Pickest clothing shopper EVER.
March 18, 2010 3:33 PM   Subscribe

Help! I am THE PICKIEST clothing shopper ever. Really. Long list of specifications inside, but here's the teaser: I'm very short with an unusual build, I insist on basic, no-frills, high-quality things (but I don't object to somewhat "feminine" clothes), I prefer to patronize socially/environmentally conscious businesses, and... well, the list goes on. Where can I find clothes?

My relationship with clothing ain't so great. Typically, I'll get something that's "good enough", because I hate shopping and I get sick of it and just want to leave. I'll wear it for a while out of a sense of duty, but it doesn't fit quite right, and I don't like it much. I feel guilty. I go back to wearing the same 2 pairs of pants and 3 shirts I've been wearing forever. For a while I convince myself I'm being selfish to want more than a few changes of clothes, but then I get frustrated with feeling awkward around the people I work with and having nothing in between "junky" and "interview suit" to wear, having few things that make me feel attractive and confident (and instead leave me feeling self-conscious), and doing laundry all the time (or, worse, wearing dirty clothes).

Eventually, I want to have a wardrobe that contains only clothes that I definitely (instead of sort of) I like, that I can wear in all or nearly all non-formal situations, that go together well, and that fit me perfectly. Basically, I want to invest in a wardrobe such that no matter what I grab in the morning, I know I'll feel comfortable and confident.

First, basic requirements:
-I'm just under 5'2"(108 pounds as of yesterday), and my legs are disproportionately short. At the Gap my pants size is "25" or "0", but they only fit in the store and subsequently become baggy. At places with less size inflation, I can wear a 2. However, at any given store, between 0% and 25% of the things I try on will fit; the rest will have large gaps in the waistband, be too tight around the thighs, etc. I definitely do not fit skinny jeans.
-No matter WHAT pants I get, even if I buy "Petite" sizes, I will have to trim 3"-6" off the legs. This is unavoidable, but I'm used to it and good with a sewing machine.
-At all the modern women's clothing stores, I wear a S or XS shirt, but frequently, the shirts are too long, too tight around the chest (I am a 34D), and too loose elsewhere.
-I always prefer to buy high-quality items that will last a long time. I don't care if they go out of style.

Second, things I LIKE in clothes:
-Simple, symmetrical, timeless, uncomplicated. I live in these jeans and this shirt.
-I prefer naturally fabrics, but have also had good luck with "Techwick" and similar. I am sort of obsessed with Smartwool shirts.
-I strongly prefer natural-looking colors, but I like the whole range.
-I like very small prints, such as teeny flowers, but generally don't like to wear anything with large pictures, large stripes or artistic designs. I think this sort of thing is pretty, but I never wear such things because I always feel it "doesn't quite go" with whatever else I'm wearing. I'm so picky about things matching (this is not a fashion concern, just an oddball personal one) that I don't even like wearing a dark jacket over dark jeans if they're slightly different colors, because it really bugs me.
-My idea of "feminine" is a plain tank top with a teeny bit of scalloping around the neckline, or a tiny lace edge, or really luxurious fabric, or pants with a single pearl button. That sort of thing. I don't try to look "boyish", but I don't like "girly" things either. Just slightly feminine.
-The company with which I have had the most success is Patagonia. One of the few dresses I own and like is this one, which may be telling. Stores like EMS and REI are usually the best bet for me, but they often don't have things I feel comfortable wearing in a professional setting.
-In stores, I tend to gravitate to elegant, well-constructed items which are invariably the most expensive. I am resigned to this, but I don't want to pay extra for fashion.
-If at all possible, I prefer to buy from socially and/or environmentally conscious companies. I prefer organic cotton when possible.

Lastly, a few no-nos:
-Frills/ruffles/extra do-dads/extraneous straps or drawstrings/useless buttons/unusable pockets/etc on any garment... so, this sort of thing is right out.
-Pre-destroyed pants and anything else ultra-fashionable that doesn't look like regular old pants.
-Super-sheer and/or see-through shirts that you definitely can't wear on their own and which tear very easily. For that matter, anything that doesn't stand up to abuse.
-I reaaaaaally hate clothes that twist or don't hang right and must therefore be constantly adjusted.

