At last! "The Shopping Bags" writers, Anna Wallner and Kristina Matisic, have written a companion book to their hit Canadian television show.
"Viewers have been telling us for some time that they want to take us with them when they shop," Wallner says. "Now they'll have the next best thing."
"The Shopping Bags: Tips, Tricks and Inside Information to Make You a Savvy Shopper" is an A-to-Z guide to cosmetics, electronics, fashion and food. It includes the top 10 things you should know about a product before you buy, plus celebrity tips from such experts as Martha Stewart, Diane von Furstenberg and Randy Bachman.
"The Shopping Bags" is also a cautionary handbook that helps prevent injury to the pocketbook and buyer's remorse. It contains insider tips on such products as nail polish (expensive brands chip just as fast as the cheaper ones, but the colors are often nicer), razor blades (don't pay more for the ones with moisture strips, shaving cream works just as well) and running shoes (never shop online, you always should try them on before you buy).
You can read an excerpt from the book below.
Dressed to the Nines
Fashion and Accessories
It's a good time to be a clotheshorse. The market is saturated, making it easier than ever to find stylish clothes and designer knockoffs. To keep your closet au courant and your wallet intact, heed this advice and remember: At some time or another, just about everything goes on sale. Avoid paying retail. This is especially true if you shop at chain stores like Banana Republic or department stores like Nordstrom, where eventually most merchandise goes on sale. Believe us, we've tested this theory! At the start of every season, we hit all the chain stores and make a list or take digital pictures of items we want, and then we track them. Whether you can wait for the sale price or if they'll still have your size in stock are the main considerations for paying full price or waiting it out. But don't forget to try Commandment #1: Negotiate!
Hit the discount stores. You can shop at places like Wal-Mart and still be stylish. Blend discount items with other designer pieces (like a bargain camisole with your favorite designer suit). Discount and off-price stores mark down designer clothing by about 30 percent to start with and go on from there. The best merchandise moves quickly though -- these places are a hub for smart shoppers, so you'll definitely want to find out when new shipments arrive. Befriend the salesclerks!
Get on the sample sale circuit. Sample sales are a great way to get designer items for less. (These are garments and accessories that have been used to showcase a designer's new line.) Local retailers and designers offer low, low prices on a selection of sample sizes -- which tend to be on the small side. To get onto the sample sale circuit, inquire with any independently owned clothing store or a local designer. Once you get on one list, you'll find you quickly get invited to lots of private sales. Much like designer warehouses, the best buys at these events get snapped up very quickly. Arrive promptly on the first day, but not too early; most sample sellers have a strict "no early birds" policy.
Find out whether your favorite stores offer sale adjustments. That means if you pay full price for something that goes on sale a week later, you get a refund or credit for the discounted amount.
Browse the Web. Online shopping is a great way to nab hard-to-find and vintage items (especially handbags). The eBay auction site is a good place to start hunting. But before buying, check the ratings of individual sellers, learn how to spot a fake (see below), and keep in mind that most bidding happens in the final minutes of an auction.
We like to check online stores to compare prices and watch for sales. And of course, we recommend shopping from sites that allow you to return the merchandise if it doesn't fit properly, as buying clothes sight unseen can be tricky unless you're familiar with the line. And don't forget to budget for shipping, handling, and currency conversion (if buying from outside the country).
Spot the real McCoy. Can you tell the difference between a Kate Spade and a Kate Splade? The problem with shopping at discount shops, secondhand stores, and online is that you're often times weeding through lots of fakes. A fake is something that is designed to copy a designer brand; whereas a knockoff is designed to merely look similar. Of course, if you're not a purist, a knockoff is a great way to save money and stay stylish. But producing fake merchandise is an infringement of copyright laws and is therefore illegal. Buying the stuff is not illegal but remember, you are supporting criminal activity.
Whether it's a fake or a knockoff, here's what to look for:
Labels. Are they sewn or glued on? Glued labels are a sure sign it isn't the real deal.
Logos. Examine them closely. Is the name of the brand spelled correctly? Sometimes a knockoff will be slightly different (that is, Carter instead of Cartier).
Lining. A true designer handbag is lined, often with leather.
Accessorize. A new pair of earrings, belt, or scarf can be a great way to update your wardrobe for just a few dollars. Accessories are one easy area to go cheap and still look like a million bucks. The key is to buy simple pieces, with few details.
Remember our seven-day rule and curb impulse buying. If you see something you just have to have -- but don't really need -- walk away. If it's still on your mind a week later, you were meant to be together. There is so much selection out there today at so many price points, you can literally buy a pair of jeans for $25 and a pair for $500. So when should you spend more, and when should you spend less? We think it's worth investing in a business suit in a neutral color, boots, a winter coat made of wool (for those who live in colder climates); jeans that make you look and feel like a million bucks, and one basic handbag for daytime. We've found that if you hunt around, you can find quality T-shirts, sweaters, undergarments, and fun eveningwear without breaking the bank.
