Monday, 5 November 2012

In Praise of Personal Shoppers

Writers need personal shoppers! We're always short of time and money, not to mention inspiration, and whenever I go clothes shopping, I end up wasting a hell of a lot of the first two because I'm so lacking in the third. I'd always thought that you only used a personal shopper if you were wealthy and fashion conscious, or if your son, daughter or best friend was getting married. But I kept seeing those ads telling me that a personal shopper could help me with anything, whether it was a dress for a special occasion, a new work outfit or a complete wardrobe update.

Now, I don't have any special occasions coming up  – my daughter got married a couple of years ago, and it took me four solid, gruelling days to find something suitable. I can't afford a complete wardrobe update, and like most writers, my daily commute is a trip up the stairs and across the landing to my study, and my 'work outfit' usually consists of faded pyjamas and a coffee-stained dressing gown, (or if it's my turn to take the dog out, mud-splattered jeans and a baggy sweatshirt).  But I do occasionally emerge blinking into the sunlight in order to teach my evening classes or even to socialise.

I try to make myself at least look reasonably tidy when I'm teaching, although my students are very forgiving and if I turn up in dog-walking jeans and with rubbish hair, they don't seem to mind. But I have become increasingly aware of the fact that all my jeans, having faded and lost their shape, now look like dog-walking jeans. And also, I have far too many black T-shirts – faded black T-shirts at that. The painful truth is: I need  new clothes.

I hate clothes shopping. I hate it with a passion, and I don't have time for it. It's usually a whole day trawling the shops, the painful revelation of the many-mirrored dressing room (you know, the ones that show you the back and side views of yourself as well as the front view); the misery of having to confront my spare tyre, and the disappointment when the garment that looked so gorgeous on the hanger looks like a dog blanket once I've got it on. I end up going home with a pair of jeans that don't fit properly, two more black T-shirts, and a brightly coloured top that I'll never wear. Another day wasted when I could have been working on my novel. Money wasted, too, because it transpires that I end up not liking the jeans or one of the black tops. I then spend the next day beating myself up because I've wasted so much time and money.

But now something wonderful has happened – I've discovered the joys of the personal shopper.  I broke my ankle recently,  and was still hobbling around on crutches when I realised that the clothes situation was quite serious. There was no way I could walk around town for hours trying to find jeans that fit properly or a new top that wasn't  another black T-shirt, so I booked a session with a personal shopper, making it clear that I needed very basic things – jeans, a couple of tops, and maybe a new bra. I forgot to mention my bras, which are rather like the T-shirts – black, faded and, shall we say, a little tired.

I found the experience easy, stress-free and almost pleasurable. I sat in a changing room the size of a small bedroom, flicking through the magazine and drinking my complimentary cappuccino while the personal shopper, a wonderfully patient and ever-smiling young woman called Sophie, bought me selection after selection of jeans, tops, and bras. She put up with my succession of rejections, her smile never faltering when I told her I didn't like the neckline, wasn't sure about the colour, felt it was too old for me, too young for me, the sleeves were too puffy, too long, too straight, the leg was too wide, too narrow, the waistline too snug, too loose. Honestly, if I'd have been her, I'd have slapped me. But she just smiled and went off to find yet more items for me to try.

An hour and a half later, I emerged with three pairs of jeans, three tops (none of which are black!) and two bras, which are not only pretty, but which actually make the faded black T-shirts look slightly better. Since this wonderful shopping experience, I have worn everything I bought. I was out and back in just over two hours, and three weeks on, I still like every single garment.

Oh, forgot to add - the service is free, too! (It's free in Debenhams, anyway - I think some stores make a small charge but it's usually deducted from any purchase you make.)

I will never, ever try to do my own clothes shopping again!

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  1. Good for you! It sounds as if you almost enjoyed this.

    If I need something special I take a daughter - they are all more than willing to give an opinion on anything I might like the look of, and they are also much better than I am at scanning racks of clothes and picking out something that might look fab.

    (Though I did buy an outfit for a daughter's wedding in Vietnam - I found a wonderful pair of silk pyjamas in glorious orange/yellow. Not many mothers wear pyjamas to a wedding ...)

    1. Pyjamas to a wedding - sounds perfect!

      Taking a daughter with you is a good idea, especially if you have a selection of daughters to choose from! I might try dragging mine with me next time, if only to introduce her to the 'personal shopping'experience!