The art of scan shopping: How to find the perfect outfit in 10 minutes

It’s all about the speedy ‘scan’, says YOU’s contributing editor Trinny Woodall: the art of zeroing in on what fits and flatters – and saying a big no to everything else. Here’s how she does it…

Trinny Woodall Scan Shopping
Instagram/Trinny Woodall

We’ve all been there. You walk into a clothes shop and you’re confronted by a bewildering array. Where do you start?

The good news is that you don’t have to leaf through every single item. If you learn the art of ‘scan’ shopping, you’ll save time and money – and avoid that despondent feeling you get when you take eight items into a changing room and not one of them looks right.

After decades spent in the fashion industry, scanning has become second nature. To me, it’s going into a store with your eyes wide open but at the same time having blinkers on. You need to be open to things you might not usually consider, but also be ready to discard anything that doesn’t fit your criteria. Using this method, I can genuinely be in and out of a shop in ten minutes, knowing that I’ve zeroed in on items that are perfect for me.

Here’s how you can do it too…

Know what suits you

Knowledge – of you, your body and what looks best on you, as well as of your local high-street shops – is the key to scan shopping. Over the years, you might have absorbed certain information about your shape and colouring and you should have a good idea about what shades and styles suit you. You might know, for example, that if you’re a pear shape, it’s hard to get away with dresses and skirts cut on the bias, or if you have narrow shoulders, a drop-sleeve jacket will make them appear narrower. You’ll know which colours look best on you – that instead of draining you, they most flatter your skin, hair and eyes. For example, you will know if you can wear red, whether black suits or looks funereal on you, or if you need crisp white because anything else washes you out. Have all these things at the forefront of your mind when you’re scan shopping.

Trinny Woodall Scan Shopping
Instagram/Trinny Woodall

Be shop smart

Scan shopping works best when you’re familiar with the store layout and its sub-brands. For example, Zara has Woman, Basic and TRF (where the young trends land). So if I’m on the hunt for a trouser suit, I know the Zara Woman section, which is usually at the front of my local store, will offer me the best cut for my body shape.

Similarly, Marks & Spencer has various womenswear brands – Autograph is more classic, Per Una fun and Indigo Collection denim-based casualwear. Stores are generally divided into sub-brands or categories of clothing, such as tailoring or partywear. So if you know that you’re looking for a patterned dress, don’t be diverted to linger in tailoring. After years on the high street, I believe that some shops really excel at certain things, so if you’re looking for something specific, it makes sense to start your scan there.

Do your prep

To me, there are two different types of shopping. There is the ‘I need an item for a specific moment’, and then there is ‘I want to treat myself’. Whichever one it might be, I always think shopping is more successful when you feel you look well. Popping on a bit of make-up will mean that when you’re going around the store, you won’t feel confronted by a tired face that does nothing to inspire you but makes you feel despondent. And, when the fitting rooms are open again, I always advise people to bring supportive underwear if they’re buying a dress for an occasion, for example, or shoes you’d like to wear so that you can see the outfit at its best.

Time your visits

To get the most out of your shopping, it helps to know about the rhythms of the fashion world. During the winter season there tends to be three main ‘drops’ – or new collections. The first is the end of August/early September transitional drop. This is usually when I’ll buy the clothes that I most regret purchasing later: I’ve done the sales, the weather’s turning and I really want some new clothes for the cooler weather. That desperation can lead you to make mistakes, which is why I try to avoid that one. The really nice stuff doesn’t tend to come in until the middle of September and then you get the partywear drop in October/November after the mid-season sale.

As well as understanding the seasonal flow, it’s worth knowing when your favourite stores get their weekly deliveries. One of my favourites – Zara on the King’s Road in Chelsea – gets its deliveries on a Thursday and Sunday, so I make sure that I’m first through the doors on a Thursday morning. Then you not only get the pick of anything that’s new, but, more importantly, you’re also more likely to find it in your size.

Trinny Woodall Scan Shopping
Instagram/Trinny Woodall

Learn to walk away

Once you’ve planned the timings of your scan shop, make sure you stick to the mission when you’re in the store. Remember what you are looking for and head for the section most likely to have it. Ignore the mannequins if you want to avoid disappointment. If you like something on a dummy, nine times out of ten it won’t be in stock as everyone else will already have snapped it up.

I start by looking for something that I know is a good colour for me, then I’ll check the shape. If it’s not right, I’ll discard it. There is no point kidding yourself that a coat in your perfect shade of blue will work on you if it’s got a dropped sleeve and you have the sloping shoulders of Queen Victoria. Don’t even go there.

Say no to polyester

Over the years I’ve become less dictatorial about many things. I used to say, for example, that women with big boobs should avoid polonecks, but I now accept that there are some grey areas – it’s less that rules are made to  be broken and more that lessons can be learned.

However, there are certain fabrics I think all women should draw the line at. If it’s made of a sticky polyester, it’s always going to be a sticky polyester. If it gives you electric shocks when you try it on and clings, spraying it with all the hairspray in the world (an old trick to de-static polyester) isn’t going to help. Similarly, I avoid loose knits. They lose their stretch and look tired fast. Even expensive ones get that saggy-elbow look, and if you’ve got bigger boobs they stretch to the point where it just looks like the cat has slept in it.

And I avoid chenille. I find it very dating – in an ageing way, rather than a date-night way.

Trinny Woodall Scan Shopping
Instagram/Trinny Woodall

Think: will I wear it – a lot?

So you’ve found a piece that’s the right colour and shape. Stop for a second and ask yourself this: will you wear it more than 20 times? Can you imagine this new friend with the old friends you’ve already got? What will play with it? This is all part of the process of quickly identifying clothes that you love, that will suit you, and you will wear time and time again. I recently found a sleeveless sequined dress in the Harvey Nichols sale and I had to really creatively think of at least four ways I’d wear it with what I’ve already got – a cashmere jumper on top, a white tee underneath…

Get techno clever

The latest technology gives you all the benefits of in-store shopping – feeling the fabric, seeing what a garment is like in the flesh – with the convenience of buying online. Get it sent to your home and try it on with the other clothes in your wardrobe. With many changing rooms closed due to Covid, and long queues because of restrictions at till points, now’s the time to capitalise on apps and mobile sites. Zara, H&M, Mango, Massimo Dutti, Bershka, Pull & Bear, Urban Outfitters and New Look have apps that allow you to scan the barcode of an item in-store and add it to your online basket and have it delivered to your home address.

Focus on what you want

The following shops are good for particular pieces…

  • Topshop Unique has great partywear.
  • I always head to Zara for tailoring.
  • Arket is best for basics.
  • & Other Stories is my go-to for colour and pattern.
  • H&M is brilliant for fun jewellery.
  • Cos has fabulous coats.

Trinny is the founder of Trinny London, trinnylondon.com

As told to Claire Coleman