Monday, February 20, 2012

The Smaller Man's Chagrin-Free Guide to Shopping for Boys' Sizes Online

As Jesse Thorn of Put This On mentioned in a post last year, shopping for boys' sizes can be a great strategy for those who fall below the usual size ranges of most adult collections, but aren't quite ready to go the made-to-measure or bespoke route.  Because they're intended for ever-growing teens, even larger boys' sizes are often priced far lower than their adult counterparts.  Sometimes a great price merely portends sub-par quality, but you can often find great deals hidden amidst the chaff.  

Nevertheless, even with bargains on the horizon, the prospect of wading into the boys' section – elbow to elbow with hyperactive grade schoolers and pouting adolescents – might be enough to dissuade the more timid shoppers among us.  (And I'll be honest: I'm one of them.)  Fortunately, you can also shop the boys' selection of many large retailers online.  You may even encounter internet-only exclusives that you'd never see in-store.  And, if you keep a few simple guidelines in mind, you pick out what you need without undue expenses or frustration.


The first rule of online shopping in general applies doubly when shopping for boy-sized clothing.  Children's sizing is often categorized by age, height, and weight, factors that might be useful for parents trying to keep their sprouting high schoolers clothed, but which prove less than helpful for a full-grown customer.  If you've ever found the numbers attached to men's sizes confusing, you're in for an even greater headache where boys' sizes are concerned.  A hassle-free return policy gives you the freedom to make a best guess at your size without being stuck with ill-fitting or low quality items.  

The ideal return policies guarantee your satisfaction with no strings attached, letting you return purchases for any reason for a full refund.  If it's a return by mail, you may have to pay a nominal postage fee, usually $5 to $7.  Also, original shipping is usually non-refundable.  (Which is just another reason to take advantage of free shipping offers when you can.)  If the retailer has a brick-and-mortar store in your area, you can often sidestep those return shipping costs by returning online purchases in-store.  Either way, easy returns make the inevitable guesswork of online sizing a lot less painful.


It may seem a bit counter-intuitive and wasteful, but both you and the online retailer can benefit if you purchase the garment you want in a range of likely sizes.  Doing so ensures that you'll receive the size that's best suited for you, and minimizes the cost and hassle of returns.  In the worst case scenario, where the best-fitting size still doesn't work and you have to return the whole order, the attempt will only cost $5 to $7 plus original shipping.  If you had purchased each size separately, perhaps in succession as you narrowed down your size, you would incur that fee multiple times with the same result.  But more often than not, you'll end up with the brand's best size for your proportions, and after a single return, you'll have determined your size for all subsequent purchases.  Even the retailer wins by having to process less returns, and by gaining a customer who is likely to place more orders in the future.

I adopted this approach during the Lands' End winter sale last December, and ended up with several perfectly fitted acquisitions: a half-lined blazer (18), chino pants (14H), and a raglan t-shirt (Large).  With a free shipping offer, there was actually no risk in that purchase: even if nothing had worked out, I could have returned the entire order to the local Sears for a full refund.  And now that I've determined my sizes, I'll buying more of the same from Lands' End during their next big sale.


Because boys come in all shapes and sizes, many selections feature two additional size classifications beyond regular: slim and husky.  These options can also help you to find the perfect fit, especially where pants are concerned.  

Even with my diminuative dimensions (I'm 5' 4" with a 30" waist), I often find that the cut of regular-sized boys' pants taper too tightly around the hips and thighs, which can throw off the way they drape and make them uncomfortable.  Resorting to the husky range allowed me to overcome that problem, and even resulted in the first off-the-rack pair of pants I've owned that didn't need to be hemmed.


Not every store has a boys' selection.  Gap and Old Navy do; Banana Republic doesn't.  Here are a few retailers who have boys' selections that pick up where their men's sizes end and also provide inexpensive return policies.  

Brooks Brothers ($7 mail returns, free in-store) and Ralph Lauren ($5 mail returns, free in-store): You can find decent shirts and suits at either store for considerably less than their adult versions.

Lands' End ($6.95 mail returns, free in-store): Just as the men's selection offers some great deals on basic staples, the boys' selection can provide the same in smaller sizes.  Frequent discounts, sales, and free shipping offers make it one of my favorite online retailers for boys' sizes.

Old Navy/Gap ($6 mail returns, free in-store): Like their men's offerings, the quality can be a little hit or miss.  But if you can minimize your risk by taking advantage of their free shipping offers and returning ill-suited items to one of their ubiquitous mall stores.


Shopping for clothes can be vexing, especially when even a brand's "X-Small" just isn't small enough.  Boys' selections can provide a chance to obtain an ideal bargain: off-the-rack sizes that fit, at an inexpensive price that need not entail an unreasonable compromise in quality.  Purchasing items from those selections online offers both challenges and perks, but often rewards those willing to try.