10 Retail Chain Fitting Rooms Rated for Comfort and How Flattering the Mirrors and Lighting Are

In the interest of being servicey, I decided to rate dressing rooms in other popular nationwide chain stores.
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A.K. Whitney
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In the interest of being servicey, I decided to rate dressing rooms in other popular nationwide chain stores.

This year for Christmas, I got several gift cards, including one from Macy’s. This made me happy, since it was having a denim sale, and all my jeans decided to fall apart at once, ripping and tearing in places that were both indecent and impossible to patch discreetly.

Anyone who’s been to a store during a sale knows that the merchandise is likely to be disorganized and picked over and that you have to work for your bargains. The Macy’s I went to, on Pico in West Los Angeles, was no exception. The place looked like it had been hit by a tornado.

Clueless lovers may recognize the mall that this Macy’s is in; Cher considered the Westside Pavilion her happy place. After a tough day at school, she mused: “I felt impotent and out of control, which I really, really hate. I had to find sanctuary in a place where I could gather my thoughts and regain my strength.” The next frame: A shot of the Westside Pavilion.

While the room was a decent size and looked clean, the lighting was abysmal, with overhead fluorescents that make even the foxiest among us look like the Crypt Keeper. Then, there were the mirrors — three of them that you could fold in to better look at the creeping cellulite on your body. When I took off my shoes to try on the first pair of jeans, I noticed cellulite on my toe. My toe. What?

Horror comes in threes at Macy's. The awful lighting shook me so that this shot is blurry.

Horror comes in threes at Macy's. The awful lighting shook me so that this shot is blurry.

I reminded myself that bargains equal pain, and I soldiered on. Unfortunately, none of the jeans fit well, either bunching around my hips like sad elephant skin or squeezing me like toothpaste. And in every pair, I seemed to have camel toe, lovingly lit by the glowing tubes above.

Lighting at Macy's, also preferred by prisons and other less than pleasant institutions.

Lighting at Macy's, also preferred by prisons and other less than pleasant institutions.

I know I should have gone back out on the sales floor to do more digging, but I couldn’t stay in this dressing room of Dorian Gray any longer. I felt impotent and out of control. That gift card was going to have to be spent at the makeup counter, or maybe on a ritzy coffee maker in the appliance department on the third floor.

I left Macy’s in a funk and wandered through the mall, ignoring the face cream and iPhone-case hawkers. I was going to have to go through the Nordstrom to get to the parking garage anyway, so I went in, noting they, too, were having sales. A nice stack of jeans caught my eye, and I shrugged fatalistically. It was time to brave the dressing rooms again.

But oh, what a difference! The Nordstrom people had gone out of their way to turn their rooms into sanctuaries. Yes, the overheads were there, but they were mitigated by fantastic backlit mirrors. There was fun graphic carpet on the floors and lots of color. There were even signs encouraging selfies.

Backlit mirror bliss at Nordstrom.

Backlit mirror bliss at Nordstrom.

Emboldened by the fact that all my cellulite was suddenly gone (it’s a retail miracle!), I tried on several pairs of jeans and found a great fit. The smiling saleswoman rang them up for me, and I had to resist just going back into the dressing rooms to meditate.

As I drove home, I thought about the difference various elements, particularly lighting, could make in the dressing room experience. Did others agree?

I asked the savviest fashion person I could think of, Alison Freer, who has just written a book about dressing well. She agreed that lighting is key.

“I go to GREAT LENGTHS to switch out the lights in every fitting room I set up for a show. It makes a difference as to whether actors like the clothes or not! The lighting department always sighs and thinks I'm crazy — but when they're finished, the effect is warm and fuzzy and everybody goes home happy.”

Alison also directed me to a story that ran in 2011 in the Wall Street Journal that showed that retailers like Macy’s are well aware of this issue. But from my experience, it appears that they are not applying their insights across the board, while Nordstrom, at least at the Westside Pavilion, has.

In the interest of being servicey, I decided to rate dressing rooms in other popular nationwide chain stores. (With exception of Victoria’s Secret and Ann Taylor, they all cater to both women and men.) Since locations obviously vary, I have specified which shop is where. And as a happy birthday to Clueless, the star ratings are inspired by that film. (And yes, Macy’s gets one star, while Nordstrom gets four.)

The Clueless-style Ratings:

  • Four stars: A sanctuary where you can gather your thoughts and your strength.
  • Three stars: You can party with them any time, even if they forgot to RSVP. 
  • Two stars: Not as bad as the Pismo Beach disaster, but whatever
  • One star: As if. A full-on Monet.

The Dressing Rooms

Banana Republic 

Not the largest rooms or most comfortable seating, but all is forgiven by the great backlit mirrors and warm overhead incandescents. There are also plenty of hooks to hang your stuff on. Too bad I couldn’t find a lot of things I wanted to buy, but when I do, they’ll be getting all my money. (Westside Pavilion)

4 stars

Victoria’s Secret

My memories of VS rooms of yore included a lot of pink wallpaper and pink lights for that boudoir glow. The location I visited — Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica — is decidedly beige and a bit dim, but there are side lights, as in sconces, as well as overheads. Not particularly inspiring, though they are moving a block down the Promenade soon, so I have hopes the new rooms will be a lot friendlier.

2 stars

Ann Taylor

Considering that Ann Taylor caters to a slightly older clientele, I was surprised by the less-forgiving overhead lighting and the three-way mirror. At least the lighting was warm, if a bit dim, and there was plenty of room to sit and enough hooks for my stuff. (Westside Pavilion)

2 stars

J. Crew

The rooms are smallish and the lights are overhead. The seating is miserable, but the light was not harsh and unpleasant — more like what you might have in a bedroom. Plenty of hooks, and having a picture frame on the wall added to the ambiance. (Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica)

3 stars

Express

You kind of get what you pay for here, which is why the rooms are tiny and the seating area miniscule. The lights are overhead but not harsh. Still, not a place where you want to linger. (Westside Pavilion)

2 stars

Target

Target's overhead lights and double mirrors actually work together well.

Target's overhead lights and double mirrors actually work together well.

I’ve had bad experiences with other Targets, but this one’s rooms (Fox Hills Mall, Culver City) are terrific. No backlit mirror, which would have made them perfect, but they were spacious, had plenty of hooks, the overhead lights weren’t punishing, and while the second mirror helped give me a view of my derriere, it wasn’t a punitive one.

3 stars

Urban Outfitters

Lots of room, a backlit mirror, combined with warm overheads, and an actual chair that was comfortable to sit in. The industrial chic provides a nice, if pretentious ambiance. Had Cher been into emo, this would have been her sanctuary. (Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica)

4 stars

Gap

Gap's rooms are way small (yes, that's my elbow), and the lighting a bit scary.

Gap's rooms are way small (yes, that's my elbow), and the lighting a bit scary.

Like Express, you kind of get what you pay for. These dressing rooms were the smallest in the bunch, and felt a bit claustrophobic. While there was a backlit mirror, it somehow, combined with the overheads, managed to point out scary things I had never seen before, like a weird vertical line above my belly button. At least my toes looked normal. (Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica)

1 star

Let me know in comments about your good and bad dressing room experiences!