Women's clothing stores. Aaaaauuuugggh?
April 22, 2012 5:33 PM   Subscribe

I need clothes. Clothing stores are making this really difficult for me nowadays. Where do you shop?

The granddaddy of un-Googleable questions.

My clothes have gone from "fits weird, but wearable" to "ugh, I could pull my jeans down without unbuttoning them if I wanted to." Winter was fine - I've got basics - but my summer wardrobe is dismal. I clearly just need different clothes.

Problem is, when I try to shop, I spend hours and end up with nothing that fits me. My go-to stores seemed to have devolved into fast-fashion crud in the past few years, even large department stores have nothing, and I'm sort of starting to blame it on designers. I'm sick of ridiculous drawstring waists on dresses, or ridiculous built-in belts, or super-thin or sheer material or sack dresses or various other things that don't flatter me.

So I'm putting it to you, people, rather than ads or luck of the draw - where have you had luck clothes shopping these days?

(Data on me: Early 20s; woman; casual to business-casual work dress code; petite; pear shape. Would prefer to stay away from places like Topshop/Forever 21/etc, both for moral reasons and because I tend to look better in more tailored stuff. This isn't to say I have a ton of money, though, because I really don't.)
posted by dekathelon to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (20 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I shop at Kohls. It's still mostly crap (designed for women to pose in, not actually move in), but I can usually find at least a couple tops and bottoms that I can use and at decent prices - usually in the Daisy Fuentes area.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 5:46 PM on April 22, 2012

Anthropologie sale section.
J. Crew sale (especially when it's an extra 30% off).
Nordstrom Rack, Saks Off 5th, Neiman Marcus Last Call.

For every $100 you spend on something, set aside $20 for a tailor. Once you get into the habit of having your clothes tailored (not that expensive, either!) you'll be able to shop based on fabric quality and general cut, rather than driving yourself crazy looking for the most perfect fit ever right off the rack.
posted by firstbest at 5:58 PM on April 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

This pear shaped, late 20s woman shops at Ann Taylor Loft. Not exciting, I know, but seems to fit a little better than most places. It's a little expensive, but they do have sales, and I supplement with disposable stuff from Target and more interesting things from thrift stores. I also get a surprising amount of stuff from outdoor clothing brands- like REI and patagonia. The quality of this stuff is better, IMO.
posted by genmonster at 5:58 PM on April 22, 2012

Funny you mention Loft -- they're the exact store I was thinking of when I mentioned quality going down over time, because what's happened is DRASTIC, or seems like it. And they used to be one of the only places that'd reliably fit me, so booooooooo.

(I'm in NYC, if there are any smaller stores or whatever that'd work for me.)
posted by dekathelon at 6:04 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

What works for me is this:

Keep a running list of the items that you need/want. I actually keep mine as a draft email in Gmail. I add to it periodically, and it's usually pretty specific. You could also split it up into "want" and "need". Examples from my list: "dressy summer white pants", "skinny black cigarette pants", "red pumps", "cream linen scarf", "sturdy gold hoop earrings." Etc.

Shop regularly without looking for SPECIFIC items. When I go to the mall looking for a sundress, and I approach it with a "I need a sundress for this BBQ party tomorrow, damn it. I must find a sundress," I inevitably only find dresses with garish patterns and weird drawstrings and pleather belts.

But if I keep "sundress" on my list, then when I am at the mall and I see a good sundress I can buy it because I know I need it and I will wear it. I've had "red cardigan" on my list for a year and just found the perfect on this past weekend - for $25, on sale from $110 originally!

I go to the mall not looking for items A, B and C, but with the goal of perusing the sale racks, walking around the stores I like and seeing what they have that day. I know that I need, for example, pretty lacey tops for underneath blazers, and new nude flats (which I've been looking for for over 6 months now!), but I don't buy things that I don't really love.

Honestly, I do most of my shopping at Nordstrom and Macy's - great sales and a wide selection. My standards for chain stores are Ann Taylor, LOFT, Gap, Banana, Anthro, and Cache, but I also like to go in little boutiques. Also: outlet stores, Ross and Marshall's, and thrift stores (these places take more time and a good eye - you are really hunting for the treasures - but you can find beautiful things).

