The first step is admitting you have a problem.
After that, local clothiers say they can help even the most fashion-challenged shoppers put together a wardrobe to wear proudly.
If Lawrence were Hollywood — or another fantasy world where money was no object — many of us would employ personal shoppers to coordinate our closets and do our boutique bidding. But where resources are limited and reality is the recession, specialty storekeepers find themselves playing the role of professional stylist.
“A huge percentage of our customers hate to shop,” says Kathy Swanson, owner of Spectator’s, 710 Mass. “So, they come in here and we remember what they have — either in our heads or on the computer — and what goes with it. We usually don’t go to people’s homes because there aren’t enough of us. But customers bring their clothes into the store all the time — things they didn’t buy here — and say, ‘Show me a different way I can change and use this.’”
Spectator’s shopper and Lawrence resident Michel Loomis recounts a recent example of how personalized shopping brought new life to her out-of-date clothes.
“I had these three pieces that I just didn’t wear because they didn’t work anymore,” Loomis recalls. “So, I brought them into Shauna (Swanson) and said, ‘You have to show me how I can keep these going,’ because I’m not the kind of person who buys new things every year. She said, ‘Let’s cut the sleeves off here, shorten it here, wear a dress backwards rather than frontwards.’ Then she sent them off to their alterations person, and I’ve been wearing them ever since.”
Shauna Swanson, daughter of Kathy Swanson and personal shopper for Hobbs, 700 Mass., believes the service will save customers money in the long run.
“Who wants to invest in clothing and then, six months down the road, say, ‘What a waste?’” she asks. “That’s how you build a relationship with every customer. You want them to start to create a wardrobe, and their own look, and you want them to feel great about the purchases they already have. I think personal attention is what it’s all about, especially nowadays.”
Talbots, 646 Vt., offers a “shop by appointment” service. “They can call ahead and tell us what they’re looking for, the sizes, the colors they like,” sales associate Ella Parks says. “We’ll pull some things together and have them ready when they come in. They can bring anything in from home and we can put something with what they have, to update a look or whatever.”
At Saffee’s, 911 Mass., a chart illustrating the four different female body types hangs on the wall above a full-length mirror. Owner Steve Mercurio and staff use the graphics to guide their suggestions to customers who submit to a 10-minute makeover.
“We call it the ‘three 10s,’” Mercurio says. “We can take off 10 pounds and 10 years, without diet and exercise, and we can do it in 10 minutes. Just by putting the right things on people, it’s an unbelievable change.”
Mercurio says his staff’s expertise is most beneficial to the woman between 45 and 65 years of age who doesn’t want to dress like her young adult kids or look older than she really is.
“The trick is, every manufacturer has a body type that they spec out,” Mercurio explains. “For example, if a person carries her weight on top, like 35 percent of women do, she typically has very thin legs and no hips. So they’ll make the jacket and the tops to match that thicker-type person. And they know that their bottoms have to be a straighter leg and have to have some give in the waist to fit that person. Other manufactures design for the (remaining) 65 percent with narrow-waisted jackets and fuller hip room in the pants.”
“When you put something on that isn’t spec’ed for your body type, you generally have to go up a size to get it to fit you,” Mercurio says. “You’d be surprised at how many people say they’re a 12, and they’re much better in a size 10.”
The wardrobe intervention at Saffee’s starts with finding a perfectly fitting fashion staple.
“We start them out, if they’re agreeable, with a pair of jeans that fits their body type, because everybody likes a good-fitting jean. That way, we can really see what their plusses and minuses are. Then, we can pick out a jacket type, and go on from there,” he says.
But, how resistant are customers to admitting they need help in the self-styling department?
“Sometimes, we have to do some talking to get a person to relax and let us help,” Mercurio says. “Usually, if one person sees what we’re doing for another woman, she’s more likely to try it herself.”