Whether you're looking to fill your drawers with basics like socks, undergarments, and tees; dressing to impress in a power suit and killer heels; or wandering the bridal boutiques to wow at your wedding, we've got you covered -- head to toe.
The following is a list of commonly purchased clothing items and accessories, organized alphabetically so you can easily find what you're looking for. We've talked to the textiles experts, quizzed the designers, and personally tested every item listed below (except for the men's underwear -- we admit we didn't wear those!) to ensure that you get the best value for your fashion dollar.
Here's What's in Our Shopping Bag:
About 70 percent of women wear the wrong size bra. We recommend shopping at specialty stores where staff can help you with a custom fit. (We both went up a cup size when we did this!)
To determine your own fit, measure the distance directly under your breasts, all the way around your back. (Round up or down to the nearest even number, whichever is more comfortable for you.) Then measure from the fullest part of your breast (without a bra) all the way around (round up to the nearest even number). The difference between the two numbers will determine your cup size. Zero to 1½ inches difference means you're an A, 1½ to 2½ inches is a B, 2½ to 3½ indicates a C, and so on. But remember, this is only a starting point -- not all 34Bs are created equal.
When trying on a bra, lean forward and let breasts fall into the cups. This will give the fullest look.
Your bra should feel comfortable on the center hook. That way you have some give-and-take for weight fluctuations.
You should be able to run a finger along the underside of the straps. If you can't, the straps will likely dig in and be uncomfortable. And make sure the straps appear parallel to each other. Otherwise, it's a sign of poor construction or a bad fit.
Women with large busts who need extra support should look for wider straps, larger fasteners, wider sides, and heavier materials, like a nylon-cotton blend as opposed to a flimsier mesh fabric.
Bras made in France or Belgium have a reputation for quality. Of course, you'll pay a little extra for the workmanship and beautiful fabrics.
If you want to make big improvements, try gel, silicone, or water-filled bras. They add extra weight (avoid the scale!) but do an excellent job of plumping up and adding cleavage where it usually doesn't exist.
Still not enough oomph? Silicone inserts provide a natural look and are our preferred choice. You'll pay a bit more for them than foam inserts, but they feel very natural, and you can move them from bra to bra. Look for a design with nipples for added realism.
For a boost in your bikini, try triangle foam inserts. They can be sewn right into your bikini top. But be sure to stick to thin or small inserts -- too big, and they'll soak up water like a sponge and then sag.
Aside from use in bathing suits, foam inserts are our least favorite breast enhancer. They may be inexpensive and lightweight, but they don't move with your body as well as silicone does, and foam tends to chafe.
There are good-quality suits for every budget. To stretch your dollar, remember that simple styles will stay in vogue longer than trendy fads.
Most suits can be altered by one or two sizes, but a jacket that doesn't fit in the shoulders usually can't be fixed.
Fabric is crucial. We like a wool-microfiber blend -- which will hold its shape, resist creasing, and last a long time.
Quality suits have a third layer of fabric inserted in the lapel, which allows the lapel to roll smoothly as well as lie flat.
Buttonholes should be cleanly finished, and stitching should be hidden inside the lining so you don't see thread when you open your jacket.
Lining helps clothing hang well, but it shouldn't be sewn down anywhere except in the perimeter (so at the hem and the bottom of the sleeves) and at the armholes.
"Construction and fabric, I think, are the key things in a suit. Open it and see what it looks like inside. How's the lining looking? What kind of lining [is it]? Feel the jacket, feel the fabric." -- Lars Nilsson, designer for Nina Ricci and former designer for Bill Blass.
Seams should sit straight and smooth across the shoulders. Make sure there is no puckering in the shoulders -- it won't iron out.
If you're buying a patterned suit, make sure the pattern lines up at all the seams.
Want a more formal look? Go for cuffed pants. Want to make your legs look longer? Go for pants without a cuff.
In women's suits, buy a skirt with a hemline (or have it altered) that skims one of the three areas of your leg that curve in: right above the knee, right below the knee, or right below the widest part of your calf. This will give the most slimming look.
If you want to downplay wide hips, go for a single-breasted straight or A-line jacket. And make sure it's not too short (that is, you don't want it to stop in the middle of your rear), as that will only accentuate your hips. Slash or diagonal pockets will make your hips look smaller.
To minimize a large bust, wear a single-breasted jacket with a deep V and avoid breast pockets.
Double-breasted jackets can look great on small-breasted women.