The way I look at it, I have my whole life to build the wardrobe I want. Nice, expensive clothes last a LONG time (5-10 years or longer) if you take care of them - handwashing sweaters and delicates, dry cleaning, having a tailor re-line pants and jackets when needed, taking your shoes to the cobbler every year or so. So I don't have to get those perfect black cigarette pants THIS MONTH. I can just keep my eye out and get them when I see a really good pair that is in a classic cut and fits well and is on sale.

YMMV depending on your style, I guess - I aim for a very classic, timeless, tailored style so I'm not looking for things that are trendy this season (and when I feel the urge to do that, I go to H&M or Forever 21 for a throwaway treat).
posted by amaire at 6:27 PM on April 22, 2012 [29 favorites]

Susan Faludi had a chapter in Backlash about how, during the backlash of the 80's, work-appropriate women's clothes disappeared from stores and were replaced by frilly dresses and other curiosities (shorts? for the office?) Women didn't actually buy these items much, but stores continued to offer them season after season. I think something similar is happening now.

I am small and pear-shaped, and I like Brooks Brothers for pants, jackets and skirts (I'm in my early 30's, and their tops are a little too old for me) but they're pretty expensive. They seem to have a good sale twice a year (right after Christmas and Father's Day, plus sometimes there are some good early-December sales.) Other than that, I don't have any good suggestions, because women's clothes really have gone downhill.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 6:32 PM on April 22, 2012 [8 favorites]

I am also petite and pear shaped and have good luck with Lands End. They have excellent sales, and frequently have free shipping specials. If you can get to a Sears (are there any in NYC?) you can return Lands End things there for free too.

Their new spring and summer stuff is really cute.
posted by apricot at 6:43 PM on April 22, 2012

This, among other reasons, is why I shop at thrift stores, because much of what's there is stuff that has lasted long enough to make it there in the first place. You still get some fast-fashion stuff, donated by the big stores, but there it's $4, not $40. And the selection there is just unparalleled and ever-changing. Thrift stores aren't just for kids or college students; I get 90-plus percent of my working wardrobe there. You'd be amazed what you can find, especially at thrift stores fed with the castoffs of affluent neighborhoods.
posted by limeonaire at 8:11 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

In general: Like amaire, I have great luck at Nordstrom's and Macy's. The Nordstrom's I go to has personal shoppers you can make appointments with who will help you pick out pieces that work for you. My Nordstrom's also does free tailoring, but YMMV. Macy's has great sales & coupons; it's not uncommon to end up getting $50+ off one item if you time it right.

For business casual: Talbot's (yes, really) and Ann Taylor (not LOFT) have some good pieces that would work in the office. Talbot's trends older so a lot of their dresses & skirts are probably going to hit at the knee or just below, but for the office, that's not necessarily a bad thing. I've had some really horrible experiences with quality at LOFT lately - namely holes in shirts after only one or two washes (machine-washable garment! on delicate cycle!) and pilling.

I also second Land's End. I've had great experiences with their customer service people, sales are good, and the clothes are good quality, especially for the price.

(Also, this may be a silly question, but since you didn't mention anything about it in your post, I thought I'd ask: do you have a solid grasp of your body shape and what does and doesn't look good on you? The reason I ask is that I went for years - YEARS - without really understanding the fits, colors, lengths, and fabrics that flattered my shape. I would choose clothes because I liked them, not because they necessarily looked good on me. When I finally started forcing myself to follow a few basic rules for dressing my shape, I ended up being much happier with my clothing purchases.

Now, when I enter a store, I immediately rule out about 75% of what I see; either I don't like it or I like it but know it's not right for my shape. I pull a few things that follow my guidelines and I also pull a few accessories so I can style the outfit as I try it on. I no longer find myself coming home with beautiful clothes that just don't hang right or skirts that don't go with anything I own.)
posted by pecanpies at 8:26 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

In NYC, go to Jill Anderson in the East Village - she's a local designer and has sales often. There are also a few good resale and discount shops around there like Change of Season, which is a few doors down and has designer stuff marked far down. Also try Nordstrom Rack in Union Square, Century 21 downtown, and Lord & Taylor - I know they're a department store, but they always have sales and coupons, and they have a pretty great selection of work-appropriate stuff like Michael Kors (whose diffusion line, MICHAEL, is pretty well suited for pear shapes).
posted by bedhead at 10:25 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I second the idea of going to thrift stores. Think about all of the other people who no longer fit into their fabulous clothes, what will they do? Take them to thrift stores. Some of those people used to be the size and shape that you are now.

