I'll pay someone to tell me what to buy, what to wear and how to wear it
March 24, 2013 9:42 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for information about working with a personal stylist or personal shopper, especially as a plus-size woman. Could I? Should I?

I just moved to San Francisco (well, OK, Marin county) and discovered that I need to learn how to dress properly. I have no fashion sense or style*.

It looks like I need a third party to hold my hand and teach me everything about clothing myself, starting right at the very beginning.

I need someone who can:
  • explain fashion, style, and clothes to me like the 6 year old I clearly am
  • teach me everything about my size and shape and color and what works with it
  • help me create work and casual wardrobes, made from items already in my closet, and new things they'll help me shop for
  • give me a bunch of simple algorithms I can plug into my future shopping and getting-dressed routines when I'm doing it alone.
Is this what a personal shopper/stylist can do for me? Where can I find one? What should I expect? What does it cost? Have you ever worked with one? How did it go for you?

  • I’m a petite US size 16/18 (which sometimes means plus-size, and sometimes doesn't). I'm almost 30 and only just learned that navy is a neutral.
  • In the past month, I've spent a bunch of money (at Banana Republic, Gap, Kohl's, and Ross) trying to build a good wardrobe, but I don't think I've done it right. I get dressed in the morning, think I've put together something good, then I get into the city and realize I actually look terrible.
  • I started to follow a bunch of fashion/fatshion blogs (e.g. Corporette, The Curvy Fashionista, Fat Shopaholic, GabiFresh) but I don’t think they’re really helping me; I rarely see anything I would wear/can afford.
* This is the sort of thing that can happen when you grow up in a family where everyone is plus sized and - thanks, fat-phobic society! - deeply ashamed of it.
posted by subbes to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (26 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
You might try making an appointment with a personal stylist at the Nordstrom in Union Square - I've found them to be quite helpful and not at all pushy.
posted by dotgirl at 10:24 PM on March 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

I had good luck just going to Macy's. They have professional shoppers there who will help you for free. Maybe try that before you pay someone?
posted by bink at 10:24 PM on March 24, 2013

My friend Lesa in SF does this. I'm a guy — never used her service —so can't tell you exactly what to expect. Here's her blog, check it out and see if it appeals.

A completely different suggestion, you can find some good people at SF or Corte Madera Nordstroms to help w these kinds of questions. Gratis. They'll even suggest other specialty stores by name if what they have isn't quite right.
Preview: Nordstroms mentioned already
posted by artdrectr at 10:30 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

It would help if you said where you worked: banking, law type environment or media/ arts type. At the former, honestly Corporette is pretty dead on. That's how people dress and scarves, blouses and jewelry are about it for snazzing it up most offices.

If it's the latter or you have a more ambiguous workplace code like you are a teacher at a private school or the dread "business casual" and you can give more details I think people would be more helpful
posted by fshgrl at 10:34 PM on March 24, 2013

As one who had to learn how to dress by trial and error, I appreciated not only lists of garments to be included in the perfect wardrobe but also tips about how to choose what looked good on me, not just on the hanger or the model. I got the most help from women who sold clothes but only in the better shops where people were known to be experienced, even talented, at this. What Not To Wear's Style Rules as well as some of the wardrobe makeover episodes were good for learning the principles. (The nuggets of good information, however, were always at the end of a long show which was not all that interesting otherwise.)

Basic things to know are not just your size but whether you are "pear-" or "apple-" shaped and which styles are most flattering to that particular shape. (Stacy London shows what an amazing difference the right dress can make to enhance a waistline and disguise a broader hipline. Similarly, a top-heavy 'apple' can look more slim and shapely in the right dress. The rule for dresses seems to be to emphasize the narrowest part of your midsection and, if there is no narrow part, create the illusion of one with a belt or some other contrast.) Another basic is to make sure everything is fitted perfectly--this can be the most important rule of all. To begin wardrobe building, start with a basic color--buy the best separate pieces that you can afford and have them fitted properly. Add other pieces and accessories to build on this color. Spend your money on the main pieces and the tailoring.

