How to make clothes-shopping less of a sensory hell?
January 31, 2021 11:44 AM   Subscribe

I realized yesterday that the reason I've always hated and avoided clothes-shopping is probably related to my autistic sensory sensitivities. How can I hack the experience to make my clothes-shopping more bearable and effective (once the pandemic is over)?

I found out that I'm autistic in the spring of last year, and clothes-shopping has not come up since then because of the pandemic. In the intervening months I have sewn a number of increasingly obvious patches on my pants, stitched up holes in my underwear, and fretted as my t-shirts become more and more shredded. As much as I would like to stay home and make my own clothes, or order stuff online, I don't have the sewing skills and I think I really need to be able to try things on to determine whether they are going to fit and feel acceptably comfortable. So I don't think I'll be able to just avoid going shopping.

I find clothes-shopping stressful, exhausting, upsetting, and generally horrible, and I now suspect that it's because of the associated sensory trauma. That implies that I might be able to improve the experience by reducing some of the stressors that I've previously just tried to ignore because I figured it was like this for everyone (reader, it is NOT).

I think the primary sensory stressors for me are (1) having to take off my usual clothes and thus being exposed to cold, the fiddlyness of getting undressed and dressed again, worrying about where to put my clothes so they stay clean, and having to stand on the potentially icky floor of a dressing room in my socks; and (2) the physical unpleasantness of putting on a novel item of clothing which may be too tight, too big, the wrong shape, or feel scratchy or prickly (the majority of things I try on do not fit properly or feel weird/unpleasant/unbearable in some way; it's a surprising relief when something does fit and actually feels good!).

The secondary stressors are (1) noise (maybe this is why most of my clothes-shopping happens at hiking stores rather than the mall); (2) the frustration of having to look at rack after rack after rack of different styles of garments and finding everything awful or not fit for purpose, e.g. fabric so thin that my nipples are going to show through, and yet feeling pressure to find something so that I can leave; (3) getting hungry, thirsty, tired, and/or having to pee; and (4) worrying about whether a garment that I find comfy is going to look hideous to other people.

While some of these stressors likely can't be avoided, I suspect that others can, and that I can thereby make the overall experience more tolerable. So far the only hack that I've been able to think of is "bring snacks" (I already tend to carry a water bottle and try to take bathroom breaks as needed). I guess I should look into the viability of using earplugs or headphones, but I'm worried about not being able to handle the feeling of having something pressing over my ears (I've tried on my husband's over-the-ear headphones and I find them too heavy plus they also press on the joints of my jaw in a really unbearable way).

What else can I try in order to make the experience more bearable?

[As an aside, I also have an extremely tenuous understanding of where I can shop to find various types of clothing, because I have spent my whole life avoiding it as much as possible. I like hiking stores because the stuff there tends to be simple, durable (less future shopping, yay!), and designed to be moved in so it doesn't squeeze or pinch in weird places. People say "just go to the mall", but my experience of the mall is so unpleasant that I've never taken the time to explore and figure out what I can find where. I can get away with wearing t-shirts and hiking pants because I work in academia, so that is not actually a problem that needs to be solved.]
posted by heatherlogan to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ugh, the mall is so overwhelming! I absolutely hear you on all of this. Would a service like Stitch Fix be helpful? It’s a clothing service tailored to your preferences, so you can try things on at home and send back whatever you don’t want to keep. Apparently returns are very easy. I haven’t tried it myself but have a friend who swears by it.
posted by corey flood at 11:51 AM on January 31, 2021 [6 favorites]


The curated box of clothes that arrives once a month, pick what you like, return what you don’t, like stitchfix, seem like they would cover a lot of these issues.

If you can and prefer to mostly wear outdoors style clothes, I would just stick with Patagonia, if their stuff works with your sensory issues. Simple styling, ethically sourced, wears like iron. They have both truly outdoors oriented and more casual/professional lines. Patagonia stores, if you live near one, are generally very chill, except during peak fall and spring sales.
posted by rockindata at 11:52 AM on January 31, 2021 [2 favorites]


How do you feel about the idea of a uniform or capsule wardrobe where you just find 1-3 styles of tops you like and 1-2 bottoms that you like and buy multiples of each? Bonus points if it’s a standard brand/style the hiking stores carry year after year.