I have had fantastic luck going to the Good Will and Value Village near me. I go once a week, since they have different things there constantly. Over the last 2 months I purchased 5 pairs of nice jeans that fit well and are all recognized good brand names. I paid about $35. Not for each one, but for all 5. One was a pair of Lucky jeans that fit perfectly for $8. The same pair new would be $100.

The absolute best part about it is that every single piece of clothing is different. You don't have to deal with the situation where the store has decided everything is going to have bell bottoms, or everything will be bright blue. The variety (both good and bad) is pretty amazing.

If you haven't been to a thrift store in your area, give it a try. The worst thing that can happen is that you don't see anything you like, which is the same situation you are in now.
posted by markblasco at 10:40 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

You're right about quality going down and fit going thppppt. There's a strong economical reason for it (doesn't make it a good reason): lighter-weight, sheer fabrics are cheaper to make, and non-fitted waists (thus requiring drawstrings, belts, etc.) and sack dresses are super cheap to mass produce. A fitted, non-stretch sheath dress (do these even exist any more outside of couture??) will have a minimum of 6 darts to shape it: 2 bust darts, 2 front waist darts, and 2 back waist darts. Those are sewed separately from the side seams, shoulder seams, armholes, sleeve seams, neckline, and hem, adding extra work. But, if you sew a sack... well, all you have to do are the side seams, maybe shoulder seams or armholes (I see more and more without them, true sacks cut from huge pieces of cheapo fabric), and then hem the neck and bottom.

Extra super bonus for clothing stores: the cheaper, sheerer fabrics don't last as long! No wonder manufacturers are trying to shove them down our throats, sigh.

Where to buy clothes: vintage, definitely. Higher-end places where the clothes are made of better fabrics and with better construction.

Another option: learn to sew. It's not difficult, and once you've invested in a good sewing machine (plenty of AskMe threads on choosing one!), you'll only be paying for fabric. There's also the time investment, but look at it this way: how many hours have you spent driving/walking/in public transportation to get to stores and then browsing those stores only to come up with nothing? That consideration is what helped convince me to get back into sewing. You can start simple, the skills come in time as you get accustomed to how fabric works and such. Quilting has been popular for a while now, so there are probably sewing classes in your area that can teach machine sewing basics (quilting uses the same basic techniques as sewing, plus it has an attention to detail that's very beneficial when transferred to clothesmaking). The "big 3" patternmakers (Vogue, Butterick, McCalls) have regular sales; Simplicity make good patterns as well. My budget has been so much happier since I stopped clothes shopping in stores, and I've been delighted to have skirts, dresses, tops and pants that actually fit. Browsing fabrics is awesome if you have a creative bent. I've been sewing for about a year now, gradually replacing my wardrobe, and no one in our offices even knows it. Hard to look "homemade" when storemade stuff is so bad. And: you get the satisfaction of having made it yourself. Speaking for myself, I've found it so much more satisfying than the time sink of shopping that I doubt I'll ever go back to storebought.
posted by fraula at 12:35 AM on April 23, 2012 [6 favorites]

Nthing Nordstrom; they "get" women over 35 and it is generally a pleasure to shop there - helpful salespeople, not an overwhelming amount of merchandise (unlike Macy's, which makes me want to run away whenever I go in there), affordable or free alterations that can be done overnight. If you're early '20's, you shouldn't have a problem finding things in Nordstrom either.

Their Halogen line is pretty affordable and works well for all but the most strict business dress codes. I got a pair of palazzo pants for $50 on sale about a month ago. Overnight tailoring was $14 and if I'd had a Nordstrom charge card it probably would have been free ($100 of free alterations a year).

Also, vintage/thrift/consignment shops, as others have already mentioned.

