How to buy clothes as a gift: keep the receipt and never buy trousers

Shopping for someone else can be a minefield, especially if your recipient is young. But a bit of research can make for a successful gift

There is an art to buying a good present, from picking up on hints dropped throughout the year, to intuiting what someone might be coveting – especially if they’re someone who won’t spend money on themselves. After another tricky year, it’s a good Christmas to nail the art of balancing a useful gift with something nice. Like, perhaps, a new T-shirt or beautiful top.

But buying clothes for someone else is not for the faint of heart. From sizing, to colours, to sustainability there are many ways to get it wrong. Here, experts explain that if you’re buying clothes as a gift, it’s important to go in prepared.

Find out what they like

Bird’s eye view of shoppers in a clothes store
Clothes shopping for someone else can be a minefield – come prepared with knowledge about the person’s size, and preference for style and colours. Photograph: Daniel Munoz/Reuters

When buying clothes for someone else remember it is not about you. Jesus Manongdo, the Victorian operations manager for Incu, says to “come prepared with knowledge of [the person’s] sizes, what works with their skin tone, what cut or silhouette suits them and what brands they respond to”.

If you’re not sure, he recommends having a look at their wardrobe or asking someone who lives with them to sleuth for you. Take note of what colours they gravitate towards. Is it “conservative grey, blue or black” tones? Or “bright and showy” ones? Also pay attention to the shapes they wear, be it “A-line, loose fitting” or a preference for “certain necklines”.

Size them up

Man examining a shirt hanging in a closet.
Take a peek inside your recipient’s wardrobe to get a sense of their “size spectrum”. Photograph: Westend61/Getty Images

Finding something your recipient will like is only half the battle – the next challenge is making sure it will fit them. Start by checking their existing wardrobe “for a size spectrum”, says Manongdo.

Alternatively, if it’s possible, Jane Matthews, the owner of Swensk, suggests bringing an item from their wardrobe to match against items in-store. “In the right store the staff will be more than willing to help you test out your garment against things you like, as everyone wants you to get the right thing the first time,” she says. Another good trick – if you find a helpful sales assistant – is to show them a photo of the person. Matthews says it’s usually pretty easy to guess someone’s size from an image.

Finding out their favourite stores, and shopping in one them, is also a good strategy. That way, you can ask if they know the recipient. If the store records sales under client files you can even ask staff to look up what they already have, and in what size, she suggests.

Keep it simple

Three pairs of socks, lined up on a white surface.
If you’re getting cold feet, nice socks are your best option. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

“I always encourage a jumper, top, tee or shirt before pants,” says Matthews. “Pants are so much harder to guess and across different pants and fabrics in the same style, the size can be different on the same person.”

According to Manongdo, “even buying a sweatshirt or fitness gear” can be tricky these days. And if you’re tempted to try and give a dress, he warns the fit is almost impossible to get right if the person you’re buying for can’t try it on. So if you’re really in doubt, nice socks are your best option.

And keep the receipt

Finally, one of the most important things is to check with the store about their return policy, and if returns are possible, then keep the receipt. If the return policy is strict and you’re not sure that person will fit into or love what you get them, buy a gift voucher from somewhere you know they shop. It might feel less thoughtful but it’s a better plan.

Manongdo says this is particularly important to keep in mind when shopping for anyone from Gen Y or Z, as they “are pretty territorial about their clothes-shopping autonomy”. “I wouldn’t even try,” he says, unless they specifically told you “this is what I want.”

Preloved gifts

A woman laughing as she holds up a dress at an outdoor clothes market.
Secondhand clothes can be an environmentally friendly gift option, but make sure you check the garments for stains or holes, and iron or steam-clean them before giving. Photograph: Lilly Roadstones/Getty Images

Given the state of the environment and the economy, it might be a good year to introduce buy-nothing-new to your Christmas giving. Anita Vandyke, author of A Zero Waste Life and A Zero Waste Family, says when you’re intending to buy second-hand clothes as gifts, seek out “high quality materials”.

She recommends “classic staples such as cotton shirts, silk button-ups or linen clothing”. Before you buy, check the item thoroughly to make sure it has no stains or holes. Before giving the item she also recommends giving it an iron or steam-clean, to freshen it up for the receiver.

Finally, as returns on secondhand clothes may not always be possible, to remove the risk of getting the wrong size, opt for accessories such as jewellery, scarves, ties or handbags. “I love gifting brooches, silk scarves, and vintage jewellery because they are so luxurious and unique,” she says.

Her final, no-waste tip is to make your wrapping paper low-waste and part of the gift, by using something like a nice scarf, tote bag or tea towel.


Lucianne Tonti

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Never scrub a sequin! How to care for special occasion clothes
Beading, tulle, lace, and pleats: occasion wear can be difficult to clean and mend but there are tips to make it easier on you – and your dry cleaner

Lucianne Tonti

09, May, 2022 @5:30 PM

Article image
Easy, feel-good and flexible: fashion minimalists on living with fewer clothes
Cutting down leads to simpler mornings, loving what you wear and learning shopping cannot cure boredom, according to those who’ve tried it

Lucianne Tonti

03, Jan, 2023 @12:54 AM

Article image
Try before you buy: how to spot well-made clothes in the change room
From feeling the lining to moving around in the garment, here’s how to check the quality of clothes when trying them on

Lucianne Tonti

02, May, 2022 @5:30 PM

Article image
No snags, no spills, no sweating: how to wear vintage clothes without ruining them
With the right reinforcements and under the right circumstances, you can wear an antique garment without wearing it out

Lucianne Tonti

05, Sep, 2022 @5:30 PM

Article image
A good yarn: the alternatives to viscose rayon made with old clothes and coconut water
Millions of trees are felled to make viscose rayon, but two new eco-friendly options are being produced at a commercial scale

Lucianne Tonti

04, Jul, 2023 @3:00 PM

Article image
Laying it on the line: how to air-dry your clothes in all weather conditions
Clothesline or rack? Indoors or outdoors? What about heaters? Here, experts solve common dilemmas about drying laundry – without a dryer

Lucianne Tonti

18, Jul, 2022 @5:30 PM

Article image
A stitch in time: how to care for clothes on the go
From a stain remover pen to the right type of hanger, fashion insiders share their tips and tricks on looking polished – fast

Lucianne Tonti

23, May, 2022 @5:30 PM

Article image
Deep in the dark: how to keep black clothes looking their best for longer
From avoiding UV to re-dying faded fabric ‘in a big soup pot’, with a bit of care black clothes can last a lifetime

Lucianne Tonti

25, Oct, 2021 @4:30 PM

Article image
Tips of the hat: how to keep your headgear in great shape
Whether it’s a trendy bucket hat or a classic straw Stetson, here’s how to keep your head toppers in top condition, at home and when you travel

Lucianne Tonti

14, Feb, 2022 @4:30 PM

Article image
‘I might wear it in 10 years’ time’: four clothes-keepers on why they hold on to old garments
With the average Australian sending 10kg of clothes to landfill each year, fashion enthusiasts share their reasons for keeping – and cherishing – pre-loved items

Lucianne Tonti

06, Feb, 2023 @2:00 PM