Best case scenario you then order online when it’s time to replace one of the items.
posted by nathaole at 11:53 AM on January 31, 2021 [13 favorites]


Have you considered a subscription curated shopping service? There are tons you can do now -- you sign up, put in your style and size preferences, and each month they send you a box of clothes to try on in your own home, privately. You pay for and keep what you want, and send back what you don't. Some let you put in feedback as to why you sent back the items, so they won't send those again.

A few options:
Amazon Prime Wardrobe
Nordstrom Trunk Club
StitchFix

There are tons of them out there.
posted by erst at 11:54 AM on January 31, 2021


God, no, never go to the mall. Shudder... And you don't have to try crap on ever.

For right now, order a bunch of stuff from thred up. Enter the code "savage" at checkout. They send you the stuff. You try it all on at home, keep what fits, and dump the rest at goodwill. You can keep ordering from them if you want, but the cheapness of the first order can never happen again, so order as much as possible that first time. I got pants the first go-around and sneakers the second. Now I'm done shopping for several years.

When the pandemic ends, shop thriftstore bag sales. Pack bags full of whatever item it is you're in the market for that looks your size-ish. Take everything home, try it all on, keep what fits, take the rest back and throw it all back in the bag sale for somebody else to buy. If you're ever in Cambridge, Garment District's basement by-the-pound sale is the best for this.

fabric so thin that my nipples are going to show through,
I solve this by wearing giant men's shirts on top. (My friend's dad died and they couldn't bear to throw out his shirts, so I have all of them. They're wonderful. Wearing one right now.)

4) worrying about whether a garment that I find comfy is going to look hideous to other people.
Fuck 'em. If they don't like it, they're free to look in another direction. All that's important is that you can stand to have it on and you don't get a scary shock if you catch sight of it in a mirror unexpectedly.
posted by Don Pepino at 11:55 AM on January 31, 2021 [3 favorites]


There are subscription based clothes services like Stitch Fix & Dia that send clothes based on your preferences to your house to try and you return what you don't like. As someone that get's overwhelmed shopping they've been a life saver.

Also while Mall shopping sucks stores like Macys have professional shoppers/stylists that work with you when buying clothes. They are usually free and you can explain to them the sort of thing you're looking for size etc, they will have a selection for you to look at when you arrive for your appointment and will talk to you & go out & pick up clothes etc during the session for you. Also they tend to have nicer out of the way dressing area. I've used them with a great deal of satisfaction when revamping my wardrobe one year, they do not pressure you to buy anything and have much more idea of what's in stock & what goes with what which helped me a lot as I am fashion challenged at the best of times and their calmness stopped me from overloading & stressing from trying on so many clothes. I just checked & they have added online services to help you as well.
posted by wwax at 11:57 AM on January 31, 2021 [1 favorite]


Also, use your research skills to do some pre-shopping online before you go into stores (armed with snacks, water bottle, and some paper towels or a plastic bag to stand on in the dressing room).

Look at the retailers online. Search their website according to your preferred styles and sizes, and see if they have stock in store. Look at the materials listed, what it says about fit (loose, relaxed, fitted, etc) and if you’re unsure about what materials feel good on your body, look at the tags or your current clothes if you haven’t cut them out yet. Read the reviews on the garments. Check the measurement charts, and measure yourself if you have to. There may even be a ship to store option so you can pick up the clothes, try them on at home, and return them to the store.
posted by nathaole at 11:59 AM on January 31, 2021


I also hate clothes shopping, especially 2) - partly sensory issues and partly i just find trying on ill-fitting clothes mentally taxing, nothing seems well suited for me, either arms too short or long, hips too narrow, and unless I'm feeling pretty confident to begin with the chance of returning home empty handed and demoralized.

