Inspiration and perspiration: how to survive shopping in summer

Online sales growth has actually slowed this summer. And although the proportion of online retail sales has leapt up a whole per cent from last year, at 16.7% it’s still a surprisingly small fraction compared to all the shopping we do in real shops. Whether that’s because (despite all the tech at work to minimise misfits) we still don’t trust online purchases to fit us properly, or because we actually need that sweaty, three-hour trudge up the high street to inspire our wardrobe choices, the whole thing can feel like a Hobson’s choice. Here’s how to do it without losing your dignity or mind.

1. Evaluate the conditions

You might assume that online is the obvious answer to summer shopping hell. How can spending three hours wrestling your way in and out of moist polyester possibly compare to the breezy serenity of an evening spent on one’s laptop snapping up half of ASOS? But WAIT, no. It’s not as simple as that.

There are environmental variables to consider. For one thing, shops have air conditioning. So while the average high street changing room is a miniature misery sauna, at least the rest of the store might give you some relief – and if you power through the maternity and jersey separates sections fast enough, you can even work up a bit of a breeze.

Meanwhile your house, unless you live in a mansion or a morgue or have bought a unit to stick in your window and pretend you live in Manhattan, probably doesn’t have air conditioning. So chokingly-warm is my flat this month that I’ve taken to popping to Sainsbury’s up the road tree times a day just to stand with my back against the freezer cabinet, sighing quietly.

Furthermore, laptops are too hot for summer. More than four minutes of casual use and mine starts burning my thighs like a low-budget hot stone massage. In the amount of time it would take me to browse, consider and select a midi dress from the Warehouse sale online, I’d have enough sweat in my eyes to obscure my vision and probably choose the ugliest one by accident. No, laptops are not the breezy dream. ‘Only tablets, remember, from May to September’ – that’s how the saying goes.

2. Do your prep

Remember window shopping? All those casual strolls we used to take around shops, peacefully gathering ideas for outfits of the future? If not then don’t worry, as I’m pretty sure window shopping never actually happened – but I’ve read about it in books from the 1950s, and it sounds lovely.

These days of course, we have ‘Windows shopping’, or for the Mac users among us, ‘Safari shopping’ – which is fitting as it’s far less about a casual trawl for inspiration and more about a treacherous voyage among wild, unpredictable beasts who might stare you down and nick your wallet (I’m looking at you, Whistles skirt I’ve worn once).

But irksome though it might be, do your shopping homework. She who fails to prepare prepares to fail, or at least to come home with five jersey separates and a frock that doesn’t cover her arse. Try, the genius startup that lets you ‘follow’ favourite shops and designers, then generates a personalised feed of sale items from across the whole list. It’s essentially a lovely personal boutique, stocked only with things you like and can afford, where no one will ever pop up cooing, “can I help?” and force you to swat them like a fly.

3. If at first you don’t succeed, try several more times until tired.

You’ve found a thing. You like the thing. You’ve tried the thing on, not hated it, dithered, left the shop, dithered some more, seen someone wearing the thing on tube, decided you definitely want the thing, gone back to buy the thing… and they’ve sold out.

But the story doesn’t end there, my friend! This is merely the beginning of a long, intricate mission involving alternative branches, department store concessions, sending your mum to an outlet mall in Hampshire, and that other endless vessel of hope and possibility – the internet. Never give up on a thing before you’ve checked eBay and every lesser marketplace for people selling it on (often cheaper), or used ShopStyle, Polyvore or sites like the ‘Shazam for fashion’ ASAP54 to track down copycat items.

4. But… don’t fight fate

Summers are short, and summer trends are short-lived. Only so many sartorial dreams can be achieved before September. Maybe this summer isn’t the summer you finally master culottes. Maybe you’d rather spend the eight hours of combined gymnastics time required to get in and out of a playsuit every time you need the loo just drinking frozen margaritas, instead. Maybe you’ll spend the whole summer wearing one cotton sundress covered in sun cream stains until it disintegrates at the seams – and that’s ok.

‘It wasn’t meant to be,’ you must tell yourself, calmly, as you walk past the third woman wearing the jumpsuit of dreams that you abandoned in a flurry of sweat and tears in the days before. ‘Right now, she is probably styling out a maddening wedgie.’

Then have an ice cream.

Lauren Bravo