Everyone has bought something online at this point. And if you buy enough things online, you are bound to have that moment when you kick yourself for not paying enough attention to things like measurements, fit and fabric.
I created this guide to help you take the mystery out of buying a dress online so your shopping experience can be successful the first time.
This post may contain affiliate links. Please see Disclosures for more information.
Plan Well in Advance
It’s necessary to plan ahead, as best you can, anyway. The more important the event is, the more crucial it is that you either get your purchase right the first time or have enough time to return the dress, exchange it or have necessary alterations finished.
First, you should make sure you are purchasing a dress appropriate for the occasion. It’s bad enough to have a dress that doesn’t fit, but then to add additional stress by being either too fancy or not fancy enough for the event is something you obviously want you to avoid.
See the post on dress codes to help guide your search. Or, if you know your body shape, this is a thorough guide for finding what looks good on you and even takes height and weight into account.
Also, take into consideration things like shipping time and return policy. If you end up having to return the dress, will you have to pay the shipping yourself or is it included? Will you have time to have a different size or an alternate dress shipped to you?
Prevent an “Oh Crap” Moment by Determining Your Measurements
As e-commerce continues to grow, there are so many more opportunities to find what you are looking for in almost any corner of the world. This also makes it necessary that you know your measurements. Not what you think you are, or what you were a year ago.
You will need a measuring tape and find out, which is easily available at anywhere from dollar stores to craft stores, or (no surprise here) online. If worse comes to worst, you can use yarn or ribbon to wrap around your waist, for example, then measure the length with a ruler. Or you can have a friend help you out with proper placement of the tape.
Conversely, sometimes you can find a store that will take your measurements for you. It’s more tedious and challenging to measure yourself, but if you’re careful, you can do it.
Be sure to wear the undergarments you plan on wearing with the dress. If you’re planning on cinching and lifting and so forth, you’ll have a better idea whether you can maintain this for an hour or an evening. Plus, it’s another assurance that the dress will fit properly.
Make sure that you take measurements, at minimum, of your bust, waist, and hips.
If you are planning on wearing a full-length gown, it’s also necessary to measure the length from your collar bone to the floor.
In this instance, make sure you are wearing the shoes you plan on wearing that day or at least remember to take your heel height into account during your search.
As a reminder/guide:
Measure yourself in your undergarments only, not over your clothes.
To measure your BUST size: measure around your chest at the fullest part of your bust.
To measure your WAIST size: stand up straight with your feet together. Then bend at the waist to one side. Where the crease forms are where you will measure.
To measure your HIP size: stand up straight with your feet together and measure at the fullest part of your hips.
To measure for LENGTH: be sure to be wearing heels that are the height you plan to wear with your dress. Start your measurement at the center of your collar bone at the notch at your throat. Then measure down to the floor.
Find a Dress? Don’t Fall in Love Just Yet
Now that you know your measurements, make sure to read the description of the dress carefully. Even if you are familiar with the designer, there may be essential notes, like “fits small size up.” Some international designers use a different method of sizing, so be sure to check the sizing charts. Also, a lot of luxury labels or couture use different sizing. Using these charts will guide you.
Another thing to consider is the fabric. Some fabrics breathe more than others, and if you’re outside, you should take this into considerations. If you are going to be hot, you should also remember that clothing that fits more closely also tends to feel hotter. The more breathable fabrics include cotton, polyester, nylons, rayon, linen, silk, merino wool (depending on the time of year and your preference).
However, if you sweat a lot you probably want to avoid silk, polyester, viscose, and nylons, as well as light colors.
What If You are Between Sizes?
This somewhat depends on the style of the dress, the type of fabric it’s made of and the fit you’re looking for.
However, it’s generally better to size up.
Knits are going to stretch and are more forgiving if you are in between. But most occasion dresses are going to be dependent on the construction of the dress (seams and darts) to shape the dress to fit the body and so will stretch little or not at all.
Some general hints that the dress is not going to stretch much for you:
As mentioned before, if the dress description mentions darts.
If the dress has a lining (many linings are made of polyester, nylon or some combination thereof). While it may make the dress more breathable, don’t expect it to stretch.
There is a zipper. Because otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to get in the dress.
What If Your Bust and Hips Fall into Different Sizes?
Similarly, you would be better off opting for the larger size. You can always have the dress altered, but you can’t add fabric.
Most brands do have some allowance in the seams (designer dresses tend to have a little more), but there’s no good way to know this unless you have the garment in front of you, so don’t assume you can have a dress let out at a seam.
Even if you do order the correct size, you may want to consider taking the dress to a tailor, just for some tweaking. There’s nothing like a dress that fits you perfectly!
One Final Check
I’m sure you’re anxiously awaiting the arrival of your dress, so I don’t have to remind you to try on your dress as soon as possible in case in alteration or exchanges need to be made (or if there is any damage to the dress).
Don’t rip off any tags until you are sure that the dress fits or you have a tailor or seamstress to make any changes, because this may affect the ability for you to make a return.
Try it on with your undergarments and your shoes and make sure you’re happy with the look.
Final Thoughts on Finding Your Perfect Dress Online
Shopping online can be stressful at times, but fun. With all the styles out there there is increasing access to designers that may not be carried in your local stores.
It’s important that you be careful and go through these steps prior to making your final purchase, to increase the chances of you being satisfied (or hopefully, ecstatic!) about finding that perfect dress online.
What’s your biggest challenge when buying clothes online? Share below in the comments!
Cheers, dears! Remember to share with a friend!
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