How to shop for clothes at an online boutique to get the best fit, price, and quality apparel.

How to shop for clothes at an online boutique to get the best fit, price, and quality apparel.

When shopping online, even without a fitting room, it’s doesn't have to be hard to fit clothes without trying them on. All it takes is a clear understanding of your personal measurements and a product sizing chart.

How to get the right fit when shopping for clothes online

Woman checking the fit of a dress bought from on online boutique in a mirrorKnow your measurements

First, know your measurements (check out Ivy and Pearl Boutique's Size Guide for detailed directions). If you are unable to take the measurement yourself, ask a tailor for help. Often tailors will gladly take your measurements and keep them on file for future business. When taking your measurements, remember to stand naturally. Don’t artificially correct your posture or suck in your gut.

You will typically need measurements for height, waist size, inseam, hip measurement (the fullest part of your hip, around and across the seat), chest size, sleeve length, and neck size. You may also want to measure your “natural waist”, the thinnest part of your waist (not necessarily the waistline where your pants rest).

Check the size chart

Example of a size chart used by an online boutiqueLabels and fashion designers often use “vanity sizes” on their products. Vanity sizes are sizes that look good to the customer and play to their vanity but don’t necessarily indicate the true size of the piece. At Ivy and Pearl Boutique, we provide sizing tips in the product description (e.g. this shirt fits loose or these pants fit true to size). We also provide sizing charts for each product where applicable and standard sizing charts that can be used to determine your general size.

To use a sizing chart, find your measurements in the chart to determine the size that will fit you best. If your measurements do not fit the range of measurements in the sizing chart, you will have to decide how you would like the product to fit and where you want to make adjustments. For instance, if your chest measurement is 33, waist is 26, and hips are 37, you could use the size chart below to find your measurements match sizes from Extra Small through Small. Two of your measurements fall within the Extra Small size (33-inch chest and 26-inch waist) but your hip measurement (37 inch) exceeds the hip measurement for an Extra Small by one inch. You could wear an extra small, but the piece will be tight in the hips. Alternatively, you could move to a small size for more room in the hips, but the fit will be looser in the chest and waist.

XS (4-6) S (6-8) M (8-10) L (10-12) XL (12-14)
Chest 31" - 33" 33" - 35" 35" - 37" 37" - 39½" 39½" - 42½"
Waist 24" - 26" 26" - 28" 28" - 30" 30" - 32½" 32½" - 35½"
Hip 34" - 36" 36" - 38" 38" - 40" 40" - 42" 42" - 45"
Bra Cups 30B-C 32B-C 34B-C 36B-C 38B-C

Consider the fabric material

Since you can’t feel the fabric when shopping online, you will have to consider the material composition for an idea about how the fabric will stretch, lay, and feel on your skin. Check the fabric material of clothing items you enjoy the fit and feel of. Make a note of the fabric type to use when shopping for pieces online. Check out this article about why fabrics are blended for the advantages and disadvantages of various fabric blends.

Consider the piece’s silhouette

The silhouette defines the shape of the clothing item. For example, some silhouettes may be designed to fit tighter in the waist. Others may be made to fit higher in the legs. Consider the silhouette of the piece and use common sense when considering sizing options. We have articles on dress silhouettes, shirt silhouettes, and skirt silhouettes.

When to buy larger – and when to buy smaller

There are circumstances where you should buy up a size and circumstances when you would want to buy smaller. Consider buying up (larger size) in the following cases.
  • T-Shirts: If largely cotton, t-shirts can shrink up to 20% if accidentally dried.
  • Wool sweaters: Wool often shrinks when washed.
  • Socks: Socks are typically made from cotton or wool which often shrink when washed and/or dried.
  • Collared shirts: These shirts require a complex construction leaving ample opportunities for shrinkage in a variety of places including sleeves, collar, shoulder, and arms.
  • Sundresses: You can often avoid handwashing casual sundresses by simply buying up a size.
Consider buying these items a little smaller.
  • Denim: Denim fiber tends to loosen over time. But a size smaller to allow for stretch.
  • Yoga pants: Yoga pants often contain Spandex. If as much as 5% Spandex, they will loosen during wear.
  • Polyester-blend sweaters: Polyester blended sweaters will often stretch over time and become baggy. Consider buying one size smaller.
  • Tights: Nylons tend to pool at the knees and ankles after a few washings. Buy a size smaller and avoid unsightly baggy knees and ankles.

Check customer reviews

Check customer reviews for products you are interested in (and be sure to share your reviews after purchasing a product from an online boutique). Customers often describe fit, color deviations, etc. in their product reviews. Check the reviews for any notes on sizing and fit.

Ask for help

Woman needs help trying to decide which clothes to wearQuestions can always be posed in the Reviews/Comments section of a product. Good online boutiques monitor comments from their customers and will be quick to answer questions posted in product reviews. At Ivy and Pearl Boutique, we welcome submissions from our Contact Us page, DM’s, and even phone calls with questions about our products. We can discuss sizing with you and even set up a video call appointment to provide a custom, 360-degree view of the product you are interested in.

Record your measurements and keep them up-to-date

Don’t just scratch down your measurements on a notepad. Record them for safekeeping. Also, make note of product brands that you particularly like or don’t like the fit of.

Buy two sizes

Here’s a secret online boutiques don’t want you to know because it costs them money to process returns: purchase two sizes of the same product and return the one that does not fit. You will lose shipping costs but given the lower overhead of online shops, the price typically comes out lower than a brick and mortar store anyway. Be sure to check to see if the boutique allows returns and if they require any sort of “return authorization” before sending the item back. Once you’ve returned the item, note the brand, cut, and style of the item for future reference when shopping for similar items.