As a result, once I find an item that *does* fit and feel good, i will either buy a few copies in complementary colours, or re-buy them later. I recognize I have the economic privilege to do this, it's not practical for everyone. I basically have 1 or 2 "outfits", with only the colours rotating. They all pretty much match, regardless of whatever's clean, and now I mostly don't think about clothes. Again, this sort of shopping may not be an option due to job/climate/societal expectations/wanting to actually have different outfits, but for me it pretty much removes clothes stress from my life, which is nice!
posted by Jon Mitchell at 12:00 PM on January 31, 2021 [6 favorites]


If you need dressy things, Eshakti is expensive but worth it because you send them your measurements and they tailor the stuff for your actual body, so things should fit.
posted by Don Pepino at 12:01 PM on January 31, 2021 [2 favorites]


Best answer: Mmm, if you have the budget for it, I would suggest employing a tailor or seamstress. I don't wear nice enough clothes to warrant it all the time, but I have a tailor who has my measurements largely saved and I do send them items from time to time. I always thought of this as a super duper affluent thing to do, but the price is quite reasonable when you start looking at "middle tier" clothing prices. There are lots of quality tailors sort of aiming for the middle, since the craft is largely disappearing.

This helps in two ways:

You can have things that don't otherwise fit altered to fit. This opens up all sorts of purchasing possibilities. If you are educated by your tailor a little bit, you can quickly identify what can be changed and what can't. Having something that you like, but doesn't fit quite right, can be extremely cheap to alter so that it fits you well and is otherwise comfortable.

The second is sending patterns to your tailor and having garments made from scratch, or to replicate items you already love and enjoy. I've only done this a couple times...it is expensive, but not insanely so. Getting measured is like, a process, and wouldn't be fun based on what you're outlining...but then it is largely over. Once you are, and you find a couple patterns that you like, or even existing clothes that you like, you can send them to the tailor and have replicas made out of different fabrics. A good tailor will be able to coach you on what fabrics will work well (and they love instructions like "I like this color of blue, here is a paint swatch, go crazy"). I loathe loathe loathe button-up shirts that have collars, but find stand-collars workable and nice. I found a $15 dollar example on amazon that I sent to my tailor. They showed me a couple fabrics they thought would work well, and then made a weeks worth of replicas for me (which is now largely what I just wear to work). The shirts she produced were much much nicer than the shitty throwaway one I purchased, but that was effectively just the pattern. The initial cost for this is higher than alterations, but she's able to punch these shirts out in less than an hour's labor, and charges me no markup for fabric.

Most higher-end vintage stores either have an in house tailor, or at least have a couple on contract; this is a great place to start if you don't have anyone in your network that knows a local, quality fabric-magician.
posted by furnace.heart at 12:04 PM on January 31, 2021 [7 favorites]


Best answer: I just want to say that I share all of your experiences & feelings about clothes shopping as well as the hesitation to buy online, but there is no way I'm going back to the old ways again. It's better to just get more skilled at online shopping bc we are not getting better at the other way.
posted by bleep at 12:05 PM on January 31, 2021 [5 favorites]


If you do go to a store, wear leggings and a top that you can put other clothes OVER instead of having to strip. Wear slip on shoes and put a big cardigan or something over that's easy to take off. This made a surprising difference to me.
posted by quacks like a duck at 12:14 PM on January 31, 2021 [22 favorites]


Best answer: So as not to abuse the edit window the reason why I'm not going back to retail shopping is that the reason it's so draining & frustrating is that the clothes we want to buy aren't present in large enough numbers to make it a worthwhile experience. Before online shopping we didn't have a choice, but now we do. It's better to take your measurements, read the reviews, & get knowledgeable about fabric & construction than put yourself through these endless, pointless ordeals.
posted by bleep at 12:16 PM on January 31, 2021 [7 favorites]


I also find malls overwhelming in a way I didn't when I was younger and I'm not sure what changed, other than I'm not going to malls very frequently anymore and have lost whatever tolerance I had for the environment when I was younger. I also find that my body shape isn't one that looks good in just everything so going clothes shopping can be a demoralizing and exhausting experience as I try on item after item that looks terrible. Couple suggestions:

- sub boxes like mentioned above. I've only used trunk club, but with that one you can be very specific in your requests, price points, etc. and a good stylist will honor them. Over time you build up a profile of likes and dislikes. With TC you can also review the trunk before they send, and more than once I've said "sorry I can already tell this isn't going to work and I'm not feeling adventerous so try again please'. I've also said things like "i really loved those black pants from last december if you have any similar suggestions" and they'll send me the pants but in red this time. If you have a nordstrom cc there's no fee. My only concern with TC for you might be that your initial stylists might try to push you towards more trendy clothes than you want since that's what I think is top of their list but I'm sure you can find someone who gets your style with a bit of practice.

