How to Evaluate a Garment for Comfort

comfortable clothes

We’ve already covered how to evaluate a potential purchase for quality and longevity, but what about comfort? I mean, aside from the obvious – does it itch, pinch, pull, or otherwise irritate you from the moment you pull it on – are there ways to determine if a garment will be comfortable under multiple circumstances, and on a longer timeline than its initial dry run in the dressing room?

Funny you should ask.

Wear it as you would in real life.

I’m a big proponent of the Shopping Catsuit: A neutral tank and pair of leggings that needn’t be removed in the dressing room to gauge overall fit. However, you probably don’t wear a Shopping Catsuit on a daily basis, and when investigating overall comfort, you need to give a garment a dressing room test run that is as close to “real use” conditions as possible. Don’t slip on a skirt over your leggings unless you’ll always wear it with leggings. How will you know if the waistband digs, if the seams flap or itch? Try it on as you’d wear it in real life, and make sure it’s comfortable under those conditions.

Sit down.

Most of you probably do the sit-down test for skirts and pants, but I HIGHLY recommend it for all garments including shirts, blazers, outerwear, underwear, and dresses. There are definitely jobs and tasks that require us to be standing for long periods of time, but no one stands all day and all night. So don’t just decide that skirt looks smokin’ hot as you twirl around in front of the mirror. Sit down, sister. Does it ride up? Pinch or pull? How about that button-down shirt? When you sit, does it pull across the bust and constrict your movement? And that darling dress? Still darling when you’re seated? If something is comfortable when you’re up, it had better be just as comfortable when you’re down.

Then stand up. Then sit down again.

You think I kid. It’s not just the sitting that’s important, it’s the interaction with your torso as you bend and contract. This test will also give you an idea of how easily fabric will wrinkle, and how sturdy construction feels as you move about.

Lift your arms straight in the air.

This helps test that all-important arm/shoulder mobility issue; Most tops and layers feel fab when you’re standing up and have your arms straight at your sides, but few of us remain in that position indefinitely. You want to know what’s going to happen when you need to get a jar of peanut butter or a ream of paper from a high shelf, and if this garment is going to impede you in any way. Again, you might know to try this out with shirts and blazers, but I encourage you to do it with everything. Pants, skirts, and dresses shift around and can become less comfy and more restrictive when you’ve got your arms extended, too.

Give yourself a hug.

I mean, obviously you deserve a hug. But also, wrapping your arms around yourself will give further information about arm/shoulder mobility. Also helpful in finding out if short and cap sleeves will dig into your arms depending on your position. Don’t do this with too much force, as even a beautifully-constructed blazer will tear if you yank too hard on its shoulder seams. And the self-hug won’t do much for pants, so you only need bother with tops, sweaters, dresses, and jackets.

Touch your toes.

Do you have any idea how often you lean over to pick stuff up? As someone with an ongoing back injury who has been forbidden to bend at the waist, lemme tell ya, it is WAY more often than you’d think. And when is a waistband most likely to burrow into your abdomen? When you’re bent double. Clearly, you’re not going to stay bent over so some discomfort is totally acceptable. But if something feels like it’s gonna slice you in half? Skip it.

Yes, that’s a lot of contortions. But it’s just you and the clothes in that fitting room, and going through these admittedly crazy-seeming motions can help you can screen out uncomfortable garments before ever leaving the mall.

Image courtesy Old Navy

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Originally posted 2011-09-14 06:08:38.

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40 Responses to “How to Evaluate a Garment for Comfort”

  1. coffeeaddict

    I’ve been know to jump in the dressing room when trying on bras. If it stays in place, and that’s a big if with most, then it’s a keeper.

    • pope suburban

      Me too! I rock out in the dressing room when trying on bras, after I bought a couple comfortable ones that turned out to be a little less than effective at keeping everything contained when I was moving around. I also find that doing a silly dance is good for morale, so I recommend it heartily for all kinds of shopping.

  2. Velma

    Wow, I’ve learned my lesson about one of these tests: the multiple sit-and-stand thing. I bought an adorable bias-cut sheath dress a while ago. It turned out to be a “standing dress.” I found out that, when I sat or even bent over, the dress would fly up unpredictably from knee length to mid-thigh! I wore it twice before passing it on to a shorter friend . . .

    Great tips!

  3. Fruitful

    Great post. Great. In fact I need this tattooed down my arm for next time I’m haplessly trying on clothes. I did wear the Shopping Catsuit last time so I win there, but I almost bought a shirt that was already pulling at the buttons while standing up. I was going to go back for it but now that I think what would happen when I sat down and stood up again… I probably made a narrow escape!

    Thankyou for your amazing practicality <3

  4. Clarice

    I do most of the tests you advise, plus a couple of others. My bra size is somewhat difficult to cater to, so I don’t have an enormous range of bras in different cuts. Most of my comfortable everyday bras will make unwelcome appearances from clothes that are cut skimpily or don’t fit ideally. I always try to wear the bras I wear most typically when I’m shopping and then test dresses, tops etc by shimmying forward and jogging on the spot. If they contain both breasts and bra after that, then they’re worthy of my consideration. If not, I know I’ll spend most of my time pulling at fabric to try to conceal an errant slice of bra.

