I love shopping for clothes online. But I absolutely hate it when the clothes don’t fit — which happens way too often. I’m not alone. The return rate for clothes bought online is between 25 and 40 percent, more than twice the return rate for in-store purchases.
A big part of the problem is that sizing isn’t standardized from one brand to another. You may be a size 8 to one company and a 12 to another. And yes, this is a ploy to keep you loyal to one brand. And then there’s “vanity sizing,” the practice of brands’ inflating their sizes so that would-be customers can fit into items with lower size numbers. It has only made finding the right fit more difficult.
So can’t technology come to the rescue?
Getting your size right
Even brands that don’t lean on vanity sizing aren’t consistent. Sizes differ from brand to brand, on purpose, so you’re more likely to say, “I know I’m a size 10 in Gap jeans, so it’s easiest to just buy another pair from them.”
Sure, you can measure yourself and compare your 32-inch waist with a website’s size chart and see if that makes you an 8 or a 10, but that’s a pain, and measuring yourself is just not as easy as it looks: A few years ago I went online to a site that sold made-to-order jeans. I got out the old measuring tape and did what I thought was a careful job. I ended up with maternity jeans, and I wasn’t pregnant.
The problem was in how I was taking my measurements. I went to a professional seamstress, and it turns out my measurements were way off. I was several inches off around my waist and hips (apparently, I hadn’t placed the measuring tape exactly where I should have) and off by a mile when it came to measuring my “rise.” I thought it was the back of your waist to the front of your waist — hence the maternity jeans.
High-tech solution #1: 3D scanners
A couple of years ago, there was a lot of hype about 3D scanners in shopping malls that would incorporate hundreds of thousands of data points to give customers ultraprecise sizing. But they haven’t they caught on. The consensus from retail experts is that this technology is too invasive, especially as so many of us are self-conscious about our weight and body shape. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my shopping experience to feel like I’m going through security at the airport. And even worse, I don’t want that 3D mapping of my love handles to happen in the middle of a mall or department store. Three-D scanners: not the solution right now.
High-tech solution #2: XYZE
The Italian startup XYZE (pronounced “size”) recently launched an Indiegogo campaign for a new product called ON. This device is basically a Bluetooth-enabled tape measure that you loop around various body parts, and it transmits the data to a smartphone app. As with an old-school measuring tape, you still have to place the tape in just the right place to get accurate measurements, but the photos on the app help quite a bit to get that placement right.
The real promise of the service is that it’s supposed to cross-reference your measurements with a database of size charts from popular brands. It will tell you if you’re an 8 or a 10 in those Joe’s jeans you want so badly. But here’s the problem: That brand-specific information won’t start appearing on the app until May, and it’s limited. Says founder Paulo Spica, “We decide to give priority to luxury, contemporary and sportswear brands, emerging designers … top international e-stores brands and obviously best Italian.” So unless you’re a regular shopper at Armani.com, that’s not a viable solution anytime soon.
High-tech solution #3: Free online tools
But where startups and scanners fail, there are existing, free, survey-based sizing services:
- True Fit asks you what size you are in the brands you already own, and then it uses that info to help figure out what size you’ll be in a different brand.
- Like True Fit, Dressipi shows how your size translates across brands. It also offers style recommendations.
- For shoes, there’s Shoefit.
- For bras, there’s True & Co (read more).
- And even some brands are getting into the act, such as Levi’s Curve ID. They ask you to identify the curviness of your hips and backside, then suggest jeans based on your self-identified shape.
I’ve had mixed results using some of these services. With True Fit, I got a pair of shoes that fit perfectly and two pairs of jeans that were too big. With Levi’s Curve ID I used their guides and the mirror to analyze my Kardashian factor (that’s my term, not Levi’s), and I got a pair of jeans that fit pretty well. And of the five True & Co. bras I ordered, four fit me well.
The good news is that as more people use these services, their algorithms get better. More data means better predictions in the future. True Fit has a definite head start in that it has partnerships with more brands and retailers (Joe’s jeans, DVF, Lilly Pulitzer) and retailers (Macy’s, Nordstrom, Lord & Taylor). In the meantime, each of these predictive sites is a step in the right direction but by no means perfect.
Bottom line: Back to the mall
As much as I want technology to solve all my problems, each of the tools I tried had its shortcomings, for now. The one thing that works: going to the store and actually trying clothes on.