If you're petite, go for a jacket in a cropped style.
Don't get the wool pulled over your eyes! The federal Wool Products Labeling Act requires all cashmere product labels to include the country of origin, the name of the manufacturer, and the percentage of cashmere it contains. Read the label carefully. (Mongolia produces some of the best cashmere in the world, so look for that country of origin on the label.)
A pashmina is a type of shawl, not a type of cashmere. If you're shopping for a cashmere pashmina, look for the specific "cashmere" content on the label. (Approximately 80 percent cashmere and 20 percent silk is a good place to start.) If the label simply says 100 percent pashmina, there's no guarantee the item contains any cashmere at all.
Beware of an item that appears the slightest bit shiny. That shine is probably an indication that the item is not pure cashmere.
Ply is an indicator of thickness, not necessarily of quality. The higher the number of plies, the thicker the garment. That said, two-ply cashmere is generally more desirable than one-ply because it's stronger. Go for the warmer four-ply or six-ply cashmere if you're buying for cold climates -- especially if you spend a lot of time outdoors.
Hold the garment up to the light to see whether the weave is even. Consistent weave is an indicator that the piece will hold its shape.
We're sure you'd do this anyway, but spend time touching cashmeres and comparing softness. The beauty of cashmere lies in its luxurious feel, so go for the softest you can afford.
Bonus Bag: Dry cleaning isn't always the best way to clean cashmere. Our experts recommend hand-washing with a gentle detergent like Woolite in lukewarm or cool water. You can also use shampoo. Rinse thoroughly; then roll the garment in a soft towel to drain it of excess water. (Hand wringing is too rough!) Lay the cashmere flat to dry away from bright sunlight.
Buy the stone, not the ring. Buying an unset stone will allow you to verify color, clarity, and proportions in a way that simply can't be done when a stone is in a setting. The yellow or white metal color of the setting will affect the color and appearance of the stone. And when parts of the diamond are covered with claws or a bezel, flaws may be hidden from both you and the salesperson.
Know the four Cs of diamond shopping: cut, color, carat, and clarity.
If there's a gemologist on-site -- they tend to be found only at high-end specialty jewelers -- the store will have a microscope. Ask to use it to inspect any stone you're considering. The microscope will allow you to see flaws, color, and characteristics of the stone.
If you're purchasing a diamond that's half a carat or larger, make sure the stone has been certified. Not all certifications are created equal, however. Our experts recommend certifications from any of these independent institutes: the Gemological Institute of America, the American Gem Society, or the Diamond High Council in Belgium.
Have the stone you're considering examined by an independent, certified appraiser (one who doesn't work for the store).
To ensure a diamond is real, hold the stone above a newspaper. If you can read the newsprint, it's a fake.
"I've never thought of my diamonds as trophies. I'm here to take care of it and to love it, for we are only temporary custodians of beauty." -- Elizabeth Taylor, owner of the 33.19 carat Krupp diamond (and many others)
There are great dresses in every price range. Make sure you check out discount and secondhand stores in your search.
Consider the fabric. Something that is shiny is best saved for nighttime. A matte finish is more versatile in that it can work for more occasions.
Take the appropriate shoes and pantyhose shopping with you to get the most realistic picture of how various dresses will look.
A lined dress will usually hang better. Look for flat, finished seams.
If you find the dress of your dreams but it's too big, you might be able to have it altered. But don't buy anything that's more than one or two sizes too big. Drastic alterations can ruin the overall shape and lines of the dress.
Got a beautiful set of ta-tas? Show them off -- tastefully, of course -- with a plunging neckline.
Love your shoulders? Go strapless.
If you want to minimize your butt or hips, choose a dress with an A-line skirt.
A keyhole neckline is a great way to instantly enhance a small chest. If your arms are flabbier than you'd like, try on dresses with long sleeves or three-quarter-length sleeves.
Going to an all-you-can-eat buffet? An empire waist will hide that bulging belly.
If you're looking to strike a balance between sexy and conservative, go for a backless dress. Yowza!
"The most important thing in dressing and beauty -- and just anything -- is to be comfortable with who you are. Because if you are comfortable with who you are, you will act more confident, and if you are confident, you look beautiful." -- Diane von Furstenberg, fashion designer
Depending on the type of prescription you have, certain frames could be ruled out. Find out which frames you can have and which ones you can't before your shopping trip to prevent disappointment and help narrow down the selection.
Plastic frames are popular, but they can become brittle over time.
Nylon is an excellent choice of material, especially for sport glasses, as it's both strong and lightweight.
Metals like titanium and stainless steel are durable but expensive. Cheaper metals tend to corrode from perspiration and skin oils.
