Saturday, February 14, 2015

Buying a Dress: 10 Tips for Women Over 50

Calvin Klein Cascade Sheath Dress

I'm a huge fan of dresses on women over 50. A dress is…
  • Flattering. A dress’s continuous color or print from shoulder to hem is slimming and elongating.
  • Easy. There’s no debating what top goes best with a particular skirt or pair of pants.
  • Comfortable. Most dress styles don’t have a confining waistband.
However, shopping for the perfect dress online can be challenging—to say the least. Here are a few tips that have helped me along the way. If you have other tips, please leave a comment. Thanks!

#1 ~ Know Your Body Shape
Knowing your body shape—hourglass, pear, pencil, apple and so forth—will help guide you to flattering dresses online.  Some women—yours truly included—experience a shape shift after menopause. My hourglass shape has morphed into a pear shape in recent years. It's not a bad idea to reassess your shape now and then. For help with what defines the different shapes, check the Internet. There are tons of articles.

#2 ~ Know What Dresses Flatter Your Shape
Fear not: There is a dress to flatter every woman's body, whether she has a bust, a tummy, hips or not. Some dress styles tend flatter certain body shapes, other styles are more versatile.I say "tend" because women aren't cut from cookie-cutters--obviously. When trying to find the best dresses for your shape, it's not bad to take a peek at some of the online guides.

It doesn't hurt to do a little in-store research, too. In recent years, when trying garments in brick-and-mortar shops' fitting rooms, I've become more conscious of what does and doesn't flatter my shape. This has really informed the way I evaluate dresses online. Often, dresses get tossed into categories—sheath, fit and flare, wrap, and so forth—but not all sheaths or wraps are cut exactly the same. Some are more form-fitting, others are a more roomy. For me, doing a little homework has increased my online shopping success.

#3 ~ Know Your Measurements
Do you know your dress size? I don’t—not really. Depending on the dress style and the dress maker, my dress size can be any of four different sizes on any given online shopping day. As a rule, I find the higher the price tag, the lower the dress size. But that’s not a guarantee. It's best to know your measurements, including your preferred hem length. What’s the best way to take your measurements? Good question. Again, there are online guides. However, my most successful online clothes shopping experiences have been on websites that offer their own guide to measuring. And I keep the tape measure nearby.

#4 ~ Know the Dress Makers
Shopping for dresses online is so much easier if you have a few "go to" dress makers. Searching for favorite dress makers--either by googling the names or by searching the names on online department stores and other large sites that feature many dress makers--speeds up the process and increases the likelihood of success. In this age of very short hems and cheesy craftsmanship, it can be terribly frustrating to just randomly search the web for dresses. One of my "go to" dress makers is Adrianna Papell (below). The brand's dresses tend to be moderately priced, well made, and have reasonable hemlines (38-41").

#5 ~ Know the Hem Length
Can you tell the hem length of the Women's Adrianna Papell Rosette Side Lace Dress below? Unless you're 5’11” and a bean pole, it’s pretty impossible to look at a dress photo online and know whether it will fall above, at or below the knees. At first glance, the vast majority look much too short. And these days, many of them are! However, if you like the dress style, I strongly advise you to click on the photo and read the garment description. You may be pleasantly surprised. A dress that look like its hem length is 34 or 35" because a 5'11" model is wearing it, may actually be 37" or longer. That's the case with this lovely lace dress.

Most descriptions give the shoulder-to-hem length. Some, however, give the length from natural waist-to-hem. The Calvin Klein Cascade Sheath Dress at the top of this post measure 27" from the natural waist. As a petite woman who wears dresses just above my knees, I'd probably have to shorten that hem. My sister-in-law, age 64, shops at Pure Collection because the hem lengths are often around 40". To see the site's spring dresses, click Shop Pure Collection's New Arrivals

#6 ~ Know the Fabrics
Personally, I look for dresses that will hide my little lumps and bumps. Consequently, dress fabric is important. My taste in fabrics, however, varies depending on the dress style. For example, I don't mind a lightweight fabrics, especially lightweight jerseys or silk blend, for a wrap or draped dress. A wrap or draped dress's overlapping fabric hides the lumps and the lightweight material keeps the dress from becoming too bulky.

I like more sturdy lump-hiding fabrics for sheaths. Or, if the fabric isn't sturdy, I look for lining. And for extra comfort, I've fallen in love with fabrics that have a little stretch. Poking around your closet is a great w ay to start learning what fabrics work best for you.

#7 ~ Know the Reviews
Product reviews can be helpful. I’m not going to dismiss a dress because of one bad review. However, if I see that multiple shoppers have been pleased, it definitely weighs in the dress’s favor. Often, reviews will alert shoppers to the fact the dress runs large. Sometimes, a review will point out something I hadn't noticed or thought about.

# 8 ~ Know the Customer Service
Many times, I want to speak to someone who really knows the dress. I have found customer service a huge help, especially when I’m debating over the size. Yes, CS wants to make the sale. However, a reputable online shop doesn't want a dissatisfied customer either. Before you spend too much time on a dress site, check out the Customer Service – how easy is it to communicate with someone? Is there an 800 number?

#9 ~ Know the Site’s Security System
I shop only at sites that use encryption. Web addresses that start with "https://" or have a closed  padlock have this increased security. Note: The padlock should appear when you go to "check out" and are asked for payment and billing information. Personally, I tend to shop at well-known sites, which tend to have good security. For example, the CATHERINE Catherine Malandrino Tinka Dress (Marina Blue) Women's Dress (37" hem) is on the Zappo's site, which displays both the "https://" and the padlock at check out.

CATHERINE Catherine Malandrino Tinka Dress (Marina Blue) Women's Dress

However, we all heard what happened to Target last year. Pay Pal offers some level of security.  I use Pay Pal when shopping at smaller, lesser known sites. These days, our online security is so shaky, but I feel I'm doing what I can by taking these steps.

#10 ~ Know the Return Policy
I’m drawn to sites like Zappos that offer free returns with virtually no hassle. This is so important when it comes to shopping for clothing, since even the most careful shopper can’t know for sure how a dress is going to fit until she tries it on. My other "go to" online shopping sites are ones that have brick and mortar stores in my area. Not to rub it in, but I live in a shopping hub. Every clothing chain store, from The Gap, Ann Taylor, Land’s End and White House/Black Market to Macy’s, Lord + Taylor, and Nordstrom are within 30 minutes of my house. (Designers like Prada and Gucci are less than 15 minutes from where I live. Oh, that I could afford them!)  I hate to have to return something, but when I do, I want it to be relatively easy.

Well, there are my tips for dress shopping online. Please leave a comment with your tips.