I’ve been asked before how I manage to shop with four children. Let me let you in on a secret, I don’t. What? That doesn’t make sense, of course I shop- we’ve all seen my closet. What I mean is, I don’t get in the car, drive to the store, and try on a bunch of clothes. I mean sure this happens sometimes (usually on date night- poor J!), but the majority of my shopping does not occur in stores. 

So, where, when, how? Here’s my secret, I shop online, a lot. I use online shopping as my personal home try on service. I don’t pay a fee for this but I do invest in clothes. Here’s how. Until I know how certain brands and styles fit, I will buy multiple sizes of the same outfit. I use online shopping to turn my home into my own personal fitting room. Have you ever tried something on under the flourescent lights of the dressing room, only to get it home and realize that those mirrors tend to be a little slimming and the lighting a bit deceiving. We all know those lights don’t do anyone any favors but they also can misrepresent how the outfit is going to look in a more natural setting. That dress that you thought was a creamy off white may take on more of a yellow hue in direct sunlight. 

The solution? Take it home. Even if I somehow end up in a store, I normally don’t waste my time trying things on. I mean have you ever tried to try on 3 dresses with 4 children climbing under stalls and trying to open the door while you’re still in your bra? It happens. (We won’t even talk about the fun that is public bathrooms- Lord help me!) I take it home and try everything on in the leisure of my own home. I see how it looks in the soft lighting of my bedroom and the bright sunshine of my front stoop. I can see how it feels sitting on the floor or on the sofa and decide if it not only looks cute but fits my homeschooling mama lifestyle. 

So, let’s get down to it. Where are my favorite places to shop online? The first thing to look at is the return policy. I prefer places like Zappos with an awesome 365 day policy. Or, places that I can easily return in store (trying to return something through the mail can sometimes be a pain and I’ve had things get misplaced that way as well). Here are my top 5 places to shop. 

1. Zappos– It’s number one because of the selection and the long return policy. What you’ll find: higher end items at good prices, a lot of options, great shoes. Always free shipping. The best customer service I have ever encountered. Sizeing varies by brand but their return policy allows you to buy multiple sizes at no risk and return the ones that don’t fit. They will even send you a different size to try before you return the other making finding your fit even more simple. The not so great: though the prices for higher end items can be good, you’re not going to find amazing sales like you can at some other stores (mentioned below). Shop here if: you’re looking for something specific or for items you plan to use season after season (like shoes or jeans). 

2. The Loft– Find high quality pieces for reasonable prices. What you’ll find: beautiful pieces that will last season after season. Classic styles with a mix of modern. My favorites are the dresses, shorts, and jeggings. They have 40% off sales often and sale styles are always 40-50% off. Runs a little big. The not so great: the return policy is short at 30 days. There aren’t as many locations as some other retail stores. Shop here if: You want classic pieces at affordable prices. Buy wardrobe staples and occasionally a trendy piece to keep your fashion current. 

3. Old Navy– This sits in the number three spot because of the sales. What you’ll find: great sales (they have 40% off sales online all the time), a variety of items, fun fad pieces that you don’t want to spend a lot on. Free shipping over $50 (sometimes over $25) and free returns but a short window at 30 days. Runs pretty true to size. The not so great: The quality is hit or miss so be prepared to check fabrics and labels (rayon shrinks so you may want to size up or be careful how you launder it). Also, they seem to manufacture exclusively in China (if you order online all the packaging comes with Chinese labels). Shop here if: you want a couple pieces to supplement your wardrobe. Look for wardrobe staples like basic tees and dresses. Add a fashion fad to your wardrobe without breaking the bank. Don’t expect jeans or shorts to last you years as from my experience they fade, stretch out, or otherwise deteriorate. 

4. Online boutiques (like Etsy or Facebook)– This is my next place to look online to add accessories and personalized items. What you’ll find: unique pieces that you won’t see anyone else wearing unlike your average retail pieces. You’re often supporting another mom or entrepreneur instead of a big box company. The not so great: you can’t try before you buy and sizes are hard to gauge. The return policy (if they have one) is often not very inclusive. But, returns cost money so smaller, personal stores, have a harder time swallowing the overhead. I only return items if they’re specifically wrong. Otherwise, I consider sizing issues (again unless mislabeled or poorly described) a risk of online personalized ordering. Shop here if: you need a couple accessories to brighten up your wardrobe or add a personal touch. 

5. Amazon– This takes place number five for their wide selection, quick shipping, and amazing customer service. What you’ll find: anything and everything at good prices. The not so great: you can’t try it first so make sure the item includes free return shipping. A lot of the items come from China. Be very careful to check when ordering items, the ones that say they’re going to take a month or more to arrive usually come from overseas. Sizing varies but can run very small especially if they run in Asian sizes. Shop here if: you need something quick and you’re pretty confident about sizes. I mostly shop here for shoes, undershirts, and fun items like graphic t-shirts and Halloween costumes (well do it yourself ones- you won’t see me buying the naughty nurse costume or anything:). 

This is just the short list. Keep your eye open for deals, unique items, and accessories that pop from personal shops on Facebook, Etsy, and Instagram. Ordering your staples from some of the bigger box stores will keep you in your clothes budget and looking for accents from smaller boutiques helps you keep your look fresh and individual. 

The major tips for shopping as a busy mom are ordering online in multiple sizes until you figure out how each brand runs. Keeping an eye on sales. Checking return policies. And, looking for one size fits all accessories from unique home run businesses

Items featured are from ZapposOld Navy, and The Loft. If you want more items on a particular piece- please inquire in the comments. Note, I kept very few of these items for fit or practicality reasons. That’s the beauty of trying things at home, you don’t end up with pieces you don’t love just because you were pressed for time. Like that blue flowered dress from Old Navy- it was beautiful and comfy but it was so short I couldn’t raise my arms. That may work for a young co-ed but not for this mama to four. 

Stay tuned for some upcoming posts on online boutiques, sure you can’t try before you buy, but you can get a great deal and snag looks that not every other mama who shops at Target is going to be sporting.