And learning to sew would be a plus, but unless you're a natural, you probably won't be making work clothes for yourself for a while.
posted by Currer Belfry at 5:42 AM on April 23, 2012

Nordstrom is usually pretty good but they carry a lot of merchandise and in my experience it can be hit or miss; usually about half is good quality, half not so great. I have found some really fantastic things there.

Land's End is reliably decent and better than average.

J.crew is 95% poor quality and insanely over-priced.

Brooks Brothers is one place where things are consistently good quality. The drawback is that the styles run very conservative preppy. But if you look past the argyle sweaters there are a lot of classics that would work in most professional wardrobes.
posted by seesom at 7:01 AM on April 23, 2012

Susan Faludi had a chapter in Backlash about how, during the backlash of the 80's, work-appropriate women's clothes disappeared from stores and were replaced by frilly dresses and other curiosities (shorts? for the office?) Women didn't actually buy these items much, but stores continued to offer them season after season. I think something similar is happening now.

But, if you sew a sack... well, all you have to do are the side seams, maybe shoulder seams or armholes (I see more and more without them, true sacks cut from huge pieces of cheapo fabric), and then hem the neck and bottom.

This is absolutely what I see on this side of the Atlantic too. Everything is very short (I'm 5ft 10 so 90% of stuff is obscene), made from crappy fabric, or is a sack with an elasticated waist which is a terrible look on me. A couple of my once-favourite shops sell nothing suitable for me now.

They are at the cheaper end, but I do like Uniqlo. Their clothing lasts very well in my experience, and I use the basic stuff to make better outfits out of more 'interesting' pieces.
posted by mippy at 7:02 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

LL Bean seems to have held up better than most in continuing to have decent quality and offering a range of fits that are pretty standardized -- thus, if you find some pants from them that work, then you can get a bunch of them through the years. (They do have some lower waistlines, but haven't given up on "natural" waists either.) Obviously not so much at the super-dressy end, but they have some selection of decent pants and blouses, so there might be some items that fit the bill...
posted by acm at 7:29 AM on April 23, 2012

Thirding thrift stores. For me, they're like a delightful time machine to an era before all the mainstream stores started designing for crazy long torsos, and before cotton prices made all the fabric thin and flimsy. The prices are an added bonus, but I'd probably shop there even if costs were comparable to new clothes-- there just seems to be so much more that fits me.

One note- if you're going to try thrifting, do some research beforehand on the existing clothes you own that fit you best. Figure out what cuts of skirt/pants/dresses flatter you, and take some measurements (of your clothes, not your body) so you know how wide a top needs to be to fit perfectly at the waist, what inseam length makes pants just long enough on you, etc. Then, as long as you shop with a tape measure in hand, you'll be able to quickly figure out whether any given garment would fit you, just by looking at its dimensions on the rack. Comes in handy if you're trying to churn through a huge rack of stuff, or if the store doesn't have a dressing room (which some don't).
posted by Bardolph at 10:54 AM on April 23, 2012

My thoughts on how to learn what you need to know to be comfortable in your clothes that I wrote elsewhere last year:


Forgive the faux pas of what undoubtedly looks like self promotion. I actually suck eggs at self promotion. I am simply compulsively helpful, especially if I am under the weather, as I frequently am due to an incurable medical confition. I actually came here because I need to find some solutions to my own issues and tripped across this discussion. PS that website may be expiring next month. My financial woes and trying to figure out if I can and should try to keep my sites alive is my current issue.

Best of luck.

PPS: Where do I go to learn my way around this site? I was gifted an account today and I know nothing. I happen to be on a tablet which frequently makes things harder. Thanks!
posted by Michele in California at 3:43 PM on April 23, 2012

[Michele in California, welcome. For info, you can check out the Ask Metafilter Guidelines and the site-wide FAQ. Off topic and general chat in Ask Metafilter that isn't focused on helping to answer the question is discouraged, but you can always contact admin for help or tips here.]
posted by taz at 11:19 PM on April 23, 2012

For more classic women's styles and high quality, I would also recommend L.L. Bean and Lands End. You might also take a look at Coldwater Creek, though I would definitely go into a store and not buy online; they have some nice classic things, but some of their blouses are pretty see-through.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 10:26 AM on April 24, 2012

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