Novelist JANE GREEN on her summer buying cheap clothes online

She spent the summer buying cheap clothes she’d seen online — only for the outfits to arrive and look NOTHING like the advert. In a hilarious mea culpa, novelist JANE GREEN laments… It didn’t look like this in the picture!

  • Jane Green, of Connecticut, said her addiction wasn’t fed by High Street retailers
  • Instead it was pervasive social media adverts from strangely-named companies
  • ‘The ads pop up on my social media feeds multiple times a day’, she admitted 

From bargain kaftans I couldn’t live without to perfectly oversized sloppy linen tops that promised to make me the embodiment of summer chic, this year I’ve succumbed to the ease of online shopping.

My addiction wasn’t fed by traditional High Street retailers selling clothes online, but something more pervasive and relentless: social media ads from strangely-named companies — Babelary, Vougue, Chic Meee — that I’ve never heard of before.

The ads pop up on my social media feeds multiple times a day. I often find myself giving in to my ‘click-to-buy’ compulsion, despite strongly suspecting these packages won’t actually contain what I think I’m ordering.

Instead, when they eventually arrive (usually several weeks later, by which time I have forgotten I ever ordered them), the bohemian green and white kaftan dress won’t be chiffon, but a ratty bit of polyester with sleeves that end four inches above my wrist. What looked like oversized linen tops online will in fact be nylon, and very, very small.

It was during lockdown when many more of us took up online shopping while stores were closed, that social media sites really got in on the action. Many well-known fashion brands now offer the chance to literally click on an image shown on a social media site and instantly buy it. And then there are the many lesser known names sprouting up too.

Data from Barclaycard published in July found that Britons spent £40.6 billion on ‘non-essential items’ during the first lockdown from March 23 to July 10 — almost £800 per person. According to Citizens Advice, 96 per cent of us have ordered products online since March 2020 and 51 per cent of Britons feel more reliant on click-to-buy purchasing.

Why do I find myself so tempted to buy things on social media? Because once in a blue moon I’ve scored brilliantly. I fell madly in love with an advert for kaftans that looked like they were made from vintage silk scarves. They were about £20, and I bought two, including one with a sequin trim.

When they arrived, the actual kaftans were amazing, but the trim was cheap and nasty. I bought new trim, had a local tailor put it on, then discovered the kaftans were rip-offs of a designer one that costs £2,500. My kaftans may not be silk, but they are beautiful. Though the finishing is not what it could be, no one would know, and for £20 I reckon I’ve got a good deal. What’s more, the ads are relentless. Each time I swear I’ll never buy anything again, I find myself bombarded. Despite all the failures, despite the disasters, I still want to believe in the triumph of hope over experience.

Oh, I could see myself wearing so many of these beautiful clothes. A dress that popped up recently looked stunning. Again, the name of the company sounded sketchy — something like Fadfod — and experience should have taught me that when it is called Fadfod, or some other name that is misspelt or nonsensical, it is not going to end well.

Also, nine times out of ten, the websites disappear once you have received your clothes, so there is no recourse when the reality doesn’t match up to the ad.

My orders tend to come from China where, presumably, these rip-offs are being made for very little money — another reason to pause and rethink. When you buy from unknown sites, you’re by definition unable to check how goods are made.

In this case, they seem to make clothes to order, hence the wait time of up to ten weeks. When they arrive, the sizing is often bizarre. I tend to need at least one size up, sometimes two. Even then, the sleeves often end just below the elbow, or the top is either tiny or giant.

Indeed, assessing my recent spoils — pictured here with hilarious results — I find myself forced to conclude that I must stop buying anything from social media ads. Surely the money would be far better spent on one single item, beautifully — and locally — sourced and made. And preferably not of polyester, for this overheated menopausal mid-lifer.

But still, there is a small part of me that wonders if I might do it one last time and that it just might be another brilliant find.

If I wait a few weeks, some gorgeous, life-transforming frock might pop through the door. It won’t be lined, nor of the greatest quality, but to me it’ll still feel like the bargain of the century.

Here are a few of my worst social media fashion fails . . .


‘Retro patchwork print V-neck maxi dress’, purchased from Zalikera, £42.82, pictured left. Right, Jane sporting the item

‘Retro patchwork print V-neck maxi dress’, purchased from Zalikera, £42.82

Sold by that well-known retailer Zalikera, this one popped up on my feed one weekend. I tried to resist, but it looked so beautiful, the print so unusual, I could imagine myself sitting on a terrace of a cafe in Positano, nursing a limoncello as I threw my head back with laughter, the epitome of sophisticated glamour.

