Ah shopping. For those who fall into the narrow band of body proportions that the fashion industry designs for, it’s like the montage in Pretty Woman. You try everything on, and buy a bunch of it, then berate the snooty shopgirls who wouldn’t help you!
For those of us whose proportions fall solidly outside that range, though, the experience is very different. I have found that nothing can trigger an attack of I-am-revoltingness like trying on 20 garments and having none of them fit.
I myself am a pretty serious body proportion outlier — my waist is wider than it “should be” based on the measurements used by mass market retailers. This means that, seriously, 95% of what I try on simply doesn’t work. More than once, an afternoon spent shopping has ended with me bitterly wiping away tears, wondering what I hate more — a fashion industry that doesn’t seem to want to dress me except in stretch pants, or myself.
And I have to say it honestly chaps my ass that, for so many of us, the search for clothes flips into a search for validation as we hunt for garments that tell us our bodies aren’t weird, that we are worth making clothes for, that we are OK. If nothing fits, what does that mean about me and my body? How big of an aberration AM I?
Someday, we will conquer the wasteful, sizist fashion industry and put in its place a flexible and streamlined system of constructing custom clothes for everyone. But in the meantime, you have to wear something, which means that you have to shop. The good news is that shopping-related craziness is brought on by a specific set of circumstances which can be tweaked and hacked and worked around. So here’s how to go shopping and not wish you were dead.
1. Remember that the clothes are auditioning for you, not the other way around.
Also, clothes are inanimate objects with zero feelings. So don’t be shy about being picky. Heck, be a total dick like Simon Cowell. “This dress is pitchy and has no personality. It’s a NO from me.” These clothes have to earn their way into your life; make them work for it.
2. If something doesn’t fit, it does not mean anything about you.
The entire fashion industry is built around an incredibly narrow range of body proportions. When things don’t fit, that’s why. It’s not because you’re a weirdly shaped freak. And it doesn’t mean that there are certain people who are destined to be pretty and you are not one of them. It doesn’t mean anything, in fact, except this particular garment is not getting cast in your life. Let it go and move on.
3. Ask the right questions.
Don’t ask, “Do I look cute in this?” That puts the deciding power in someone else’s hands — either an actual person you are asking, or some made-up “cuteness police” in your head. Fuck the (cuteness) police. Instead, ask yourself, “Do I like how I look and feel in this?” That puts the deciding power in your hands, which is right where it should be.
4. Go with a friend who thinks you are the bee’s knees.
This works a lot like having a friend who loves you take your picture — seeing yourself through someone else’s friendly perspective helps to smooth over all the jaggy stuff you might potentially freak out about.
5. Don’t go shopping when you’re feeling vulnerable.
Are you hungover? Sad or stressed about something? Have you just been dumped? If you’re feeling iffy anyway, don’t make it worse by actually willingly going into the lion’s den. Save your shopping for a day when you feel steadier on your feet.
6. When freakouts begin, nip them in the bud.
I talk about this in depth in the book, but here’s the basic process for shutting down a freakout:
– notice you are starting to freak out
– notice what’s happening in your body
– relax and take a breath
– ask yourself objective questions
– be nice to yourself
– distract yourself as needed. (This is why God made cat weightlifting game shows.)
7. Plan ahead so you don’t have shopping emergencies.
Of course there may be times when you need to settle for the 60% okay garment — like if you need black pants TODAY. But in general, the less of a hurry you can be in, the less pressure you’ll feel, the more fun you’ll have, and the better stuff you’ll find.
8. Avoid the dressing room entirely by going custom.
Buy custom, or get your purchases altered. This way, you KNOW what you’re getting will fit. I, of course, used to make custom dresses and skirts, and there are lots of other great custom shops out there, too — from Etsy sellers to big companies. In my experience, dresses and skirts are the easiest to fit from a distance; if you want trousers or fitted blouses or alterations, it’s probably best to work with a local tailor.
Do you have shopping-related freakouts when things don’t fit you? How do you deal? Are Auntie Anne’s pretzels involved in your coping mechanism?