How to find the perfect dress online

New to buying clothes online?  Follow these rules and you’ll soon be shopping online like a pro.

  • Start by looking at online sites of your favorite stores
  • Read the shipping or delivery information
  • Read the returns policy
  • Take your exact measurements
  • Study all the images
  • Read the reviews
  • Know what styles work for you
  • Order two sizes if unsure of fit
  • Try on carefully
  • Decide quickly if you will keep or return
  • Save wrappings and tags for returns

Why do so many people buy clothes online?

Price, sales, choice, no changing rooms – here’s why everyone under the age of 50 is shopping online for their clothes these days.

Many women of my age have always bought their dresses by window shopping the high street then spending a very tiring afternoon tramping in and out of three or four stores. 

Once inside we rarely find the dress we saw in the window in our size and colour.  So we go through the racks.  Then we lug several potential frocks into a cubicle and do the big undress.

Surrounded by mirrors this is not something that puts us into a good mood. So as fast as possible we drag on outfit after outfit hoping for that miracle – a vision of a better, more fashionable and more beautiful us.  It takes a while and the hooks are thick with hangers.  The chair, if there is one, is piled high. 

We’re stepping into a creation that doesn’t seem to have a zipper and refuses to slide over our hips when suddenly the dreaded words come to us from just beyond the curtain: ‘Are you alright in there?’  Please, please do not come in.  Not at this very moment. 

Well, you get the picture.  What should be a fun day out gets less and less fun past the age of 50.

So if you hate all that, online shopping might be just right for you.

Is shopping for clothes online better?

At home you can take your time, in the privacy of your bedroom.  You can wander around and look at yourself from every angle.  You can even ask a friend or a partner to comment. 

You can try the outfit with your hair held up in an elastic band then down on your shoulders.  You can prance about the sitting room in flat sandals, boots, chunky heels or stilettos.  Freedom!

But there are other benefits from shopping online too.  You can shop at midnight.  You can favourite lots of items and come back days later.  Stocks are much higher so the chances of finding the right size and colour are better. 

Online stores can offer great prices.  There’s almost always a sale or special promotion too.  Look out for the discount they offer if you sign up for their newsletter.  You can unsubscribe once you’ve found the outfit you want.

Your daughter will already be buying much of her wardrobe on the internet and she’ll have got really good at it.  So let’s look at what she knows and you need to learn.

The rules of online fashion shopping

Start with the high street stores that you have bought from before.  They’ll be online. 

Don’t get side-tracked at this stage.  It’s easy to look at the sale or the new-in promoted knitwear.  You are looking for this one outfit for the wedding, so keep focused. 

Many sites will have Mother of the Bride as a heading under dresses.  Others will categorise their offering as Wedding Guest, Occasion or Formal.  Click straight through to the most likely category before you have time to be distracted by that lovely floral skirt that’s 50% off.

  • Read the shipping or delivery information

Most online stores will deliver worldwide but prices and terms will differ so check for your country. 

Don’t write off the UK if you live in the States or vice versa.  The delivery might cost a few pounds or dollars more but if it’s just what you want that shouldn’t matter. 

Just a note – As the EU has recently revised terms of online trading and data protection for anyone wanting to sell to Europe some non-European stores are not yet up to speed and you might find a ‘we don’t sell to your country’ page when you log in from a European country.

Don’t be surprised if prices are not identical across sites – large stores have agreements in place to push buyers to the local site depending on country of delivery.  Those local sites may not all have the same costs plus there may be different taxes and duties to be included in the price.

  • Read the returns policy

This might not seem very important right now but take it from me, it is vital.  So note how long you get to return goods and whether you need to pay for the return postage.  Obviously the longer time you get to decide, the better.

Note also if they custom-make your dress to exact measurements.  This is a wonderful service but it means you cannot send it back if you don’t like it as it cannot be resold. 

Some online stores which have high street shops allow you to return by post or to a local shop. Read the full policy just in case they say that you cannot buy the same outfits in more than one size or color, intending to return the ones that don’t suit.

  • Take your exact measurements

Never go by the size you think you are.  Every vendor uses their own sizing and you will find details of this on the site.  Match your measurements as closely as possible to their size charts and order that size. 

If you fall between sizes order both sizes and return one of them. 

Obviously if it is a dress cut close to the hips, then that’s the most important measurement when deciding on which size to buy. 

Some shops will suggest you give your measurements and they will make the dress so it fits exactly.  But that means you can’t send it back if you don’t like the fabric. 

The best is to buy the closest size and to get a local dressmaker to alter it to fit. Remember he or she can take clothes in but letting them out can be almost impossible.  So if in doubt buy larger.

  • Study all the images

Most dresses will be modelled by young slim women.  You just have to get over that and imagine what the dress will look like on your body shape. 

Look at the model critically – what height is she and what size is she wearing (most online retailers give these and many more details).  What height heels is the model wearing?  Minis are knee length for me and midis come to the floor. 

Look at the video, if there is one.  Watch how the fabric moves.  Mouse over the image to get an up-close look at the texture of the fabric and to check how sleeves are set in and hems are finished. 

