How To Buy Clothes That Fit Perfectly – Q&A with author Nancy Nix-Rice

You don’t have to be a fashion editor to know that wearing clothes that fit you well can be the difference between looking chic or dumpy. Author and image consultant Nancy Nix-Rice discusses how to identify a good fit, no matter where you shop.

Perfect Fit T-Shirt

crew neck tee – GAP, baseball tee – Forever21

“Even the priciest clothes look awkward and unattractive if they don’t fit perfectly.  And fit means a lot more than just ‘I can zip it.’  A garment should flow gracefully over your body, neither hugging too much or adding bulk in any area.  Given the diversity of female body shapes, an off-the-rack garment is likely to require some alteration to achieving great fit, but the comfort and style are well worth the investment.” – Nancy Nix-Rice 

Q. What are some guidelines to follow to select clothing that’s well-proportioned to my body?

Proportion is primarily about how the lengths of various garment components align with your body. The key is having hemlines – major design horizontals – hit at body areas that can benefit from the attention they draw and not break the outfit into a 50:50 ratio.


white knit dress – Opening Ceremony, cream long sleeved dress – Diane Von Furstenberg

That means long sleeves that end just below the wrist bone, not covering your hand.  Short sleeves can end in line with your bustline if enhancement is your goal; a cap sleeve or ¾ sleeve will minimize your bust.

How To Buy The Best Jacket For Your Shape

leather scuba jacket – Vince, boyfriend blazer – Forever21

Jacket hems should hit at a narrow area.  A bottom-heavy figure looks best – and achieves the easiest fit – in jackets that end just below the waist. These shorter jackets pair well with pants or slightly longer skirts.

A straighter figure type typically has narrower hips, so looks better in a longer jacket.  A fingertip-length jacket looks best over a shorter skirt or with color-matched pants.

“Proportion” can also describe issues of body scale.  A gal with delicate bone structure needs to avoid heavy details like wide lapels and oversized buttons that overpower her.  A gal with a sturdier build looks great in those same bold details and would be out of sync with smaller ones.

Some tunics and dresses are meant to have a loose fit. How do I make sure they still fit properly while remaining true to the style?

How To Make Sure A Flowy Top Fits Well

silk and lycra cocoon blouse – Zero Maria Cornejo

Since these garments don’t fit close to the body, check the shoulder width and sleeve circumference to determine the correct size.  Dresses and tunics in this styling are usually most flattering in soft fabrics that tend to collapse into the body rather than standing away from it.

What do I look for when trying to determine if a shirt fits well?

A well-fitted shirt is comfortable but not sloppy through the shoulders, with enough room through the bust to button without pulling. If your bra size is larger than a B cup, look for styles with bust shaping – from darts, tucks or pleats – to accommodate that fullness.

How Find The Perfect Fit For A Button-down

princess seam button-down – Express, chambray button-down – Bella Dahl, pleated button-down – Elie Tahari

A figure with waistline curve looks best in shirts that are fitted to her shape with darts or princess seams.  A woman with a straighter build wants a shirt without that shaping to avoid pulling through the lower torso. That fit can often be achieved by simply un-stitching or reducing any vertical darts.

Pencil skirts are designed to be fitted, but it can be hard to find a balance between too-tight and too-loose. What are tips to make sure they fit?

The challenge with a pencil skirt is fitting both the waist and hips. Buy the size that fits your “critical fit zone” – the area of your body that is proportionally larger – because you can’t let out a tight area. If you buy to fit a fuller hipline with just a bit of “hug” under your derriere, you can easily have the waistline taken in.  If you buy to fit a fuller waist, you can have the curved side seams taken in.

How To Know If A Pencil Skirt Fits Right

printed pencil skirt – Ella Moss

A pencil skirt is most flattering if the side seams angle in slightly from the hip to the hem.  If you buy one with straight side seams, having your tailor taper it can add visual height and make you look 5-8 pounds trimmer … instantly.

What do I look for when trying to determine if pants fit?

Pants should skim over the body, and are too small if they form a bulge of soft tissue above the waistband, reveal underwear lines, bow open the side pockets, pull in horizontal wrinkles from the crotch area or pull the leg creases flat through the thigh area.

How To Find The Perfect Fit For Jeans

straight-leg jeans – 7 For All Mankind

In considering “how tight is too tight?” don’t forget to allow for the fact that pants with a percentage of Spandex in the fabric will relax a bit with wear.


Just like skirts, pants need to fit both the hips and waist even though many women have a non-standard waist-to-hip ratio. Styles with slightly lowered waistlines make fitting that imbalance easier, but extreme figures may still need alterations to perfect the fit.

How To Hem Your Jeans Properly

cropped jeans – J Brand , dark flare jeans – MiH

A pant with a wider leg needs to end no more than ¾” above the floor, covering most of the shoe.  A narrow leg should be hemmed as long as possible without gathering at the ankle.  The lower leg of walking shorts, crops and capris should fit close to the body to avoid forming a widening horizontal at the hem.

Many salespeople have suggested buying coats in the next size up so it can be layered with sweaters. However, I always find the oversize coats look too sloppy. Do I need to try a different style or should I just stick with my size?  

Coats are typically sized to allow for mid-weight garments underneath, so sizing up isn’t usually necessary.  Trench coat styles with raglan sleeves and fuller cuts through the body are the most forgiving, and their slightly lighter-weight fabric keeps them from feeling bulky .

Sometimes shorts seem to fit when I try them on, but as I wear them, they become items that I constantly need to tug and readjust. Does this mean that they are actually a poor fit? How do I avoid this in the future?

Tips on how to find shorts that fit well

polka dot shorts – Merona

Shorts should generally follow the pant-fit guidelines.  I’m not sure the problem you describe comes from a fit issue.  I often see shorts that are sewn with one of two construction problems.  The first is a fly front zipper that comes too far down into the curved crotch seam, causing the legs to twist as you wear them.  The second is a front leg crotch curve that is too shallow, causing the inside leg seam to pull forward and the back seam to cut into the fanny.  Ouch!  Check these features carefully before buying shorts.


To read even more excellent tips on fit, color, and more check out Nancy’s book Looking Good . . . Every Day: Style Solutions for Real Women. There is even a section on how to use Stylebook to help you shop!  

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