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
Step 2. "Lease" Luxury Goods
A $9,000 Hermès Birkin bag is on the cover of Daniel Nissanoff's book FutureShop. Why? "Because it's one of the few handbags you can use, then sell for a profit," he says.
Well, sort of. A few years ago a black crocodile Birkin did sell at auction for $64,800, but it had a custom diamond-covered clasp. (Other used Birkins go for about $7,000.) The point Nissanoff is trying to make is that eBay and other online bidding sites are transforming America into a "temporary ownership society." The way he sees it, Manolo Blahnik pumps no longer cost $500: They cost $500 minus the $200 you'll sell them for when you get tired of wearing them. That's a savings of 40 percent, and the online buyer gets the shoes of her dreams for 60 percent off.
Of course, a person can't count on a buyer's being there when she's tired of her $800 stroller or $500 pair of shoes. According to Nissanoff, though, most people have about $2,200 worth of merchandise they no longer use in their homes. He suggests people take these castoffs to a drop-off store, such as I Sold It (i-soldit.com; Auction It Today (AuctionitToday.com), or Snappy Auctions (SnappyAuctions.com). "They'll pack up your stuff and sell it for you on eBay," says Nissanoff. They take about 30 percent of the profit, but if you earn more than $15 an hour, the time you save is worth it. And with the money you make, you can go on eBay, Craigslist, and Portero, a company Nissanoff cofounded to market new and preowned high-end items, to find the luxury goods of your (discounted) dreams.
Step 3. Cashmere 101
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
Next: How to shop if you're losing weight
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
Step 5. Beware of Buying Online (Yes, Still)
Step 6. Learn How to Shop If You're Losing Weight
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
Step 7. Understand Why You're a Size 6 and a 10
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
Step 8. Give It the Wrinkle Test
Before you buy a garment, squeeze a handful of fabric for 20 seconds. If it looks like an unmade bed, that's how you'll look wearing it.
— Kendall Farr
Next: 6 rules of tailoring
- Velvets, transparent fabrics, layered fabrics, beaded fabrics, and decoratively stitched fabrics are all extremely difficult to work with, so you might avoid buying an item in those fabrics that needs a lot of alteration.
- Most pieces can be altered only one size up or down. If you want to let out a garment, make sure there is at least a half-inch allowance (extra fabric) at the hem and seams.
- Possibly the most neglected alteration is the one that improves a woman's look most dramatically and is among the easiest for tailors to do—pulling up fabric at the shoulders to prevent garments from drooping across the breast and bunching around the tummy. The tuck instantly creates a clean line on any body type.
- Buy pants to fit your bottom. Legs and waists can be more easily altered.
- If you look "boxy" in your trousers, ask your tailor to narrow them a bit along the inside back seams.
- If you're not sure where to hem your skirt, consider right below the knee, at the thinnest part of the legs. It's a flattering length for anyone.
Next: What a personal shopper wishes you knew
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
Step 11. Shop at a Friend's House
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.
Step 12. Take 3 Pounds Off Your Midsection Now
Cut out the front pockets of your pants. They're probably bunching as you move around.
— Finola Hughes, host of Style Network's How Do I Look?
More Shopping Strategies: Timeless versus trendy: How to figure out if it's a good bet