I arrived for my meeting with Olga, my personal shopper, about twenty minutes early.
Before you tell me how impressed you are by my incredible time-keeping skills, I should admit that this really had more to do with my spiking levels of anxiety than my sterling punctuality. If you’re wondering how I even got to the point where I was meeting a personal shopper, click here. Regardless, I actually ended up having to take a walk around the block to try to burn off my nervous energy and kill some time before coming back around to the meeting point.
So that was a promising start.
Olga is a tall, stunning woman with cheekbones that would cut you if you got too close. She had long Nelle Porter-style* blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail. She was dressed head to toe in black and carried a very professional-looking clipboard. She looked at me over the top of her black-framed glasses and, in a clipped accent, ushered me briskly in the direction of a door marked ‘Personal Shopping.’ I’m not sure what I was expecting really. I walked towards it with an enormous sense of trepidation. What lay behind the door? A laboratory? A scene from A Clockwork Orange? Graham Norton’s Big Red Chair?
None of the above.
I walked through the door and stepped into a very private, very plush-looking room with two armchairs and a full length mirror. At the back, a changing room beckoned. I sat stiffly in one of the chairs and tried to tuck my Adidas trainers out of sight.
Olga perched herself on the windowsill and gracefully crossed her long legs. She started by explaining that she hadn’t been able to access my online profile – which, let’s be honest, is really for the best – and then asked me what sort of clothing I was looking for and what kind of budget we were working with. She asked for my measurements, asked my age, tapped her pen against the clipboard and said, ‘I will be back in fifteen minutes’ before whisking a large black clothing rail out the door.
While she was gone I tried every single one of the eleven perfume bottles that lined the windowsill.
In what felt like no time at all, she was back. A professional through and through, she didn’t comment on the expression of horror I must have had on my face as she flew through the door with her battering ram of clothes. The rail was jammed with tops, trousers, dresses and sweaters. She skimmed through a brief introduction to what she had chosen, and then wheeled the rail into position in the changing room and motioned for me to join her.
The changing room was almost as big as the room next to it. It had a long, full-length black velvet couch along one wall and a frankly enormous mirror at the far end.
“We will do tops first, yes?”
It was phrased as a question, but really it was rhetorical. Nevertheless, I nodded dumbly.
“I will stay here with you if you don’t mind,” she said, flicking through the hangers at frightening speed. “There is nothing I have not seen before, believe me!” I blinked in surprise. So much for my plan to send pictures of each outfit to friends with an actual sense of style! There wasn’t a hope of me trying to surreptitiously snap a selfie with Olga in the changing room; I had a sneaking suspicion she’d have no time for that sort of nonsense.
She pulled a hanger off the rail and thrust it at me with the sort of brisk efficiency you would expect from an army medic. “This one.”
So began a whirlwind of outfit changes. If you can picture a typical changing room movie montage but fast forwarded to about five times the speed and with absolutely no goofing around. That sounds like I’m saying it was no fun, but that’s absolutely not the case. It was by far the easiest shopping outing I had ever been on. I would pull something over my head and no sooner had it hit my shoulders that Olga would elegantly bark, “No! No, no no! Off. Off!” and I’d be on to the next one.
Every so often I would pull something on and Olga would exclaim, “Yes. YES. I adore it. Yes.” If I tried on something that she had no strong opinion about, she would look at my face in the mirror and say gently, “If you do not LOVE it, do not buy it. If you do not LOVE it, there is no point.” I would make a non-committal face, or shrug my shoulders, and she would shake her beautiful head and make the decision for me. “No. NO. Off, off off!”
In this way we got through the entire rail of clothes in an astonishingly short space of time. A truly embarrassing amount of clothes just didn’t fit me, which led her to repeatedly proclaim, “You are just so TINY!” I actually hear this quite often, but Olga wasn’t saying it in the usual, look-at-you-aren’t-you-adorable-you-human-armrest kind of way people usually say it. It would instead erupt out of her in a verbalisation of frustration after I had made the fifth sweater in a row look like an expensive snuggie.
“Yes” I would nod, guiltily. “I’m really short.”
She would whip around, her golden hair flicking back. “Not SHORT!” she would snap. “PETITE!”
At the end of it all she had gone on three more rail runs, and I had divided the black velvet couch into two halves. On the left was a veritable mountain of inside-out discarded clothing; dozens of the aforementioned snuggie jumpers, trousers with baggy folds that had enough space to smuggle small exotic animals into the country, dresses with sleeves that were almost wider than my waist, and tops that made me look like an aspiring snapchat pornstar.
On the right was a humble stack consisting of two pairs of trousers, one skirt (!), one pair of jeans, three knitted jumpers with inbuilt collars (they’re detachable!), and two tops that defy categorisation. This is the pile I ended up buying and bringing home.
… And so here we get to the point of this exercise. On a normal day, had I been left to my own devices, I possibly might have picked up the olive green pair of jeans. Possibly. Maybe. Never in a million years of Sundays would I even have looked at the rest of the clothes, never mind tried them on. This is why I would recommend the personal shopping thing, even if you think it sounds scary. Even if you think you would hate it.
Somebody who doesn’t know you from Adam is looking at you without bias, and that same somebody is finding items they think would look great on you. It offers you the chance to fall in love with things you might never have known about otherwise. I mean, who knew I could look kind of sweet wearing shirt collars (not sweet like a cabbagepatch doll, but sweet like Wednesday Addams with a tan)? Or who knew I could find a skirt I genuinely liked? Olga pulled, and tucked, and showed me how best to dress myself. She explained why certain garments looked good on me and told me which styles to avoid, and I never felt like she was pressuring me or being anything less than honest.
When it was all over and I left with my two bags of carefully wrapped clothes, I realised I’d actually enjoyed myself. Usually after a day of shopping I feel like I’ve been drained of the will to live, but it turns out that when all you have to do is try on whatever is handed to you… it’s not so bad! I tried new things and I learned a lot.
One thing is for certain though…
I still hate ruffles.
*For any of you young ones that don’t know who that is, Nelle Porter was a character played by Portia De Rossi on the show Ally McBeal and her hair was objectively fetish-worthy. I tried to find a gif of her letting her hair down but it was not to be. You’ll just have to trust me when I say she was #hairgoals before the guy who invented hashtags was even finished school.
If you’re based in Dublin, the personal shopper service takes two hours and is free (so what have you got to lose?) in House of Fraser. The service is available for both men and women and it definitely gets two enthusiastic thumbs up from me. Dundrum Town Centre also have their own personal shopping service; they charge €65 for two hours but throw in a make-up consultation and free parking.