I want to look good. No, *really* good. (Or: personal shopper?)
November 19, 2009 10:33 PM   Subscribe

A few years ago, I had a girlfriend who (gently) took me to task about my wardrobe and made a few suggestions as to how I could look better. I could see the difference after I'd tried a few new outfits, but I'm not very good at coming up with them myself, and I'm not very good at knowing what looks good and what has to change. It recently popped into my head that I could hire someone to help me out with this, but I know absolutely nothing about how to do so--although I hope MeFi harbors someone who does. Can you help me?

I understand that the usual job title is "personal shopper," but I understand they mostly work for high-end stores, and I want to be able to 1) have a wider range of options and 2) get a pair of jeans for less than $300. "Style consultant" also came to mind, but that makes me think of calling Deloitte and asking for the menswear department.

Essentially, I'm looking for someone who can work with me on how to deal with my appearance (hair, glasses, clothes, shoes, accessories, any other aspects I may have forgotten) in all situations, work and leisure. I'm mostly interested in buying new clothes because I think I can pick out a few real clunkers from my wardrobe and replace them, but ideally I'd like to have an expert opinion on what to keep and what to chuck, as well as what to buy.

Like I said, I'm worse than clueless here, so my questions will be many and fundamental:
  • What is this called? A "personal shopper," a "style consultant," a "wardrobe consultant," something else? What's the phrase to type into the search engines? (For clarity and brevity, I'll use "personal shopper" in the following.)
  • How do you qualify a personal shopper? What do you look for to determine whether a personal shopper is good at their job and will work well with you?
  • What's the going rate? I understand the in-store ones generally work on commission, but I'd prefer to hire someone independent. I'm in San Francisco.
  • How should I set this up? Should I plan on an initial consultation followed by a shopping trip, or some other structure?
  • What should I ask a personal shopper? What sort of things should I keep in mind when working with one?
  • If you've worked with a personal shopper, what was it like? Any tips?
  • If you are a personal shopper, is there any advice you'd have for me on how to work most effectively with you or one of your colleagues?
  • If you're in the Bay Area and know a personal shopper, would you care to recommend him or her?
  • Bonus Question: While I appreciate good design, I think I have a bit of a tin eye for my own stuff, and for almost anything involving dress. Is it possible for me to get better at this, and if so, how?
I've seen this question, but there were only a few responses relating to independent personal shoppers, I'm not in NYC, and my questions are a little broader.

posted by tellumo to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (17 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I believe the magic word is 'stylist'.
posted by emeiji at 10:55 PM on November 19, 2009

What you're looking for is either a personal shopper or a stylist. A stylist will help you with everything in your wardrobe from head to toe and doesn't focus on any one brand or store; a personal shopper can be attached to a brand or store but can also be independent, and usually focuses on finding out what you like and helping you pick things out.

I don't know any in SF, but personal shoppers aren't just associated with high-end stores; J. Crew has a complimentary personal shopping service, for example. Actually, that's one of the things about personal shoppers - they're almost always offered as a complimentary service by stores. Since you are in SF, I'd recommend going to the nearest Nordstrom and getting a personal shopper there. They have lots of brands, from mid- to high-end, and you aren't obligated to buy anything. And their customer service is pretty great.
posted by bedhead at 11:00 PM on November 19, 2009

Best answer: Before you even look for a personal shopper, browse through some men's magazines and really look at the clothing on the models or actors or rock stars or whatever. If there are particular pieces or outfits that you find attractive, note the designer (most photographs have credits for each piece of clothing worn in the photo--the text is very, very small, and can be oddly placed). Obviously, ads will state the designer straight out.

Then, I'd start with an in-store personal shopper at a few of the upscale department stores (Nordstrom, Bloomingdale's, Lord & Taylor) and stores specifically for men. The shoppers may work on commission; they may not. Bring pages from the magazines of the stuff you really like. Be open to trying things you would never try, and don't reject anything out of hand after looking in the mirror for fifteen seconds. Remember: you don't have to buy anything, and you can always return something (unless you damage it) within a specific period of time--sometimes for cash, sometimes for store credit. Ask questions. Be firm without being rude if you simply do not like or want something they've suggested. Get to know what kind of clothing and cut looks good on your body type.

THEN, when you are armed with solid knowledge about your taste and preferences, colors and styles, fit and combinations, look for a personal shopper. Going into a partnership with a personal shopper, even for one day, without this kind of backup awareness can get you into real trouble. In-store personal shoppers might make a commission, but individual personal shoppers invariably make more, and are generally, uh, strong-willed people.
posted by tzikeh at 11:05 PM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

To add to what tzikeh said, find some episodes of What Not To Wear where they dress men and check them out. And seconding trying on things you would normally never try on.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:09 PM on November 19, 2009

I cannot vouch for this site as I have not used it, but may be worth checking out (If you don't want to go in blind, it's like a skype personal shopper, who mails you things, that you can keep or return). There aren't a ton of reviews yet, but I stumbled across it whilst asking similar questions.
posted by syntheticfaith at 3:50 AM on November 20, 2009

Can't recommend a stylist, but check The Sartorialist for inspiration.
posted by krilli at 4:07 AM on November 20, 2009

Best answer: I think fit is key. If I weren't on my phone I'd link to the Details Style book. There is also a What Not To Wear book that has a "dress for your size" thing for men at the back.