- Figure out the brands that work best for your body, your preferred size/styles in those and just shop those. When I do go to the mall it's very targeted now. I shop at stores A, B and dept store C and at dept store C I really only look at brands x,y, and z. That keeps me from feeling overwhelmed and gives me a reasonable shot at finding something. Occasionally I'll try something for fun but not often. It also makes online shopping a lot easier, and once you know your brands you can look for sales, watch for those brands at discount stores, etc. I also keep a list, "Today I'm shopping for a 3 tshirts and a pair of jeans and I'm not looking at shoes unless I find I have time to kill at the end", etc..

- learn to decipher the language used in descriptions, just like reading a food menu. "tissue" is going to mean very thin material on a shirt, 'body conscious' means potentially tight fitting, etc.

- many stores have free shipping and returns now (Nordstrom, Zappos, Amz sometimes) and even those that don't may have shipping that's low enough to justify paying in exchange for not having to return them. Being willing to pay return shipping works best once you figure out your brands/stores. ($8 is sometimes worth is to me). So if you don't mind floating money on a credit card for a few weeks, you can do online what a subscription box does for you, buy a bunch of styles and try things out and return 80% of it. I started doing this after I had my children and really didn't know what worked for my body.

Finally maybe find some blogs with styles you like, and read the reviews of the clothes they have. Although there might not be a lot in the style that works for you, I find you look fab to be particularly good at giving reviews of items, the writer is a stylist and will describe which of her clients a particular item worked best for. The forums on that site are very kind and helpful as well. Somewhere maybe there's an equivalent for hiking/more casual clothes.

A last tip - use the online site to browse a store's inventory and then come in with a list. If you can find one, use a sales clerk to help you find things. When I was working retail I remember a woman who came in to our store from way out of town with print out of 20 or items. We all helped her find them, try them on, got a couple more colors based on successful fit and she was probably out of there in an hour. She told me she shopped just once a year (maybe season) - done!
posted by snowymorninblues at 12:20 PM on January 31, 2021 [6 favorites]


Best answer: I have adhd and sensory issues. When I used to go to the gym (for mostly lo-fi treadmill walks) I'd wear a soft cotton bucket hat that hangs a bit low, reducing peripheral distractions. I also wore earplugs (you could find some swimmers earplugs perhaps. They are very pliable) and even sometimes sunglasses. I found it made the hellscape much more bearable. I know I looked freaky but I didn't care.

I am not sure if this is still a thing but target used to have sensory-friendly shopping hours. If you are brave (I am not!) it wouldn't hurt to ask your favorite place to accommodate you for an hour by softening the lights & music.

Also nth-ing the capsule wardrobe.
posted by i_mean_come_on_now at 12:36 PM on January 31, 2021


Hello I am autistic and this is me! My wardrobe has been falling to pieces because clothes shopping is so hard!

A friend of mine had a promo code for $100 in Stitch Fix credit a few months ago. I decided to try it out. And honestly, if it's in your budget, I would really, really recommend it. It is much less overwhelming to try on a few things in the comfort of my home, once every week or two, without having to look through tons of options or do the human interaction thing.

The nice thing about Stitch Fix is you can select the same stylist each time, and you can specify what you like and don't like. This means I can put all of my sensory sensitivities in the notes, and so far my stylist has been really good at respecting that. I said that I can't wear long sleeves or half sleeves, so they've only given me short sleeves even though it's the dead of winter (and all their algorithm, non-stylist-curated suggestions on the website are SWEATERS! LONG SLEEVES! etc). I emphasized that I really wanted soft fabrics, and I have received some of the SOFTEST SHIRTS AND CARDIGANS EVER. I complained about the seams on a few items, and noticeably got more items that were looser or had less prominent seams. Over the past couple months, I've added about 10 items to my wardrobe--which isn't a ton, but it's more than I'd been able to do for years.

I really love that I don't have to go searching for clothes to try. I often struggle because either there's SO MANY OPTIONS, or I get locked into specific rules ("I want a robe... it needs to be THIS length with THIS texture and THIS pattern and THIS kind of tie and NOTHING ELSE WILL SUFFICE") which leads me to ignore things that might actually serve me quite well. I got this cardigan, which I would have ignored entirely if I'd seen it in the store, because it's a color/pattern I don't usually wear, but OH MY GOD it's my favorite thing ever. It's so soft, and I actually love the color/pattern now.

