How I Learned to Give Honest Style Advice and Not Feel Like a Mean Girl

My sister gives me super-honest style advice—most of it's just too brutal to be printed here. She told me the (now returned) coat I bought two weeks ago looks just like "Dad's old brown dressing gown." Well, she was right, and I'm not mad about it.

She'll often use words like "frumpy," "ugly" and "ew, no" to describe the things I show her. She's direct, but she's the one person I can always rely on when I'm looking for a second opinion, and she can instantly tell if something isn't "me". It's my job as a fashion editor to tell people what to buy and how to wear things, but I still struggle with delivering honest fashion advice.

This year, Who What Wear UK launched a Facebook group dedicated to honest style advice called So... Should I Buy This? It's a group of 1700 people who are looking for a second opinion when making a purchase, proving that there certainly is an appetite for honesty in shopping. This group has made me think twice about how I offer opinions.

Obviously, its members aren't going to all have the same thoughts on one dress, but how can you deliver useful advice without offending anyone? Keep reading to find out, as we all know us Brits don't like offending.

So I asked the people in the Facebook group how they like to receive style advice when it's not coming from someone you're close to. "I don't really have a need for dishonest feedback," one group member wrote. "If I'm considering whether or not to buy an item, I can only use an honest opinion."

So how can you be honest without being mean? The number one rule is that it will always be rude to give an opinion if someone hasn't asked for it. Besides, no one likes to be told they look "tired," "washed out" or "sick." The same applies for an unprompted critique of your new dress when you're wearing it. That's just basic manners.

When offering an opinion, it's best to focus on fit, practicality and whether it's a good investment rather than thinking if it's something you would wear yourself. "Give honest feedback with facts rather than personal preferences," another member said. "Like, this heel is not that practical for certain surfaces, brooches are not fashionable or chandelier earrings would better with this outfit."

The best way to be helpful is to offer alternatives and be specific as to why you think it doesn't work. "Those straps are too long on you," is much better than "That's not flattering." One reader wrote, "'That looks terrible on you' doesn't help. However, saying 'Maybe that shirt would look better with a skirt' or, 'I think a darker colour would suit you better' is fine.'" (That said, sometimes it's okay to be direct. It's far more cruel to pull a Regina George and say, "I love your skirt" whilst thinking the complete opposite)

"Personally, the best people to get advice from are the ones who will tell you, 'Nope, that looks like you're wearing an old lampshade,' (an actual comment I received on a skirt),'" one person wrote in response to my question on the group. "But equally, they will big you up if you're wearing something that really suits you. Often, you know the answer either way, but you just need someone to confirm it for you—even though there's the occasional item you love so much you keep it even though it doesn't look the best."

However, sometimes a "no" will just confirm to you that you really do love and need an item. After all, at the end of the day, it only matters how you feel when you're wearing something. "What really makes a difference for me is how I react to their feedback," one member told me. "Sometimes I know they're right, and other times I feel myself defending a piece, and that means I love it and should buy it."

The one thing I've learned from our shopping group is that I don't need to be worried about being honest. You can still be kind when telling someone that the ankle boots they are eyeing up will leave them with ten new blisters and a whole lot of shopping regret.

For shopping inspiration, see the nine best new-in pieces to buy this week.