Frames made from Monel metal are a good choice. They're fairly durable, corrosion-resistant, and well priced.
The best nose pads are made from silicone, which does an excellent job of preventing slippage.
Look for spring hinges, which will hold the sides of the frames firmly in place. Regular hinges will loosen over time.
"In those days, you went to the optician, and you had two or three glasses to choose from -- tortoiseshell or the round ones John Lennon used to wear. But now you can get everything." -- Sir Elton John on buying his first pair of glasses -- of many. Before donating most of his eyeglass collection to charity in 2002, he owned more than 4,000 pairs.
Gold is measured in units of 24, which means that 24-karat gold is pure gold. Something that is 10-karat gold is 10 parts pure gold and 14 parts metal alloy.
The type of alloy used determines color. The common yellow color comes from a mixture of silver and copper, while white gold gets its brilliance from nickel.
You'll probably pay more for white gold. The price of the gold is exactly the same, but nickel (which provides the white color) is harder to work with than other alloys, so the higher price tag reflects the extra labor costs.
Don't just go by the gold content stamp (say, 18K). Real gold will also have another stamp beside it, representing the artisan who made the piece.
Garage-sale shopping? Don't assume you can have that gaudy necklace melted down and remade into something chic. Not all gold mixes melt smoothly, and you won't know if your mix will work until it's too late.
Don't buy gold trinkets as an investment. Chances are the value won't change much over time, so buy them only because they're pretty!
Be careful about buying gold pieces that are highly polished. The mirrorlike surface will show every single scratch. A matte finish is a more practical choice because it can stand up to average wear.
Fast Fact: A cube of gold the size of a plum can be beaten to form a sheet of gold leaf that could cover a tennis court.
Beware of something stamped genuine bonded leather. This term means the item is made of plastic that has been treated to look like leather.
Avoid cardboard bottoms. Sharp objects can poke through them too easily.
Not sure if that vintage or designer bag is the real thing? Check its interior. Good-quality bags will be well-lined.
For extra durability look for straps that are double-sided -- they're stronger.
In larger bags, look for straps and handles that are reinforced with extra stitching or rivets.
If you plan to put the handbag down on the floor, look for a protective coating or small metal feet on its bottom.
When shopping for a bag, stuff your prospective purchase with your wallet, keys, makeup bag, and so forth. (You should see the junk Anna carries around with her!) That way you'll have a good idea of what will fit into it.
The best-quality denim is soft and almost velvety to the touch. It's often what's called ring-ring denim, or double-ring denim. (Check the clothing label. Some brands will list the type of denim used.) Cheaper denim is more likely to be stiff.
Still have that old pair of jeans from high school? Today's designer jeans are softer, thinner, and more processed, and they won't last as long as that pair from your youth.
A little bit of stretch in jeans can be good, as the denim will have "memory" and won't bag out over multiple wears. Look for a pair with 1 or 2 percent Lycra. If the jeans have a higher Lycra content than that, you'll feel like (and look like) you're wearing leggings. Perhaps not the best look. But remember that thinner denim with 2 percent Lycra will seem much stretchier than thicker denim with the same amount.
If the jeans don't have any stretch, buy them a little bit snug. They'll stretch out after a few hours of wear.
When you try on the jeans, make sure you bend and sit down in the changing room. With low-risers, check the back. Many styles gape. A lot. We say, leave the plumber look to the plumbers!
Check the pocket placement. Pockets that are too high can make your bottom look bigger. Too low, and your butt looks like it's sliding down your legs. Pocketless styles look best on women with smaller behinds.
To balance out wider thighs and hips, nothing is more forgiving than the boot-cut leg.
If you're like us, you wear jeans constantly. So when you find the perfect pair, we think they're worth paying for, pretty much whatever the cost. We'd rather pay more for jeans we wear all the time than a dress we might wear only occasionally. Yes, we've spent a lot on jeans we adore -- but we never regret it. (OK, hardly ever.)
"I wish I had invented blue jeans. They have expression, modesty, sex appeal, simplicity -- all I hope for in my clothes." -- Yves Saint Laurent, fashion designer
Wrinkle-Free and Stain-Resistant Pants
Some types of claims we just can't resist testing. After wearing, staining, and repeatedly washing numerous brands of "wrinkle-free and stain-resistant" pants, we came to a few conclusions. True to their name, these pants are only stain-resistant and do not repel every type of stain. In our tests, motor-oil stains did not come out. We also found the wrinkle-free feature to be more effective than the stain-resistant feature. That said, our regular untreated chinos looked pretty good when pulled straight out of the dryer, too. Before you wash and wear, read the labels carefully, as treated items have special cleaning instructions. And take note: Wrinkle-free and stain-resistant coatings do eventually wear off.
