I am not fashionable. As a teen, I decided it was an entirely frivolous concern, and because I thought of myself as a very serious person, I was content to live comfortably in T-shirts and jeans forever. So far, I've done an excellent job of that, even landing full-time employment at a workplace where the dress code is ... casual, to put it kindly.
I've never bothered to think much about my personal style. But I've entered the "grown-up" life phase where social functions don't generally involve forties of Miller High Life, where the "just tumbled out of a rock club" look doesn't go as far as it once did, and where I've discovered the woeful truth that Target doesn't stock appropriate attire for all occasions. On top of all that, I've realized that wearing the same thing every day is sort of boring. A cardigan can only spice up a band T-shirt so far.
Here's the rub, though: I hate shopping. The prospect of it fills me with dread; the practice incites a peculiar mix of disappointment and fury, the result of trying on a million different things and not a single one looking right. It's hard to figure out what you want when you don't even know where to start.
Thus, I leapt at the opportunity to recruit a personal shopper to help me make some new choices. I'd watched plenty of TLC's What Not to Wear growing up but somehow absorbed none of its messages, save for "no platform flip-flops, ever." But instead of Stacy and Clinton, I met up with the warm, affable Ashley McIntyre, a twenty-six-year-old Atlanta native who now lives in Durham. As a lifelong lover of clothes, she started consulting her friends on their wardrobes before parlaying her skills into a side gig as a personal shopper.
After I answered a few of her questions about my tastes and preferences, McIntyre and I met up one afternoon at Southpoint Mall. As we shopped, it became clear that she has an awe-inspiring eye for clothing. On the way to a fitting room at Macy's, she spied a navy blue dress and grabbed it for me to try on. It wasn't something I'd have chosen for myself, but it fit perfectly and looked great, and it was marked down to less than thirty dollars.
Shopping with someone who knew what to do made it actually fun, but alas, we can't all have personal shoppers all the time. Throughout our trip, McIntyre shared some of her most helpful tips for a positive shopping adventure that ends with you looking and feeling great. Good luck!
THREE PIECES MAKE AN OUTFIT
This idea was news to me, which probably explains a lot of my sartorial shortcomings. Mix and match your stuff! The finer details of accessorizing might require a whole other master class, but McIntyre says that three pieces—like a blouse and skirt with a cardigan, or a dress with a jacket and a scarf—generally make an outfit feel complete. My clothing choices tend to be utilitarian, so McIntyre helped me select pieces that could be used for a couple of different looks rather than single, stand-alone outfits. They can be toned down for casual settings or shined up for nicer ones.
FIND YOUR PROPORTIONS
With mass-produced clothing that assumes "one style fits most," it can be difficult to find individual items that perfectly flatter our widely varied body types. Even so, McIntyre points out, most female bodies have the same "hourglass" shape—just in different proportions. These are sometimes explained with fruit comparisons—apple-shaped, pear-shaped, and so on—but those aren't always helpful descriptors, either. I'm long-legged with a relatively short torso. High-waisted outfits almost always work well for me, but a drop-waist dress that might look gorgeous on a woman with a longer, slimmer torso probably won't do me any favors. Properly addressing your body's proportions can guide what kinds of clothing you choose to seek, but you can also achieve this end by simply tucking in a blouse or cinching a dress with a belt.
BALANCE YOUR SHAPES AND PATTERNS
This guideline complements the proportion principle. If you've got a favorite billowy blouse, for example, don't pair it with a long, flowy skirt. A better choice might be to wear it with slim-fitting jeans to avoid looking like your outfit is swallowing you whole. Avoid too many busy, clashing patterns on your items, too.
IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE CRAZY EXPENSIVE
Thrifting is a wallet-friendly way of life, but McIntyre notes that finding great new clothes doesn't have to break the bank. The money you'll save is worth the patience you'll need to comb through crowded clearance racks, but don't be afraid to bail if you're not finding anything. Stores like Nordstrom Rack—one of McIntyre's favorites—can offer snappy pieces at much lower prices than big brand-name stores. My budget for our outing was a hundred dollars, and I went home with three quality, versatile pieces I'll be able to use for years to come.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Shopping Is Hard"