A Painless Clothes Shopping Trip!

I’ve been aware for a while now that my clothes were growing increasingly unsuitable. They were worn, full of holes, too small or too large, often too low-cut, unflattering and insufficient. That’s not terribly surprising really, because for the last seven or eight years I have bought clothes based on price, rather than quality, cut, fit or style. In the last four years almost everything I’ve worn on a daily basis was either bought on eBay or from a thrift store in the States last summer.

I realised the situation was getting ridiculous when I thought about the possibility that I may have to attend community midwifery placements in my own clothes (I don’t yet know what my placement hospital will be, so I don’t know whether or not I’ll wear a uniform for community work) and realised that I only had one outfit which I could even begin to think was suitable for wearing to work. Everything else was too short, too vibrantly and jaringly patterned, full of holes or indecent.

So after two weeks of dithering, seeking advice from more style-savvy friends, surfing clothes websites and even trying on various things in shops without buying them, I decided to book a personal shopper appointment at Debenhams. I’d found a few things there that I thought might be suitable, but I wasn’t confident enough in my sense of style to actually commit to buying them. I certainly wasn’t going to buy anything I didn’t love.

“Personal shopper” sounds like the most ridiculous, extravagent luxury thing to do. I had always assumed that you had to pay for the service, or at least commit to spending a certain amount, but that turned out not to be the case. Lest I start sounding like an advert for Debenhams, I will acknowledge that the entire point is to encourage you to buy – but the woman who helped me, Barbara, was actually more inclined to tell me when she thought that something didn’t suit me than to push me to buy the things that did.

I arrived and we chatted for a few minutes about what I needed (smartish, good-quality clothes that would last and be suitable for a range of occasions, not just “one event” outfits, no trousers, nothing too short or revealing, and things that fitted my short body and large bust) before she disappeared with a clothing rack and left me to leaf through some magazines. After about ten minutes she materialised with a whole raft of different items, grouped into outfits although most things could be worn together in varying combinations.

The first few things I tried on were awful, frankly. The colours were lovely, the cut was fine, but I was just too short for them. I felt like a little girl dressing up in mummy’s clothes and began to feel a bit disheartened. But as I moved along the rack the situation improved. There was a navy blue skirt which fitted perfectly, and which I carried on wearing for most of the session as I tried on different tops and cardigans. Barbara had brought several things from the petite range, which were all much more suitable than the regular tops (they didn’t reach half way to my knees!) and kept reappearing with yet more things for me to try, based on my feedback about the previous batch.

One thing that I discovered that surprised me was what a difference it made to wear a small heel. Although I did try on a pair of black wedge heels, I didn’t want to buy them – Debenhams isn’t really a shoe shop and I take a half size that they don’t stock – but they helped to show what a difference it made to my posture. I am considering either getting my one pair of black heels resoled, or possibly buying a new pair of shoes with a low heel that I can still walk, cycle and stand around for hours in.

At the end of the two hour session I had chosen two skirts, three tops, a cardigan and two dresses which I really liked. There were several other things which I had quite liked, but which didn’t quite make it – some were not quite the right shape, some weren’t the right colour, and some were just a bit dull. A very small number of things, maybe three out of the thirty or so different garments I tried, I disgarded as soon as I put them on, but on the whole Barbara knew what I wanted and found it.

So now I am the proud owner of an adult, smart, good quality wardrobe for the first time in my life! The next step is to get rid of all the old things which have holes in, or are simply so worn out that they would make better rags than clothes. Anything that is still wearable will stay: as I chose the things I would buy, I was picturing whether or not they would match anything I already owned, and each one had at least one yes.

I’d set myself a budget before I booked the appointment, based on an amount I recently received as a gift from one of my grandmothers, and I stuck to it. It helped that several of the things Barbara picked out were from the sale rack (one top which I didn’t get in the end was reduced from £35 to £7.50!), which I felt showed she wasn’t simply trying to wring me dry. I think if I had attempted to shop for these clothes on my own without her assistance and advice, I would probably have spent more on things I liked less, and regretted it as soon as I got home.

Now that I’ve finally got clothes I don’t feel ashamed of, I am ready for university to start! I’ve still got over a week to go, but exciting things are happening before then. At the weekend I have a first aid training day followed by a visit from Stumo, on Tuesday I have another cookery class, Wednesday my brother is coming to stay, and next weekend I’m helping out at a literary festival. In and amongst all that I have masses of cooking to do, my running training to keep up, and as usual the flat needs tidying!

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4 thoughts on “A Painless Clothes Shopping Trip!

  1. Oh, how I get you! I also tend to buy for price and usually refrain from spending until I really, really need a certain item, which means I end up settling for less than ideal garments. I’m trying to change that by making a list of things I know I’ll have to replace in the future and things that would make my wardrobe a bit more functional, so that I can sloooowly improve my wardrobe. But I still find it a bit difficult and I usually catch myself wishing there was a special step-by-step guide that would ensure I would always be appropriately dressed and put together!
    I’m glad that you had such a wonderful personal shopper, bought quite a few items, and were able to learn from the experience – it gives me hope! Next time you shop for clothes it’ll be slightly easier as you already know what works. Is there a particular reason why you avoided trousers though?

    • I just don’t wear trousers – I stopped wearing them a little over a year ago. I’m not wholly sure even I know why, but it’s a little bit to do with faith (sort of a way of reminding myself that I need to make sensible decisions with my body – the theory being that I’ll be reminded of that every time I get dressed) and also because I just look better in skirts.
      Some of my online friends gave me the step-by-step guide which was incredibly helpful: start by identifying a neutral colour which suits you (for me, it was blue), then consider what items you need and make sure that everything can be worn with at least one or two other things that you have/are buying. Get things that flatter your figure. … Some other advice I forgot!

    • I only have washable clothes too – and the two or three things which need ironing to be really wearable don’t get worn very much! Plus I need skirts which I can cycle in. Practical is the name of the game 🙂

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