Ten years ago, while my husband was deployed to Afghanistan, I came into a small sum of money. I'll not get into the details about that, but it was around $3,000. I could have done a lot of reasonable things with that money. I could have saved it, put it into the kids' college funds or purchased any number of necessary household items.
Instead, I bought a new wardrobe.
I know. You're either whooping with delight or cringing. Both are probably appropriate.
A decade later, I'm still glad that's how I chose to use that money. Why? Because I used a personal shopper at Anthropologie and bought a wardrobe that was amazing for me, at that time. For the first time in my adult life, I felt confident about what I was wearing. Getting dressed was a breeze, and I truly did enjoy each of those items and the feeling of having a well-curated wardrobe at my disposal.
Here's how it went down:
I went into Anthro one day, when I'd first gotten the money, and started trying stuff on. A salesgirl (she really wasn't even 20, so that's a proper use of that word), asked if I needed help. I said no because I tend to always say no to help in stores, but after about an hour, I let her pull a few items for me. She brought things I'd never have considered, but she also brought items to go along with those new additions, and then she got some stretchy belts and suddenly we were having some fun.
I explained that I was interested in buying a new wardrobe and told her my budget. She said that she also did personal shopping and that, if I made an appointment, she could have a whole selection of clothes waiting for me to try on before I even came into the store.
Readers: I set that right up.
A few days later, my kids at school for four hours, I went back to Anthro. and spent half the day curating a wardrobe with a girl who also told me about the best place to get cheap ballet flats and tips on a decent spray tan.
It was so much fun.
So much fun.
And in the end, I had a wardrobe of items that all went together, all fit me and all looked great.
For the next five years, I felt wonderful every time I went out. I never questioned what to wear, how something went together or if something matched. I constantly got compliments from people who said I looked like I'd just stepped out of a magazine.
As the years have gone by, my style has changed a little bit (I'm not 32 anymore) and my lifestyle is also a little bit different. I'm not as social, live in a different part of the country and must dress for a different climate. But....that whole experience taught me a few things.
Here are the 7 Lessons Learned From Curating a Wardrobe (with professional help):
1. Work with a professional. I worked with a woman who'd been to school for fashion and was interested in becoming a stylist. She'd also worked on a few professional sets as a stylist, so she had a better 'eye' for curating a wardrobe than many of the other salespeople I've worked with. I shopped a bit with her before setting up our appointment, so I was comfortable with her skills. In the past, I've tried to fill the role of professional stylist or personal shopper by my sisters, my friends or random salespeople I'd just met, which always failed. Professionals are professionals for a reason.
2. Be up-front about your budget. I have found that people can work with a budget and stick to it, but you've got to be concrete. I told the stylist my exact budget and what I'd hoped to achieve with it, and we were able to do that without going over or feeling limited. We did this, also, when my husband had to buy a new wardrobe for a year spent at a military college. He had to wear suits instead of his uniform. We went to Nordstrom and worked with a salesperson and were very up-front about the amount we expected to spend and what we hoped to achieve for that amount. I've never been pressured to spend more than my budget by any salesperson. Ever.
3. I have no clue how to put clothes together. This was a harsh lesson for me to learn, and as I've grown out of that initial wardrobe and tried to purchase my own clothes again, I'm learning it all over. I have an eye for what I like, and I definitely have a style, but I'm a mess when it comes to seeing all of those moving parts and trying to put them together into cohesive unit. There is a difference between knowing what you like and being able to achieve that on your own, much in the same way as there is a difference between knowing what kinds of writing you like and being able to write a comparable novel. Realizing my weakness in this area, I have two choices. I can either learn design and styling and how to build a wardrobe, or I can hire someone to help me. Trying to do it myself without some sort of education, however, will yield what it always yields: a mix-and-match wardrobe that never seems quite right and a great deal of wasted money & time.
4. Buying a curated wardrobe costs less over time. Yes, I spent a large chunk of change in one day, but when I add up all of the clothes I've purchased just over the past 5 years, it is far more than $3k and most of them don't look nearly as good, don't fit as well and don't go with many of my other clothes. So, while the money was substantial, I now realize that saving up and carefully, thoughtfully and uniformly buying a wardrobe with professional help is far less costly, time consuming and frustrating in the long-run. My sister told me (when shopping for light fixtures for our home) that if you spend the money and buy what you want the first time, you'll only cry once. Readers - that's the truth. Just this past weekend I put on a JCrew top I purchased last year, online. It was on sale and seemed like a no-brainer. It's classic stripes, in the size I normally take and a length that seemed spot-on. In reality is is far too wide for my bust area and not quite long enough for my height. It was only $20, but those $20 add up.
