With a closet full of designer labels, a good grasp on the latest trends and an eye for style, even the most fashionable women may not think they need the assistance of a personal shopper or stylist. They may have never even considered the possibility of having someone assist them with their wardrobe, especially since they have such a savvy sense of style all on their own. But even the most seasoned fashion mavens could use the help of a pro from time to time. If you’ve never worked with a stylist or personal shopper before it can be hard to judge where you should start, what to expect, and what the service will entail. (And what exactly is the difference between a shopper and a stylist anyway?)
We spoke to Joan Kaufman, a NYC personal shopper whose client list reads like a who’s who of socialites, globetrotters and celebrities. Kaufman has worked in fashion for years, and has done everything from costumes on movie sets to styling for magazine shoots. It’s this unique background that gives her so much knowledge and insight about the industry, so we just had to pick her brain. Recently nominated for the Concierge Choice Awards for her personal shopping services, she currently splits her time between shopping with her well-heeled clients and styling A-listers for television and film roles. She told us all we needed to know, from how to make the most of your time with a shopper to what you should do if they pick out less-than-worthy pieces for your wardrobe.
While many people call upon their personal stylists and shoppers to help them revamp their wardrobe for a season, pick an outfit for a special occasion or just find a few superstar pieces, it’s not always clear where their differences lie (it can’t be just us). It seems there is no clear cut definition as stylists and personal shoppers can oftentimes overlap in their services and duties to each individual client. Generally speaking, stylists can help shoppers hone their overall look, and oftentimes will go into a client’s home to get a sense of their style, taste and see what’s already in their closet before shopping. Oftentimes stylists will shop alone and bring back a selection of designs for the client to try with her current wardrobe.
Personal shoppers are a little different in that they will try to find the perfect additions to your wardrobe based on fit, fabric and occasion, without spending time in your closet or trying to curate a certain look. They usually focus exclusively on shopping. Of course each stylist and shopper has their own methods and many personal shoppers will become familiar with your closet, while many stylists will help you shop exclusively for a special occasion piece. It all depends on the individual and what they feel comfortable offering as well as what their relationship is to each client. Both of these differ however from in-store personal shoppers who will usually spend about 60-90 minutes shopping with you exclusively in one store.
Another perk of hiring a personal shopper or stylist is that you’ll be receiving their expertise and connections when it comes to designers and labels. (These are the women who can get you that Birkin bag you’ve been coveting!) Many of them are friendly with the associates at a number of retailers from the big department stores to designer boutiques and can offer fun little extras such as closing down the store for a private shopping experience or securing special rooms for you to try on and style their designs. If they’re well known among luxury brands even their name can garner you some great perks. “Certain stores I haven’t worked with are all excited and they want to give me a room and champagne, so that will be nice for [the client],” Kaufman explains. “It’s a treat, it’s a very sophisticated way of shopping.”
To make the most of your experience first decide what kind of sartorial service you’re looking for. Are you looking for someone who can help you scour through NYC’s best stores, or do you need a full style overhaul? Do you want someone that can find a few great pieces to match what you already have in your closet or are you looking for a single jaw dropping evening gown for a special event? What your needs are can dictate if you’re looking for a personal shopper, stylist or something in-between the two. Not only can they offer insight on the latest trends, but they can also help save you time and money, by curating a collection exclusively for you.
To make the most of your time with your stylist or personal shopper keep an open mind and have a clear idea of what you need or are looking for. If you want an entirely new look, a small collection of ready-to-wear pieces for the summer season, or need a specific dress for a wedding you’ll be attending, be sure to communicate everything with your professional. They’re not mind readers. Let them know your style, sizing and budget so they can curate the best collection for you. “I need the size of the client and if they have a preference as to uptown or downtown shopping. I like their shoe size as well, as I pull a heel at the boutique for clients to stand properly when trying on pants, dresses and gowns, also for alterations. It is important to see the body aligned properly,” explains Kaufman. They literally think of everything.
One of the best things about hiring a personal shopper or stylist is having the fashionable opinion of someone you can trust. Obviously, yes, you are paying them for their services and some pros receive a commission off of the items you purchase, but finding clothes that are only okay or decent just to make a sale negates the entire process. “If it doesn’t work, if it’s really not your best look or best fit, I’m the first one to go ‘you know it’s not perfect. Let’s try this, or let’s go here for that,’”
says Kaufman. “It’s a very different way of having someone look at you, not just a friend or a sales person, because I’m not married to any store I’m really just looking at you.” Of course, this may not be the case for in-store personal shoppers; we suggest hiring an independent consultant.
She makes special mention of plus-sized shoppers, who may be more reserved than others about hiring someone to help them make over their closet or find them a new outfit. “When you’re conscious of [your size] you want to hide it so you dress…in fuller clothes, but you might not need to do that,” Kaufman explains. She adds that oftentimes women don’t realize that some designers go up to a larger size and with a little tailoring it can have the perfect piece. “You might have to let it out a little bit, but it’s going to fit you beautifully at the end of the day and you will feel confident.”
When choosing a stylist or personal shopper be sure to hire someone that has the proper credentials—in this day and age, many bloggers, fashion lovers, and those just starting out are labeling themselves as pros—feel free to ask for references or referrals from friends and family. Hire based on what you’re looking for—someone who is well versed in bridal may not be as knowledgeable with ready-to-wear and visa versa. Also be sure that you feel comfortable with your stylist or shopper, you may not need to be BFFs (though many pros do count their clients among their close friends!), but as you’ll be trusting this person with your wardrobe and more importantly your look, be sure that it’s someone you can connect with easily. Who knows? You might enjoy it so much you’ll be wondering why you haven’t had a stylist all along.