How Can We Make Clothes Buying Better?

A view in The Galleria Mall in Houston, Texas. August 31, 2014.

A view in The Galleria Mall in Houston, Texas. August 31, 2014.

I don’t purchase men’s clothing much. In fact, as a single woman, the frequency at which I purchase clothing for men ranks close to “never.”

Yet I had an occasion recently when I needed to buy gifts for two very different athletic guys. Off I went to a local sporting goods purveyor.

First, to the mannequins. I found only about four, evenly split between the sexes. No inspiration there.

I get it: No clothing store will have enough space to put everything on mannequins. Instead, clothiers rely on salespeople to help patrons put together outfits and make appropriate purchases.

So next, to a salesperson. When I told her I sought a couple gifts, she suggested picking out something I might want for myself. (Lest she seem like a numbskull, she said this without knowing I quested for menswear.)

Right. I don’t even pay enough attention to women’s clothing to know what I like. And though I can get closer in women’s wear than I can with menswear, what works best on my form won’t work well for everyone. (Ah, the learning lesson of adolescence, when all youth must learn that not every trend works on each body.) And the two men for whom I sought gifts had completely different frames.

Another frustrating shopping experience.

So here’s my pondering:

Could we remove the roadblocks in the clothes-buying process, improving it for all purchases—not just gift selection? I sense a huge potential return on investment if clothiers

  1. allowed people to select for sex, height, and body style;

  2. next offered different outfit options in various looks and styles; and

  3. then let people add entire ensembles to shopping carts, if desired.

Catalogs serve the outfit purpose to some extent; showing items in action in ensembles gives catalogs reasons for existence in the Internet age. (And evidence indicates that they work: Catalogs prompt on-line and in-store purchase spikes.) Yet catalog design doesn’t allow for easy selection by body style and height.

And Nordstrom makes a foray in my suggested direction by providing ensemble ideas in some parts of its Web site (see an example here). However, it only profiles outfits for some designers—and shows only outfits entirely composed of a single creator’s offerings.

Neither of these options allows me to easily—and in one place—winnow a broad set of options to find what works on a certain body style, fits a person’s fashion preferences, and provides ideas for how items work together.

What do you think?