I Went Shopping In-Store: Here's How Safe I Felt


If a nearly countrywide pandemic shutdown did one thing, it’s that it converted most of us into online shoppers, whether we liked it or not. But even as a certified advocate for online shopping, I’ve found myself craving a trip to browse actual clothing racks and walls of shoes over the last few months, simply because the option was unavailable. Many stores have reopened since the pandemic prompted them to temporarily shut their doors, but as confirmed cases continue to climb, the in-door shopping experience has returned with a new set of challenges, including how to safely use the dressing room. Where retail therapy typically only warrants pondering over small feats like “which color?,” it now requires some thoughtful adjustments.

Here in Los Angeles, in-store shopping was officially approved by the L.A. Department of Public Health to resume on May 27, only if stores adhered to countywide state protocols pertaining to these five areas:

  1. "Workplace policies and practices to protect employee health."
  2. "Measures to ensure physical distancing."
  3. "Measures to ensure infection control."
  4. "Communication with employees and the public."
  5. "Measures to ensure equitable access to critical services."

According to CDC scientists, the most likely transmission of coronavirus is through contact with droplets from actions such as sneezing and coughing, but they've also determined the virus can live on certain surfaces for extended amounts of time. For dressing rooms in particular, this can pose risk to door knobs, mirrors, and even chairs and hangers. And trying on the clothes themselves — touching buttons and zippers — can pose a risk, however small that may be. Results from a survey conducted in late April by First Insight, a predictive analytics company, say that 65 percent of women and 54 percent of men will not feel safe trying on clothes in dressing rooms, and as we collectively take these next steps into familiar, yet foreign territory, it’s important to keep safe practices in mind.

Heinz Fremke/ullstein bild via Getty Images

For the first time since March, I ventured out to Rodeo Drive, Los Angeles’ famous strip of luxury retail stores, and The Grove, a busy outdoor shopping mall, taking note of the new retail experience in addition to how various stores handled their dressing rooms.

First, maintaining the mandated occupancy level of 50 percent capacity meant lines of eager consumers along the outside walls of stores like Dior, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Nike. Also, and thankfully so, it wasn’t uncommon to find a sales rep or security guard distributing hand sanitizer to shoppers upon entry.

Inside stores, social distancing ironically made for a more pleasant shopping experience overall, but I did notice that dressing room activity was lower than usual (remember when there used to be lines for those, too?). I should only be so lucky to have returned home with the zebra-printed skirt I gawked over for a number of minutes at Saint Laurent — spoiler alert: I didn’t — but a store employee did let me know that items that were tried on over the head and not purchased were then being quarantined for two days. Though these are words I never thought I’d have to hear, the extra precaution was somewhat comforting. At Banana Republic, a sales rep was cleaning a neighboring dressing room stall as I tried on a dress, then went over to sanitize my dressing room as soon as I’d left it. And at Topshop, I was informed that dressing rooms were closed until further notice.

Taking precaution is key to returning to the stores we love and hitting the sale racks we’ve missed for months. Ahead, here are four tips for navigating dressing rooms safely while you embark on your first indoor shopping trip post-shutdown.

How To Safely Use Dressing Rooms: Continue Wearing A Face Mask

Wearing a face mask in retail stores is a requirement in many states across the U.S., for both employees and patrons. This becomes even more important when in close proximity with another individual, such as working with a sales associate. As we dive deeper into our new normal, an increasing number of brands and retailers are offering face masks to ensure safety during outings such as shopping.

How To Safely Use Dressing Rooms: Some Items Require Extra Caution

jean-Louis Atlan/Sygma via Getty Images

While experts have determined the virus can live on certain surfaces for as long as 72 hours, they haven't quite confirmed how long the virus lives on soft materials such as fabrics, though studies suggest a smaller time window. Still, it’s important to be cautious when trying on pieces that come in contact with your face, such as pulling a shirt over your head, or trying on a pair of sunglasses.

How To Safely Use Dressing Rooms: Wash Your Hands & Frequently Sanitize

Roger Viollet via Getty Images

The initial shock of the pandemic may be seemingly diminishing as stay-at-home orders are lifted, but the need for preventative measures such as washing our hands and personal sanitization shouldn’t be. Even though many stores have been instructed to sanitize dressing rooms in between customers, keeping your own hands clean can help protect you from any potential lingering residue of the virus that may be present on doorknobs and other objects inside a dressing room.

How To Safely Use Dressing Rooms: Think Twice

Perhaps this takes some of the fun out on in-store shopping — we all love a good outfit montage — but decreasing risk of exposure means decreasing opportunity. Before trying on an item, consider whether or not it’s a purchase you’ll really want to make right now, even if it fits in all the right places. Avoiding unnecessary try-ons makes for a safer experience for you, and surrounding shoppers.