How to shop successfully when you can't try anything on: Award-winning stylist reveals why you should write a list, check out size charts before you shop and take a tape measure (and the best stores for YOUR body shape)

Stylist Susie Hasler

Stylist Susie Hasler

While you might be itching to go to the stores after months of lockdown, stores are having to make changes to ensure the safety of shoppers.

From socially distanced queues just to get in, to changing rooms being closed - the new normal is going to present a whole other set of challenges.

So, how not to end up buying loads of items that don’t fit you, or don’t suit you?

While most stores have extended their refund policy to 90 days, you'll want to avoid heading unnecessarily to and from shopping centres just to return items.

Here, award-winning personal stylist Susie Hasler, who runs Styled By Susie, which specialises in styling women on a budget, gives her top tips on how to buy the perfect items for you.

Pre-shop prep

It might sound a little OTT, but the better prepared you are to hit the shops, the less time you’ll spend ‘browsing’ and lingering in stores. Once you’ve made it into the shop of your choice, the last thing you’ll want to do is forget some of the items you wanted to buy, or just grab what you think will work - as I guarantee it will result in you having to make a second trip to return items.

Before heading to the shops, you must make a plan.

A list is your friend. Have a specific idea in mind of what you want to shop for. Take a look through your wardrobe beforehand and identify any gaps you have. Do you have lots of lovely summer skirts but no tops to go with them? If so, make a note of the colours of the skirts and which hues would complement them. Or do you need summer shoes? Have a style in mind - do you want flats, or sandals or wedges or trainers?

Add all these items to a list, so that the items you will be buying will make a complete outfit.

Then write down a list of shops you want to go to. Browse online to see whether they have anything you particularly like, and want to see ‘in the flesh’. Take some screenshots on your phone so that you have everything at your fingertips, and you can easily find items when in store.

Also, remember that you’ll be queuing for longer than usual - just to get into stores and then when paying too. Wear something comfy - you won’t need to remove anything to try things off - take snacks and water, and perhaps download something to watch on your phone (especially vital for children if you’re braving the stores with them).

Will it suit me?

There are at least four types of body shape - strawberry, rectangle, apples, pears and hourglasses. And each one suits different styles of clothing. 

The best way to find out your body shape is to book an analysis with a stylist (like me!). We will also tell you what skin tone you are and give you a guide to which colours suit you the best. This means less of holding up items to your face to see whether you think it’ll suit you.

It’s easy to be led by Pinterest photos and Instagram influencers who seem to be able to wear anything and make it work. It can then be disheartening when you try on the same item and it doesn’t look as good!

So it’s beneficial to dress for your body shape and enhance the best bits of your shape. 

A neckline can make a big difference. If you are conscious of your tummy or you have a fuller bust, choose V necks and scoop necks to slim the torso. If you’re wider on the hips, opt for culottes, wide leg trousers and A-line midi dresses.

If you want to add curves to your frame, look at the statement tops around at the moment with exaggerated sleeves and frills around the neckline.

The shops are full of big, bold patterns and these can work so well for flattering a tummy or curvier frame. 

Try to push your comfort zone and while it’s good to take inspiration from Instagram, see how you can make it work for your shape in your own way.

Can I REALLY wear red?

Without a colour analysis, the best way to see if an item suits your skintone in a shop, is to stand in very good lighting and hold it up to your face.

Does the colour of the item drain your skintone or enhance it? 

A complementary colour will make your eyes, skin and hair more intense. 

Red is one to wear to make an impact - it doesn't need to be a bright red dress, for example, it can be a subtle pop, such as lipstick, a scarf or earrings.

If you're looking for girl-next-door flirty, pink is your friend. It's fun and evokes sensitivity.

Avoid grey - it zaps the energy from your skin tone.

While black is perfect for work calls as it's a sophisticated colour, yellow is cheerful and happy - and there's a shade for everyone.

If in doubt, choose navy blue and burgundy as they suit all skintones.

Will it fit me?

As most stores’ sizes come up differently, and you won’t be able to try on items in shops, this is going to be the trickiest challenge when buying clothes.

Before you hit the shops, check size charts online - and measure your leg length, hips, waist, shoulders and bust, to see how you fare in each store. Make a note of this in your list. Then check your wardrobe for items you already have from these stores and note the sizes that you’ve previously bought that fit you. It’s probably wise to play it safe and head to familiar stores while changing rooms are closed.

As a last resort, you’ll need to grab two of each item, the two closest sizes, and take them home to try them on. You may be able to send them back via post, but check with that store before doing so.

Shops such as Zara, H&M and Mango are less generous with their sizing, compared to Next and M&S. This means you might need to size up once or even twice.

Also check that the size noted on the hanger is the same as what’s on the label - there’s nothing more frustrating than buying an item only to find it has been placed on the wrong hanger!

If you’ve measured yourself at home, pop a tape measure in your bag and compare the items of clothes you want to buy to ensure they’ll fit without having to try them on.

Stop buying random bits!

Shopping post-pandemic means an end to hours of browsing - for now. You’ll also want to shop effectively, which is also good for the environment, and that means not just grabbing items of clothing for which you don’t have an outfit in mind.

I have carried out hundreds of wardrobe declutters on women who have countless items still with the labels on as when they got them home, they realised they had nothing to wear them with.

You may opt for a pretty printed skirt, but when you get it home you realise you have nothing to wear with it.

Not having enough basic items is the reason behind the saying ‘I have too many clothes but nothing to wear’.

Basics are ‘boring’ items – the T-shirts, vests, cardigans and knitwear - that act as the glue to pull so many more outfits together. 

A basic white T-shirt, for example, can be worn with jeans, with a co-ord suit, tucked into a pleated skirt or under a pair of dungarees. Just that one T-shirt will give you at least four different outfits! 

You can’t beat a basic, and if you aim to stock up on vest tops and tees, you can be safe in the knowledge that they will go with anything you wear on the bottom half. 

A striped Breton tee is also handy as you can clash that with patterns too.

If you’re looking at pattern clashing, try to always ensure they have the same colourway.

For example, you can easily clash leopard print with camo print as they are similar earthy tones.

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