2013 Fashion: Shopping Tips

Knowing how to find clothes that fit, complement your coloring, and make sense for your budget are all key to looking great on the job.

September 18, 2013

Whether you’re a shopaholic or you hyperventilate at the thought of entering a fitting room, these shopping tips will help you use your time at the store or online wisely. You might even save a little money in the process.

Plan Ahead

Tamika Martell-Price, owner of Chicago-based A-Line Style Services, prepares her clients ahead of shopping trips. Martell-Price helps clients determine where the “holes” are in their wardrobe — as well as what they already own — and develops a checklist of “everyday must-haves.” She helps clients figure out if they need to purchase one of these basic building blocks in another color or cut.

Whether you decide to seek professional styling help or you want to do it on your own, it’s important to think beyond the wardrobe you already have.

“Otherwise it’s, ‘How did I get eight black turtlenecks? Where did that come from?’” Martell-Price laughs. “That’s why I always say, ‘Shop with a plan.’”

Get the Fit

New York-based lawyer and writer Kat Griffin created a guide at her advice site Corporette.com to address the many problems women have with finding the right suit. But if you’re looking for a quick fitting test, she suggests checking the shoulders.

“How it fits in your shoulders is going to be the most important place to pay attention to, because that’s the hardest for a tailor to change,” Griffin says.

Martell-Price says that it’s important to think of your body as having two distinct sizes. Just because you’re a size six in a suit jacket doesn’t mean your bottom half can’t be a four or an eight.

For men, it’s all about knowing your inches (or centimeters, depending on where you’re buying the suit). Still, men’s clothing is approaching the more ambiguous sizing that has ruled the women’s section for years.

“Now there are so many different fits,” men’s style consultant Jennifer Mahoney says, noting that one company’s “slim” or “classic” fits won’t necessarily match another’s. “Based on the brand, there are different levels. So, try on three or four suits. I know it’s a pain, but that’s my recommendation.”

There are some quick rules of thumb when shopping for a men’s suit, however. “The most important is, know your chest size,” says Mahoney. Knowing that basic number can help you figure out what sizes you should be trying on. “Have the coat hit you around or a little above the wrist, so ... you can see a little bit of the dress shirt coming through. Also, if you’re standing, you can cup your jacket. If you can get your hand around the bottom, then it’s not too long.”

Of course, shoulders aren’t easy to tailor for either gender, so men should pay attention to how a suit fits that area as well.

“When you try on a jacket, make sure that the padding lays right on your shoulder, that it’s not over, or in and pulling in the back,” Mahoney says.

Find Your Colors

There are fewer hard-and-fast rules about color these days: Our experts even told us that wearing black shoes with a navy suit is OK! But just because you have a favorite color, it doesn’t mean it looks great on you.

Knowing your skin’s “undertone” is important for both men and women. Try this: Look at your wrist. Are the veins blue or purple? Then you’re better off wearing cool tones, such as pinks, blues, and purples. If your veins have a greenish or yellowish tone, you should try reds and oranges. Once you know your basic skin color, try to avoid any tans, peaches, or browns that mimic your skin tone too closely.

“Yellows are tough, and greens are tough,” Mahoney says. “If it’s making you look all the same color, it’s probably not for you.”

Of course, with the plethora of skin tones out there, it’s hard to know for sure which colors look best on you without trying them on. Stepping out of your color comfort zone can also help if you have a more monochromatic closet. Try on something that you normally wouldn’t and see how it looks.

“Be open. Try clothes on that you might not have tried on before if you’re out shopping,” Martell-Price advises. “I often say that the hanger does not oftentimes do a garment justice. Or sometimes it gives it too much justice!”

Price Perfect

Businesswear prices can vary a great deal. For those on a budget, Griffin notes that women can easily find a two-piece suit for less than $100. But she adds that “those are just going to really limit your options.”

“Those two pieces aren’t really intended to be worn with anything else,” she explains. If you purchase “four pieces all in the same fabric, then suddenly you have a million different options.”

Regardless of the combinations, Griffin says you should try to “clean them together ... just to make sure they have the same amount of wear.”

Another budget tip is to stay away from fads and unique items.

“The more memorable a piece is, the less often you wear it,” says Griffin. “If you buy that blue floral shift dress, people are going to remember it. ... They are going to wonder, ‘Does she not have another dress?’”

If you’re able to pay more for suits and separates, be sure that you’re looking for durability in both fabric type and construction. In fact, men’s fashion expert Andy Gilchrist says the materials matter, but not as much as a good fit.

“Buy the best quality fabric you can afford. But even if you only can afford a lower-priced suit, make sure it fits by putting some money into getting it tailored perfectly. And that might mean going to a tailor other than the store’s tailor,” he says.

Tailored to Your Specs

It’s important to find a good tailor that you can trust with new clothes or treasured staples that need repair or refitting. But how do you find someone you can work with?

Griffin suggests starting small: “Take in one item, see how it goes. See how it holds up [and] build from there.”

Gilchrist suggests looking around your neighborhood for a number of convenient options and mining advice from others to narrow the field.

“I just moved to a new area and used Google Plus to read all the reviews about the various tailors,” he says. “Even then, it’s a hit-and-miss [process] and might take you working with a couple of tailors until you find one that is competent and works well with you.”

Meg White

Meg White is the former managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine.