High streets around England came back to life this week as non-essential retailers were allowed to reopen. Shoppers donned face coverings and queued up for their favourite clothing stores after three months of waiting to get back to browsing – but things weren’t quite the same as they were pre-lockdown. New policies were in place at shops around the country as stores tried to maintain social distancing and keep staff and customers safe, creating a very different shopping experience as Britons tried to get back to normal.
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Department stores and clothes shops have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with some even going into administration as their finances were crushed by the lost shopping season.
However, long queues at Primark, John Lewis and other stores showed that people were keen to start spending, check out the sales and look for new summer clothes.
But as well as implementing hand sanitising stations at the entrances and perspex screens at till points in order to stop the spread of the virus, some parts of the stores have had to remain closed off.
Fitting rooms are not allowed to reopen in the new guidelines, which were laid out by the government last month. Retailers have had to abide by strict rules in order to reopen to the public.
It means that services such as bra fittings are on hold, and shoppers will have to rely on looking at outfits on mannequins as well as a bit of guesswork when choosing clothes that fit.
Some retailers are even reportedly looking into virtual fitting room services, as technology helps to plug the gap and help shoppers to “try on” clothes using an app or computer.
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However, there are plenty of tricks that shoppers can use to make sure they’re not coming home with clothes that they’ll then have to return due to poor sizing.
Though the changing rooms are off limits, a fashion expert has revealed his tips to successful shopping without trying anything on – but it will mean a bit of preparation before you head out to the high street.
Anthony McGrath, a celebrity stylist and lecturer at the Fashion Retail Academy in London, commented: “There are some easy steps you can take before you even leave the house which will help you choose the right size clothes when in store.”
The first step is to go back to basics – by picking up a tape measure.
“We all know that one retailer’s size 10 could be an 8 or 12 in another store, so the best starting point is to measure yourself before you leave the house. This will give you an accurate idea of your proportions and size,” explained Anthony, who has previously worked with A-listers including Ashton Kutcher, Gerard Butler and James Corden.
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Most retailers have sizing guides on their website so you can compare notes once you’ve marked your measurements down, and even write yourself a reminder of which sizes to buy in each store.
However, a smartphone will make life a lot easier, admitted Anthony: “Take a screenshot on your phone and use it as a reference while you shop. Some retailers may also display size guides in the stores.”
But rather than just relying on virtual information, the stylist to the stars recommended taking your tape measure along with you to the shops.
“Sizing up clothes will be a lot easier if you can check the length of the trousers or waist measurements yourself,” explained Anthony.
“If a mannequin is wearing an outfit you like, you could even check its height to determine the length of trousers, dresses and skirts.”
You may get some odd looks, but with fewer people around than usual and everyone keeping their distance, it’ll be easy to take a quick measurement to compare sizes – and that way you’ll go home with the perfect fit.
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If measuring up in store isn’t your style, you can also look to your own wardrobe for guidance on what to go for.
This is where preparation is key, however; given that it’s been a few months since you hit the shops, you might have changed shape and gone up or even dropped a dress size.
If your lockdown walks have been longer than your usual pre-pandemic exercise – or on the other hand, you’ve been less active and stuck to elasticated leggings as you stay at home – you might want to try on some old favourites to get an idea of how they now fit.
Try on some of your own clothes from the shops you intend to go to and use them as your guide.
“Keeping notes on your phone or a slip of paper can come in handy when it comes to sizes. For example, writing ‘M&S dress size 12 fits very comfortably; H&M: usually a 10 on the bottom, but 12 on top’,” explained Anthony.
If you’d rather just browse and find something you like, Anthony also suggested looking for certain styles and silhouettes – and avoiding those that require a more exact fit.
“Using a tape measure and size guides will be helpful while shopping but clearly it doesn’t compare to trying something on. But some items of clothes are far easier to judge with the naked eye than others.
“A fitted or bodycon-style dress requires a lot more careful scrutiny than a tent or shift dress, for example. Clothes made of lightweight fabrics, which are hugely popular during a hot summer, are much more flexible and adapt much better to the body than rigid fabrics.”
If in doubt, however, the expert said to remember that less is definitely not more. “Go for the larger size if you are torn between two,” warned Anthony. “You can always have adjustments made if you have extra fabric, but it’s extremely difficult if you don’t have enough material.”
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