5. Start with what you've got and take it with you when working with a personal shopper. When I went to Anthro that day, I had a pair of mandarin orange shoes I really wanted to incorporate into my wardrobe. Now, whether or not that was the height of fashion is beyond the point. The point is that I wanted those shoes to be relevant to my wardrobe, and the stylist worked to do that. At the end of the day, I could wear those shoes with 75% of what I'd purchased, and it all looked and felt wonderful. I had a few other pieces of clothing I brought in to work with, and being able to incorporate these loved pieces into my wardrobe was a real boon. Rather than relegated to the back of my closet, I was suddenly able to wear these items all the time, in so many different ways, many of which I'd never considered before. I learned that I might find a great piece of clothing I love, but figuring out how to incorporate that into my overall wardrobe escaped me. The stylist was brilliant with this, and I ended up feeling like I'd purchased much more than I had just because so many of my old items became useful again.
6. Be open. The personal shopper I worked with had a much different style than I did. She was funkier, more colorful and younger. At first, I'd only let her bring me things I liked upon first glance. Then, she'd shove a skirt at me, one that I would never have considered, and then she'd hand me a belt and a shirt, and then she'd say, "Come out and see how that looks." Suddenly, a green A-line skirt and a yellow belt didn't look crazy at all. I loved it. On my own, I wasn't able to see the potential of individual items, but when she helped me put it all together, I fell in love with clothes I would normally have scoffed at. She showed me how to pair a skirt with a belt and a blouse so that the skirt didn't look too young. She showed me how to dress up jeans. She showed me how to mix high and low or modern and classic. It was a revelation. Now, I'm far more likely to go outside my box a little, understanding I always have veto power. We all have these set-in-stone ideas about fashion or decorating we got who-knows-where (probably our mothers or magazines) that limit how we see ourselves. We may think we have to wear a certain cut of jeans or be afraid to buy a certain color shirt. Letting go of that is liberating, and I'm not sure I would have realized that if I hadn't worked with someone in this capacity.
7. Having a curated wardrobe relieves so much stress. Once I had a wardrobe to wear, one that was selected together and fit properly and was interchangeable, getting dressed was a breeze. I always had a great outfit in mind and at hand. I stopped standing in front of my closet wondering what to wear. I stopped feeling uncomfortable in my clothes. I stopped feeling insecure when I went out. Do you have any idea how liberating it is to simply put on clothes, feel great and walk out the door....all the time? I also stopped worrying about buying new clothes. I was so happy with my wardrobe that I didn't feel compelled to shop all the time or buy new stuff.
As the years went by, I outgrew some of those wardrobe items. I lost weight, so the pants didn't fit any longer. A few of the items just seemed too young for me, and my style shifted a little. Some of the items I still wear, nearly 10 years later.
But having tried to fill in the gaps myself, and having spent thousands of dollars trying to achieve the same results on my own, I now realize that for me, working with a stylist or personal shopper is worth the money to curate a wardrobe I feel good about.
To that end, I'll be saving up and thinking about what I want my wardrobe to look like as we transition to life here in North Carolina and I consider working again and what life will look like as we build our social circle and settle in.
When I've got a little chunk of change, and when I feel the time is right, I'll find a stylist, determine my wardrobe goals and buy a little capsule wardrobe that fits my needs.
I realize that wardrobe choices, styling details and how we feel in our clothes isn't a humanitarian crisis. It can sometimes feel vain or vapid to think (and write) about these thing, but I've also come to realize that life is life, with clothes and furniture and yards and even mascara. So, I'll stop thinking my clothes don't matter (or shouldn't matter) and just embrace that I do like a well-fitted pair of pants.
Has anyone else worked with a professional stylist? I know a few people who love Stitch Fix and other subscription services. Anyone out there with experience to share?
And for those of you who can successfully curate your own fabulous wardrobe, I'm totes jealous!