floor and wearing heels and a bra even though you’re at home.

Listen, I’m going to share a little known insider secret about online shopping: You can shop online anytime. Even in the middle of the night! Mind blown, right?

What? You already knew that? Then why aren’t you shopping right this minute? I mean, after you read this blog.

And for those of you who like the tactile experience of shopping and want to feel fabrics and see things in person, I’d like to say get over it. 😉

I’m sorry if that wasn’t warm and fuzzy. Here, let me give you a hug. And then tell you to get over it.

Sure, going to stores and getting sprayed with perfume and trying things on is awesome, but who has the time? And shopping with kids pretty much makes me want to end my life.

So what are you waiting for? Oh yeah – my tips! Here they are. How to shop for clothes online in 5 easy steps!

1. Measure Up

If you’re going to successfully shop online, you’ll need to know your size. And not just the wacky sizes on clothing labels, that vary dramatically from store to store, but your actual size. And that can only come from knowing your measurements. Fortunately, The Style Dial ™ Virtual Measuring Tool can help! Although this tool is designed to be fairly foolproof, to enable you to measure yourself, I recommend getting your body professionally measured the first time. Simply print out the measuring tool and take it to your local tailor or seamstress and ask them to take the measurements for you. (You’ve been meaning to get those pants hemmed, haven’t you?). If this isn’t an option, ask a trusted friend to help, preferably someone who can sew or who has worked in clothing stores. And as a last resort, measure yourself.

Keep a copy of these measurements in Evernote so you can access it whenever the shopping urge strikes.

Now that you have accurate measurements, you can compare them to the measurements on your favorite website to ensure you are getting the best fit, every time. Most sites offer measuring guidelines as well as size charts. Here, where to find the size charts of your favorite sites, and some hints about fit. Because some brands are guilt of vanity sizing (making a size 0, for example, that is large enough to be a size 4) and others run too small, check out the helpful graphic below from FitBay about which popular brands run large, which run small and which are true to size.



Data and Image courtesy of FitBay.


Anthropologie carries some of its own in-house brands, but also many other designers, including Plenty by Tracy Reese, Leifsdottir and Byron Lars. Click here for an excellent breakdown by brand. In spite of this, the company does publish a Size Chart that can serve as a helpful guideline! Anthropologie carries some petite sizes and, online, if not in stores, clothes are available from size 00 to 16.


Since Loft carries only its own merchandise, sizing tends to be more consistent. The site offers a few different Size Charts as well as a measuring guide. Loft clothes tend to run large, so consider buying a size down. Loft clothes run from 00 to 18, or XXS to XL. They also carry petite and tall sizes.

J. Crew

J. Crew also carries mostly its own merchandise, and the Size Chart tends to be pretty accurate. J. Crew clothing tends to run on the larger side, which is why many smaller women were buying Crewcuts clothings when the J. Crew XS didn’t fit. That led the company to make the controversial decision to introduce a size XXXS. J. Crew sizes run from 000 to size 20, and are available in petite, tall, and something called short, for when you want a shorter inseam and not a smaller overall size. The specialty sizes are sold only through catalogs or online, and not in stores.


Boden carries its own merchandise, and the sizing tends to be consistent but generous. If you’re trying to decide between sizes, go for the smaller size. Click here for the Size Chart. Boden’s clothes run from a size 2 to an 18, and come in petite and long versions. They also have a fun Outfit Maker that lets you play with combinations!


Target has a different Size Chart for each of its brands, but most range from a size 0 to an 18, or an XS to XXL. Larger sizes are available in the store’s new Ava & Viv brand.

2. Check Your Closet

Now that you’ve cleaned our your closet, you should only have clothes that actually fit and that you wear, right? Right. So get in there and check those labels. You already know your favorite stores and shops, but you may not remember that your shorts size in J. Crew is smaller than your dress size, or whatever. Right down your current sizes in your favorite brands, and put those into your Evernote shopping file.

If, for example, you know that BCBG dresses in a size 4 fit you every single time, then you can hop online and search for more of the same.

Hint: While you’re in there, check your husband’s sizes too, and keep them in the same Evernote file. Online stores have stuff for men, too, and if you buy him the occasional shirt, he might not notice the multiple purchases you made for yourself and the kids. Don’t get carried away though. One item for him for every 10 for you is a pretty good ratio, in my opinion. Mens’ clothes all look the same, anyway.

3. Make a List

Think that shopping online makes a list optional? Au contraire! (I love that phrase. It sounds like something Miss Piggy would say!) Shopping online makes a list essential, because of the sample sales and coupon codes and all the new fast fashion stores where everything is like $4. Online shopping is like this pretty glittery rabbit hole. You go in and emerge with sequined dresses and odd plastic jewelry and assorted doodads that you don’t need.

Make the list as specific as you can:

Short flowered fit and flare dress for island party

Black flats with pointy toes

Single strap sandals in beige

If you don’t have a list of your own, use mine, above. It’s a good one! 🙂

4. Use Online Tools

Okay, now this is where online shopping gets really fun! By shopping online, you are able to access coupon codes, price trackers, and comparison tools that help you land the best deal on the best clothes! There are even Fitting Apps designed to insure you get the right size! Here, a few of my favorites:


I love ShopStyle for its ability to find you the exact item you’re looking for in a very visual way. For example, if you’re searching for a blue floral jumpsuit with spaghetti straps, simply enter that in, and the site shows you every available match from lots of different sites. You can even set search parameters, like size or price. The site does skew a little high end, but you can find items for every budget if you search properly.


Waiting for an item to go on sale. Don’t stalk it online. Let ShopItToMe do it for you! Simply enter in the item you want, and the site will let you know when it goes on sale! It will even store your sizes and your favorite brands so that you can be notified as soon as Tory dresses become available in a size 4, for example.


Want to know if the item you are shopping for is less expensive somewhere else? PriceBlink can help. This add-on to your browser isn’t obtrusive or annoying. It simply alerts you to a lower price on an item when you’re shopping for it!


Such a cool concept! Enter in your body type, your height and your weight, and FitBay finds other users with similar body types so you can check out what they’re wearing. For example, it matched me (and gives you a matching percentage) to women in the UK, Australia and Spain. You can browse their outfits for ideas, the site gives you all the details on their outfits, so you can buy what you like. Fun and potentially addictive!

5. Check Return Policies

Price and sizing are both important considerations when shopping online, but equally important is the retailer’s return policy. Free shipping and free returns are now standard at many retailers, including Zappos and Nordstrom. Free returns come in very handy when you want to try on several items and return the ones that don’t fit. I have a few clients that do this with bathing suits; they buy a few styles, try them on in the comfort of their own home, and return the ones that don’t work. Other sites, like ASOS  and Amazon, offer premium memberships that give you free shipping for a year. Make sure you are comfortable with the store’s return policies and shipping rates, or look for coupon codes to save on shipping!

I hope you find these tips helpful and that they’ve encouraged you to venture into online shopping. Start with a size you know in a brand you love, with free shipping and free returns, and I promise online shopping can be fun, affordable and almost risk-free!


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