The best quality leathers are top grain -- which means the material is taken from the outer surface of the hide. Split grain leathers are taken from the lower surface of the hide, and aren't as strong.
Look for aniline-dyed leathers and suedes. Aniline dye goes all the way through the skin and won't fade or show scratches as easily as will pigment-dyed leathers.
Shopping for something tough? Go with buffalo hide. It's often used for biker gear. Cowhide is also fairly tough, versatile, and is often used for jackets. Those who want to luxuriate in softness should opt for lambskin.
Suede should have small regular pores. Large pores are a sign of lower-quality suede.
Make sure the dye used on your leather doesn't rub off or "spew." Test the item in the store by rubbing the leather with a tissue. The dye should not come off on the tissue.
Check the different panels of leather. In a quality garment, the colors should match.
As a rule of thumb, look for a lining, which will protect the leather from the oils of your skin.
Buy your leather pants a tiny bit snug. Like jeans, they stretch over time.
Don't use a leather protector with silicone -- it clogs the hide's pores. Leather should stay hydrated, so choose a leather balm (moisturizer) protector instead.
Tempted by bargains in a discount leather shop? Inexpensive leathers tend to come from older cows with thicker hides. The resultant leather won't be as smooth and supple to the touch as pricier pieces, and you may lose quality in the dyeing process and in the lining.
Bonus Bag: Leather clothes can cost a lot to dry-clean. To refresh the garment without dry cleaning, pull out and handwash the lining, and leave it to dry outside the garment.
Lace should be smooth, not scratchy, and it should snap back into place once stretched.
Make sure there are no loose threads hanging off the garment, a sign of lesser quality.
Quality silk should feel heavy and drape well.
Don't shy away from synthetic fibers. Microfiber is comfy and washable.
French lingerie is considered among the best in the world. (Guys, if you want to impress your lady friend, think en français.)
Padded bras are great for underclothing, but the -- shall we say -- false advertising is not so desirable for sexy boudoir pieces. We recommend something nice and lacy for those steamy romantic evenings in front of the fireplace.
If you're a plus-size woman, opt for two pieces. They're more flattering than single-piece garments, which have the potential to look tentlike.
Body shapers are undergarments that suck things in to reduce inches and smooth lumps and bumps. In slinky dresses and skirts, they can truly be a godsend. The higher the Lycra content, the more control you get. The range is generally 5 to 22 percent. A garment with light control usually has less control than control-top pantyhose. Medium or moderate control will smooth and shape but not minimize. Maximum or firm control is designed to take inches off. But remember, to really reduce, you'll be sacrificing comfort. Choose pieces with as few seams as possible so they won't show through clothes. And if overheating is a problem for you, look for items with less Lycra and more cotton, which breathes better.
"I have a lot of lingerie. After being pregnant twice, quite close together, I like anything that has a little sex appeal. Those big knickers aren't good for a girl's psychology!" --C atherine Zeta-Jones, actress.
We know you're eager to hit the mall for new duds, but try to hold off shopping until you're at least three months pregnant. Your body won't have changed much before then. Use a belly pad to help you gauge your future size.
With most brands, sizing is based on your pre-pregnancy size, so if you're normally a size 6, you'll be a size 6 in maternityclothes. And know that good quality maternity wear is designed to accommodate you through to nine months. (Ah, the wonders of stretch fabrics!)
Think versatility and stretch. For a sophisticated and lean look, consider dressing all in one color.
Don't go too cheap. Yes, you're pregnant for only nine months, but you'll wear this stuff practically every day and in the weeks after the baby is born.
Pregnant women get hot easily because they have more blood circulating. If you're sweating a lot, stick to natural fibers, as they breathe better than synthetics.
Beware of low-rise pants. Our clothing testers say they don't stay up well after the belly gets big.
Boot-cut pants are a good option for balancing out expanding hips. (This rule applies to all women, not just pregnant ones.)
Don't pay full price. Department stores always have sales or deals on hose -- like three pairs for the price of two. Take advantage!
Check the denier count printed on the package. The lower the count, the sheerer the hose: 10 to 15 denier is considered ultrasheer, 20 denier is for regular daywear, and 40 to 50 denier indicates an opaque hose.
Getting the right fit for your height and weight helps pantyhose last. Sizes vary between brands, so always read the sizing chart on the package. Reinforced toes and panties can also help keep hose looking its best.
For everyday use, we like hose with 12 percent Lycra content. They are more durable, easy to put on, and maintain their shape better than hose with less (or no) Lycra.
Expensive brands may feel silkier on account of their typically smaller stitch size, but remember, pantyhose are inherently fragile. A higher price tag doesn't translate into a longer-lasting hose.