    The other test I do is with trousers. I don’t wear them often, but at 5’3″ I have to have most of them altered (regular lines are too long, petites slightly too short). Hemming trousers can affect the way the fabric falls, sits and moves, so I always do an approximation when I’m trying them on by folding the excess material and tucking it up inside the trouser leg, then assessing the trousers with heels of a height I intend to wear with them.

    • Jen

      Oh, thanks for that. Also 5’3, wear trousers and jeans a lot and hem my own, so I estimate how much fabric I will have to cut or if I can just turn it up. Will try this trick next time. If I ever started a fashion line, I would make it for ladies who are not petite but not regular. I think there’s a lot of us out there with this problem.

  5. Patti @ NotDeadYet STyle

    Great, practical tips. I find myself going up a size, frequently, esp in tops. I like a bit of a slouchy feel and I cannot stand tugging at my neck, sleeves or hems : > For jeans, I like some stretch built in.

  6. Vildy

    I knew a lot of this and appreciate learning the rest from you. From Malcolm Levene? I think it is, try something on with your eyes closed. Not only does it heighten your sense of whether this moves with you or fights you somewhere but for those of us seduced by the fantasy in the mirror but won’t wear the clothing in real life unless it’s comfortable ….

    • Anneesha

      Closing eyes is a GREAT idea! I worked for awhile in a consignment shop, where we always encouraged customers to come out of the dressing room and show us (and other patrons) what they had goin’ on… but along with gyrations and stretching we’d ask them also just to stand still, relaxed, and normal – and just look at themselves as others would see them.

    • Sonja

      “I think it is, try something on with your eyes closed.”

      I have never thought about that before, but I will definitely try!
      I makes me think of a scene I once witnessed in a little boutique: a blind lady had just come in and was talking to the vendor. The saleswoman was saying to her: So we’ll just go over everything and you tell me if you like the touch of something. Now that’s a totally different way of shopping! I wonder how I would do it if I couldn’t depend on my sight any longer.

  7. lyrebirdgully

    For jeans: I always do the squat test.
    I don’t know what it is with non-waisted jeans, but seemingly modest, stable and safe styles can suddenly plunge alarmingly in the rear and cut shockingly into one’s abdomen and the soft backs of one’s knees, once the squat test is applied. This can happen even with relatively high-rise cuts. It’s as if the “give” in the fabric is in the wrong place. I suspect that this may be partly caused by the jeans being too tight at knee level. Anyways, sitting won’t reveal this fatal flaw, you need maximum knee and hip bending — which means a squat.

  8. Anne

    Great tips Sally, and everyone else. Now if only there was a good way to predict how much jeans are going to stretch or if the swim suit top is going to stay in place when you dive it!

  9. anna

    do you have tips for knowing if shoes will be comfortable? I found a lot of shoes are fine to walk around in for 5-10 minutes in the stores but then they are so uncomfortable after an hour on my feet. thanks!

    • Sal

      Oh, Anna, I wish I did. My experience is similar to yours: You can tell in a few minutes if MOST shoes will work, but with some pairs, discomfort problems won’t spring up until they’ve been worn for several hours. Or even several wearings!

      I’ll think more on it, but don’t have any good, quick tips.

      • Missey

        Make sure you are trying on shoes at the end of the day when your feet are the largest. Also be sure you’re wearing the kind of socks/hose/tights you would normally wear. Better yet, make sure your feet are a bit tired already!

    • Anneesha

      My favorite test (I have a huge problem with shoes being uncomfortable) is to walk AS FAST AS YOU CAN up and down the aisles (great at DSW, etc) and at the very first tweak of pain or even discomfort, off they come and back on the rack. They will never get better. And if your feet go AAAAhhhh when a pair of shoes comes off, back on the rack as well.

      • Katharine

        I do kind of the same thing, and also wiggle my toes. If toes can’t wiggle, that’s a sure sign they’ll get numb in the shoe after not too long. However, the “back to the rack” is… I mean, there are some things that I know can be fixed. Too tight in the foot, if the shoe is leather, can be stretched. Heel slip can be fixed with pads. Foot Petals (which have suddenly and inexplicably become hard to find here) are often magic for a shoe that seems to slope too much in the arch, or slip at the toe. Slippery soles — easy fix with rubber overlays.

        In the end, it depends how madly in love with the look of the shoe I am, and how outrageously (or not) expensive it is.

      • Andi D.

        I only ever shop at stores like DSW, Off Broadway, and the like. Part of the reason is that I like to put the shoes on and continue walking around as I shop. I find I can determine that way if they will stay on/be comfortable.

        Also, with running shoes? RUN IN THEM. Up and down. People may look at you funny, but it’s better than having running shoes that don’t fit.

    • Sara

      I have one that my grandma taught me. After walking the store in them, shift your weight to the balls of your feet (not tip-toes) and stand there for about a minute or two. If they pinch, they will kill you later!