I've also been really surprised by the difference in quality compared to what I'm used to. I didn't realize clothes could feel... this nice? I'm a Target/thrift store shopper, so these pieces are definitely above my usual budget. I'm obviously not a connoisseur, but these clothes honestly feel much nicer to wear. Typically items are between $40-$90 (and I've selected "cheapest possible" as my preference, so they probably go higher), but I feel like they're worth the price.

I may just be easy to please in terms of style, but they've been shockingly good at sending me things I love the look of. I've certainly still gotten things I can't wear, because I can't pre-emptively list every single little sensory thing that bothers me. Sometimes it's really disappointing because it's the CUTEST item and I love it SO much, and I convince myself to try it for half an hour and end up having to basically fling myself out of it because I just cannot stand the seam/texture/cut, whatever. But I can't stress enough how much it helps to be doing this in my own safe home, where it's quiet, I can take a break, etc. They've all been good on size, though I prefer looser items and put my size one up from what most people would call "my size." There's been one or two things I liked but didn't fit, but it was really easy to return and exchange those for a different size.

The $100 credit promo seems to come up pretty often--every few boxes I'll get the offer (as a link I can send to people), which lasts for 48 hours. MeMail me if you'd like me to send you a ping next time that comes up for me.
posted by brook horse at 12:51 PM on January 31, 2021 [2 favorites]


Best answer: I hate, hate, hate, malls. I get the downside of online shopping, but many retailers offer free delivery + returns if you order enough. You can order multiple sizes of the same thing if you're not sure. Once you know your size for a given brand though, it's usually a safe bet.

If you're just looking for basic simple staples, GAP and Banana Republic periodically have big sales (and do free delivery/return shipping). I'm in academia too, and I find them useful for simple and comfortable tops/pants that aren't dressy but nice enough to wear to a conference.
posted by coffeecat at 1:15 PM on January 31, 2021 [1 favorite]


If you shop someplace like REI, LLBean or Landsend, their sizing tends to be reliable, they have a good selection of tshirts, and have reasonable return policies. Your 1st order, you can try a couple sizes, then just re-order as needed. Both have a set price for return shipping that's below 7US. REI charges 9US for return shipping. For underwear, Walmart or Target are ubiquitous, once you know your size, you can avoid tryons.

Most of my wardrobe is thrifted, but I order underwear and some tshirts from catalog sites and it's pretty painless.
posted by theora55 at 1:16 PM on January 31, 2021


Best answer: I think hiking stores are a perfectly reasonable place to get academic workwear - REI and Patagonia have had what I think of as "office job bike commuter" clothes for decades now. The simple ones in simple colors are as well made as department store clothes at that price, and far more durable.

I find that a soft scarf tucked comfortably inside my collar can look way more dressy but feel like hiking. Also I am fond of vests for pocket-adding and nipple-hiding, although I have to look at them really judgementally to guess if they’re going to look bro-ish or costumey.
posted by clew at 1:17 PM on January 31, 2021 [4 favorites]


Do you have a friend, family member or work acquaintance who's actually good at shopping for the kind of clothes you like? It might be helpful to go with an expert and observe what they do, plus going with another person gives you someone to concentrate on as well as another pair of eyes who can actually tell you how your clothes come off in real life (mall mirrors LIE).

And don't force yourself to try on things you don't like just because you're in the shop already. Here's where a companion comes in handy again, because you can make fun of all the cutouts, bad fabric and silly colours instead of being anxious about whether you're supposed to wear something like that. If you get overwhelmed, you can trade off who browses racks for the stuff the other person is after, and who gets to stare at their phone for ten minutes.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 1:32 PM on January 31, 2021


It's not always possible, but it can be helpful to go shopping with someone who is good and finding the "needles in the haystack." Alternatively some stores offer personal shoppers (ex).

While of course you know yourself best, I'd like to point out that other noise cancelling headphones may fit you differently.

