Hate to shop for clothes? The majority of women tell me they do, and each of them seems to think she is a real oddity. And in truth I don’t enjoy the process all that much either, but I DO love seeing a client’s joy with the results.
I’ve spent 25 years taking the pain out of shopping for clients, and this Fall I’ve been itemizing exactly what I do that differs from how women shop on their own. Try these tips and you can greatly simplify your process.
1. I plan one big, focused seasonal shopping trip for a client rather than a bunch of smaller outings. Think at least 4 months ahead; you don’t want to be shopping for holiday wear at the last minute, for instance. We usually plan a half-day outing. Better to have time left over than to run short and have to come back to finish up.
2. We shop first where we’ll find the greatest selection – typically big malls and department stores. Boutique shopping can be fun and it’s great to support local retail, but it’s more time consuming to drive from store to store than to walk down the mall.
3. We shop off-peak times like weekday evenings or first thing Saturday morning. You can move twice as fast when you’re not fighting crowds.
4. We only visit stores with quality merchandise. “Bargain” retailers like H&M, Forever 21 and others offer throw-away clothes … so you’ll be right back in the store next month looking for replacements. (Wonder why they like that business model?)
5. Start at the department store. All that inventory can be overwhelming to a client, but I narrow it down dramatically by ignoring anything in a color that isn’t one of the client’s best. Let me say that again: Sort by COLOR first. COLOR. COLOR. COLOR. If you aren’t absolutely certain of your best colors – invest in a top-quality color consultation before you buy one more item of clothing. If the color isn’t flattering for you, no other characteristic can redeem the garment.
I do color consulting and would love to work with you in person or via photos. If you have a local consultant you trust, by all means work with her. But DO IT. Nothing is more important to a successful shopping experience and ultimately an effective wardrobe.
6. Within the client’s color story, we pull a LOT of items into the dressing room. It doesn’t cost anything to try a new style, even if the client worries that she can’t wear a certain style, that it might look “too young” or has some other concern. Client’s routinely say “I would never have picked that off the rack. How did you know it would be so fabulous?” Truth is – I may not have known for sure myself. I just knew we had nothing to lose by trying it.
7. We don’t worry at this point about what goes with what. Shopping in a unified color story insures extensive mix and match possibilities, so we’ll revisit that issue after we cull our choices. Although I usually avoid buying “orphan” pieces, I’ll break the rule occasionally if an item is great for the client and the selection in her colors is limited.
8. I pull two sizes of every item – one the client tells me she needs and one larger. Sizing varies wildly from one brand to another. Hence those numbers mean NOTHING!
9. Alert a clerk that you are loading up a fitting room so she won’t UN-load it while you’re pulling additional options. Because we’ve picked a time when the store isn’t busy, we can us one of the larger handicapped fitting rooms with a clear conscience.
10. In the fitting room, we try on bottom garments first, keeping the client in the top she wore to the store. Try on the larger size first; it’s much nicer to find that you have to size down than to start small and feel fat if you need to size up. Get the rejects out of the fitting room and re-hang the potential keepers.
11. Still wearing the most basic of the bottoms, try on each top garment. We’re still not making outfits – just evaluating style and fit. Hang the keepers .
12. Finally we review each item. Does it fit beautifully (or can a tailor tweak it)? Does the client genuinely love it? Does it duplicate something she already owns? Does it fit her lifestyle? (Remember that it’s OK to dress beautifully for your casual events too.) I encourage clients to go ahead and purchase items they are undecided about. They can finalize the decision after they see it in play with the rest of their wardrobe – and if necessary return it well before the charge card bill comes due.
13. Before checking out, ask the clerk about any coupons or special discounts. Price is secondary to getting the RIGHT items, but there’s no sense paying more than somebody else is going to pay for the same pieces. Ask to have your items bagged on the hangers, so they can go right into your closet.
14. If we need to find more items, we head for the women’s specialty stores that fit the client’s lifestyle, budget and size range. These stores typically carry one or two color stories at a time, so we can tell from a quick glance whether or not it’s worth a further look. Those color stories change every 5-6 weeks, so if we didn’t find enough selection in the client’s color range this trip, we can monitor new releases on a store’s web site and head back when the right colors become available.
15. Finally we schedule a follow-up mix-and-match session to be sure each new item works at least three ways for the client, and to identify any accessories we need to finish the outfits. More about that in a future post.