Last season, I decided I needed someone to tell me what to wear. God. That sounds pathetic. And so horribly entitled. But it’s the truth.
Maybe it’s because I attended Catholic elementary school, had to wear a uniform year after year and, at some point, became utterly dependent on that one lousy skirt. It truly was one single skirt, by the way. The summer before first grade, your mother purchased the required plaid skirt with an adjustable waistband. At six, it almost skimmed the ground, but by the time you reached eighth grade, it was Britney Spears’ length.
I graduated, but somehow I never figured out how to dress myself in a world where every day is a “free dress” day. Of course the whole time I was in elementary school, I loathed that stupid skirt, but now I miss the ease of it. Surely, this is the Catholic Church’s fault.
Or maybe it would be more appropriate to blame it on pop culture in our age of the Internet, famous people, and the rise of the celebrity stylist. And how, wham, all of a sudden, I think I’m entitled to a personal stylist to call my own. Or maybe I’m just style inept. Or lazy. Forget Cinderella’s prince. I want that Fairy Godmother to come over to my house every morning and twirl me into something fabulous. (Personification of bluebirds and mice really not necessary.)
Fairy Godmothers, of course, do exist. At least in the form of freelance personal stylists, who, for an exorbitant sum of money, will come to your home, critique your entire wardrobe, and then demand you donate half of it to Goodwill so that some poor unsuspecting soul can inherit your fashion faux pas.
However, the cost as well as the uncomfortable intimacy of such an arrangement is extremely off-putting to me. I want a more positive approach that emphasizes the styles I can pull off and not all the ghastly ones I’ve been choosing left to my own devices all these years. Besides, I have friends and family more than willing to criticize my fashion sense. And they do it for free.
So, I went the classic, old standby route –- the Bloomingdale’s personal shopping department. Because meeting with a Bloomingdale’s personal shopper costs nothing (other than whatever clothing you may or may not decide to purchase) and takes place entirely at Bloomingdale’s, so there’s no passing judgment on your closet.
One phone call, and I had an appointment. Right away, I began to fantasize about all the glorious ways this budding relationship was going to transform my life. I’d never have to shop ever again! My personal shopper would set things aside she knew were going to be absolutely perfect for me and, viola, said items would appear at my front door. She’d help me craft a flawless and interconnected wardrobe -– every blouse, every pair of pants, and every necklace would work in tandem with everything else.
What could possibly go wrong when I had such utterly reasonable expectations?
The afternoon of my appointment arrived, and I made my way up the escalator to the personal shopping department, which is tucked in a corner behind rows of very distracting designer dresses. Tucked away for a reason, I quickly surmised. For, sadly, the personal shopping office is a bleak, bleak place. And that’s being generous.
There is nothing personal or stylish about the windowless labyrinth of cubicles and dressing rooms. I mean Lenox Hill Emergency Room has more charisma than the Bloomingdale’s personal shopping department. Nonetheless, when you’ve already invested so much emotional energy in a dream, it’s easy to ignore the early warning signs.
To be clear, too, that is also not to say that the personal shopper I met with wasn’t perfectly lovely. She was. Nice. Polite. Patient. Decisive. She was all of these things. So, I remained hopeful. I really wanted to believe. I let myself be swept up in her vision, and two hours later I went home with a new little black dress, two pairs of jeans (one dark blue, the other bubble gum pink), a shimmery sweater, and an enigmatic silk blouse that was somehow not only soft and billowy and but also exceedingly well tailored.
First and foremost, let it be known that the little black dress was and continues to be outstanding. Its’ fit is impeccably, and I feel spectacular in it. The silk blouse, too, has become a wardrobe staple. But the dark blue jeans stained one of my favorite white t-shirts as well as one of my go-to handbags. And both the bubble gum pink pants and the shimmery sweater, perhaps by virtue of being pink and shimmery, were two serious miscalculations.
I should have known better; there is truly nothing shimmery or pink about my personality. But you can’t expect a personal shopper, or anyone else for that matter, to be a mind reader. Only, silly me, I had. I thought she knew better than I did. After all, that’s why I was there. So, for awhile, I was able to ignore my misgivings
Over the next couple of weeks, I put my new clothes together the way the personal shopper had suggested and wore them everywhere. During this sunny period I was, admittedly, a bit giddy, riding the high of a fun shopping experience, because it had been fun.
But as the season continued to blossom and the sheen wore off, I began to see my new clothes everywhere. On everyone. And it occurred to me that I had become a walking advertisement for every editor’s fresh picks of the season. Flip through any fashion magazine, and variations of my new clothes are being lauded inside.
They weren’t personal picks for me at all, even though, to be fair, they did work well on my body type. Still, in these clothes, I was indistinguishable from every other fashionable New York woman on both Madison Avenue and Prince Street. My personal shopper hadn’t been helping me craft a personal style so much as dress me up in a popular style that said nothing about me as an individual and everything about what was hot right that second. Frankly, I’m shocked I didn’t go home with a million striped T-shirts and a peplum.
An argument could be made that I was impatient and that I shouldn’t have expected immediate results. Every relationship, even the one between a personal shopper and her client, takes time. Over the course of several appointments, it seems likely she would have gotten to know me and been better able to interpret my likes and dislikes. I get that. I do.
But if it’s going to take time and require effort on my part, then why bother? Isn’t the whole point of a personal stylist to outsource effort? If not, then I might as well do it myself. Which is exactly what I’ve decided to do. It’s a new year, and I’m adult (basically). I should be capable of figuring out my own tastes and cultivating a unique, signature dress code that hasn’t been dictated by a Catholic school student handbook or a magazine or a Bloomingdale’s catalog.
Or, maybe I’ll just call my mom and ask her to ship me that old skirt. It’s Britney, bitch.