Other basics--get perfectly fitted bras, good shoes and handbags. They will cost. Get advice from your stylist. Proportion matters. Formulate your objectives for the conversation and go to the best store for women's clothes (seconding Nordstrom's), seek out someone talented and put yourself in their hands. Don't try to do it all at once. Concentrate on the basics and then add what works with the new look you are building. It will take a while to learn but, once you have a good basic style understanding, know you will have to maintain and add to your wardrobe just as you do with everything else but it will be rewarding in being able to know you really do look well!

Good luck and have fun!
posted by Anitanola at 11:37 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I used a free personal shopper at a nicer dept store once..... One of my best shopping experiences ever. I probably spent 3 times what I would have but she was great and put together several nice outfits that I badly needed. I say go for it.
posted by pearlybob at 12:23 AM on March 25, 2013

Response by poster: I work in a subset of the tech industry. I don't know what dress code to aim for, but it probably involves blazers? Or suit jackets? I'm not sure what the difference is.

I'll go and get my chest measured this week, and see if the Nordstrom's closest to me is accommodating to fatties.
posted by subbes at 12:28 AM on March 25, 2013

Other than fitting foundation garments I'd stop spending money at the moment and start to observe. What do the people who are in charge wear at your place of work. How does it differ for men and women?

People watch. Sit in a cafe and watch passers by. What do they wear? Does it fit them? Do the items look nice together? Why (not)?

Look out for people your shape and size. Find some who look well dressed. If you see an item of clothing you like compliment them in it and ask where they got it.

Finally, work out what you get dressed for - work, hobbies, leisure pursuits in the widest sense? What might constitute an appropriate well fitting outfit for each if these occasions? Only once you have a clearer idea if what you need to dress for outside work and what constitutes dress code at your job would I even contemplate the personal shoppers. They can help you much better if they are given a clear starting point. That does not have to be I am looking for xyz but could be along the lines of what people at work wear and that you're looking for some work wardrobe staples that work in that environment.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:04 AM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

I don't have a local recommendation, but I was in this same place three years ago. 30s, understanding that I didn't look professional, shopping at better places (like Banana Republic) and still feeling shlumpy. I hired a personal stylist on recommendation here, and she came to my house and went through all my clothes, sorting them into two piles. This was really helpful, and I don't think I could have done it myself, because I was too attached to certain things - or thought they looked ok, when they didn't. Later, we met up at a store where she'd pulled a bunch of stuff for me to try on. I highly recommend the experience. It was worth every single penny

I would also say, one thing that helped me then and helps me now, as I had to learn to shop on my own, are the questions she asked me. Was there a famous person - of any sort - whose style I admired, or whom I wanted to dress more like? (In my case, it was Kate Walsh on Private Practice.) This gave her an idea of the look I was looking for, and when I looked at what this character wore and why I liked it, I was able to understand how to get there - instead of baggy pants, tailored ones; muted colors instead of bright, et c. So I would think about people whose style you admire, and try to understand what it is about that style that you like - the colors? The fit? Are there specific pieces that you can find yourself? And also, find someone you trust to do some tailoring - my person is my dry cleaner, and it's not expensive. But I can't buy pants that fit without having them taken in at the waist, and I often need things hemmed. I used to not bother, but I have found it makes a real difference in looking the way I want to.

Best of luck to you!
posted by mccn at 5:34 AM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'll go and get my chest measured this week, and see if the Nordstrom's closest to me is accommodating to fatties.

So heres something thing that I learned. I felt like it was a secret. Rich women are fat too.

No, shitty fake "upscale" mall stores (e.g. Banana Republic) don't cary your/my size except for maybe online. Those are mostly for people who want to look rich, but aren't actually. I'm laying down some heavy classism, but them's the breaks.

A real department store like Nordstroms, Lord and Taylor, Saks, will bend over backwards to get you something you want in exchange for your money and repeat business.

