If you shop with friends, you are undoubtedly called upon to give your opinion on the fit, cut, color, and overall flattery of potential new purchases. But how do you offer your opinions on items that don't fit without damaging your shopping buddy's confidence?

Constructive criticism is never easy to dole out, and there are some people who will end up feeling hurt no matter HOW diplomatic you are. But here are a couple of techniques to try:

  • Never blame: When offering an opinion, avoid any language and phrasing that involves blame. People can't change their basic body shapes, and there's nothing wrong with a figure that isn't tall, thin, and/or hourglass-shaped.
  • Find positives about everything: Even a dress that doesn't fit has its upside. Is it a great color? Does the neckline totally work? How's the length? Does it bring out eye or hair color? Before you discuss the negative, highlight some positives. "I ADORE that pattern on you - so chic! - but I wonder if a different hem length might work better ..."
  • Use "I" phrases: It's an oldie, but a goody. "I'm not sure about those on you," is a better bet than, "Those don't work on you." Couching things in terms of your own views makes it clear that you're expressing opinion, not fact. And bear in mind, too, that your opinion isn't gospel. If your shopping buddy disagrees with you, that's her prerogative.
  • Offer alternatives: If something isn't working, don't focus on that ... see if you can find a different piece that WILL work. If a skirt is a strange length and fights your friend's figure, grab a longer or shorter one and say, "Why don't you try this one instead?"
  • Share anecdotes: If things are just spiraling out of control and you sense your friend is starting to lose confidence, share a story about a crappy shopping experience YOU'VE had. Commiserate and encourage. Take the focus off your friend and make things feel mutual.

How do you offer stylistic constructive criticism to friends and family members? Any of these techniques work for you? Any of them consistently backfire? Would you rather just keep your opinions to yourself, even if asked?

Sally McGraw is the author of Already Pretty, a daily blog about the intersection of style and body image.

Image courtesy Artbandito.