Is there any hope for me? Is my pickiness so extreme that I just need to get a tailor? I can sew, but I dunno about a whole wardrobe. I'm not looking for fashion advice - I already know what kinds of clothes I like (and I don't really care that they're not in style), I just can't find them! Halp!

I'm in the Boston area.
posted by Cygnet to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (22 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
We are almost the exact same size, including the disproportionate legs. I have had luck with Banana Republic petites for my more professional clothes. They don't have the size inflation of Gap. (I can't wear anything from Gap anymore because they've sized everything up so much). Honestly the more expensive brands tend to have less size inflation. J. Crew is pretty good, as is Ann Taylor Loft. Actually, you might like Ann Taylor Loft because it's fairly conservative and non-frilly but also nice-looking. Some of their things have extra "doodads" on them, but a lot of them don't.
This The strings are actually functional on this.
posted by ishotjr at 3:43 PM on March 18, 2010

I am almost the exact same size and shape as you, but a tiny bit shorter. You really need a tailor you trust, or you need to frequent stores that tailor for free (Nordstrom's does this).

I have luck at Talbot's, Ann Taylor (sometimes), Gap, and American Eagle (again, sometimes). Gap and American Eagle tend to be for a younger crowd, and Talbot's and Ann Taylor are for an older crowd -- if you buy carefully, this distribution works ok.

Buy high quality jeans and pants and have them tailored to fit. This will make a big difference.

My other trick is to buy something that you know you like in every single color they have. I do this, and I sort of end up with a bit of a uniform thing going on (I wear the same clothes but in different colors in rotation) but I'm ok with that.
posted by k8lin at 3:55 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

PS: The thing that is unusual here isn't your build, it's the widespread idea that everyone should easily fit into mass produced clothes and look good in them.
posted by k8lin at 3:59 PM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, and I buy jeans at Charlotte Russe. Lame, but they fit off the rack without alterations. They have various styles, including ones similar to the curvy Gap jeans. As a bonus, they're very cheap, but seem to last as long as any other jeans I've had.
posted by ishotjr at 3:59 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Get a tailor. It's not expensive to tailor existing clothes, and over time you'll get a sense of what tailors well and what doesn't. Like, buy a couple shirts you like big enough to fit in the boobs, leave the tags on for now, and go to a tailor. Ask if s/he can make them fit properly w/o being weird. If not, you can return them. If yes, find out the price and get them tailored.

Also, it may be very useful to you to read a book on how to construct clothing. NOT to do it yourself -- but so that you know what to look for in a fit. (Like, I had no idea for the longest time that button-down-shirt boob-gap was fixed by having the button right at the "apex" of the boobs. Now I can tell INSTANTLY if a shirt will give me boob-gap or not.) That will also give you an idea of what can be tailored easily to fit, and what can't.

It may also be worthwhile to go shopping with a friend as your "personal shopper" and promise to try on everything they pick (limit them to environmentally conscious stores, if you like, or specific fabrics, or whatever). We often mentally pigeonhole ourselves into particular kinds of things -- I didn't wear V-necks for the longest time because in my head I still thought I was a boobless teenager, the couple I'd tried were very unflattering, and I liked scoop necks better. Shopping with a friend, she insisted, and I was like, "Hey! I look good in this!" A friend may pick different silhouettes, cuts, necklines, fits, waists, etc., for you, that you might not look twice at. Their "hit" ratio will probably be no higher than yours, but it'll be a little DIFFERENT than yours, which can help.