Also seriously. I don't know if you were being jokey in calling yourself a "fattie" but confidence is the best looking thing you can ever wear. Period.
posted by fontophilic at 7:05 AM on March 25, 2013 [8 favorites]

I'm nearing the end of the process with an image consultant and so far it has been worth it. I'm tall and muscular and rather padded, sometimes plus-sized and sometimes not, and have zero experience with makeup or well-fitting clothes. My default style is "tomboy" but now I want to look more professional and female.

We're in Mexico but from poking around online, it looks like the consultant's process is pretty standard, and she may actually be a franchise of a global chain. Here's the process she's using and how it has helped me:

- She took photos of my face and measured various aspects and printed it out to so we would know what type of hairstyle and makeup would help me the most.

- She chose three new hairstyles for me to consider and recommended colors and printed images of them.

- I picked one hairstyle and she went with me to the salon and made sure the stylist did what we wanted. I decided I liked the color but not the style or salon, so I brought another of her photos elsewhere to get that other haircut and am now happy.

- She draped a bajillion scarves over me to identify my best colors and printed them out on a little deck of cards that I can take with me when I shop for clothes. The cards not only show colors for clothing but also for accessories and makeup.

- She went out and bought a bunch of makeup for me.

- She spent literally hours with me patiently showing me how to apply makeup, ranging from a light everyday style to a "giving a professional presentation to hundreds of people" style. She gave me detailed, printed instructions as well.

- She took photos of my lycra-clad body to get a clear view of my shape and help us choose clothing that flatters me.

- Because I have to give a presentation soon, she looked for and printed out a photo of a type of suit that would flatter me, took me to a tailor to get an estimate, and took me to a fabric store and helped me pick the fabric. The tailor is currently making the suit.

- She asked me in detail about my typical day and identified what percentage of each type of clothing I should have (I think the categories are workout clothes, casual daytime, going out at night with friends, fancy party or clubs, and professional).

- Tomorrow she comes to my house to go through my closet and, likely, put most of my clothing in a "do not wear" pile. This will help identify what we need to go buy.

- I'll tell her how much I'm willing to spend on clothes, and she will take me shopping to the stores that she knows will have my size and style in my price range.

Throughout all this, she has been understanding and non-judgmental and is not pressuring me at all to be more "girly" than I'm comfortable being.
posted by ceiba at 8:14 AM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am right in your boat, with the added caveat of a huge chest. Here's a link to my recent jeans experience. I don't have a lot to say about specific personal shopping techniques, but I'll be very interested to see what you come up with.

I can only speak to bra fitting at Nordstrom, but that should be a crucial part of your experience. Foundational, even... (owwww...) The Nordstrom in Union Square was amazing for me. My local Macy's (a big FEH to them) fails miserably, but the Nordies set me up with a fantastic F-cup bra that didn't make me look or feel like I'd been dressed by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Personally, I believe that calling yourself a fattie is perfectly fine as long as it doesn't involve beating yourself up about it. I'm fat, I've got fat on me, I am viewed as fat by many people... it's a fact. I am also awesome. Also a fact. Accepting both of those things is essential when navigating the humiliatingly awful experience that is shopping for plus-sized or "in-betweenie" clothing. I want to march up to CEO offices and smack people.

As for growing up in a fat family with fat-phobic everything surrounding you... yep, I've been there, too. I think there's a lot to be said for trying to set an example. I have an aunt who wears nothing but patterned black and white tops, voluminous black pants and Danskos. Her sister does the same but occasionally adds dresses. So when we get together, particularly when we are in dress-up situations, I do everything I can to rock the hell out of my best attributes and wear bright colors and cool shoes and great jewelry.

Own your body, its changes, its good and less good parts... all of it. That will help you and your stylist (whatever person you end up with) the most when you're trying to figure out what makes you look and feel the best.
posted by Madamina at 9:49 AM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

A personal shopper is very useful for making a shopping trip more productive and less overwhelming, but a personal shopper at a department store is not really going to be able to help you learn how to put together a wardrobe or develop a sense of style. At a higher end department store, a shopper with be very good at finding things that fit and flatter, but won't really be much on teaching you how to do it yourself. She should ask you some questions about what you like to wear and what purpose the clothes will serve. If you have some pants or a skirt or a jacket that you don't have anything to wear with, bring it with you and tell the shopper you're looking for things to go with the item.