It also sounds like purchasing clothes at hiking stores is working for you. Other stores you with a similar "feel" are llbean, lands end, cabellas, and patagonia. In addition, stores that cater to athletic wear (e.g. athletha) might be suitable as well.
posted by oceano at 1:34 PM on January 31, 2021


Response by poster: There are a lot of great answers here that are helping me think outside the box [or outside the big box store, ha!]. I think I'm going to work up my courage and order some underwear and plain black unisex t-shirts on the internet (I'm in Canada and have never figured out how to do returns, both of which add another level of difficulty to on-line shopping). Then I'll just have to figure out pants.

bleep's comment "that the clothes we want to buy aren't present in large enough numbers to make it a worthwhile experience" is indeed my experience (which I hadn't really thought about before), and moreover the styles in the shops seem to change dramatically every year or two (at least for women's clothes) which makes repeat buying harder. I try to do the capsule wardrobe (I love black!) except I'm generally forced to buy whatever one or two random colours that actually happen to be in the shop that year and fit me.

furnace.heart's suggestion of employing a tailor made me think maybe I should ask my excellent-at-sewing sister whether she likes doing pants and is interested in a commission.
posted by heatherlogan at 1:43 PM on January 31, 2021 [3 favorites]


You are me, kind of. I am lucky in that I do not have to go into an office during normal times, but I do have to go places and speak to people who are paying me well for it so I need to not look like a schlub. I do not shop in stores anymore, basically at all with a few exceptions. Those exceptions are: shoes (sometimes), fancy party outfits. Here is what works for me and maybe some of this will work for you.

- I am too cheap for StitchFix but my sister loves it. I have gotten some nicer-than-I-would-buy stuff at reasonable prices via ThredUp.
- I have one local thrift store which is mostly-sensorily bearable (smaller, no piped in music, better lighting, dressing room not full of HUGE MIRRORS, no salespeople, limited but frequently-changing selection). I go there and buy a bunch of stuff that looks like mostly my size and I take it home and try it all on there. Anything that doesn't fit goes back to the thrift store. I still save money.
- If I find stuff that I like that fits me well, I get the name, brand, size, SKU, anything else that will help me find more of it and look for it on Ebay, Thred-Up, or similar places and stock as many as I can buy. Basically a capsule wardrobe.
- I buy socks and underwear in bulk on Amazon or similar (find one kind, buy ten pair)
- There are good bras that allow for decent nipple cover (and yes, I will buy bras at the thrift store with the same process, everyone makes compromises) so you have more options for shirts if you want them

I was really lucky that I grew up with mostly New England preppie-type or generic brands--J Crew, Lands End, LL Bean, Sears, GAP used to be more like this--which don't do "fast fashion" quite so much and have decent mail order. Use RetailMeNot or similar to look for coupons.

And, also, accessorizing can make the difference between "I am dressed for work" and "I am dressed for hiking" As you've said, you're ok in academia but a clean outfit that would work for hiking with earrings and a scarf and decent shoes, is a different outfit than that same one with a backpack and muddy boots.

My partner has some serious ADHD issues that are exacerbated by florescent lighting and piped-in music and people bumping into him and has found just bringing an ipod with happymaking music can really help lower his stress levels. It's also worth remembering that female-presenting people often get a lot less scrutiny for "Hey I really have to use the restroom NOW" requests (unfair, but worth knowing, if this is you)
posted by jessamyn at 2:17 PM on January 31, 2021 [1 favorite]


Can you think of anyone in your circle who might be willing to be your "personal shopper", either for an agreed-upon price or bartering or etc? I ask because I genuinely love dressing my spouse, who has a very different clothing preference than me and also hugely dislikes shopping for many of the reasons you mention. There are people who like this and would actually have fun finding something you like, not something they like.
posted by nakedmolerats at 2:46 PM on January 31, 2021 [1 favorite]