"You don't see a lot of oversized maternity clothing anymore. My biggest rule is you just never want to wear it oversized. It is very, very, very unflattering." -- Liz Lange, maternity clothing designer
Shopping Bags Verdict: We don't like to spend too much on our hose. As long as it has a 12 percent Lycra content, you can find good-quality hose of any denier count in the midprice range.
Virtually all pearls sold today are cultured, which simply means they're cultivated in a commercial setting. So beware of great deals on "natural" pearls; they're extremely rare and very expensive.
There are four main types of pearls. In ascending price order they are freshwater, Japanese Akoya, Tahitian, and South Sea.
Pearls are valued according to size, shape, color, luster, and complexion. Bigger, rounder, shinier, smoother, and blemish-free pearls are more expensive than inferior pearls.
Ask about the nacre or skin of the pearl, which indicates the durability of the pearl's luster. Pearls that have been cultivated for short periods have very thin nacre, and their luster can wear off rapidly, especially if they frequently come into contact with harsh soaps and cosmetic products like hairspray and perfume. Because pearls are a soft form of calcium carbonate, they're especially vulnerable to the acids contained in these products.
If you're looking to save money, consider baroque pearls. They're a bit misshapen, so they're less expensive. We think their distinctive shapes make a statement.
Rub a pearl against your tooth. Fakes feel overly smooth. A real pearl will feel slightly rough.
Before you buy that necklace, check how well it has been strung by rolling it along a hard smooth surface. If they've been strung through the dead center, the pearls should roll evenly.
Look for a necklace that has small knots between each pearl. If the necklace breaks, they won't all come rolling off.
Consider your skin tone. Some pearl overtones work better with some skin tones than others. For example, pearls with rose overtones look great on fair skin, while pearls with silver or yellow overtones look best on olive skin.
Unlike diamonds, there are no industry-wide grading standards for pearls, so their value is somewhat subjective. Do some comparison shopping, and buy from a reputable jeweler.
"At this point, anyone can afford them, because you can't tell that much if they're real or they're fake. Wear a long strand and wrap them around your neck a couple of times. When you go with pearls, keep your earrings small." -- Rachel Zoe Rosenzweig, celebrity stylist (her clients include Jennifer Garner and Jessica Simpson)
One in three women wear shoes that are too small or too narrow for them. Tight shoes could mean bunions in your futures, ladies!
Shoes made of breathable material, like leather or canvas, will last longer than those made of synthetics, like vinyl or plastic. Plus, synthetic materials tend to smell over time.
Shoes with soles that are sewn on are of better quality than shoes with soles that are glued on.
You should be able to wiggle your toes. Look for about a thumb's width between your toe and the end of the shoe. And since most of us have one foot bigger than the other, fit the larger foot.
Run your hand inside the shoe to make sure the lining doesn't have any seams or bumps that could cause discomfort.
It's a good idea to shop at the end of the day, when your feet are more likely to be swollen.
Thin soles mean more pressure on feet. Put insoles in your shoes for added shock absorption.
Our podiatrist tells us high heels should be saved for special occasions, since they put so much stress on the foot. (We're ignoring that one, but we felt a responsibility to pass it along.)
"For me, practicality stops at about four and a half inches. Other things come under aesthetics. I'm not particularly fond of a high wedge. But I think a high heel is one of the prettiest things imaginable. As a short person -- I'm five foot four inches -- I count on a nice high heel." -- Sarah Jessica Parker, actor
Feet sweat a lot. Socks made of natural fibers are healthier for you, as they allow feet to breathe better than synthetic socks, which are likely to get stinky.
We don't recommend nylon socks. In our lab tests, natural fibers (like cashmere, cotton, and wool) were more durable than nylon. That said, don't buy 100 percent natural-fiber socks. A sock with a small percentage of synthetic material, like Lycra, retains its shape and stays put.
A square heel hugs the foot better than a rounded one. Rounded heels are more likely to bunch.
The wider the band of ribbing at the top of the sock, the better it will stay up. But you don't want socks that are too constrictive; tight socks can speed the onset of varicose veins. And if the sock has Lycra, you don't need thick ribbing anyway.
For maximum comfort, look for toe seams that sit over the toe rather than at the end of the toe. But either way, the seam should lie flat.
Look for socks that are reinforced in the heel and toe. They'll last longer than unreinforced socks.
Check for loose threads and uneven stitches, signs of poor quality.
Fast Fact: In a recent survey of adults who admitted to leaving the house wearing mismatched socks, 86 percent cited poor light as the cause. Another 13 percent said it was because they were in a hurry, while 1 percent said they had nothing else clean.