If you have time and energy (and spend enough money with the shopper) to develop a relationship with a personal shopper (wherein she notices when something that would be perfect for you comes in to the shop, among other things), the shopper will be great at facilitating your style and rounding out your wardrobe, but the "learning how" stuff usually comes from image consultants, books, or friends. Like others have suggested, you want a personal stylist or image consultant. The really big law firms often have one they recommend to new attorneys, but I don't imagine the tech industry does.

That said, don't hesitate to ask a lot of questions of your personal shopper and don't hesitate to reject suggestions, but you should push yourself to try on things you wouldn't normally. When you reject something, try to be specific why. Is it the weight or drape of the fabric? Do you feel the color is too eye-catching or too muted? Is it that you don't know what to wear it with? Does it make you feel over-dressed? If you tell the shopper why you're rejecting things, she will begin to make better choices for you, but she may also tell you why you're "wrong" about the article of clothing. If she's very good at her job, she won't argue with you, but she'll point out why she chose the piece and describe to you how she thinks it looks on you, which is often different than what's in your head as you look in the mirror.

Now, of course, she's trying to sell you clothes, so take what the shopper says with a grain of salt, but she's also trying to keep you as a customer. Generally, she isn't going to sell you a color that looks terrible on you, or a pair of trousers that look terrible on you. The choices the shopper makes for you are part of a conversation, sort of, but you need to be active to make it a productive one.

If the shopper brings you a jacket, ask her how she suggests you style it. If she brings you pants, ask what sort of shoe works. Ask why the shopper picked a particular item, was it the color, the cut, or something else. Other questions to ask are: how well the brand/fabric wears over time; if the store will tailor things; does the brand repeat styles and fabric choices year to year; whether this blouse she brought would go with something you have at home.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:54 AM on March 25, 2013

Sally McGraw of Already Pretty fame does remote wardrobe/style consultations for clients not in Minneapolis. She also has a book. If you're not reading the blog, that's a good place to start.
posted by libraryhead at 10:33 AM on March 25, 2013

Chiming in to say please do call yourself a "fattie" if you want to. I have a Tumblr (check my profile if you're interested) which, among other things, has some of my work outfits shown. I work in an office and am generally the nicest-dressed person, but everyone else is in jeans and sweatshirts, but please feel free to check it out for some work clothing inspiration. I tend to stick to a clothes diet of tights/leggings + skirt/dress + big earrings.

Ack, my lunch break is over but after work I'll be back with tips!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 10:46 AM on March 25, 2013

Stacy London of What Not to Wear fame has a company that certifies stylists. You enter your zip and it gives you stylists in your area and their specialties (the first one on the list in my zip said she specializes in plus sized women, so maybe you'd have similar luck?)
posted by cecic at 11:00 AM on March 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

Okay! So regarding bras, check out Intimacy or google around for a specialty bra store. Near me I have one called Pretty Please, and they sell mastectomy bras mostly, but also harder-to-fit sizes. A quality bra makes all clothes look better, but is pretty expensive. The cheaper ones I currently wear are about $40/piece and last maybe a year, depending on how many are in the rotation.

Don't feel like you have to spend a ton on clothes, especially while you're figuring your style out--for a while I thought I had to tailor everything and all that did was waste even more of my money because I get sick of wearing things quickly (hazards of having a fatshion blog I guess--photos of the same outfits over and over get boring!), and things I think I'll love might not end up working out so well in real life. Ross is my faaaavorite store, definitely check them out if you have them. If not, try Marshall's/TJ Maxx/Whatever you have. It takes time to dig through all the racks and you have to go often because the stock rotates quickly, but I have found some of my favorite dresses there for around $15 or less. I like a lot of my Ross dresses as much as my more expensive ones from eShakti, ASOS, and Simply Be (all good plus size websites to check out).

