Originally appeared in Arthur Frommer's SMART SHOPPING Fall 2005.
Every guy knows that you’ve got to score points with your female beloved. Like it or not, we guys are on the points system. And what better way than to buy her great clothes? Alas, that skill seems biologically absent from our DNA. However, I have a method that costs $9 to $49 and simply involves borrowing fashion mastery from people whose job it is to know more than you do: catalog designers.
Phone for free catalogs by mail (the numbers are below) from companies that specialize in inexpensive, great-looking women’s clothing. (Don’t skip this procedure by going to the mall. As you’ll soon learn, the catalog models are critical to helping you make wise, point-yielding decisions. Relying on a live person to pick out or model something because she’s “about the same size” as your beloved—generally leads only to embarrassment for everyone involved.)
Call these numbers, as many as you can. You want LOTS of choices to review:
• La Redoute, (800)-254-0590, www.laredoute.com.
• Newport News, (800) 688-2830, www.newport-news.com
• Lew Magram, (800) 624-7267, www.lewmagram.com
• Lerner, (800) 288-4000, www.lernercatalog.com
• Chadwick’s of Boston, (800) 525-6650, www.chadwicks.com
• AB Lambdin, (800) 554-9231, www.ablambdin.com
• Lane Bryant (mostly for larger women sizes 18+), (800) 228-3120, www.lanebryant.com
• Realsize (mostly for larger women sizes 14+), (877) 900-7325, www.realsize.com
• Ashro (mostly African-American styles), (866) ASHROGO, www.ashro.com.
• Carabella, (800) CARABELLA, www.carabella.com.
• Venus USA, (800) 366-7946, www.venususa.com.
• Fredericks of Hollywood, (800) 323-9525, www.fredericks.com
Then wait until the catalogs arrive, which will take 5-10 days.
STEP TWO Now get a beer, maybe two. For the next hour, you’re going to be staring at hundreds of beautiful women. It’s going to be tough and proper refreshment is essential.
STEP THREE Proceed deliberately; take your time. Great decisions should not be made lightly. Get a pen to mark pages. Regardless of what a model is wearing, circle those who: (a) have the same hair color as your gal, and (b) have the same general body shape. Do this for all the catalogs at one sitting. Be careful not to select a model just because she’s sizzling hot. If the picture doesn’t match criteria (a) and (b) above, move on. Why focus on models instead of clothes? Because catalog designers with much more style than any of us have painstakingly matched each item and color of clothing to the model who best shows it off. They have removed the guesswork of matching colors and styles to body types.
STEP FOUR Now, starting with each model you’ve marked, go back to each picture and ask yourself two questions:
Do I think my own dearest would look good in this?
Do I think she would like this?
If you can’t say yes to both questions, move on. Stick with blouses, sweaters, pants, shorts, skirts, and dresses. Don’t order any color that’s not in the picture. Keep it simple. By the time you’re through, you’ve probably chosen between 2 and 10 items. But caution: In making your decisions, don’t choose items with a high probability of a bad fit, even if you are sure of the size. That eliminates lingerie, bathing suits, shoes and jeans. A bad selection may produce the to-be-avoided “Do I look fat in this?” question which we all know is a no-win. And don’t select anything outside her current preference for hotness. If she normally dresses like Britney Spears, then you can look for cleavage-revealing blouses, barely there skirts, cutaway dresses, and full navel exposure. Otherwise, keep it very PG. Your goal is to delight her so much that she shows off your clothing gifts to friends and family, maybe even to colleagues at work. Such sharing, which can only positively reflect on you, won’t happen if the selections are racy.
STEP FIVE Now comes the big moment for choosing size. For this, we need research. Take a pad of paper and head to her closet. Scan what’s there for dress size, generally located on collar tags. Dress sizes range from 0 (think Calista Flockhart) to 18 and higher. If there’s no collar tag it is probably inside the dress along a seam. Warning: some women have special sections for their rarely worn “fat clothes” or “thin clothes” – either way, avoid them. Target only those clothes you’ve seen her wearing lately to avoid a major purchasing blunder.
Next, you’re looking for what we call shirts and they call blouses. Find the size for each blouse on the collar tag. Blouses come in XS, S, M, L, XL, 2X, and higher. If that’s not confusing enough, they can also use the dress size as a measure. Again, check several blouses for consistency.
Next, find her light sweaters and look for sizing in the collar. Skip heavy sweaters and coats as they run larger and sizes are all over the place.
Finally, check out her skirts and non-jean pants like shorts and work pants. These can run either by dress size (0- 18+) or the S/M/L scale. Jot everything down on your pad and return to your beer.
STEP SIX Pick your top selections from within the catalogs’ normal price range of $9 to $49, mark the sizes requested on the order form, and order them by mail or phone. Most companies offer accelerated delivery for a fee. Be patient. Regular shipping saves money and everything usually arrives within 10 days. When your packages arrive, save all contents. In the event you have to send something back, companies provide handy pre-addressed shipping labels, some with prepaid shipping.
STEP SEVEN Just before going to bed one night, tell her you have a nice surprise. Your points will soar, and if you’re like me and most men, we need all we can get. Repeat as necessary through the holiday season – and the rest of your life!
Wife Eleanor Stell writes: “My sweetheart, George Smart, wrote this article and I blissfully verify he has millions of points in the bank.