Ultraviolet light (UV) protection is a must. Look for glasses that are tested by the American National Standards Institute or the Sunglass Association of America. (The tag or sticker will indicate if the sunglasses have passed testing.) In our tests, inexpensive sunglasses provided just as much protection as expensive ones. And remember, just because the lenses are dark, that doesn't mean you're covered.
Put glasses on and look at a patterned surface, like tiles, to check for distortion. The lines should stay straight when you move your head. (We have found that cheaper glasses tend to have more distortions.)
For bright sun, green, brown, and gray lenses are considered best because they distort color least. These colors also block out most blue light, which is considered dangerous to the eye.
Orange and yellow lenses are best for cloudy days or shaded areas.
For very bright environments, like those with snow and water, go for polarized lenses. They help reduce glare.
Flash or mirror lenses reflect light rather than absorb it, so they let less light through to your eyes. But they do scratch easily, so make sure you get a nonscratch coating.
For high-intensity sports, look for polycarbonate lenses. They withstand impact better than plastic.
Avoid any suit made of cotton. Cotton loses its shape, fades quickly, and takes forever to dry. Polyester won't last very long either. We like a 20/80 Lycra–nylon blend best.
Wear your tiniest undies when shopping to get the most realistic idea of what the bathing suit will look like.
Twist, turn, stretch, bend, and squat in the changing room to make sure you've got the right fit. A well-fitting suit will shift only slightly.
Bathing suits usually fit small, so you'll likely need to go one or two sizes larger than what you wear in regular clothes. No need to panic!
Don't shop right after lunch when you're feeling bloated. And don't rush. Shopping for a bathing suit takes time.
If you have a boyish figure, stick with solids, which tend to be more sophisticated than patterned or flowered swimsuits. Bandeau tops are a good choice for those with a small chest. Consider shorts-style bottoms. Just be aware that this style can make your legs look shorter than they really are. Or go for the very feminine string bikini!
Large-breasted women will want a suit with underwire to provide support, as well as wider straps. Avoid flimsy fabrics and cuts. To minimize the chest, try color blocking. Choose a darker shade for the top than for the bottom. Do the reverse to maximize your bust (minimize your tummy or both).
If you've got a full tummy, look for a suit with a high Lycra content (20 percent minimum), which will help hold things in. Also, all-over printed suits or gathered or textured fabrics can help hide a belly. (Some suits even come with a hidden control panel.) Shiny or metallic fabrics will magnify the tummy.
Got a pear-shaped torso? A one-piece suit with a low back will be flattering, as will bust-enhancing details to help draw the eye upward. Avoid a two-piece with shorts or a skirt, as that will only highlight the hips and thighs. If you want a two-piece suit, look for one with high-cut bottoms, which help elongate the leg. Also, a wide neckline will help balance wide hips.
Find bathing-suit shopping a horrific experience? You're not alone. Try a little cognitive therapy while shopping, and focus on all the positive things you do in life (like donating to charity, taking care of a sick friend, a successful career, and so on).
"Make sure the swimsuit you buy brings out your personality. Whatever you wear should reveal your sense of self." -- Bridget Moynahan, actor and model
A tuxedo is considered a 10-year investment, so look for something classic. One-button or two-button tuxedo styles are considered the most timeless.
Look for a tux in a lightweight wool or wool blend; you can wear it year-round.
Stocky guys should stay away from double-breasted suits -- they are not as flattering as single-breasted styles. And long jackets are best worn by the tall and lean.
When renting tuxes for a wedding, do so at the end of the calendar year. If prices go up, they generally do so in the new year.
If you're wearing a tux, there's a good chance you'll be dancing. Look for styles that have high armholes so that when you lift your arms, the collar won't gape.
Looking for a deal? Rental shops often sell off their used tuxedos during annual warehouse sales. And ask about wedding specials. Some stores will throw in the rental cost of the groom's tux if you're renting for an entire wedding party and the bride's and groom's fathers.
Teflon-coated nylon is considered the most waterproof umbrella material. Plastic canopies are more commonly found in kids' umbrellas, and treated cotton can actually retain water and become heavy. (Cotton also takes longer to dry.)
If you want a light umbrella, look for an aluminum or fiberglass frame.
Stick umbrellas are inherently stronger than folding umbrellas.
Check the tips of the umbrella. Look for "machine" tips, which can be pulled on and off the ribs. These tips last longer than ones that are sewn directly onto the ribs.
Auto openers are a great feature for getting under cover quick, but they do add to the cost and weight of the umbrella.
Look for coated ribs. A coating helps guard against rust.
Plastic handles are more likely to crack and break than wood or rubber.
In windy locales, look for two-ply umbrellas. One layer will be part mesh, allowing for wind gusts to pass through.