  10. Cel

    I like to do squats. I know that seems weird, but it helps me figure out if the waistband on skirts will slide down to far or dig into my abdomen, and it usually flexes the material over my back too to figure out what wiggle room I’ve got. I also like to crazy-dance, with flailing limbs, just so I know I can dance in my clothes too heh.

  11. Stella

    I know people in the dressing room think I’m crazy, but whenever I try on workout wear, I start jogging up and down the corridor. I also move my arms around, stretch, do some jabs. All this to make sure the clothes stay where they should and that they don’t chafe.

    Shoes: I hop and walk fast in them. Don’t want any shoes that will slip off of me if I’m in a hurry!

    And, of course, breathe. Breathe deeply. Make sure no part of the clothes makes you have breathing problems! đŸ˜‰ Sounds crazy, but…I always do it.

  12. Loren

    Pants are the worst for me I learned to use the ‘squat test’. I bend at the knees and try to peer over my shoulder into the mirror to check how much gap there is in the waist. I do not like flashing people my panties.
    I also typically try to sit ‘Indian style’ on the dressing room chair becuase I tend to sit like that a lot. (Years of yoga)

  13. Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy

    When I was younger, my mom wouldn’t let me buy anything unless it passed the “deep-knee-bend test.” I thought it was stupid.

    Now, I don’t buy anything for daily wear unless I can squat down and stand back up without major garment disruption occurring!

  14. Jen

    I also sit backwards or attempt sitting backwards while standing to see if the shirt rides up. I don’t like showing off my back at work. Also I wear my regular underwear and if the jeans or pants’ rise shows a lot of underwear in the back, back it goes. Third, I bend down and gauge how much of my bra and girls are going to show, and if it will always require a camisole. I have more trouble with shoes, where I’m likely to be sucked in by the “ooo, pretty and on sale” syndrome.

  15. Mia

    I’ve definitely had to implement the self-hug many times, and lifting of the arms helps me determine if a garment is cutely cropped or just TOO SHORT for my abnormally long torso. That said, there are plenty of times when I’ve convinced myself that something is good and fine at the thrift store, take it home, wear it to work, and go, “eeeeesh, why did I buy this?” I like Vildy’s recommendation, wherever it came from, of closing one’s eyes. I have to try that next time!

  16. Laina

    Excellent post, thanks! I do the sit test, but doing the rest would help me avoid a lot of uncomfortable situations!

  17. Sonja

    I should have though about the jogging and jiggling yesterday. Actually I should not have gone shopping at all but sneakily did. The store had lots of things in a lush, rich purple for fall, so I snatched basically everything in this colour and went to try them on. I got a blazer, a belt and a wide 80s-t-shirt with a huge open neckline, you know, like Jennifer Beals in Flashdance? I tugged and dragged and had finally found a way it looked really good, so it came home with me. And today I said to myself: What on earth was I thinking? If I want minimal coverage with this thing I will be tugging and rearranging it after every step. It’s definitely going back – fortunately I still have the receipt.

  18. Laurel

    I feel like such a noob! I never even thought to sit in clothes when trying them on, much less all this stuff! Thank you for the informative post.

  19. Jessica

    Great post. I use lots of these tests in the dressing room, but I also give skirts and dresses one additional test: The Marilyn Monroe.

    It goes like this. I go home, plug in a couple of fans, and try them at different settings and different angles. If my skirt flies up a la Marilyn over the subway grate, it’s going back to the store. If the skirt keeps me covered, whether by longer length, clever construction, or weighty fabric, it’s a keeper.

  20. Missey

    I’m a big fan of doing lunges and squats when I try on pants. I lift my arms way over my head when I try on tops (very Mary Catherine Gallagher- superstar!) I find that the extreme amount of movement is a pretty good comfort indicator and it can buy me a little extra room in public dressing rooms!

  21. Vanessa

    Shopping catsuit? Haha. I love that description. I totally sport the catsuit (with an oversized sweater or tunic for decency!)

  22. Megan Mae

    I sort of just have this overall *feeling* when something fits right. Like zipping into a dress that fits? Or jeans that hug just right. I move around a bit, but I guess I just can gauge pretty well doing whatever it is I do.

    Some great tips though. I wouldn’t lock into needing to always reach over your head for everything. Yes you want mobility but the average bear (er.. lady?) who isn’t used to wearing a blazer may feel like it’s hard to raise her arms and spend forever looking for a blazer that offers endless movement. I’ve yet to find one. Some are better than others but tailored things always have less movement capabilities than knitted or jersey things.

  23. Lisa

    Oh how I wish I had thought of this when I was in the change rooms at a U.S. Victoria’s Secret last month. Now I own three $50 bras that I can’t return because I’m back in Canada.

  24. Sara

    The hug is a HUGE one for me. I apparently have linebacker shoulders, because I’ve had several dresses that I can’t quite drive in! So I make driving motions in anything that seems constrictive!

    That’s a huge deal for me with coats, too. Oh! And for coats I always try to bring the purse I will generally wear in the winter (or the one with the shortest strap-drop if I have several) to sling over the arm and see if it stays and is comfy!