I have very similar issues to you. People have covered a lot of strategy but some guidelines I’ve found useful as far as finding clothes that are not sensory hell (ymmv but some of these may help):
-v-neck tshirts and sweaters are less likely to feel like they’re choking me (supposedly v-necks are or were going out of style but I do not care)
-wool that is not either merino or cashmere is likely to be itchy, skip it.
-microfleece (or some other synthetic material) feels better than wool (or cotton sweatshirt material) when I’m really cold because it doesn’t feel cold to the touch when I put it on. (Wool and cotton seem to hold in the cold/take time to warm to body temp.) Zip-up microfleece jackets are more comfortable than hoodies to me.
-sometimes compression (like, in pants/leggings) is useful because if something is tight-ish (but stretchy), it’s not rubbing against my skin, it’s just staying in place. (This really surprised me when I started buying leggings for jogging. Now I wear them all the time.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 2:54 PM on January 31, 2021 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: So I've just ordered one t-shirt and one pair of underwear from Uniqlo (which actually has a Canadian presence and seems to be good quality) to check the fit and feel, along with a few shirts for my husband who has gotten stuff from their brick-and-mortar store before to bring it up to the free-shipping threshold. If this works out, I think I'll be sorted on the shirts and undies front. That's progress!

Thanks all for giving me the encouragement to try this.
posted by heatherlogan at 3:27 PM on January 31, 2021 [11 favorites]


I feel like consignment shops are much cozier than malls or thrift shops. Or at least they are in my area. They won’t necessarily have a specific basic you’re looking for though
posted by azalea_chant at 4:36 PM on January 31, 2021 [1 favorite]


Online shopping is the only option for many plus size people as we are deemed too unacceptable to have our size stocked at brick and mortar stores (yes, there are some. Not many). So you might find more tips and hacks about online shopping if you look at plus size clothes blogs.

One other thing I haven't noticed mentioned upthread: if you are buying "ladies" clothing outside hiking stores (and sometimes even then) and you find something you like:
1. If you can afford it, and you tend to maintain your size rather than going up/down, buy more than one of it. This has sort of been mentioned, but this would be to put the spare(s) in the wardrobe for when the original wears out.
2. Make a note of exactly how it's described. Once you know the lingo, you can google what you want - like "boat neck jersey top" to give a random example of a neckline plus a material as those were things you mentioned. It's not infallible, as nothing is, but it's a good start. Some online stores have style filters that you can apply with one click, which reduces what you have to click through.
posted by Vortisaur at 4:44 PM on January 31, 2021 [1 favorite]


I was going to suggest Uniqlo's U short sleeve shirts earlier but resisted the urge because that wasn't your question, so yay! They run shorter in the rise from waist to neck, but they are heavy weight and feel good to me.

I also score outdoorsy clothing off of Sierra.com for thrift store prices from time to time. I bought a selection of elastic waist lightweight outdoorsing pants for $10-20 each last summer, including a pair from Prana I now use for rock climbing.
posted by deludingmyself at 5:32 PM on January 31, 2021


I didn't read the other replies, so excuse me if this is redundant, but getting your sensory system as regulated as possible ahead of time would probably be the best bet for tackling shopping in a public place. What does your body need to be regulated? Find the answer to that question and do it regularly. It may be heavy weight or swinging or certain soothing textures. Get your body regulated. Eat a good meal that you really, really enjoy and make sure you're hydrated. If you're able to calm down from some breathing exercises, do them. Go at times when you're not stressed about anything else and you're coming off a full night of restful sleep.

When you're there, feel absolutely ZERO shame about using headphones to block out noise. I personally like to have a baseball cap because the bright lights in stores can overwhelm me.

There's a theory around sensory systems that basically says that our bodies are like cups, and everything stressful that happens to us adds a little water to the cup. If you didn't sleep well and encountered some kind of offensive sensory input at home and are thirsty and hungry, and then you decide to go clothes shopping, you're going to overflow your cup and go into sensory meltdown mode, whatever that means for you. The idea is to get your cup as empty as possible before you leave the house. Then, when you get inundated with offensive sights and sounds and textures at the store, yes it will fill your cup, but you'll be able to cope with it without overflowing.

Source: nearly an OT who loves sensory. Also ADHD with sensory issues, so I learned a lot of this the hard way before OT school filled in the blanks.

Good luck.
posted by Amy93 at 6:08 PM on January 31, 2021 [2 favorites]


I hate malls myself and I actually prefer thrift stores for my clothes. For my undies, socks, and pants I order off Amazon.

FWIW, Amazon's Prime Wardrobe actually lets you try things at home, and it's a Prime membership benefit. And that includes shoes and accessories. Obviously, they need to be in good condition. And not all clothes are included in the wardrobe program. You also only get 7-days. But return shipment is FREE (prepaid shipping label). Probably worth if it you want to try something you don't usually buy but want to try for a bit of transition.