YOUR BEST OPTION FOR PICKING A SIZE WHEN SHOPPING AT AN ONLINE BOUTIQUE: Buy a larger size – then have alternations made for a truly custom fit

Your best option is to buy a slightly larger size and then have a tailor or seamstress alter the piece for a true custom fit. This works for store-bought clothing too. It’s quite common for online shoppers to have clothing personally customized to fit perfectly. The cost of the alternation must be considered but given the lower overhead of online boutique stores, their prices tend to be cheaper than store-bought purchases. The savings gained from shopping at an online boutique can be used to pay for alterations. Without a doubt, a piece that’s been custom altered will provide the best fit possible and create the most attractive, sophisticated look.

How to find the best quality clothing when buying from an online boutique

Determining the quality of a piece can be difficult when shopping at some online boutiques. The same is true for brick and mortar stores. Good boutiques will offer only quality, unique products, a practice that differs from larger retail stores that often sacrifice quality for quantity. At Ivy and Pearl Boutique, we refuse any product we receive that does not meet our quality expectations. This policy incurs additional costs for us but is in the best interest of our customers who we hope become faithful, returning shoppers. Here are some tips on how to distinguish quality clothing pieces when shopping at an online boutique.

Consider the store itself

A virtual online boutique storefrontThe first thing to consider when checking the quality of clothing at an online boutique is the store itself. You can’t determine quality by brand name. Some brands specialize in certain types of products but branch into other areas and offer inferior quality products in subset pieces.

For instance, the maker of quality jeans may offer lower quality shirts. The only true way to determine the quality of a piece is to have an expert examine the piece and make the qualification. Consider the online boutique itself and their reputation for product quality. Does the online shop have a rep for cheap clothing or are they known for quality pieces? It is sometimes hard for retailers to limit stock to pieces they know are acceptable quality.

For any retailer, it boils down to costs. There have been instances where Ivy and Pearl purchased products from a new vendor and when received and inspected, the clothing did not meet our standards. But here’s the catch – most wholesalers do not allow returns and the ones that do, will not refund postage. For large orders, the postage can add up to hundreds of dollars. Plus, the online boutique loses money for the postage paid to receive the product and the postage costs of sending it back.

At Ivy and Pearl Boutique, when a product does not meet our standard of quality, it is returned to the wholesaler – we simply lose the cost of the shipping out of pocket (and the wholesaler gets added to our “naughty” list of vendors we avoid doing business with).

In cases where the wholesaler does not accept returns, we either donate the product to a charity or offer the product with clearance prices at trade shows where we can discuss the quality with the customer in a one-on-one situation. If the quality deficiency is marginal, we may offer the product online with special notes in the description (e.g. this item is a bit scratchy feeling or sleeves may stretch easily).

Check the fabric type

In general, natural fibers such as cotton, linen, wool, silk, cashmere, and leather are higher quality and more breathable. However, synthetic fibers such as polyester, Lycra, or Spandex can improve the fit, comfort, and durability of clothing. Consider the advantages and disadvantages of the fabric type when considering the purchase.

Check the fabric blend

Most fabrics blend natural fibers with synthetics. To determine which fabric blends you prefer, check the blend on clothes that you like. The blend in the product description should show the percentage of each fabric type but some manufacturers will hide inferior quality by purposely not listing the percentage in the fabric blend description. The blend should not say “polyester/cotton” but rather, should specify “80% Polyester, 20% Cotton. At Ivy and Pearl Boutique, all product descriptions list the specific fabric content as well as washing instructions for the blend.

Other considerations

Some quality considerations are difficult to check unless you are a fashion expert. A good quality reputable boutique will inspect all aspects of their product and price the product lower if construction quality is poorer (think “fast fashion”). For instance, seams should be straight and not pull apart when tugged at. The piece should have few loose threads. Better quality products will have shorter seams and more stitches. Trims such as buttons should be securely fastened with lots of thread. Buttonholes should be reinforced with thick thread to prevent tearing. Woven labels are an added touch.

Pricing and online boutiques

Pricing is the trickiest aspect of shopping. It helps if you understand how retailers price their products.

How online boutiques price their clothing

Woman in closet thinkingOnline boutiques price their products differently than brick and mortar stores – and have a key advantage over a typical retail outlet. Like brick and mortar stores, online boutiques buy in bulk at wholesale prices and then add markups to the piece to derive the final price.

Markups on products at online boutiques range from 25% up to 400% or more but are almost always lower than the markup a brick and mortar store takes. This is because typical retailers have significant overhead costs. These overhead costs exceed the costs an online retailer would incur.

As an example, at Ivy and Pearl Boutique, we first figure in postage, packaging, and payment processing costs to determine the bare minimum price, then add a markup that ensures we “break even” or only lose a small percentage of costs if coupons or online sales events reduce the price the piece. This gives us a markup percentage that is fair to the customer and ensures we can cover our costs and earn a fair profit.

Regardless of the store’s markup method, shoppers want to know if the price for a product is fair. Pricing is often based on brand name and not necessarily related to the quality of the product. In most cases, you can get a feel for a boutique’s markup percentage by simply browsing their product catalog. You’ll be able to tell if products are priced higher than similar products available at other outlets

Consider other aspects of the online boutique

However, there are other things to consider when determining if a product is priced fairly. Does the retailer allow for returns? Ivy and Pearl Boutique does. Are they responsive to questions and queries from customers? Ivy and Pearl Boutique is. Are they respected in the online community? Ivy and Pearl Boutique is. Do they offer personalized assistance or leave product selection decisions solely in the hands of the customer? Contact us and find out for yourself.

Is the price fair

In the end, whether a price is fair or not is a subjective judgement. There is no hard answer to the question. Your best bet is to find an online boutique with prices you can accept, give the retailer a try, and if the experience is good, keep going back to them.
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