Where Do You Get Your Clothes?

I’ve been asked on occasion Where do you get your clothes? and found myself floundering for a response. I usually say, I don’t know — which I realize is spectacularly unhelpful and probably seems evasive, too. So, I am thinking through the question and the answer now, and writing it down here for future reference.

You came from Neiman Marcus, end-of-season sale
You came from Neiman Marcus, end-of-season sale
You came from Gilt
You came from Gilt
You came from . . . I don't know where you came from
You came from . . . I don’t know where you came from

By training, I am inclined to take a question apart before answering it and this question, like so many legal quandaries, is more complicated than it seems at first blush. I think it’s reasonable to assume that when someone asks me where I get my clothes, she is really trying to figure out where she should buy her clothes. And what that really boils down to is figuring out what designers (or labels) work for me-her. The retailers are less important, but relevant if they: generally stock interesting things, or have good sales, or provide excellent customer service.

Let me posit a general approach to wardrobe. Everything can’t be fancy. The core of one’s wardrobe should come from mid-priced retailers — like JCrew, Talbots, Ann Taylor and Banana Republic — and be enhanced by special pieces from more expensive designers. But then, how does one find those special pieces? If you are not finding clothes that are interesting to you in the places where you normally shop, or feel horribly overwhelmed when you visit a large store or website where hundreds (perhaps thousands) of options are confronting you, let me propose a methodology. We shall toggle (to borrow from the glossary of information technology) back and forth between two sources — retailers and labels — until we find some things that speak to you!

Step 1: Go to a website that sells clothing from a large variety of designers. Here are four possibilities:

YOOX Sells past season clothing, heavily discounted, from a vast selection of designers; labels include luxury powerhouses and very small European labels that are not sold in U.S. stores; lots of special promotions and discounts offered by email; excellent customer service; BUT limited quantities of merchandise and confusing system of markdowns over the course of the season
Barneys Specializes in downtown chic, cutting edge labels as well as elegance from more established luxury brands; surprisingly good sales (and don’t forget Barneys Warehouse); BUT not the most user-friendly website.
Neiman Marcus Offers a wide selection of designers ranging from high luxury to contemporary and private labels through a very well-organized, user-friendly website; sale-priced merchandise always available, with frequent special sales, deep end-of-season discounts, and loyalty program bonuses; excellent customer service. BUT kind of stodgy; I feel a little ridiculous admitting I shop there.
Bloomingdale’s Very like Neiman Marcus, with a larger number of more moderately-priced labels on offer. Also, less stodgy.

Step 2: Use filters to zero-in on one type of garment. I would pick Dresses (daytime or wear-to-work) or Jackets because: (a) these are core garments in the professional wardrobe and (b) they are likely to show a designer’s signature style.

Step 3: Go through the filter’s search results and each time you see something you like, toggle back to the designer and see whether you like the other garments from that label. Put the things you like in a virtual shopping cart.

Step 4: Order yourself a sample of the things you like best; if feasible, order each garment in a couple of sizes so that you can test the fit of the label fairly. (Warning: European labels tend to run small compared to U.S. labels — but that rule is not universal.)

BUT FIRST: Take note of all return policies to be certain that everything you buy can be returned. Also, if you are uncertain about what styles and silhouettes are likely to flatter your figure, you may want to consult these excellent sources for some guidance: You Look Fab and Already Pretty.

Step 5: When the goods arrive, try them on right away and make some quick decisions. Be a good member of the International Consuming Community and send things back promptly; no need to take advantage of a 30-day return policy when you have determined on Day 1 that you don’t want something. If you like something but it doesn’t fit perfectly, consult your tailor to see whether it can be altered.

Step 6: Compile a list of the labels and designers you like and want to keep an eye on in the future. Once you have something to anchor you in the vast marketplace (a few designers, a favored website), things are much less overwhelming. Then, the hunt is on for best prices. This will be the subject of a future post, so for now I will just say that the Internet has [partially] leveled the playing field between Producers and Consumers and most things are discounted eventually.

Comme de Garcons Slashed Pinstripe Dress at Barneys; just right for someone's office, but not mine
Comme de Garcons Slashed Pinstripe Dress at Barneys; just right for someone’s office, but not mine
Jil Sander, currently in my shopping cart at YOOX; waiting for further reductions
Jil Sander, currently in my shopping cart at YOOX; waiting for further reductions
JCrew Ladder Stitch Dress; perfect for business casual
JCrew Ladder Stitch Dress; perfect for business casual

If you’ve read to this point and are now saying, Directrice, um, maybe when someone asks you where you get your clothes she really does just want to know where you shop, I apologize. Here’s the list:

I don’t often shop for clothes in brick-and-mortar stores because of time constraints. I buy most of my clothes via the Internet and when I visit a website, I generally have a purpose in mind.

To scope out a new season or close out the current one Shopbop, Matches
To visit the cutting edge Les Nouvelles, Avenue 32, Matches
To get ideas about styling and accessories Matches
For a white blouse JCrew, Brooks Brothers, Talbots
For a silk shell or sleeveless blouse JCrew
For a work dress Tory Burch, Orla Kiely, Elie Tahari
For a silk shell or sleeveless blouse JCrew
For a workaday suit JCrew, Nanette Lepore
For soft pants and knits Eileen Fisher
For a special occasion dress Shopbop
Place most likely to have thing sold out elsewhere Nordstrom
Favorite rummage sale YOOX
Favorite grab bag Gilt

YOOX is my personal favorite, and will the be topic of a future, hagiographic post, which is now here.

When I do darken the door of a store in D.C., it is probably: JCrew, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, or Muleh.

And, more importantly, here are my favorite labels, in no particular order: 3.1 Phillip Lim, Vanessa Bruno, Jil Sander, Carven, Moschino, Marni, MARC by Marc Jacobs, Theory, Vince, Tory Burch, and JCrew.


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