Check out the fabric information – you may not want to wear synthetics on a hot day.

  • Read the reviews

Online buyers often leave reviews to help other buyers.  They’ll mention how the dress fits, if the fabric creases easily, how the colour looks compared to the online image, if it was delivered on schedule and so forth.

Reviews are a godsend so always read them, don’t just rely on the star rating.

Buyers might uprate a garment because it’s very fashionable – how important is that to you? 

Many reviews also give the age range of the people commenting.  Another godsend.  Lower bust, thicker waist, more padding at the rear – most women of your age will be in a similar condition so their reviews are very useful.

  • Know what styles work for you

If you are overcome by the masses of styles available and are getting exhausted by constant scrolling down then here’s the way to filter out stuff that’s unlikely to be right for you.

Go to your closet and take out the three dresses you really like wearing (don’t worry if they are summer or winter, formal or casual).  What shape are they?  If none of them have a defined waist then steer clear of online dresses with a neat waist however gorgeous they look on the model. 

Think about level of waist, sleeve length, hem length and neckline to give yourself a way of dismissing fast most of the things you see on fashion sites.

  • Allow yourself to order more than one

This is an important outfit.  You’ll probably have to order two or three outfits to find one that’s just right.  Shops know this.  Young people have no worries whatever about doing this. 

Your bedroom is now the changing room cubicle so take a few items in there before choosing.  Don’t feel guilty about over-ordering.  Nobody is judging you. 

Prices reflect the fact that most people will be returning items.  It’s an extra bit of work for the seller but a lot less expensive than having a shop assistant ferrying outfits back and forth between the changing room and the racks. 

So buy whatever looks right.  If none of it is right send the lot back and make a new order.

I’m videoing styles I try on for my daughter’s wedding and you can see an example of these videos here. Each has a page of notes on this blog so you can see what I thought and cost, delivery information and so on. Leave a comment if you find these useful. And send in your own photos of try-ons as I’d love to add them to the photo area of this site.

  • Try on carefully

When the parcel arrives undo it very carefully.  Do not remove any tags from the dress.  Keep all the packaging, every bit.

Do your hair and put on your makeup.  Do not wear perfume or deodorant. Do not allow the dress to touch your face – any smear of makeup will void the refund policy if you send it back.  Perfume or deodorant smells will act the same. 

Avoid messing with your hair once you are wearing the dress as vendors do not want to see your or your pet’s hair on their goods.

  • Decide as fast as possible

Don’t leave the parcel on the side for days after it arrives.  You’ll need to try on your dress several times before making a decision.  Try it with different hair styles and different shoes before making your final decision. 

All this takes time.  But if the dress needs to go back you have to be sure to return it within the time limits allowed.  Plan to send it back well in advance of the last possible day. 

Unexpected problems can delay you and you don’t want to end up with three Mother of The Bride outfits in your closet.  After all, how many daughters do you have?

  • Repack carefully

If you are returning a dress it must be repacked the way it was when it arrived.  It must have all of its labels and tags attached in the same place as when you took it out of the package. 

If the packaging is not re-useable then you will need to cover it in something that provides similar protection. 

There will be a return slip to fill in and enclose – this will either be printable from the online store site or will be in with the dress. 

Follow the instructions on the site as to how goods are to be returned.  There may be specific carriers they use. 

Keep a note of when you returned the item and its details.  Note the site where you purchased it so that you can get in touch if you don’t receive a refund within the time they promise.

Where to start looking

If you’re still not sure where to start try the links below then navigate to ‘dresses’ then ‘mother of the bride’. All these stores have a large selection of styles from glitzy floor length gowns for formal city weddings to pretty cocktail dresses and floaty summery outfits for less formal and rustic weddings.

They have a good range of sizes including plus sizes and petite. Although the models are young the styles in the mother of the bride section are aimed at you.

Some stores use a service such as Doddle.  This is something that here in France we have been relying on for years.  A local retailer or supermarket takes delivery of your packages and you can pick them up whenever you wish.  Doddle allows for hassle-free returns using local shops in the same way.

Boden navy low heel summer sandals for Mother of the Bride
Boden have lots of stylish shoes that are easy to wear.

Buying other items of your outfit online

How to buy shoes online.  Buy from a store you recognise from the high street especially if you’ve bought good shoes from there before.  Read the description and the list of materials carefully.  Put each foot on a sheet of paper and draw around with a pencil.  Measure the length and width as shown in the size chart of the online store to ensure you buy the right size. 

Check the returns policy before buying and if you need to return the shoes make sure they have only been tried on indoors on a carpet.  Market soles will not be accepted for a refund. 

I admit I have never bought shoes online as my feet are slightly difficult to fit.  But if you usually find it easy to fit into new shoes then why not give it a go?

Can I buy a hat or fascinator online? You will find lots more designs online than locally so the internet is a great place to buy your hat or fascinator.  Look through the offerings of the shop where you bought your outfit first then try large well-known stores who carry a good stock.  Finally try specialist online stores and designers though you may have to pay more for a novel creation.

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