Help me buy clothes for my girlfriends birthday!
September 7, 2011 11:26 AM   Subscribe

Help me buy clothes for my girlfriends birthday! (petite small)

I want to get my girlfriend some clothes for her birthday. She's been paying off some credit cards and has a lot of college loans so she never buys anything for herself. I'd like to buy her some clothes for her birthday. I know this can be a no no for gifts but I know her size, style, etc inside and out so I feel I can do it, I just need to know where to look.

She loves Jcrew, Banana Republic, and Anne Taylor for dress clothes and casual. She works in an office and likes collared shirts and sweaters. Although I like these places are there any similar in taste that maybe aren't quite as expensive? She shops using Ru La La a lot so I'm looking for other great deal sites or stores that I may not know about! Help! Plenty of time to order online as well.

Thank you!
posted by modoriculous to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
All three of those chains have outlet stores that are cheaper - you may want to check and see if there are any outlet malls near you.
posted by amro at 11:28 AM on September 7, 2011

Was just about to say outlet versions of those stores as well. Unlike the old days of outlet stores, the J. Crew, Banana Republic, and Ann Taylor outlets are not factory seconds. In fact, I find their items are often nicer than their full-price siblings because they are more classic and meant to be in fashion longer.

Loft (formerly Ann Taylor loft) is also good for her style of clothing and has a large petite section in the stores and online.

For a deals site like Rue La La, check out Amazon's new MYHABIT.
posted by dayintoday at 11:33 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ann Taylor Loft has a great petites section and is quite affordable. It also offers the cute business casual clothes your gf seems to like.
posted by pintapicasso at 11:35 AM on September 7, 2011

Instead of buying her the clothes, perhaps you could get her a gift card and/or surprise her with a trip to the store ("pick anything you want, up to $x!) This would remove the possibility of you're choosing something she'd just end up returning.....
posted by easily confused at 12:02 PM on September 7, 2011 [12 favorites]

but I know her size, style, etc inside and out

It isn't possible to know your girlfriend's size inside and out because clothing sizes very greatly from store to store (and even within the same store) that it's pretty much impossible to know your size until you start trying things on. You can have a rough estimate, but you never know for sure. Even the same size of the same exact item in a store can very in size. Hell, even I don't know my own size inside and out.

I would buy her a gift card to save yourself (and her) the hassle of having to make a return. I know you mean well and you sound like a great boyfriend, but get her a gift card.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 12:24 PM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

I haven't been outlet-shopping in the US for a decade so don't know the whole score, but, beware. "J. Crew Factory" is not the same as J. Crew; if the stuff has two little diamonds on the tag under "J. Crew," it's a different line, not always very good. I have had enough quality problems with J. Crew that I wouldn't touch the Factory stuff. PerWikipedia, "Ann Taylor Factory" "offers reduced prices, as well as Ann Taylor Factory merchandise." So sometimes just cheap stuff instead of the usual stuff offered cheap.

Lands' End Canvas has some nice staples; I have a lot of button-downs and sweaters from them that I'm happy with. The return policy is first-rate. I really like their plain cashmere sweater for its nice clean lines -- no ribbing at the hem or cuffs. You can get very good deals there if you wait for sales; "fan" on Facebook or similar and wait, or haunt and wait for "30% off everything plus free shipping" sorts of promotions.
posted by kmennie at 12:27 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I wish there was an edit window. They have changed the cashmere sweater slightly since last year; it says right there, "Ribbed collar, cuffs and bottom hem." But it looks like a small row of non-binding ribbing; still falls straight at the hip.
posted by kmennie at 12:35 PM on September 7, 2011

Seconding Lands' End Canvas. Quality is easily as good or better than J. Crew or Banana Republic and their sales are so good I feel like I'm just stealing from them.

Another slightly more expensive option is L.L. Bean Signature. Items are more designer-y than Canvas. Quality, in my experience, is either "meh" or "out-of-the-park for price range." Trust the user reviews.
posted by popculture at 12:42 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Does she like shopping for clothes? If so, have you considered giving her a day of clothes shopping for her birthday? Like, you take her to one or two of her favorite stores and give her a wad of cash with instructions to spend all of it on clothes she likes. And then you patiently wait while she tries everything on. And you tell her she looks fabulous in everything.

That way you'll know for sure that it all fits, and that she likes it.

Of course, you will get more for your money out of a deal site, and if she really, really needs clothes, that might be the more practical route. But I can think of very few women who would not appreciate a clothes shopping spree day as a present.

(Even I would like that, and I am by no means a lover of shopping. But I do like nice clothes that fit me, and I also like to hear someone telling me "don't worry about the price.")
posted by BlueJae at 12:52 PM on September 7, 2011 [7 favorites]

I would stick with brands you know she likes and stores that have good return policies - sometimes deal sites are hard to return to, and knowing what size she is in one brand may not be the size in another brand. For example, I am an 8 in most Banana Republic clothes, but in some Theory pants I am a 12 and the waist gaps horribly.

If you sign up for the email lists for some stores - Ann Taylor and Ann Taylor Loft - they will send out coupons. Especially the outlet stores.

You can shop the sale racks for good basics - that will take a little time and probably more than one trip, and may be harder to return, so that's why I'm suggesting more basic items.

You could also consider a nice handbag - sometimes a great accessory works wonders.

