How To Buy Clothes Online
The internet’s democratising power stretches beyond toppling corrupt governments. Now, even if your village’s highest-end boutique is run by Oxfam, a few finger swipes and that Prada Hawaiian shirt is at your door the next day.
But access doesn’t always correlate with quality; the vagaries of fit and cunning clothes photography make those over-generous store mirrors seem benign.
Follow our advice to buy right, and make sure you’re not contributing to the charity shop’s window full of ill-fitting florals.
What Not To Buy
Certain things lend themselves to online shopping. Staples like socks and underwear don’t pose the issues of fit that, say, a £3,000 wool-cashmere blend overcoat does. Nor do you necessarily need to finger the goods before buying. Just stick to what you know you like, buy in bulk, and follow Tom Ford’s rule of replacing it all every six months.
Tailoring, though, is trickier. After all, buying a suit is all about fit. A cheaper suit that hugs your shoulders and chest will always look better than an expensive one that pools around your ankles or has sleeves that finish halfway up your forearm.
And while certain things can be adjusted, if you steer wrong in the shoulders or thighs, then no Milanese needle wizard can help you. When an inch makes all the difference, even the most comprehensive online size guide just won’t cut it.
There are really only two occasions on which you should buy tailoring online:
- 1. When you’re replacing a piece you already own and know fits well.
- 2. When you’ve already tried something on in store and have scouted out a better digital deal or got hold of an online discount code.
Otherwise, even if you find that perfect double-breasted blazer you’ve been lusting after since seeing it at Pitti, save yourself some serious hassle and click elsewhere.
Make Sure It Fits
Remember that tailor who couldn’t fix your baggy suit? Get back to him for some proper measurements: height, waist, inseam, chest, sleeve length and neck size are the minimum you’ll want to note down.
Store them on your phone, tablet and laptop so they’re to hand whenever you’re browsing the sales on your commute or flicking through new arrivals before bed.
Get your measurements done professionally before you spend online
Store Size Guides
Every time you see something you like, locate the store’s size guide and compare with your crib sheet. This is your Goldilocks guide to whether that medium tee is going to come up tent-like, hot washed or just right.
High-end stores like Mr Porter hand measure every item and provide extra detail like back length for jackets. Less luxury-centric sites produce slightly more generic charts, so be warned.
J.Crew’s size guide and average measurements
Measure Your Own Clothes
As well as your own measurements, you should take the tape to your favourite pieces in your existing wardrobe too.
Lay that perfect-fitting sweatshirt flat and measure it across the chest (bottom of each arm seam, then double it), shoulder (seam to seam straight across), back (base of the collar to the hem) and sleeves (cuff to shoulder seam plus seam to centre of the collar label).
Compare this blueprint to those online to work out if that Paul Smith small is going to come up too snug in the shoulders, even if it fits everywhere else.
You also need to be aware that your body can change during the year. The January sales may scream offers at you, but post-Christmas gluttony, you may be carrying an extra few pounds. Equally, kudos on hitting the gym. But those broader shoulders and that narrower waist are bound to change the way clothes fit and hang.
In order to prevent these fluctuations from messing up your fit, treat your tailor like your doctor and go back every six months for a measurements check-up.
Make Sure It Looks As Good On You
A denim jacket on a rail looks like, well, a jacket. But stick it on a slim, six foot model and team it with the perfect pair of tailored trousers and a cable-knit roll neck, and it becomes art. If you don’t have the same physique or wardrobe, then don’t expect to emulate that masterpiece at home.
It doesn’t help that stylists have one weapon that you can’t realistically deploy: the bulldog clip. Using this handy device, excess fabric is pulled back and clipped tight, giving a sleeker silhouette – it’s how models can step into clothes that aren’t tailored and make them look like they’re bespoke.
Until someone sends his or her models down the runway similarly trussed up (we’re looking at you, Rick Owens), that’s a helping hand you’ll have to do without.
The upshot is that you can’t always trust model shots or lookbooks. Treat them as guides to styling rather than fit. If you’ve got a similar jacket and shoes to the chap in the picture, then you know that pair of houndstooth trousers will work with at least one look.
But if you’re tempted by a pair of leather trousers and your wardrobe is more button-downs and blazers than the mesh tops and longline shirts sported in the picture, then it’s probably best to pass.
Top Tip: If the retailer offers a video of the item being worn, always view it – you will get a much better idea of how the garment fits, drapes and moves, as well as a true indication of colour.
Where To Buy
With space not an issue, online retailers don’t have to be as focused in their product ranges as brick and mortar stores. But that’s not to say they don’t specialise or have stronger offerings in certain areas.
Most also provide free returns and a flat postage fee, no matter how much you order, which is why it’s best to stock up your basket and then buy three sizes of each item: the one you think is right, then one up and one down.
By bracketing, you increase your chances of finding the perfect fit and can return the ones that don’t work. Just take care when un-boxing and trying on – removing certain tags or tearing packaging can void your right to return.
Without wanting to sound too much like Martin Lewis, it’s important you brush up on your rights as a consumer, specifically when it comes to purchasing online.
Best For: Streetwear.
Who Are They?: This online boutique is your go-to for high-end streetwear from the likes of Hood By Air, Rick Owens and Maison Margiela.
It also boasts an almost unrivalled trainer line-up, from bank balance bruisers by Valentino to beat-em-up Vans.
Price: Luxury, with some more affordable finds mixed in.
Store: Mr Porter
Best For: Capsule collections and luxury brands.
Who Are They?: Net-a-Porter’s Y-chromosomed offshoot is big on tailoring (they recently launched their first in house line, Kingsman) but as we’ve warned you, that’s a risky game.
Still, Mr Porter’s range of collaborations is unrivalled, with designers from Ami’s Alexandre Mattiussi to Paul Smith and even Thom Browne crafting one-off capsule collections you can’t buy anywhere else.
Best For: Basics and wardrobe staples.
Who Are They?: With 850 brands onsite, and an Amazon-rivalling fulfilment centre staffed by 3,000 employees, finding clothes on ASOS can be a touch intimidating.
But it’s a sign of how influential the retailer has become that an entire subculture of young men wearing baggy tops, skinny black denim and snapbacks can be traced to its product shots.
Avoid joining them by picking up classic wardrobe staples like white tees, Oxford shirts and underwear, rather than whole looks – even if it is tempting when you can get an entire outfit for less than £50.
Price: Affordable, with a smattering of designer brands.
Best For: One-offs.
Who Are They?: Farfetch isn’t so much a store as a concierge. As the name hints, rather than stocking and dispatching clothes themselves, they tap up an array of international boutiques so that, sat at home in Bognor, you can shop the best that Milan, New York and even Tokyo have to offer.
Prices are understandably high, but you’ve got a good chance of stumbling across something truly one of a kind – perfect for individualising your looks.
Best For: Bargain hunting.
Who Are They?: Navigating Yoox is like stepping into the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
A nightmare to navigate and rammed with brands you’ve never heard of, and some you will never want to hear of again, you’ll be just about to give up when you spot that Moncler parka at 80 per cent off. Which almost makes all the legwork worth it.
Price: Every budget.
Buying clothes online may come with its potential pitfalls but provided you bear the above pointers in mind, you’ll be spared a life of filling out returns forms and long post office queues.
Do you regularly shop for clothes online? What do you like to check about your potential purchases before actually pulling the trigger?
Let us know your tips and tricks in the comments section.