Don't shop for one body part—a bottom you want to hide, for instance—but for your whole shape. Most of us fall into one of three categories:
Type A: These women, who are smaller on top than on the bottom, want to draw the eye upward. They should avoid busy prints on the lower body, as well as jackets that cut across the widest part of the hips. Empire-cut dresses and boatneck shirts often look very nice on this figure. Vintage clothes from the seventies—such as A-line dresses and skirts—are cut well for type A women.
Type B: Women who are roughly the same at the shoulders and hips with a smaller waist want styles that skim their hourglass curves. Oval-necked shirts, wide-legged pants, and torso-skimming dresses usually flatter this body type. Styles from the fifties are good for type B women who like vintage clothes.
Type C: With shoulders broader than hips and a straightish waistline, C women often look great in tailored shirts and virtually any kind of pants, except pleated trousers (which look terrible on most everyone). Sixties-era shift dresses flatter most type C women.
— Kendall Farr, author of The Pocket Stylist
When a salesperson gives you a price, your next move is to ask, "Is that the best you can do?" You might then counter with "And if I pay cash?" With these two little sentences, one O editor managed to get $200 off an antique mirror in a wrought iron frame and $150 off a pair of delicate, gold Victorian earrings. You'll likely have the most success at independent jewelry and electronics stores, car dealerships, and flea markets. Don't try this at department stores, chain stores, or national retailers.
Most department stores have no minimum purchase and don't charge for a personal shopper service, but if you're feeling embarrassed about your budget, explain exactly how much you have to spend when you make your appointment. During your first meeting, tell your shopper what you're looking for (a dress for a special occasion or a new wardrobe) and give her an idea of your lifestyle—your job, what you do for fun, etc. Then ask, "Where do we start?" It should be a fun experience, a treat, though when you first meet, she might make a few suggestions—a new haircut, different makeup, or even a new bra to make your old clothes look better. But she'll also know which styles will work best for you and where to find them in the store. It's important to find someone you can identify with. You're free to interview until you meet a person who suits your personality. Trust is key.
— Betty Halbreich, author of Secrets of a Fashion Therapist
Some of today's fastest growing fashion retailers aren't retailers at all. They're your friends and neighbors who've become home-based reps for clothiers who sell only through private trunk shows. This fall Bill Blass is joining companies such as Doncaster, the Worth Collection, Nina McLemore, and the Carlisle Collection in direct-market fashion. In fact, the Blass New York fall 2006 bridge collection ("bridge" refers to clothes that are a notch or so below designer wear in price but higher than mass market) won't be sold in a single store. Think Avon or Tupperware parties, but for clothes. Reps for larger designers tend to sell out of their homes, but designers with smaller collections, such as Jennifer George, will bring their trunk show right to your house (if you promise to have 30 friends stop by over two days).
Direct-marketed collections tend to be more classic than trendy, with pieces that mix and match season to season, and their prices can be up to 25 percent lower than department store bridge collections. To contact, go to: billblassnewyork.com, doncaster.com, worthny.com, nina mclemore.com, carlislecollection.com, and jennifergeorgenyc.com.
Sweater-quality cashmere is made from the under-hair of goats raised in China and Mongolia. The highest-quality hair can be woven into an extremely soft fabric that can be thick or thin, depending on the number of strands that are plied, or twisted together. But it will always have a beautiful drape and no shine, and will rarely pill. The raw product costs $100 per kilogram (10 times the price of wool), so it's virtually impossible to make a top-quality cashmere sweater that retails for less than $150. Low-quality cashmere is rougher to the touch, will not hold its shape as well, and may look uneven in its knit. If you see cashmere on sale for too good to be true prices, check for bumpiness in the yarn, sheen on the garment, and poor drape. The number of ply can be confusing: Some exquisite scarves are made from single-ply cashmere; the most versatile weight is double-ply. Three- or four-ply items are not necessarily high quality but are heavy and warm.
— Karl Spilhaus, president, Cashmere and Camel Hair Manufacturers Institute
There's no foolproof method to predict pilling, but check the label: The higher the acrylic content, the more likely a garment is to produce those tiny fuzz balls. Invest in a depiller.
— Lloyd Boston
Looking great is a huge motivator to sweat through spin classes now in order to look fabulous later. So instead of buying something you'll "shrink" into, invest in a few things that fit now. Go for structured items in medium-weight to heavyweight fabrics; especially flattering are button-front shirts and flat-front trousers. Anything with a little Lycra or spandex in it will hold its shape if you lose (or gain) a few pounds. And once you've lost the weight, don't invest in a whole new wardrobe until you've kept it off for at least six months.
— Stacy London, co-host of TLC's What Not to Wear
Because every brand bases its sizing on its fit model—a woman who the company thinks physically represents its average customer or who has a body that appeals to the designer's vision. Designers with an older clientele sometimes use a fit model with a curvier shape. Also, many mass brands do vanity sizing—they offer very generous cuts, on the premise that if you take a smaller size in their clothes, you'll be inclined to buy more of them.
— Kendall Farr
The store probably can't resell the item, so the rest of us end up paying more for our clothes to cover the company's loss. But more than that—it's just wrong.