(PS -- I've never met a full-grown woman who fits more than 25% of clothes at a given store -- female bodies are too different, and female clothing sizes too damn stupid!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:00 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Land's End, at LandsEnd.com, has reasonably-priced simply-styled pants, including jeans, that they will hem to whatever length you want! Check out the overstocks section.
posted by amtho at 4:15 PM on March 18, 2010

For inexpensive casual jeans, you might have a bit more luck at American Eagle. I have a low waist-to-hip ratio and thighs, yet I've never needed to worry about alterations with their jeans. The styles that might be best for your build (and dislike of skinny jeans) are these and these.
posted by thisjax at 4:22 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Tailor +100. A good one will tell you if something can't be tailored to you. Ask your friends or check yelp for recommendations.

I would also encourage you to listen to Eyebrows McGee. I also poo-pooed many styles for years, and lo, it turned out many of them looked good on me. I don't mean you should suddenly start wearing frilly distressed jeans with sheer tops, but if you're ignoring cowl-neck shirts, or v-neck shirts, or empire waist shirts, or peter pan collars, etc.... give 'em a go.

You might like Stewart & Brown, they have a fair amount of just straightforward clothes without lots of hoo-ha and they're all organic.
posted by grapesaresour at 4:28 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

This question gets asked by different people all the time. Invariably the person has a laundry list of requirements and says "HALP, I'm a hard to fit size and I will only wear chartreuse and anoraks and I can't find ANYTHING TO WEAR."

Sorry, but everybody is a weird size and it takes active work, a critical eye, and time to have a wardrobe you feel 100% good about. It's been a project of mine for the last 2-3 years and I'm only now approaching the 100% point. The smaller your budget or the harder your fit, the more time you will need to put into shopping. I'm 4'11" so don't complain to me about how you have nothing to wear *hamburger*

I think the root of the problem for most people is that they don't actually have a clear picture of their personal style. They do not have several complete ideal outfits in their head. It's much easier to start from that point than to go into a store and get overwhelmed by all the things you don't like. This leads to suboptimal purchases like you mention, because you won't hold out for the exact right garment if you can't picture it in your head and say "no, this isn't it" when you're out shopping.

So you think you know what you like...really? Do you have a very clear mental image of the wardrobe you wish you had? What do you see when you think of that middle ground between jeans and a suit? Have you looked for inspiration on websites or blogs?

And are you really going to find all of that dream wardrobe at REI? I think you're shopping in stores like that because you don't have the patience to deal with sorting through "frills" somewhere else. You can save yourself the hassle by going into Nordstroms and having an associate pick out things for you, but only if you have a specific idea of what you need. You should look into Rogan and Loomstate (same designer) for high-end basics that are organic cotton and way more fashionable than Patagonia, yet still minimalist.

Do like Eyebrows says; start by picking out a nice blouse that fits your boobs, get it tailored, go from there.
posted by slow graffiti at 4:30 PM on March 18, 2010 [7 favorites]

I did this whole analysis of what kind of clothes might suit you before I got to the part where you're not looking for fashion advice.

I wouldn't be looking for advice, either, if I were you, because your stated preferences sound pretty darned accurate and insightful. You may be picky, but you are also probably right. If you doubt yourself, look around you at all the people who aren't picky. Yeah, I know, every day makes me more confident too.

Nthing the suggestion to go to a tailor, and nthing that it's cost-effective for existing clothes.

For reasonably ethical clothing I just head straight for the thrift stores. That's easy for me to say, though, because I'm slim, average height, and was the only person in my sewing class to actually fit standard pattern proportions. But since you're having it tailored anyway, you might as well take advantage of the low prices. You can find some high quality stuff if you're prepared to dig around and go in with an open mind.

As for what to put in your wardrobe: buy the Lucky Shopping Manual, that'll give you a very thorough inventory.
posted by tel3path at 4:46 PM on March 18, 2010

I don't think Lands' End makes smaller than a 4, and neither does LL Bean, but I'll throw out that the new LL Bean Signature goes down to a 2 in bottoms -- perhaps worth checking out?