I honestly have not had much luck in department stores. Yeah rich people are fat too, but they're usually old and anything plus size has to work pretty hard to overcome old people territory anyway. Shopping online can be your BFF since you can try everything on at your own house with your own mirror (and change bras or add a belt...some outfits I have require certain bras to look good), and a lot of places offer free or cheap return shipping, and I HATE waiting in line and love dumping stuff in the mailbox.

Sorry I can't offer much about personal shoppers, but I really think you have it in you to make/discover your own style. It took me a while but I get lots of compliments at work these days, and like I said above I pretty much stick to my uniform. Before I was into dresses, it was work pants + colored shirt + cute necklace/small earrings. Keeping basics (neutral pants and jackets) around means you can change your colorful items (tops, accessories) pretty easily. Good luck! You can do it!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 2:36 PM on March 25, 2013

I am also not very good at dressing myself, but fortunately I work at a very casual tech company.

That said, if you don't have a good-fitting bra go get one ASAP! The Corte Madera Nordstrom is very small but I actually like the lingerie department there better. I went recently and this wonderful girl named Alyssa helped me find an awesome bra. Really though I have never had a bad experience with a Nordstrom lingerie department. And life is so much better with a nice, properly fitted bra!

Oh and if you do go to the Nordstrom in the City, it's in the Westfield San Francisco Center mall not actually on Union Square, in case the above suggestion was confusing. If you're driving in to the City you can park at 5th and Mission.

Also if you don't have a good haircut, that can make a world of difference. If you don't have a stylist yet, there are plenty of Bay Area Mefites who have great haircuts and would be happy to recommend their stylists! I go to Mick at DiPietro Todd on Fillmore in the City and he is fabulous (funny enough, my dad's girlfriend also goes to him but she's not the one who recommended me!).
posted by radioamy at 7:32 PM on March 25, 2013

Response by poster: First off, thanks everyone for your kind words. I sort of spiralled into a confusion/shame funk last night but your responses have helped tremendously.

I'm planning to go to the Nordstrom in the city later this week to get bra-ed up; I'll be there because of GDC anyway. I found out through Corporette that the closest Nordstrom to me - Corte Madera - doesn't have a plus-size section, and Yelp asserts that it's full of rude people. I will report back on my en-bra-chelling.

None of my current bras really fit me; will that make the consultation difficult?

Non-store-related stylist things:
Marie Denee of The Curvy Fashionista lists personal stylist services on her blog, but the link to the survey is a 404.
I also found two popular stylists on Yelp - Beyond Black and Q The Stylist. Not knowing how much they charge is a bit worrisome, but I suppose it's a case of "if you have to ask..."?
Additionally I found three stylists listed on the styleforhire page libraryhead posted that seem promising.

Oh, and I'm coming to the Bourbon and Rye MeFiIrl this week so if you're there, you can critique my look in person.

(P.S. As part of accepting my size, I'm trying to reclaim "fat" as a descriptor rather than a pejorative. I have this necklace on order.)
posted by subbes at 8:48 PM on March 25, 2013

Regarding the bra fitting, you don't need to have a current-fitting bra when you go to get measured. They will do a basic measurement to figure out your band size and get an idea of cup size, and then they will bring out their "fit" bras which for some reason they have deemed to be good indicators of your true size. Once they determine your size then they will bring you some to try that are the style you are looking for. Then you try those, discuss, adjust, repeat. Feel free to tell them you've never had a fitting before and that you'd like them to walk you through step-by-step.

Come to think of it, the Plus Size section used to be a separate store where Anthropologie is now in Corte Madera. Harumph. The store is definitely small. I guess I just like it because I went there with my mom growing up.
posted by radioamy at 9:24 PM on March 25, 2013

I sort of spiralled into a confusion/shame funk last night but your responses have helped tremendously

It can be confusing. But there is definitely nothing to be ashamed of. Personal presentation - dressing well, appropriate hairstyle and make up etc is a learned skill. And if you did not learn as you grew up it becomes a bit like learning to drive. Lots of information to take in, process, etc but a lot of it becomes second nature after a while. For example, as your wardrobe gets filled with more and more things that work and less things that don't you'll have an easier time getting it right.

