I'm still looking for Prince Charming online. No, I haven't been checking out Internet dating sites.
I started last fall shopping for shoes that I hoped would fit like Cinderella's glass slipper. No luck.
But now, with spring, hope dawned anew. This time, I decided to look for pants, which fall into the same "need-to-try-on" category as shoes.
E-tailers are working hard to overcome this tricky problem. Sites from Eddie Bauer (http://www.eddiebauer.com) to Banana Republic (http://www.bananarepublic.com) offer everything from allowing you to select the fit style you like and then offering suggestions to a rather silly promotion from Banana Republic of naming its pants. "Now, call your favorite fits by name," the site says. Hello, Harrison. How would you like to be worn today?
Sizing charts proliferate online, which is the least e-tailers can offer. Plans are in the works for more aids, such as a virtual model feature (http://www.myvirtualmodel.com) that allows you to construct an online model in your approximate shape to "try on" a site's clothing.
A couple more companies, TheRightSize (http://www.therightsize.com) and EZsize (http://www.ezsize.com), plan to set up scanning booths in stores where you can get body-scanned, then use the results to buy clothes online or in the store.
I started at Banana Republic because I'd purchased plenty of pants from the stores in the past, and they generally fit well. My methods weren't exceptional; I liked the style and price of a pair of cropped cotton pants (on sale for $39.99) and popped them into my bag. I used one of the site's help features to pick a second pair (stretch tapered cotton slacks, sale price $29.99).
I clicked on the size chart for more details. The pants inseam measurement seemed right for me, but I wasn't sure on the waist measurement. Mine was within the chart's range--depending on whether I held my breath or not--although my hip measurement was slightly smaller.
That half-inch could make a difference. As I surfed more sites, checking out size charts, I saw that not all size 8s are equal. Though Banana Republic's waist measurement was 27 1/2 to 28 1/2 inches, Gap's (http://www.gap.com) size 8 waist was 28 inches. Eddie Bauer gave a range of 27 to 28 inches, while Spiegel.com's (http://www.spiegel.com) size 8 waist was 26 1/2 inches. Spiegel.com also had what seemed like a more detailed hip measurement on its chart, "high hip" and "low hip" measurements. If we were talking hip factor, that would be one thing, but one hip measurement is already more than most women want to know.
I ordered the two pairs of pants from Banana Republic, flying on the notion that their pants fit me, so these might too.
On to Eddie Bauer, Jcrew.com (http://www.jcrew.com), Spiegel.com, Ann Taylor (http://www.anntaylor.com) and Bostonproper (http://www.bostonproper.com). The latter had what I thought was a feature called "proper fit," which made me think that's what I'd get. But clicking on it just referred to another size chart.
Though I saw some cute pants, I couldn't find enough detailed information--information that could come close to trying on pants in a dressing room. Eddie Bauer allowed me to "ask Eddie" to "tell me about your women's clothing." That brought up a size chart.
Gap offered its "Pant Finder" and "tools" to select khakis and jeans. I was shopping for dressier pants, but I gave the jeans pant finder a shot and selected three fit characteristics. "We couldn't find any styles that matched all your fit preferences" was the response, though it offered some others. How depressing.
I tried one more order, this time from Gap. I was swayed (again) by the fact that I'd shopped in the stores. On the site's size chart, I fell within its size 8 measurements.
Once the pants finally arrived, I could see for myself how my online fittings turned out. The stretch poplin capris ($48) and the bootcut capri jeans ($44) from Gap were definitely small through the backside. So much for size charts. The lightweight wool stretch pants ($58) fit all right, but I thought the fabric felt cheap (another Internet challenge, how to convey the feel of fabrics).
Only Banana Republic's cotton tapereds now hang in my closet (the capris were returned); the pair I kept fit well enough, though the color (fog gray, hard to distinguish on the computer screen) is a little funky.
A few days later, Banana Republic e-mailed me with another pants promotion. It had given names to two of its pants styles. "Lindsey" fit one way, "Harrison" another. Pick the one that suited you best, and you'd be on a first-name basis. Now that's one I wouldn't have thought of. After the trouble of ordering online, most of us would probably call our pants names if they didn't fit.
Jennifer Lowe is deputy food editor at The Times.