Top 5 Tips for Buying A Dress Online that Fits and Flatters

Everyday we get emails and phone calls from gals wanting to know if our vintage and retro dresses run “true to size”,  or if they run big or small.  Or we are told “I always wear a size 6, but the measurements for the dress I’m interested in suggests I need a size 8”, or “I can’t buy this dress if I have to buy a size 14. I’ve always worn a 10! ”

So I thought it was high time I wrote a blog post that demystifies the whole garment sizing issue, along with my Top 5 dress buying tips that will hopefully help make your online shopping experience a little less frustrating and confusing.

Tip 1. Measure, measure, and measure again!  Before I delve into the mysterious ways of garment making, pattern sizing, fabric choices and designer preferences,  the most important thing you need to know before shopping for a dress is……….YOUR MEASUREMENTS!

Tape measures are way cheaper than trips to the post office and return shipping fees!  We have a guide on our website you can refer to on how to properly measure yourself. It also provides a lot more information about garment sizing.

know your measurements

Always measure yourself first!


Tip 2. Ignore the size label-   A lot of people don’t know this, but there really is no size standardization for womens’ apparel.  They tried that years ago and for various reasons it was done away with.  That’s why, today,  there really is no clothing that is “true to size”.  Here’s an enlightening article on why women’s garment sizing makes no sense.  This  is the main reason why you can fit into a size 4 from one designer and a size 8 from another.  It’s doesn’t mean you’ve grown bigger or smaller!  Your measurements are still the same. It’s just that every designer/manufacturer has their own set of sizing standards for their patterns, which has a lot to do with their target customers. Many people refer to it as “Vanity sizing.”    Call it whatever you like, but the best thing to do when shopping for clothing online is to…..IGNORE THE SIZE LABEL  and use the measurement chart* provided, while repeating over and over again “It’s only a number, it’s only a number!”

*A note on size chartsSome companies use generic size charts for all their clothing. This is where it can get tricky. Because measurements  can actually vary  between styles from the same manufacturer. In the case of generic sizing charts, if the company has knowledgeable customer support, they should be able to tell you if a particular style is running true to the measurements listed in their particular size chart. So contact them first to find out.    At Blue Velvet Vintage, because we are a small online boutique, our stockroom people actually have the time to measure every new style that comes in (and if they don’t have the time we make them work 24 hours a day until they get it done) JUST KIDDING!   So that means the measurements in our product descriptions are usually pretty darn close to the actual garment measurements.  That’s why it’s helpful to find an online seller who is actually measuring their products, rather than using a generic chart.  It does  increase your chances of getting  a better fitting dress.

Tip 3. Know your fabrics You have a lot more leeway with fit when the dress you are drooling over for your next party is made of a jersey knit or some other stretchy type material or has a blend of lycra/spandex with something else. So pay close attention  to the fabric content in the description. If the dress is made of a non stretch fabric (called wovens) and you have 38″ hips, then the non-stretch dress size with  36″ hips is NOT GOING TO STRETCH to fit your hips, even if the smaller size has the perfect measurements for your bust and waist.  You always need to choose the size that corresponds with your largest measurement and have the other areas taken in.    Which leads me to this next important tip!

Tip 4. Find a good seamstress   Women come in all shapes and sizes. And the sad truth is  there is no way a designer or manufacturer can make ready to wear “off the rack” dresses that are going to fit every single configuration of body shape out there.  So if you want to expand your wardrobe possibilities,  get over the idea of trying to save money by spending endless hours of browsing for dresses that you think may fit, because you don’t want to pay to have them altered.   With that mindset you severely limit your possibility to have more fabulous dresses in your closet!  Just…..GET YOURSELF A PROFESSIONAL SEAMSTRESS and pay to have her alter your dresses so they fit like they were custom made for you. Even though it will cost you more, you will have way more options for wardrobe choices, knowing you can buy something that doesn’t quite meet your measurements exactly. And trust me on this, you’ll look like you’re wearing a much more expensive dress when you get a fit that is perfect for you!  Especially with evening gowns and other dresses that have form fitting silhouettes made of non stretch fabric,  you should always budget for alterations.  Still beats the expense of a custom dress!  *

*Keep in mind, most clothing nowadays doesn’t have enough seam allowance for letting out.
But most dresses can easily be taken in.

female body shapes chart

Know your shape!

Tip 5. Know your Shape No matter how much you love that 50’s style pencil dress or the mermaid gown with the hourglass silhouette, if your bust, waist and hip measurements are very close (rectangular shape) or you’re a perfect pear shape, then these styles are most likely not going to look flattering on you.   You need to be realistic about your figure. There are lovely silhouettes from every era that will complement and flatter whatever shape you have. Some gals built less curvy can rock the mod 60s look or the 1920s styles. Because  I am more of a pear shape, those styles don’t look good on me. Neither do most pencil dresses.  But I look fab in the 1950s fit and flared silhouettes.  So you just need to figure out which styles are the best for your figure  and purchase accordingly.  This will save you in lost time, return expenses and disappointment.

Ultimately, there are no tips that can positively guarantee you’ll have a 100% foolproof, perfect fit experience every time you’re shopping for dresses online. But, I hope these tips help bring you a bit closer to making your online dress buying experience a bit more stress free!

And any comments you have regarding your trials and tribulations of buying dresses on line are certainly welcome here 🙂

Have a glamorous day!

By | 2014-03-20T10:05:45-04:00 March 20th, 2014|Fashion|2 Comments

About the Author:

Hi, I'm Theresa, owner and chief classy dame at the Blue Velvet Vintage online boutique. Lover of mid century fashion and home decor, classic films, Old Hollywood, pretty dresses, red lipstick, swing dancing and retro culture in general. Between my ecommere site and vintage style blog my mission is to revive the eras of classy dressing and inspire women to add more glamour to their lives! So don't be shy! I love to hear from others who share my appreciation of the styles of the past.


  1. Theresa C.
    Theresa C. March 25, 2014 at 9:09 am

    You are so right,Jessica. Well fitting clothing definitely flatters your figure so much more than wearing something with a smaller number size tag just so you’ll “feel” slimmer. As we all know, the mirror doesn’t lie 🙂

  2. Avatar
    Jessica Cangiano March 25, 2014 at 5:25 am

    Fantastic tips! I especially like that you raised the point about ignoring the size label. Aside from the fact that sizes have changed so much in the past few decades, a good fit is worth more than what the number on the tag says in any era. People often think that they’ll feel skinnier is they were a small number, but what they may forget in that quest is that wearing the best size/fit possible, will actually make them look as trim as possible (there’s a big distinction between the two).

    ♥ Jessica

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