Also, a lot of this suggests you want to check out thrift/vintage. Certainly environmentally responsible, at least. A lot of older stuff is much better made than what's out there in the mainstream (read: not crazy-expensive) now. Twenty years ago Calvin Klein was making the plain, well-made, timeless stuff you want (the stuff now is dodgy, quality-wise). Thrift shops' t-shirt selections are full of stuff people donated because it shrunk -- but at your size, that's a plus, I imagine? What's too short and too wide on me = great for a petite with a large bust?
posted by kmennie at 5:07 PM on March 18, 2010

There's nothing more environmentally friendly than buying vintage or on consignment. You can find high quality clothes that will cost a fraction of what they once did plus recycle all at one time.

Bonus: everyone is selling their fabulous clothes right now due to the economy (consignment shops are doing very well in this climate). There are wonderful things in every size out there right now.
posted by marimeko at 5:08 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

You know, you might want to give myshape.com a try. Basically, you put in very detailed measurements and some fit preferences, and it will come back with all the clothes that suit you. I got tired of scouring malls only to find that basically nothing fit.

I'm barely five feet tall myself and a 2P(ish), so it doesn't do very well for pants for me, but I have had lots of luck with dresses. You can get jeans made custom there as well, although I haven't tried it. They also carry PrAna and quite a few bamboo/natural fiber clothes, which sounds like it could be up your alley.

Oh - they also do free shipping and returns and often have discount promo codes.
posted by smalls at 5:27 PM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the great suggestions so far, everybody!

As it happens, I do actually know very specifically what I want. I've looked for several shirts and pairs of pants that I *wish* existed, but can't seem to find them by any combination of looking in stores (which I give up on early, I admit), Googling, and asking friends. I'm thinking of just drawing out the design and giving it to my aunt, who's an accomplished seamstress. But it would be easier if those things already existed... Now I have more places to look :)

Several of you have suggested that I try some styles that I may have, until now, been ignoring. It's certainly good advice, and maybe I should branch out a bit! I don't even know what a cowl neck is; guess I ought to find out! However, my reason for not wearing a wider variety of styles is less "it won't look good on me" and more "I'm neurotically compelled to only wear clothes of Zen-like simplicity". For some reason, it just *bugs* me to wear anything complicated, and I'm fond of clean lines, both in clothing and architecture.
posted by Cygnet at 6:29 PM on March 18, 2010

Since you tend to like uncomplicated clothing, you might like J. Jill. They have a few frilly things, but a lot of really good basics and unfrilly, uncomplicated, comfortable stuff. They also have two very simplified lines - Pure Jill and Wearever - that are pretty foolproof. I cannot comment on their petite items, as I am much taller, but I think that you will need to get most pants hemmed anyway, due to your proportions. (My mother has similar proportions to you, and I think she has purchased maybe 2 pairs of pants in her entire life that she didn't need to have hemmed.)

Also try the petites section at Nordstrom, if you have one near you. They offer tailoring, and they have a pretty decent selection of petite clothes. And a personal shopping service, where you can tell them your exact preferences and they can have a selection of items ready for you when you arrive.
posted by bedhead at 6:50 PM on March 18, 2010

I am also 5 ft 2 with short legs, and about 10 lbs. heavier than you. etc.
Have you tried the limited? Their smalls are actually quite small and you can get some conservative work staples. Express has sparklier weekend clothes and the occasional gem of a basic. For jeans, I dunno. I usually buy the zero and then drop $30 on having them taken in and hemmed at the dry-cleaners.
posted by debbie_ann at 6:52 PM on March 18, 2010

Two things:

1. Buy petites. Really. They're not just smaller sizes, they're smaller proportionately all over for people of our stature.
2. Shop online. This is related to #1. Most chains have petites and "oddball" sizes available only online.