Looking through magazines is also a good idea. Copy general outfits you think would suit you.

A good fit, and some stellar items that you can match with different items is a good wy to go. Also, check what the mannequins are wearing.
posted by backwards guitar at 4:23 AM on November 20, 2009

Omiru.com is a style blog with quite a few posts about men's clothing, partly product placement, and partly how-to's, eg how to wear patterns. Could be worth a look for a bit of research before you start talking to someone, by helping you pick out a general direction.
posted by harriet vane at 4:26 AM on November 20, 2009

actually, i think most department stores offer this service for free or not much. but the best thing to do would be to go shopping with the gf (or other stylish friend) and try on a ton of stuff. take pictures of what looks good and what doesn't (and label them accordingly so you know the difference).

in general, the first thing is fit and the second thing is finish. fit means fit--not tight enough to bunch or bulge, not loose enough to flop or flow. finish means basic grooming--no major wrinkles, no missing buttons, no lint or pet hair. start there, and once you get that habit down, move on to style.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:30 AM on November 20, 2009

You are the target audience for PutThisOn.com.

I know that Mr. Thorn, that site's co-creator, is a MeFite, and his public radio show is sponsored by the green.
posted by YFiB at 6:01 AM on November 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

The best thing you can do is ask two female friends who do have a sense of style to help you. Go on a day of shopping with them, buy them lunch, try on a bunch of stuff, go to stores you would never have gone to before. It worked well for me last time I did it, and we all had a blast.
posted by infinitewindow at 7:28 AM on November 20, 2009

Best answer: From personal experience, the Personal Shopper at Nordstorms will actually suggest clothing from lines not offered at the store - I was once even given a "style board" which included a collage of clothing from all over the board, even Gap! I know the customer-pleasing level at Nordstroms is so high, I can only imagine that they're willing to suggest clothing from other stores to keep you as a customer.
posted by banannafish at 7:36 AM on November 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

The sartorialist has some good stuff; it's also worth leafing through a few copies of GQ and Esquire, they both have a lot of style tips that are usually demonstrated with $300 shirts and $5000 suits, which are well out of my price range, but the principles carry over to more affordable clothing lines. They pay a lot of attention to cut and fit, which will make anything you wear look better once you have a feel for what a good fit looks like.
posted by craven_morhead at 7:56 AM on November 20, 2009

Never ever take the advice of any cable TV show regarding clothing, style or interior design.
posted by Zambrano at 9:14 AM on November 20, 2009

Best answer: Don't go and spend money for this. Just ask the stylish men and women who work at Nordstrom's, Banana Republic, Lord n' Taylor, Bargain Bin, etc. Walk-in and say 'Hi, I need a style makeover. I have two rules. First rule: I only want pieces that stand the test of time. Nothing trendy. Second rule: I only want pieces that can be used with multiple other pieces. Don't sell me a shirt than I can only wear with one pair of pants and one pair of shoes. Get it? Got it? Good!!! Let's Shop!!!". If they aren't enthusiastic about you wanting to spend money, they are not the person you want.

If you find the right person, they can be your ace in the hole for years. My goto guy loves his job in retail and loves spending time with customers helping them put stuff together. I can now walk in on a whim and say "I've got a wedding to go to!". He immediately starts going off. "Where is the wedding? Oh Tarrytown? Let's see, Fall wedding, Tarrytown. I have a vision! Ok, you know that deep brown three button I sold you last year. Let's take that, throw on this Ralph button down, and finish it off with this Nautica tie. It will really make your eyes pop. But make sure you tie a Windsor knot. You are far to skinny for anything but a Windsor knot. You're gonna knock em' dead!".
posted by jasondigitized at 11:21 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Look at other men in the street.

1. Identify men who are about your size and shape.
2. What are they wearing. To you, do they look ok? Great? Terrible?
3. Why?

Lather, rinse, repeat.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:18 PM on November 20, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks a million, everyone--excellent advice. Based on what I read here, I think I'll read up a bit and head to Nordstrom, as they seem to be pretty well-regarded and there's a huge one near me. I had a quick look through Craigslist earlier, and I may hire someone to help out with the closet side of things once I have my bearings.

If anyone else has worked with or for Nordstrom or has any tips on working with them in particular, I'd love to hear more. I'm also interested in:
  • Casual to business-casual dress (my suits, while not amazingly fancy, are probably the best part of my wardrobe)
  • Books and websites
  • Information on what to look for in a personal shopper
Thanks again, everyone--I appreciate it.
posted by tellumo at 7:39 PM on November 20, 2009

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