Whatever you choose, make it super clear that your feelings will not be hurt if she returns the exact things you bought, tell her you know that it's hard to get size and fit exactly right and if there are other pieces she wants instead then you want her to go ahead and get those instead but you wanted something a little more fun than a gift card.
posted by mrs. taters at 1:10 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I used to buy clothes for Mrs. Lpsguy, I used to walk into stores with clothes she liked, find a cool-looking saleswoman and say, "Can you show me the piece you're hiding for yourself?" It was amazing how many times they took me directly to something very cool, often tucked away on a rack away from where it should be.
posted by lpsguy at 1:54 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Does she like shopping for clothes? If so, have you considered giving her a day of clothes shopping for her birthday? Like, you take her to one or two of her favorite stores and give her a wad of cash with instructions to spend all of it on clothes she likes.

This this this! In fact, I'd combine this with the outlet mall idea and take her out for a day of outlet shopping, your treat, if you have an outlet mall in driving distance. (A good one, with few of the stores she likes, not one of those sad ones with just an OshKosh outlet and closeout books.) Make a day of it and go out to lunch along the way. If it's a really long drive, spend the night in a nice hotel along the way back and have a try-on party.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:54 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would suggest NOT messing around with sales, factory stores, cheaper versions, or discount sites when buying a gift for someone else. I know you're thinking bang for your buck, but picking out clothes for someone else is iffy enough to begin with (hell, picking out clothes for MYSELF online is a crapshoot), so quality, fit, and returnability are key.

Go for a nice comfy sweater from one of the stores you know she likes. Fit will be easier, and if you go for cashmere or something a little luxury then you'll be getting her something she wouldn't have sprung for herself. I'm suggesting this because I am also XS and on the petite side, and I love JCrew and Banana but 'small' in their tops is often way too big/long. Sweaters are much more consistently sized.
posted by ella wren at 3:45 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: thank you everyone for all the great advice! this is some great feedback and I know I'll be following a lot of your suggestions. I did the "take her to her favorite stores" trip once or twice and she gets a few things and then refuses to get any more because she feels guilty for spending my money even though we've talked about it sincerely with each other so that she knows this is a gift!

I'll try a few of those stores and yes! I realize every store has different versions of the same size so I apologize for appearing too all knowing about her actual size. Again, thank you for your feedback!
posted by modoriculous at 4:46 PM on September 7, 2011

I don't know where you're located, but Macy's often has a surprisingly good selection in its petite department. There are usually some things on clearance / marked down, but again, the really good stuff usually sells before it gets put on sale.

One thought that might help you, or might not: a plain, even older, outfit can be made awesome by the addition of a really great accessory or two. Does she have/wear some v-necked shirts? Maybe an awesome necklace. Short sleeves? Awesome bracelet or watch. Tunics? Pants? Maybe a cool belt. Nice longish hair? Maybe a cool headband, barrette, or fascinator -- these can be inexpensive, but you can find great, expensive ones, too. Although Anthropologie can be expensive, and doesn't usually have a lot of petite clothing, they sometimes have lovely accessories. If there's a Nordstrom near you, that might be good, too, especially for cute fall hats. Costume jewelry is around in lots of places.

Don't forget to try vintage shops, too, if you're interested in accessories or if you really know her size (check clothes carefully for holes or stains, though).
posted by amtho at 6:06 PM on September 7, 2011

As everyone has said upthread, the clothing brands you mention can vary wildly in price/value depending on whether you hit a clearance period right, whether you find the nicest piece in the outlet or the crappiest, etc. I've found this to be especially true of Ann Taylor/Ann Taylor Loft-- value seems to vary even from location to location, since some stores mysteriously and consistently end up with enormous, beautifully-varied basement-priced clearance racks every season while others only ever have a smattering of picked-over sale goods.

All of which is to say, maximizing value while buying clothing for someone else is a tricky proposition. Your girlfriend is likely to have all the information above at her fingertips, but without her help, you're probably not going to be able to get the best bang for your buck, and it sounds as though she's also unfortunately too self-conscious to shop freely in your presence.

For that reason, if your primary objective is for her to end up with as much nice clothing as possible for your $75 or whatever, can I suggest that you limit your own shopping to one lovely, small piece-- possibly an accessory, as amtho says-- plus a giftcard for the remainder of the sum you intended to spend? That way, there's still an element of personalization, since you can spend time and care picking out one perfect thing, but she'll also be at liberty to use the remaining sum efficiently, according to her own needs and tastes.
posted by Bardolph at 4:52 AM on September 8, 2011

What if you bought her a gift certificate to an outlet mall, so she knew how much you wanted to spend at the outset? Then you could go shopping together, and perhaps it would alleviate the guilt of spending for her - she'd just need to stay within the predetermined budget.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:09 AM on September 8, 2011

Seconding that even within a single store sizes can fluctuate a lot - from Ann Taylor alone (including Ann Taylor Loft and Factory) I've amassed a collection of pieces ranging in size from a 2 to a 10 (some in petites and some not) during a period where my weight has stayed within about a 10 pound range - it's truly bizarre. I also second the idea of focusing on getting one or a few really good quality pieces rather than going crazy buying piles of lower quality outlet mall crap. I loooooove cashmere sweaters (as do most girls I know who have tastes like your girlfriend's) but it always feels too ridiculously extravagant to buy one myself, so when I get them at Christmas it's REALLY exciting.
posted by naoko at 6:19 PM on September 8, 2011

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