For those of us who get our kicks shopping online, we look forward to this special time all year long: Right now, retailers are rolling out the fall merch, and that means they’re desperate to clear out all the spring and summer leftovers (and especially so considering extra sluggish sales over the past few months). There are Zucca thigh-high boots and APC blazers for over 70% off at yummy LA boutique Creatures of Comfort, Barney’s has Alexander Wang and Acne dresses for under $200, and don’t even get me started on the Vivienne Westwood Anglomania on the cheap right now at La Garconne. BUT! Before you rush off and kill a few buying the stuff you wanted earlier in the season but can only afford now, heed our advice. Because as a person who has a closet filled with tight, avant-garde pants that neither fit or even look remotely flattering off the computer screen, I’ve learned a few lessons and I feel the need to share so you don’t make any mistakes you regret.The most important thing to do first is determine the return policy. If there’s something you’re totally obsessed with, but you have even the slightest ambivalence regarding size, color, style what-have-you, make sure you can return it. Zappos.com has a very clear, more than fair policy, but many sites do not, so read the fine print as you can get stuck paying the shipping and handling. Also, if what you’re buying is on sale, see if they’ll take it back at all, because the last thing you want is to be left high and dry with kelly green jeans you can’t pull over your ass. I’ve found that for larger purchases, if you email customer service and politely explain that you’re interested in buying an item but can’t possibly swing it unless they can guarantee some kind of return situation, they’re generally open to agreeing to some kind of exchange for store credit. But don’t ask, don’t get!
Equally important is the small matter of being very honest with yourself. I don’t care if it’s Marc Jacobs/Lanvin/Margiela/Golden Goose and it’s only $65, will you really, truly wear an electric blue and hot pink-printed, skin tight pencil skirt on a regular basis (or ever)? Will you have to buy shoes to go with it? Then a top to match? Things tend to look really cool on the runway and subsequently perfectly styled on shopping sites, but anyone who’s ever loved a certain shirt in a store and tried it on only to find it’s too small in the chest and/or the color looks heinous on you knows that what looks good on the hanger (or in this case, the screen), doesn’t always translate to wearable in real life. (That said, if you’re in love with something sweet you found at a department store but just can’t afford it, try it on, make a note of what size fit you and the name of the style, and see if you can’t find it online for less.)
Which brings us to measurements. Pick up a tape measure (in ribbon form; they cost like, $1), and make it your best shopping buddy. While online stores often list measurements, sometimes they don’t, but will provide them if you write customer service and ask, (again, always ask nicely!). This is really important when it comes to sizing foreign clothes (when in doubt, always buy big so you can have it altered), and shoe brands you’ve never worn before. You know what else a tape measure is good for? Answering potential buyers’ questions on Ebay, in case you live to regret that wacky asymmetrical Comme Des Garconnes vest you bought during last year’s mid-summer Net-a-Porter clearance sale. Hey, it happens.