See How Store Dressing Room Design Can Affect the Way You Look

Dressing room design can make you look really good – or really bad.

— -- One in three shoppers will buy clothes in a store without going into the dressing room and trying them on. It seems illogical, but a recent BuzzFeed story on how individual dressing rooms can make you look either incredibly good or incredibly bad shed new light on the phenomenon.

It turns out that there are absolutely no standards for dressing rooms except that they be able to accommodate wheelchairs. Hersha Steinbock, fashion instructor at Academy of Art University School of Fashion in San Francisco, says that dressing rooms are subject to the architect’s discretion when the store is designed. She says distance from the mirror is a key to getting perspective on the garment, but “optimal viewing distance may be sacrificed to space constraints.”

I can relate. Sometimes trying on clothes is a humbling journey of cellulite discovery, wrinkle close-ups and the often muttered “do I really look like that?”

So with the hope that “I don’t really look like that,” I went to five stores in an Emeryville, California, mall while wearing a fitted white T-shirt and skinny jeans. I took selfies in the mirror of each store.

Dressing Room 1

The first store had an overhead spotlight that cast harsh light on my head, nose, chest and belly. The light was yellow in color temperature and the overall effect lit up my belly, illuminating every bulge and wrinkle. The downlight gave my muffin top its own five-o-clock shadow. To say this dressing room was “unflattering” doesn’t do it justice.

Dressing Room 2

This room also featured overhead lights, but they weren’t as strong. The overall effect was a darker dressing room. Lori Bergamotto, style director at Good Housekeeping Magazine, says: “Darker rooms mean you’re not seeing nearly as much detail, and you’ll be in for a rude awakening when you return home.”

Also, the peach/pink walls here make it seem harder to gauge the color of the clothes I’m looking at. The room was small and it was hard to get enough distance from the mirror to get a big picture sense of the item.

Dressing Room 3

While the feel of the room was nice with wood panels, the light was still overhead and harsh. The clothes are well illuminated and the color temperature was not too far off daylight (bluer light as opposed to warm sunset-type light). But this dressing room put such a harsh light on my face: I felt like my eyebrows had gotten bigger and shadowed my eyes in Cro-Magnon fashion.

Dressing Room 4

Now we’re talking! This dressing room had two lights on each side of the mirror that illuminated me from the front. The light was even and felt like a mix between indoor and natural light. The room was a little small so I couldn’t get a lot of distance from the mirror, but the clothing looked much better with fewer highlights of bulges and wrinkles.

Dressing Room 5

Ahhhh! This dressing room feels like the beach house I’ve always wanted. I could move in here. I feel like I’m outdoors; the two front lights on the mirror are complemented by the soft overhead lights. Winner!

While trying items on in the dressing room leads to fewer returns, they are still fundamentally flawed -- even the good ones. Tehri Ketola-Stutch, another fashion instructor at Academy of Art University School of Fashion in San Francisco, explained “there is a reason why model fittings for runway shows use a technique of having the model walk back and forth. There is only so much that looking at things close up reveals, whereas walking back and forth helps to see the bigger picture visual impact as well as fit and movement of garments.”

And so it may be that the best reflection of a garment you can get is the one in your own home.

In Front of My Own Closet