Zara can be an overwhelming store. It's big and bright (except for the changing rooms) and there's a lot to take in from clothes and accessories at eye level to shoes and bags at ground level and tables of flat lay clothes in between!
It's mostly high fashion styles that run the gamete from ordinary to extraordinary. Many pieces mimic those from high end designers with a slight variation to make it Zara's own. But they also offer classic pieces with a modern edge. The prices are unbeatable, from $9.90 rising in ten dollar increments to $69.90! There are higher priced items, but that's not the norm!
In general, the quality is better than average for the price point. Almost everything is easy care and can be either machine or hand washed. There's very little that requires the dreaded dry cleaner!
Zara is from Spain, therefore the sizing varies from what we expect in the US. Many things run a tad smaller than US sizing and some things will never fit an American because they were made for an extraterrestrial... or a human body type I've never yet had the pleasure of meeting!
Each item's ticket has the European size, then the US size and a medley of other countries. This however is redundant as the majority of pieces are sized as XS, S, M, L, XL and XXL! Therefore, an M (medium) is considered an M anywhere in the world! Shoes and some tailored pieces are labelled as actual size but may require a size up for us midlife ladies.
Depending on the cut and style of a garment, I've bought clothes from Zara in a size S, M and L. It doesn't take long to recognize which pieces to size up or down for... I'm usually a US size 6.
TIP - take a couple of sizes to the changing room until you become familiar with their fit.
Gathering items to try on as you go around the store is heavy and awkward (garments falling off hangers etc.), especially if you're picking up a couple of sizes to get the best fit. Nobody will relieve you of this hefty burden and take your bounty to wait patiently in a changing room with your name on it. You'll need a pack horse by the time you've scoured the whole store. But in all fairness, Zara employees don't work on personal commission sales, so don't expect anyone to fawn over you!
TIP - pick up one of the large hessian sacks at the entrance to the store and stuff as much as you can into it, it's way easier to carry than all the individual pieces. Unlike other stores, Zara has no limit on how many pieces you can try on at once!
TIP - unless you're a gymnast, a yogi and have a very tiny gait, (you'll need all of the above attributes), place any shoes you fancy in your shopping sack so you can try on in the discomfort (yes, you heard right!) of the changing room! Trust me, this advice may very well save your life!
The shoes are tied together with a chord that gives you a maximum 4 inch spread, so if you don't crash to the floor taking the surrounding rails with you whilst getting them on your feet from a standing position, then you will likely come a cropper as you shuffle your way to the mirror only to realize that your own shoes, now discarded several feet away are also from Zara and someone is picking them up with a view to buying them!
When the try-on sack is busting at the seams and your arms are numb, give up the search and go to the changing room!
This is where it gets tricky. The changing rooms are small, the lighting is dingy (in the Scottsdale Zara anyway) and the cubicle curtains leave peep gaps at the sides, so if you're bashful you're snookered! The only consolation is you've got a whole lot of try-on fun in front of you, and so has everyone else in there! Nobody gives a toss about peep holes!
You need to stay organized in this nanoscopic space, there's no room to swing a cat! There are three hooks, a narrow bench, a mirror either side, and larger mirrors outside the cubicle with slightly better lighting!
TIP: hang the pieces from your shopper sack on one of the hooks, place shoes under the bench, your own clothes on another hook and save the third hook for rejects. Now you can systematically try everything on and have a bench to sit and try-on shoes without the blood rushing to your head as you take a free fall in the middle of the store!
If you need other sizes whilst you're in the changing room, you may be able to get assistance from the staff, but it can take a while! Leave the cubicle with everything you went in with giving the rejects to the changing room associates.
You have 30 days to return items, and the usual rules apply... all tags attached, unworn, in original condition etc. I've returned shoes with tags intact but the 4-inch death chord tying them together was broken! I think this happens a lot, I've seen them broken in the store. Nobody has ever questioned me about that when I've returned shoes. Besides, if I'm trying on a sling back and I can't take a normal sized step (which is more than 4 inches) then how am I to know if the shoe stays on or not?
So, for any midlife woman who wants to enjoy the many benefits of fashion from Zara, I say give it a try! There's plenty for many style tastes and whilst primarily it caters for the smaller body type, XXL and up to a US size 12 or 14 is available in some pieces. If you enjoy trying new trends, Zara is a great way to do it without breaking the bank. Be patient and try on everything that catches your eye, you will be surprised at what you end up loving!
I can easily spend two hours in the store if I haven't been for a while, there are always new things coming in. Some days I come away with nothing, and other days with only one piece even after many sack loads of try-ons (I'm a stickler for fit, it must be perfect)! But that's okay. As a result of Zara, I've gone from spending $200 plus on one pair of jeans to spending $50 and getting more compliments than I ever received on the expensive ones. I'm now horrified that I ever bought jeans that cost so much. The same is true for many of my clothes... years ago I would have purchased expensive designer pieces that granted have stood the test of time, but if you pick carefully at Zara, the same applies for a fraction of the cost.
Karen Serino is a life and style blogger, sharing fashion, fitness and fun for youthful women in their forties, fifties and beyond.
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Click the picture below to see my interview with the lovely Jonet Wooten from Fabulously Chic Over 50