Ever since I was a young girl, I always dreaded one thing more than most: shopping for clothes. I would honestly choose to go to the doctor’s office or the dentist over going shopping. I couldn’t tell you when exactly this hatred for trying and buying clothes began but I remember it being early enough that it’s all I’ve ever known.
The truth is that shopping is pretty much a setup for frustration because of all the ways it can tug on different emotional triggers.
Weight struggles or body insecurities, unrelenting shopping partners, and social anxiety are only some of the more common reasons that people find shopping to be a draining experience and why they avoid it as much as possible. However, throughout the years of emotionally taxing shopping trips, I have gained some knowledge on how to combat a lot of those yucky feelings with some simple tips and tricks. While these may not be the cure-all for the exhausting situations that shopping can put you in, they might be able to help you make it through the trip without the usual level of dread.
Step 1. Wear Your Favorite Undergarments
This step may sound silly, but I promise it will make all of the difference. For so long I would go shopping wearing a sports bra and whatever pair of underwear was on the top of the pile because it was what I thought would make changing and trying on clothes the easiest possible thing. WRONG! This is the worst way that you can prepare to shop for so many reasons, the number 1 of which is that it sets you up to fail. Unless you are consistently wearing a sports bra all day, every day DO NOT go shopping in one. Odds are, you will be trying on clothes that either show off the straps of the bra or the back of it. This doesn’t sound like much of a problem until you are trying on an off-the-shoulder top, something with thin straps, or even a t-shirt that doesn’t sit where the straps lie. Any of these situations can cause your perspective of the outfit to look warped because you are not seeing what it will look like when you wear it out. I oftentimes felt discouraged looking at the straps of the sports bra trying to imagine what the shirt would be like if it wasn’t there and failing to be able to do so.
The other major issue with wearing not your favorite bra is because a lot of times with things like sports bras your breast tissue flattens out or presses against your sides underneath your armpits. This look is fine if you are headed to the gym or to practice a sport but when you are trying on clothes… not the best look. By wearing a bra that you feel good in, you not only get to see what the shirt will look like on you during everyday wear, but it may also help quell some insecurities if you’re anything like me and your boobs/stomach are high up on your list of things that cause anxiety while shopping.
On a similar note, wearing your favorite pair of underwear (or at the very least, something a little bit higher rise) can go a long way when trying on pants, dresses, and skirts. Having a pair of underwear that sits below your navel but not directly on your hips can help flatten out any weird clothing bunches in areas you don’t want to highlight.
(Bonus points if you wear a matching bra and panty set because that just makes everyone feel good 😉)
Step 2. Choose Your Shopping Partner Wisely
The only exception to this rule is if you are someone who absolutely hates shopping with people in general. If having anyone else shopping with you makes you feel super anxious by all means go alone but if you are someone who can at least handle having someone shop separately but help pass your clothes in and out of the dressing room, please do.
Anywho, I spent the majority of my life shopping with someone who was the primary cause of my body insecurities and food-related issues. This same person was always the first to tell me I needed 2 sizes bigger in a shirt that I 100% didn’t because they thought I was bigger than I was. If you have any say in who you shop with, do not shop (or generally associate) with this type of person. Any interaction with this kind of person can be damaging to your psyche but shopping can bump it up 20 notches!
On the other hand, you might not want to shop with your best friend or supportive parent either if you are someone who finds shopping super stressful because you don’t want to take out your frustration on someone who is just trying to help AND you want to make sure that if you are showing people what you try on, you are getting legitimate and honest feedback on it.
My tip would be to shop with a friend, family member, or significant other who doesn’t mind keeping to themselves for the majority of the time but that will be there to help you through the process if needed. Also, make sure you are with someone who doesn’t mind leaving at a moment’s notice. Sometimes shopping is too much and you need to remove yourself from the situation (totally valid BTW) and you need to make sure you’re not with someone who will make a fuss out of that.
A good example of that person for me is my boyfriend, Nick. Not only is he fine browsing the other sections of the store while I’m shopping, but he also doesn’t mind if I need him to stay with me while I look for clothes on days when my anxiety is throwing me for a loop. He is an expert fitting room helper making sure that things go as smoothly as possible, so I don’t have to stop and lose momentum. Shopping with someone who knows your issues with the process can be a real lifesaver. There are many times that Nick has stopped fitting room breakdowns from happening simply by listening to my queues and asking if I was ready to go home.
