Shopping Gets Personal

Whether you shop alone or with friends, chances are your closet is a testament to lapses in judgment. But fashion victims have no fear, help is near.

Once reserved for A-list celebs, personal shopping services are becoming popular with common credit card carrying consumers.

"People need help," said Stacy Vale, director of personal shopping for Scoop, a chain of trendy boutiques in New York and Miami. “Sure there are people who have great taste, but the general public is not secure about what to pick out or how to wear things together.”

Finer department stores such as Saks have long employed personal shoppers to help customers wrangle the racks, but nosey grandma types pushing matronly slacks aren't part of the new wave of personal style advisors. Boutique pros offer an education into new designers and cutting-edge trends.

“Without the right advice you could walk out the door with a one hit wonder,” said Kate Dimmock, market director for Marie Claire. “You thought it was so chic but you got home and realized nothing you have goes with it. Personal shoppers help you to wear new designers without buying something that completely doesn’t work for you.”

Scoop offers one-on-one consultations by appointment to find out shoppers' clothing needs, likes and price points. The service is free and there's no spending minimum.

“I try to get them to step out a little bit, get some trendy pieces or try on something they wouldn’t think to wear on their own," said Vale.

Dimmock said personal shoppers are even better than dragging a pal from store to store for a second opinion.

"A friend comes in with their own baggage, what they tell you will be somewhat tainted," she said. "A personal shopper is unbiased and will tell you the truth."

In some cities, there are even services for out-of-towners that take shoppers to the chicest boutiques. In New York City, Visual Therapy, a fashion consulting firm, offers retail tours of the city’s hottest shopping areas in the out-of-the-way nooks. 

But unlike a personal shopper at Scoop, this trip comes with at a price: It's $3,600 for a day of shopping with a "friend" in tow who's in the fashion know. Despite the steep price, Visual Therapy's co-founder Joe Lupo says the service is worth it for busy people.

"If you are coming to town for a weekend, you don't want to spend the whole time walking around trying to find all the great little shops the city is really all about," he said. "We can show you all of downtown in a day. Then people have plenty of time to see other sites and spend time with their family."

And Lupo pointed out, his shopping helpers don't try to push particular items on customers.

"If you're going by yourself into a store, the salesperson in the store has a goal to sell you something in their store," he added. "But we don't have a sales goal. We can take you to several stores until we find the right pieces for you."

Fashion magazines have helped spark interest in these personal style services nationwide with their popular instructional pages such as "how to wear one outfit five different ways," Dimmock explained.

“People rip out the page and go to stores looking for each of the pieces in the different looks," she said.

And the trend is especially big in places like California where people are more apt to be alone in their cars running errands and want someone to help them decide which blouse to buy.

Ultimately though, personal shoppers help people break out of their fashion ruts.

“We have a client in her 20s who is a lawyer and said she never felt sexy and powerful like she wanted to," said Lupo. "She would rather get one great new power suit with our help and know that what she was getting was the right thing. It's worth the investment."

And instead of tossing runway fashion onto clients, personal shoppers try to bring out each individual's inner fashionista.

“We meet with a client, get to know their needs, and go into their closet and do wardrobe clarification," said Lupo. "We really help people focus on what their style is.”