Taking clothes shopping to new heights

Are you a tall woman, struggling to find something long enough but still fashionable? Tribune writer Kristin Samuelson knows your pain. She and Ellen Warren go on the hunt for some great looks for tall gals.

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Kristin's three looks

Here are the three looks modeled by Chicago Tribune writer Kristin Samuelson, who stands at 6 feet 3 inches, from Long Tall Sally, a pop-up store in the Lakeshore Ballroom of The Westin hotel in Itasca. Left: Cami, $22; cardigan, $55; skirt*, $69. Center: Lace insert jersey top, $55; drapey twill blazer, $79; Silver jeans*, $99. Right: Dress*, $109; necklace, $22.

(*Kirstin bought this item) (Chicago Tribune photos by Keri Wiginton)

For the first time ever, I felt the same way my friend Kristin Samuelson usually does when she goes shopping.

Here I was in a clothing store where nothing fit me. Not the shirts or the jackets. Not the dresses. And certainly not the pants.

There was nothing for me to try on, so I just stood around and watched others shop. That's an old, depressingly familiar story for my co-worker Kristin Samuelson, who is 6 feet 3 inches tall.

But this time was different. Now, it was Kristin's turn to try on jeans that fit, jackets with sleeves that actually covered her wrists, dresses that had the waist in the right place, skirts that skimmed the knee, not her thigh.

"I feel like a goddess," she said as she emerged from the dressing room during our marathon shopping trip.

We had come to a ballroom in a suburban hotel where a pop-up store had been opened just for the weekend by the London-based chain Long Tall Sally, which caters to women 5-8 and taller.

Of all the suggestions I get for shopping column topics — and I get a lot — the most frequent are from women who are outside the typical size range covered by most stores.

If you're short, round, tiny, big or tall, you can't just walk into a mainstream store and expect to find something you love. Often, you have to shop online and hope for the best. This entails a lot of trying on — and sending back.

To plug a hole in retail offerings, Long Tall Sally has been creating instant weekend shops around the U.S. (longtallsally.com for details).

When I heard about the most recent one, I persuaded Kristin (it didn't take much) to go and let me tag along.

Before we got started, Kristin said, "I've conditioned myself. I don't like shopping. Nothing is a perfect fit." That was about to change.

In the past, even when she did find pants that were long enough (she's a 37-inch inseam), "some companies will (just) add length to the bottom," forgetting that the rise, the zipper, the pocket placement, the proportions need to change too.

But as she went through racks and racks of the clothes set up for the weekend shopping event, she said, "I want to buy everything."

Quickly, though, she learned, "just because it's my size, it doesn't mean it looks good on me."

In fact, the first three pieces she tried on — a flouncy skirt, a striped dress and a linen sheath — were immediate "no's" that looked better on the hanger than on Kristin.

Traveling store manager Samantha Martin, also 6-3, came to the rescue with an Oriental print dress that Kristin had passed over. It looked smashing on her.

"If I had a card to hold up, it would be a 10," said Samantha, likening the search for tall girl fashions to an Olympic contest.

What became clear is that not every tall fashion fits the same — just like the real retail world.

"My mom is the first one to say, 'You don't know what it looks like until you try it on,'" said Kristin, whose first try at a maxi dress was hideous (and way too short), while the second, in a different style, was perfect.

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