Also, this does take a fair amount of effort so if it feels hard that's because it requires effort. Finding a suitable item of clothing - one that is appropriate for what you need it for, fits you, is in a colour you actually want it to be can be quite difficult. And if you feel like you need to find many such items at the same time e.g because you started a new job it can feel quite overwhelming.

For example, one of my colleagues is one of the most stylish and best dressed women I know. She told me over lunch the other day that her sister, who's getting married in September, is starting to panic about my colleague's outfit for the day. Because the date has been set for almost a year and my colleague has been keeping her eyes open for a suitable outfit for that long and has not found one so far...she's mentioned this failure to find the outfit a couple of times now so it is clearly a real concern.

Once you've got more items you're happy with, don't neglect the maintenance and upkeep of your wardrobe. Iron, mend, replace as required. Said colleague tells me she has to buy about three business suits a year or she finds that her clothes start to look worn and arms/elbows of jackets where one might lean on a desk for example, get too thin. And as she is very petite and slim, she struggles to find items ad hoc. So she is always on the lookout for items that meet her exacting quality and style requirements and fit well enough to allow her to buy them and take them to the tailor to have arms shortented for example.

Needless to say this colleague also has a haircut every six weeks, regular appointments for facialist and for manicures etc.

What I'm saying is - to look very stylish and pulled together does require a lot of effort. Even just looking pulled together requires some effort. And a lot of it is quite nice effort because hair cuts and facials etc are nice and it is nice to wear something nice and to know you look awesome. But to those of us who were not brought up in that tradition that often comes as a bit of a surprise.

And no, I didn't say any of that to scare you. You don't have to turn into my colleague. You just have to slow down and accept that it'll take time and effort to get to where you want to be.
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:15 AM on March 26, 2013

Response by poster: Still haven't made it to a bra fitting, but I have an appointment with a personal shopper at Nordstrom next week.
posted by subbes at 1:30 PM on March 31, 2013

Response by poster: I had my stylist appointment yesterday. I walked out $400 lighter, having found two pairs of jeans that made me look great (I haven't owned any jeans in 7+ years), plus three shirts suitable for an upcoming headshot session.

The jeans needed hemming, so they will be with me next week - one pair is being hemmed for flats, and one for heels. The fact that there are different lengths of hems depending on the heeliness of what one is wearing is still boggling my mind.

Then over to the lingerie section. My 38DD bra was ill-fitting which I thought was due to its age, but it turns out I'm a 38FF in their "fit" bra. We found one bra which met my demands and I got three of them.

Oh, my poor wallet.
posted by subbes at 10:16 AM on April 6, 2013


I just got both of the aforementioned pairs of Lucky Brand jeans hemmed. It's kind of astounding to have pants that fit.
posted by Madamina at 7:59 AM on April 8, 2013

Response by poster: My jeans arrived in the post yesterday evening, so I can finally check the label and find out what sort they are.

They are NYDJ Barbara bootcut jeans, one in a dark enzyme and the other in monrovia (whatever that means: one pair is dark, the other light). I got a size 16W which is a wee bit too big for me right now, but the next size down made me feel like a sausage. I asked my stylist if there was such a thing as a size 15W and she laughed.

Incidentally while I was at Nordstrom I also stopped at the Laura Mercier counter and asked them to find me a foundation and lipstick (I NEVER wear lipstick because I have thin English lips) and ended up with a complete set of makeup and a guide to how to use it. Apparently eyelids need to be primed?

I'm heading on a week-long transatlantic work trip this weekend and it will be interesting to see if I can manage to look nice on the road.
posted by subbes at 9:09 PM on April 17, 2013

Response by poster: I am back from my trip and I seem to have held myself together quite well. A ton of walking reminded me that I need to find a bunch more decent shoes with heels, but otherwise things went well.
posted by subbes at 12:57 PM on May 2, 2013

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