Although you and I seem to have different taste and "looks," we're a similar size. I'm about two inches shorter and a few pounds lighter than you. Nothing ever fits in the stores--shirts, pants, nada. So frustrating. I must order online. Sucks, I know, but once you figure out your size in your favorite stores, you're good to go. At Gap I tend to be a ) or 2 petite. At American Eagle, I tend to be a 2 short. Both Gap and AE are versatile and can be as plain or as fussy as you want. (AE tends toward teeny bopper and so they carry some truly not me stuff, so I stick to only staples from there (jeans, khakis, hoodies). I've actually gotten some slightly-nicer-than-casual button down shirts at AE, too. The good thing about stores that tend toward a teeny bopper demo is that their clothes come in ridiculously small sizes.

For nicer stuff, I've had luck with petite suits from Banana Republic. You and mix and match jacket and pants sizes.
posted by Rudy Gerner at 6:53 PM on March 18, 2010

It seems like you might like jcrew petites? You will probably have to get the pants hemmed but they have some really cute stuff thats not too frou-fou.
posted by pintapicasso at 7:35 PM on March 18, 2010

I was going to suggest Patagonia before I saw that you already enjoy it. I was just at the Boston store and they have some great new summery dresses and skirts.

2nding JCrew; they will tailor anything you buy at full price for free. I'd also suggest Martin & Osa, which is the more grown-up counterpart of American Eagle (there are locations in Burlington & Natick).
posted by supramarginal at 8:10 PM on March 18, 2010

I have had really good experiences with buying clothes through Etsy.

Two of my favourite Etsy stores are Ureshii
and Sewmoe.

Ureshii make really simple, comfortable made-to-your-measurements bamboo clothes.

Their sales pitch is "We believe in clothes that flatter all your curves, colours that brighten your day, and mornings when you wake up knowing exactly what you’re going to wear. We believe that you can look stylish and put together, and still feel like you’re wearing your favourite pyjamas."

(I have no financial interest in either of these stores, I'm just a regular customer.)
posted by Oceanesque at 12:36 AM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

"For some reason, it just *bugs* me to wear anything complicated, and I'm fond of clean lines, both in clothing and architecture."

Sure, but again, there are different styles of clothing that all have clean lines -- many different necklines can look "clean," many different skirt and pant constructions, sometimes a belt adds to the "cleanness" of the look, sometimes it's a fussy detail. So it's worthwhile to try some different and new things. And somethings thing that look terribly fussy on the hanger actually make sense once they're on and look very clean.

The other reason it's useful to try on a lot of stuff, though, is that it helps you build a vocabulary of styles and colors that suit you. You take your friend, you tell her (or him) your general preferences but say that you're trying new things and will try on anything, and then you're going to try to find what you like and don't like about each piece SPECIFICALLY. So you try on the dress with the INCREDIBLY LOUD FLORAL PATTERN and you find out, Hey, I loathe this fabric, but this STYLE of dress looks really good on me, I'd like to find it in a plain black. Or you try on a chic black jacket with HOT PINK BUTTONS whose cut suits you really well, but you hate the buttons, and your friend points out you can swap out the buttons for black buttons for $2. You try on a top that you turn out to hate the neckline detail of, but the way the front is constructed is very figure-flattering. And so forth. And even if you don't find a single article of clothing you LIKE, you identify a lot of ATTRIBUTES of clothing that you like that you may not have tried before, and you have a better idea of how to find what you're looking for. And maybe you DO get lucky and find something you'd never have tried on because it looked fussy on the hanger, but, hey, once it's on it's adorable and very clean-lined! Or maybe it's perfect except for the ruffle ... so you buy it, take it to the tailor, and find out the ruffle is easily removed for a couple dollars. You never know unless you try. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:29 PM on March 19, 2010

If you live in a smartwool shirt, you might try nau or ibex. Icebreaker also does regular clothes in addition to exercise/sport/active wear. They are athletic wear companies, so things tend to be slimfit. However I usually have an issue with pants fitting in the waist and through both the hip and thigh (fit in the waist is too tight in the hip) at places like Ann Taylor but I've not been having that problem with Nau (depending on the style).

Fair Indigo has simple fair trade clothing for sale. I have a few of their things and have had no issues with the quality.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:36 AM on March 23, 2010

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