Turns out the Internet is useful for a lot more than toppling corrupt governments and/or looking at pictures of partially (or fully) nude celebrities. Particularly when it comes to matters concerning your wardrobe.
Thanks to advances in technology and logistics (think drones), these days you can go from “I have nothing to wear” to “check out my new sneakers” in a matter of hours given a few clicks and finger swipes in the right direction.
However, access doesn’t always correlate with quality; the vagaries of fit and cunning clothes photography make those over-generous store mirrors seem benign.
Yes, buying clothes online may come with its potential pitfalls, but provided you bear these pointers in mind, you’ll be spared a life of filling out returns forms and long post office queues.
What Not To Buy
Certain things lend themselves to being bought online. Once you know your size (and we’d hope you do by now), staples like socks and underwear don’t pose the same issues of fit that, say, a £3,000 wool-cashmere blend overcoat does. Nor do you necessarily need to handle the goods before buying.
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.
Yes, certain things can be adjusted, but if you steer wrong in the shoulders or thighs then no Milanese needle wizard is going to be able to 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:
- When you’re replacing a piece (from the same brand) you already own and know fits well.
- 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 beyond-help 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 (as well as in your head) so they’re to hand whenever you’re browsing the sales on your commute or flicking through new the arrivals before bed.
Measure Your Own Clothes
As well as your own measurements, you should also take the tape to your favourite pieces in your existing wardrobe too.
Lay that perfect-fitting sweatshirt flat and measure it across the chest (between the 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 online size guides to quickly work out if what you’re currently eyeing up 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 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 alter 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 or use a flexible tape measure at home to make sure you don’t size up wildly different to what you already have written down.
Store Size Guides
Every time you see something you like, locate the store’s size guide and compare with your crib sheet. It would make sense if every retailer and brand followed the same measurements for small, medium and large, but unfortunately the game doesn’t work like that.
Use your Goldilocks guide to find out whether that T-shirt is going to come up tent-like, hot washed or just right.
Several high-end stores like Mr Porter hand-measure every item and provide extra detail like back length for jackets, while others will give guidance on whether to buy a size up or down from your usual in the product description.
Make Sure It Looks As Good On You
A denim jacket on a rail looks like, well, a jacket. Stick it on a slim, six-foot model and team it with the perfect pair of tailored trousers and a cashmere 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 a 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 you see in magazines can step into clothes that aren’t tailored and make them look like they’re bespoke.
The lesson here is that you can’t always trust model shots or lookbooks. Treat them as guides to styling rather than fit. If you have a similar jacket and shoes to the guy in the picture, then you know that pair of houndstooth trousers will work with at least one look.
On the other hand, 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 truer 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. That’s not to say they don’t specialise or have stronger offerings in certain areas, though.
Most also provide free returns and a flat postage fee, no matter how much you order. So if you can’t afford for your purchase not to be perfect and have no time to re-order another, an easy way around this is to stock up your basket with three sizes of each item: the one you think is right, then one up and one down.
By bracketing in this way, 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.
Store: End Clothing
Best For: Sneakerheads
What Is It?: Men have been beating a path to this Newcastle independent since 2005, and more recently its newly opened Glasgow flagship since late 2016. However, it’s End Clothing’s online offering that has made it a destination for sneakerheads from all over the globe.
Alongside an achingly cool edit of clothing and accessories, End offers exclusive trainer styles and unique collaborations with the likes of Nike, Adidas, Reebok and New Balance.
Store: Mr Porter
Best For: Capsule collections and luxury brands
What Is It?: Net-a-Porter’s Y-chromosomed offshoot is big on tailoring (it has been selling its in house line, Kingsman, since 2015) 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
What Is It?: With over 850 brands onsite, and an Amazon-rivalling fulfilment centre staffed by thousands of 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 longline tops, ripped skinny jeans and snapbacks can be traced to its model shots.
Avoid joining them by picking up classic wardrobe staples like white T-shirts, 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: Streetwear
What Is It?: Hypebeast has been keeping the streetwear savvy in the know with upcoming drops for several years now. However, not many realise the site also has its own online store, which boasts an almost unrivalled line-up of mainstream and underground labels.
So while others cue round the blocks to get their hands on the latest must-cops, the smart shopper camps out in front of his computer. Though try to avoid anything labelled ‘marketplace’, which is basically code for astronomical mark-up.
Price: Luxury, with some more affordable finds mixed in
Best For: One-offs
What Is It?: 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 independent boutiques so that, sat at home in Bognor, you can shop the best that Milan, New York and even Tokyo has 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.
Store: Vestiaire Collective
Best For: Second-hand finds
What Is It: If a hefty price tag puts you off buying designer pieces, it might be time to acquaint yourself with designer re-sale site Vestiaire Collective. The eBay of the luxury world has made it easier than ever to get your hands on that piece that eluded you (and your bank balance) last season.
This is no car boot sale, mind. Expect more than 600,000 items, each of which has been manually checked for quality and authenticity, from the likes of Comme des Garçons, Acne Studios and Saint Laurent.
Best For: Bargain hunting
What Is It?: 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 a Moncler parka at 80 per cent off. Which almost makes all the legwork worth it.
Price: Every budget