Step 3. Avoid Peak Times
Long lines, fitting room wait times, lots of people talking at once, employees not having the proper time to help out…AHH!! These can all be things that happen during peak store times and can all work towards tanking a shopping experience. Peak times for retail stores are typically all day on weekends (Friday-Sunday) and anytime around 6-9 p.m. on weekdays. If you are able, going in the mornings during weekdays or during dinner time (around 5-5:30) are times when the stores are typically very slow with little to no traffic. Not only will the stores be much quieter, but the employees will also have much more time to help if you need it. You also won’t need to wait for a fitting room to become available or have to worry about other people waiting to get in after you. You’ll be able to take your time, try things on, send them back for different sizes, and still have time to shop around some more afterward if you feel up to it. As someone who works in retail, I can promise that the employees would be more than happy to help out especially during these non-peak times because it can get boring just folding clothes and cleaning up in between customers so we’d love to help you find what you need.
Step 4. Know What You Need
Think of clothes shopping like grocery shopping and make a list! When you plan a trip to the grocery store you never want to go while you’re hungry and you always want to know what you need so you don’t buy things unnecessarily. Similarly, when you plan a trip to get clothes you want to make sure you feel physically okay- not hungry, awake, in a positive mindset- and that you know what you will be looking for when you get there. If you are someone who gets easily overwhelmed by the in-store choices, try checking online at different stores first, selecting a few styles, and seeing if they have it in-store by looking online or calling stores. This cuts out having to search in-store entirely. If you’re not at that level, having a simple and basic list of what you are looking for can help as well. Something like “Plain black t-shirt, 2 pairs of dark wash jeans, floral dress” can stop you from getting overwhelmed by the different displays of clothes.
Likewise, you can always take it a step further and tell a store associate what you are looking for as well. Be direct and make sure to tell them that is all you want to try on. A sales associate’s 2 main jobs are to provide great customer service and to sell/upsell. They might suggest a few different items than the ones you are looking for but if you tell them that you have a list of the things you need and would only like to see those things; they will be happy to assist. If you do feel comfortable with them recommending you some other options, let them know that as well. Here is some dialogue you can use during either of these interactions.
If you just want to see what’s on your list and nothing else, try this “Hi. I have a list of what I am looking for today, but I need some help finding where everything is. I am looking for a plain black t-shirt in a size Large, 2 pairs of dark wash jeans in a size 16, and a pink floral dress size Large.” From there, the associate should be able to walk you around the store, helping you select your clothes to try on and offering you a fitting room.
If you are open to letting the associate, select a few items that would go well with the stuff already on your list or similar items to the things you listed try offering a few more details about why you need these things like this “Hi. I’m going to be going to a wedding in a week and have to travel for a day to get there. I was hoping to find a plain black t-shirt, some jeans, and a floral dress. I typically like dark wash jeans the best and the color pink for dresses but if you have any other recommendations, I am open to trying those as well.” Just make sure the associate gets you the basic things on your list first before they recommend other options! Meaning, get the plain black tee, dark wash jeans, and pink floral dress first then allow them to offer some different styles and colors. This stops you from losing sight of what you know you like and what you’re not sure about.
Step 5. Try Them on Again at Home
Lighting and mirrors in the fitting rooms of stores are typically made to have you look your best so that the clothes you put on look great. While these will, more often than not, be similar to what you see at home you always want to try them on one more time before you wear them out. This shouldn’t be as stressful since you are in the comfort of your own home and can take as much time as you need to decompress from shopping and try them on.
My tip though: do NOT try them on again right after you get home. The reason is that bodies are constantly changing and what looks good on you one day, may not look great on you the next for a billion potential reasons. But if you have a really good item of clothing, you should feel good wearing it at any time no matter the reason. Lighting, bloating, angles, etc. should not completely ruin an outfit for you and if it does, then you might want to consider returning it and trying something different, or else you’ll be trying it on, again and again, waiting for it to be the “right time” to wear it, or worse you never reach for it again and your money is wasted on something you hate.
Trying it on the next day or even the next couple of days should help you get a real idea of what it will look like during everyday wear and should be within the time frame to return it if needed. I can’t tell you how many times I thought a pair of jeans were absolutely perfect only to put them on for school the next day and be so disappointed. Save yourself this heartache by double-checking before you commit to wearing it out.
While I wished we lived in a world where the fashion industry was universally flattering for all body types, that is just not our reality right now. A violent combination of plus-sized erasure and toxic shopping partners has instilled in my anxieties about shopping that I am still trying to overcome, and I know so many people are in the same boat as me.
Hopefully, by being proactive and taking measures such as the ones listed above, we can minimize the harmful and tiring effects that shopping has on us and make the experience semi-fun or, at the very least, less stressful! After all, moderately annoying is better than break down inducing.
Stay sane and happy shopping, friends!