Look for a spring coil at the top of the shaft, which allows the umbrella to snap back if inverted by wind.
Underwear for Women
Look for 2 to 8 percent Lycra content if you want your bikini underwear to also act as a bit of a tummy minimizer. We like 4 percent Lycra in our thong underwear for optimum comfort and longevity.
Microfiber is a good fabric choice because it's both comfortable and durable.
For everyday use, avoid lace. Lace underwear can be scratchy and can fall apart quickly.
Make sure the back of your thong isn't too wide or thick, which can become uncomfortable. (Yes, comfortable thongs do exist, and we swear by them -- no visible panty lines! After months of testing, we've decided our favorites come from Cosabella.)
Don't assume sizes are consistent from brand to brand. Always try underwear on at the store (over your own, of course) because you can't return undies once you buy them.
Check the seams. The flatter the seams, the less likely they are to show through your clothes.
Consider low-rise underwear that won't creep up past your waistline when you bend over. (Visible G-strings are a fashion faux pas!)
Underwear for Men
Boxers or briefs? We'll leave that up to you. But style aside, fabric is the most important consideration when buying men's undies. We recommend staying away from silk, which needs hand-washing. We all know guys won't wash their underwear by hand and we sure aren't doing it for them. Cotton breathes well and is soft, but it can get beat up in the dryer. If you are looking to expand the family, steer clear of tight synthetic underwear. Synthetics don't breathe well, and heat can build up, lowering sperm count. For optimum health and durability, we recommend a cotton–poly blend.
There are two kinds of watches: quartz and mechanical. Quartz watches take a battery and can have digital or analog faces. Mechanical watches have analog faces and need to be wound (not the best option for forgetful people like Anna).
If you don't like resetting your watch and don't plan to wear it all the time, stay away from one that's kinetic. It needs the movement of your arm to keep ticking.
Although there are some fancy quartz watches out there, mechanical watches are generally more expensive because they have dozens of tiny moving parts. Also, mechanical watches can be difficult to repair. (There is actually a worldwide shortage of watchmakers and repair people -- something to consider if you're looking for new job opportunities!)
If you're a stickler for accuracy, go with a quartz watch. They keep time better than mechanical models do.
If you have a tendency to bang into things, look for a watch with sapphire crystal glass. It's more scratch resistant than regular glass. Plastic scratches very easily.
When it comes to bands, high-quality stainless steel is more scratch resistant than other alloys. It's also easier to buff scratches and nicks out of steel.
If you're buying a waterproof watch, note the level of water resistance. For example, scuba divers will need a watch to be resistant up to a depth of 164 feet (or fifty meters). And the deeper the level of resistance, the steeper the price. Also keep in mind that waterproof or water resistant watches won't stay that way forever. You'll need to have them resealed every few years.
Fake designer watches are big business, especially fake Rolexes. To tell the difference between a real and a look-alike watch, check out the second hand. If it moves in a continuous smooth sweep, it's a good bet the watch is mechanical and authentic. If it jerks from second to second, it's powered by a digital battery and most definitely a Rolex-wannabe. Also, fakes usually weigh less than the real thing.
If you don't like to wear your watch too loose, avoid ones with large faces. The extra weight will slide around your wrist.
Begin shopping early. A special order could take three to six months. Custom dresses can take up to six months. And allow time for a final fitting before the big day.
Get it all in writing -- the cost and everything the store and seamstress will provide, including all alterations.
Ask the store to keep the wedding dress for you until you need it. That way the gown won't get wrinkled, and your honey won't see it ahead of time.
Don't buy a dress that's more than one size too big. It's too difficult to effectively alter anything bigger than that.
Silk is the most popular type of wedding dress fabric. But read the clothing label carefully. Yes, soie means "silk" in French, but peau de soie is actually a synthetic, and its quality varies considerably.
To save money, consider buying used. (They've been worn only once!) Buying a designer pattern and fabric and going to a seamstress can also save you about 50 percent of the price of a designer-made gown.
Don't shy away from trying on many different styles. We can't tell you how many women we know chose styles they weren't initially considering.
If you're full figured, try ball-gown styles.
A-line dresses are great for hiding heavy thighs and legs. We also like strapless dresses on pear-shaped women. This style draws the eye upward.
Sheaths are best for the slim. If you're very petite, avoid anything that's has too much material. You could get lost in all that fabric!
To enhance the bust, look for an empire-waisted or A-line dress. Also, if the style permits, you can get the seamstress to sew in breast pads.
Bonus Bag: We invited a bunch of women over for some bubbly and asked them to wear their wedding dresses. The one piece of advice they all offered to brides? Don't worry about getting the dress dirty. Unless you, too, get invited to a wedding dress party, chances are you'll wear it only once!