A decade or more ago, personal shoppers were almost always perceived as sartorial servants of rich old ladies. In the last decade, however, men have sought out the expertise of one-on-one professional salespeople because the pressure to look good—on the job, on dates, and on Facebook—is mounting. I should know: I was a personal shopper at Nordstrom and Bonobos.
Stats back up my observation. Reuters reported that the global luxury-menswear market is growing twice as fast as womenswear, while more men's-only online companies like Bonobos and Trunk Club are sprouting up to accommodate this newfound growth. If you've never thought about procuring the services of a personal shopping assistant, now's the time, but there are a few things every guy should know before embarking on a spending spree. Here are answers to the questions I most often get.
What does a personal shopper do exactly?
A personal shopper (PS), also known as a stylist in some circles, is the liaison between you and your closet. His job is to make the connection between man and wardrobe easier by identifying trends, gauging fit, and developing overall looks that work for you. The goal is to give the client the proper tools to dress himself (and to help with buying gifts for others, even if that means remembering your loved ones' birthdays). And let's be honest: He's selling clothes, too, and getting either a commission or a bonus based on sales.
What's an appointment like?
Typically, appointments are 60 to 90 minutes long. A stylist will grill you about your lifestyle, work environment, hobbies, and anything else he or she believes will influence your wardrobe. It takes several questions to paint a picture of what the "new" you should look like.
How do I make an appointment? Call or arrange online?
E-commerce retailers like Bonobos are equipped with an online appointment-booking tool, but most stores have an e-mail or a phone contact that customers can find on their sites to inquire about setting up an initial consultation.
What's the least I should plan on spending?
There aren't any minimum spending restrictions, but I would suggest consulting only when you want to update a complete wardrobe. Sure, some personal shoppers can help with the little things, such as finding the right fit of jeans, but that's usually left to an on-floor salesperson, not a PS.
How much does a typical session cost—or does the personal sales assistant just get a percentage of the sales?
More often than not, personal shoppers make a commission. There's no out-of-pocket fee for the client.
Should I tip? How much?
In most cases, personal shoppers don't accept tips. The next best thing is referring their services to others.
How often am I expected to come back? Seasonal consultations are the norm. At the very least, you will want to have semi-annual consultations. A good stylist will alert you to trends or new items you may like.
Can I come in with my spouse?
A personal-shopping experience is just that—personal. An additional body should not be present at the appointment. This is perhaps the biggest mistake you can make during the appointment. The third wheel only adds friction.
What online options do I have, and how do they work?
Online personal shoppers, such as those offered at the Trunk Club, take a "We'll do it from here" approach. First, you fill out a visual online questionnaire indicating some of your style preferences (see photo above). Then you discuss your interests with a live personal shopper via Skype, e-mail, or phone. They'll bring a few outfits to life on social-media platforms like FaceTime, Skype, or ooVoo. If you're updating your casual wardrobe with luxury brands, expect the minimum to start at $1,000; high-end sprees can cost up to $5,000 or more. Bonobos has a strong online presence, and thanks to the company's new Guideshop stores, there are brick-and-mortar outlets now too.
3 Key Tips
1. COME TO THE APPOINTMENT PREPARED
As a former personal shopper at Nordstrom, I appreciated when a guy was aware of his body type and which colors work for him. This eliminates the guessing game surrounding fit (good to know that you have broad shoulders and short arms, when many fashion designers sew with models in mind who have narrow shoulders and long arms). Note: Sometimes these body-type anomalies aren't so obvious. For example, it's hard to tell if a man has especially skinny legs if he's wearing baggy trousers. Coming to your stylist with this information makes better use of your time together and you'll understand why certain designers don't work with your body type. The goal is to forge an ongoing relationship with the stylist. You two may well collaborate on many future outfits and wardrobe updates.
2. ASK QUESTIONS
Your personal stylist is an expert, so fire away. Here are a few questions you should be asking during your appointment.
✓ What are the general-care instructions for this product? (You don't want those new pairs of designer jeans to shrink, right?)
✓ What brands works best for my body type? (This helps the stylist choose brands according to fit. Fit is key.)
✓ What pieces are suitable for both work and play? (Even very wealthy patrons don't want to spend money on two separate wardrobes if they can avoid it.)
3. DON'T LET THIRD PARTIES PLANT SEEDS OF DOUBT
One time, a gentleman who worked for the Obama administration approached me on the Nordstrom floor for help with an outfit. We discussed a color palette that ventured outside of his norm and worked together to pull essential pieces. It came together beautifully. My client received numerous compliments after modeling his look on the sales floor, and just when I thought we were wrapping up, he stealthily mentioned that he needed his wife's approval. One quick phone call and the wife rejected the entire look. She preferred basic (and ill-fitting) pieces and, unfortunately, that's what the gentleman walked out with.
Visit Aaron Reese at www.theralphnerd.com.