They have also started offering "Personal Shopper" program which costs $4.99 a month but a style consultant will discuss things with you and recommend stuff to fit your style and needs. And you get to try up to EIGHT items at a time! Only pay for what you keep.
posted by kschang at 3:40 AM on February 1, 2021


Best answer: I don't have that set of sensory issues, but I have had (for more than a decade now) some stuff that makes me super picky about clothes (specifically tightness and material content.) It's possible something like what I do might work for me (and it sounds like you're already aiming that way, but maybe another example will help you fill out ideas.)

I'm a librarian at a larger organization that's doing a lot of other things. There are times I have to be on the dressier side, but mostly I'm wearing business casual and so are most people around me. I need to look presentable, but not particularly fancy.

I get cotton skirts, hemmed to my preferred length, from Decent Exposures, who also make bras, underwear, and shirts. I love them because they will work to your measurements and they keep amazing notes, so if you want the armhole on a bra half an inch deeper, or like me, want your skirts exactly 26" (right below my knees) you can do that. They also have a great range of plain cotton fabric, and you can get pockets in everything. (I also get my bras and underwear from them).

I always have a handful of black skirts in rotation, replacing them as they wear out, and two or so in other colours (right now, one blue and one heathery purple.) They're not cheap, but they're sturdy, and I get several years of regular wear out of everything.

With that, I get knit plain shirts (like t-shirts, but slightly nicer fabric). I get mine mostly from Land's End but any online order place that has shirts you like will do here), always aiming at fabric material I like (cotton, and I'll consider rayon). Reviews there are usually pretty clear about how thin/drapy the fabric is. I wear black t-shirts with the coloured skirts, and coloured shirts with the black skirts, and basically I never have to think about what goes together.

I buy a few more every year as things wear out, or get irresolvable stains. Basically, I keep enough that I can do laundry every 3 weeks, plus have extras that are wearing out to sleep in or work out in.

I've learned to keep an eye on my colour options in the late fall and winter, when they have the darker forest green, deep blue, and sometimes purple or dark red that I really like. If I try to buy stuff in the summer, it's all colours I don't like or look lousy on me (so if you don't like your options one season, set a reminder to check back next season.)

If I need another layer, I have half a dozen cardigans from Svaha who do geeky (science/literature/history/art) clothing. I find their dresses a little too bodycon (tight) for my taste, even if I size up, but the cardigans are amazing and I get tons of compliments every time I wear one. All their stuff has pockets, too.

None of this is at all fancy, but it means I look work-appropriate, and don't need to fuss much about my clothes at all, either in the shopping or in the washing. (Everything goes in together, I don't iron, all done.) And I'm wearing thing that don't make me overheat, or be constantly wrestling with something feeling restrictive. I also basically never go into a store to shop unless I need something for a special occasion where I need to be really sure of the fit before I buy it.
posted by jenettsilver at 10:48 AM on February 1, 2021 [3 favorites]


Science It! Lay out a comfortable t-shirt on a flat surface. Measure the actual distance between the points where the sleeve seam meets the side seam under the arms. Add half an inch for shrinkage. Don't try on anything with less than that measurement. Do the same with polos and button-front shirts. Take your tape measure with you when you shop.

The names for sizes (XS,S,M,L,XL) have nothing to do with reality. It doesn't matter what the tag says, use your measuring tape. Take the one or two items that do measure up to the dressing room and try them on. Chances are that if that measurement is correct, the proportions will match for length. The only variables will be whether you like the collar, or the sleeve length.

Women's pants are a little more complicated, but if you measure a pair of jeans (laid flat) between the points where the tops of the front pockets meet the outside seams, you'll get a reasonable base measurement to start your search. You can measure up from that point to determine how high you want the waist to fit.

Knowing these measurements is important for thrifting or second-hand shops.

Being focused on these measurements helps you shut out the distractions, and clothing store employees LOVE to see a customer with a tape measure. If you forget to bring yours, ask to borrow theirs for a few minutes. It's a great way to get them down to business and involved in your search, since you are way more likely to buy something because you know exactly what you want. If they don't have what you are looking for, that's on them.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 6:46 AM on March 20, 2021


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