It arrived two weeks later and I caught my breath as I tore open the plastic wrapper. Perhaps I had finally got it right? I had ordered an extra large and when I pulled it out, it was, truly, extra large.

In fact, I could have fitted three of me in it. I suspect this is not a problem with the kaftan in the picture used in the ad, which looks designer and made of silk. Sure enough, a reverse Google image search confirmed it’s a rip-off of a design by Greek designer Afroditi Hera, which retails for just under £1,500. Silk drapes beautifully. Polyester, on the other hand, does not.

At first glance it seems to be a reasonable approximation of the picture, although they couldn’t manage to replicate the elaborate ikat pattern on the bottom, but it is pure polyester and deeply unflattering.


Casual knit solid panel sweater blouse, purchased from Fennny, £23.93, pictured left, and right, Jane wearing it

Casual knit solid panel sweater blouse, purchased from Fennny, £23.93

Tempted into this after seeing it online, in reality this is an extra large that feels . . . not extra large. It fits like a glove. A little too like a glove. The fabric on this is our regular favourite, good old polyester, and is scratchy and rough.

The shirt bit is a little skimpy, but on the plus side, unlike cotton, or indeed any natural fabric, I suspect it won’t crease. I shall not be finding out.


Vacation colour-block panelled crochet maxi dress, purchased from Fennny, £40.65, pictured left, and right, Jane wearing it

Vacation colour-block panelled crochet maxi dress, purchased from Fennny, £40.65 

Despite my better instincts, I was fascinated to see what would arrive here. For crocheting something like this can surely only be done by hand, and it was more expensive than my usual purchases, leaving me with the faint hope that just maybe, the seamstresses might get it right.

If all else failed I thought it would make an excellent gift for my daughter. Oh, reader! I fell about laughing when it arrived. It was like a doily on acid. And it wasn’t crocheted! It was a badly printed crochet pattern. Now this is a cheek. I’m thinking of using it as a garden tablecloth.


Long-sleeved colour-blocking collar dress, purchased from Moka Girls, £35.91, pictured left, and right, Jane showcasing the ensemble

Long-sleeved colour-blocking collar dress, purchased from Moka Girls, £35.91

As you can see, the original advert was gorgeous, and given our mild September, a loose, off-the-shoulder linen dress (at least, it looked like linen in the picture) was extremely tempting. This popped up on my feed and seemed to be the perfect everyday dress. Easy to wear, no worries about having to skip the chips in order to fit, and the sort of dress you can wear with a big pair of earrings and feel instantly glamorous. Four weeks later it arrived.

I felt a glimmer of hope on seeing the green fabric poke through as I opened the package . . . then I pulled out the dress and realised it didn’t even have a passing acquaintance with linen.

Once again, it was pure polyester. Although I wouldn’t want anyone to look too closely at the fabric or the stitching, when I put it on I quite loved it, especially the pockets. I suspect it may disintegrate after a wash or two, but I would probably wear this one.

To a party . . . with extremely dim lighting.


Contrast-printed robe maxi dress and high-low top, purchased from Babelary, £54.13, pictured left, and right, Jane sporting the item

Contrast-printed robe maxi dress and high-low top, purchased from Babelary, £54.13

Despite the company being called Babelary, I was genuinely excited about the dress and top I ordered from here, after seeing them on my feed.

They seemed a bargain offer at just over £50. One was a beautiful striped chiffon maxi dress, the other a cool Pucci-esque top. (It might actually be a dress, but I was planning on wearing it as a top.) The colours of both were so beautiful, surely I’d put these on and never want to take them off.

Well, let’s start with the stripey dress. The colours of the fabric are beautiful, but it is an odd, weirdly misshaped piece of polyester, that I can’t figure out how to wear. Because there are no spaces to put my arms through, the sleeves just drape to the floor. It is completely and utterly ridiculous.

The top [not pictured], meanwhile, is nothing like the picture. It has no ruffles and a completely different pattern. I visibly deflate. What is life without ruffles? It is also, like everything else, polyester.

I put it on with flowing cream trousers and think it is actually quite chic. In fact, I wear it out for dinner that evening — which is a huge mistake.

The polyester has me overheating all night and by the time I finish my meal, I’m drenched in sweat. One for the bin.


Tie-dye print pocket front long kimono coat, purchased from Chic Meee, £39.14

This one says it’s polyester, so at least that wasn’t a surprise. But despite my newly-discovered problem of overheating when wearing polyester, this is actually not bad. From a distance.

The pattern is printed and like a very cheap version of the picture. Close up, you see the unlined sleeves and overlocked edges, but over a simple dress, I might wear this.

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