After finally accepting he’s not going to fit into his size 28 waist jeans anymore, Caomhán Keane gets some help to update his wardrobe. Because personal shopping can be for boys too.
Any old queer worth their salty tongue will know the Joan Crawford maxim — “No wire hangers…EVER!” But, while the movie legend shouldn’t have leathered her daughter with said draping device, it turns out she had a point.
My recently acquired personal stylist, Natalie Svikle, is staring at my wardrobe like its a sartorial CSI… and she’s identified the chief suspect in my crimes against fashion.
“You will be amazed how much they will destroy your favorite items,” she says, dismayed at the number of weapons of cloth destruction she finds there.
“They are only supposed to bring clothes back from the dry cleaners. They will poke through knitwear, leave pucks on stretchy fabrics and prematurely kill clothes that would last much longer hung off the velvet variety.”
I’ve invited Nathalie back to my place to rip into my clothes. No longer in my early-30s, its time to treat my wardrobe to the same age-related panic that has seen me try to eat better, sleep more and rub experimental creams on my birthday suit to turn back the sagging hands and gurgling gut of time.
Leather shirts, military jackets and 28-inch purple flared jeans were my stock in trade. But my youth has molted. Yet they’re all still whooping it up in my wardrobe, like stragglers at a session — even though I could no more get into a size 28 than I could Chris Pratt or Chris Pine.
Acting as a daily reminder that I’ve gone from aping Pete Doherty’s Camden Caners to eating Mr Kipling’s any-and-every-thing, they linger in my closet like the ghost of my heterosexuality, propped up by oversized hoodies and Top Shop trousers.
“Anything that is tired or dated, let it go,” Natalie says, encouraging me to apply the same ruthless decisiveness of a gold-digger with power of attorney to my tired, old clobber.
“My approach is to keep your closet frugal. If you want high return on your investment you need to make sure you get as much wear out of it as possible. Durability is important. Mixing and matching potential. Practicality.”
Before meeting with a client face to face, she will consult with them on the phone to figure out what exactly it is they are looking for. “They talk me through their work week, their weekend and any dress code that may come with the work environment. Fashion doesn’t come into consideration, or even style, at the beginning. Its getting to know what your needs are.”
Men usually have a very clear idea as to what they want, but will often try to hide their true agenda. Natalie has to figure out if it’s a foot on the ladder, or a leg over, that this new wardrobe hopes to achieve.
“They might say, ‘oh…I just need weekend clothes’, or clothes for socialising,” she laughs, “they’ll never just come straight out and say they are looking for clothes to attract a woman.”
Personal Shoppers do more than shop. They point the uninitiated — and the uninterested, in the direction of the shops, brands and websites that best suit their current — or gestating, taste. They educate them on the colours, shapes and fabrics that complement their skin and body type. And they school them in the basic tenets of maintaining, not just obtaining, a wardrobe.
I, like most men, love the thrill of the hunt. But once I pull an item I like, I take it for granted. “Aftercare is important. How to look after particular types of wool. How to store it, how to wash it. All this has a direct impact on how long your clothes last.”
Once she is clear on whether it is business, pleasure, comfort or status you’re after, she offers a wardrobe consultation, something that is particularly useful to people like me who haven’t got the resources to rejuvenate my look overnight.
“I will show you how to get the maximum possible wear out of the clothes you presently have by introducing mixing and matching, as well as showing how to play with textures, colors, accessories and garment details. We then create a shopping list to fill the gaps in your wardrobe and make the rest of the clothes work to their full potential.”
Natalie will do a pre-shop and present the client with a selection of stock on the day, with plenty of options, though usually limited to only 3-4 stores.
Men make up over a third of her clients. They are drawn to her service, generally, for three distinct reasons. “They have been promoted or changed companies, which means they have to bring their professional look up a notch. They are suited and booted Monday-Friday and want a more polished casual look for weekends. Or they may be shopping for a specific occasion. A work holiday or a wedding, those types of things.”
Weight gain, elevation in society and transitioning or cross-dressing are other reasons clients use her.
For me, I wanted help getting my wardrobe’s mojo back. Ireland is not exactly Mecca for men who like clothes to possess more personality than you’d find on the back of a Basic’s boo. The reason I find it difficult to purchase new gear may be because my clothing chakras are misaligned.
“Style personalities are closely linked to character. For instance, dramatic and eccentric guys enjoy attention and are often pushing the boundaries to get a reaction. They wear bright colours, loud prints, and eccentric accessories. Sporty/natural guys usually have a very dynamic and active lifestyle. They are not bothered by how they look as they value comfort above all.”
Most are composites. They display elements of two and more style personalities. (The other types of male style personalities are classic, eccentric and romantic - think Hugh Grant).
“You have the natural style as your dominant, but there are elements of drama too, which is rare. You like tailored clothes but you also like a unique twist,” says Natalie.
Clothes can change the way you feel, they can alter the way you carry yourself. Natalie notes that once I take off my more casual garb and slip on something smarter, even my posture changes. “Once you’re happy with the way you look, you can go about your day focussing on the things that really matter.”
After my assessment, she states that it’s the top part of my wardrobe that needs to be focussed on. “Two-piece looks are very basic,” she says of my predilection for jumper-n-jeans combos. “You look up and down and that’s it.” A blazer, a cardigan, a denim shirt, and a waistcoat are added to my ‘to buy’ list, to give me more mixing and matching options. She also says no wardrobe should be without a pair of grey jeans.
Having parsed my closet of more youthful apparel, she advises on where to bring some of my other clothes I can’t bear to part with, so that they can regain some of their luster — a sort of Botox for beloved vestments. While there are also a number of DIY improvements I can make to remove stains or the natural signs of aging.
Stylists are an investment. “Left to their own devices people might just buy an item they like that doesn’t go with anything else in their wardrobe,” says Natalie. “Then they have to build an entire outfit around it. I help keep them focused. I save people time, effort, hassle and money.”
While The Chapar don’t quite hang the clothes in your wardrobe, they do pretty much everything else. Filling out an online form that inquirers about style, size and shape- as well as your specific needs, a follow up phone call to go more detail, a £1 deposit is paid and a trunk is dispersed, arriving within a day or two.
Mine contained 20 items from brands like John Smedly, Scotch & Soda and Calvin Klein. In the comfort of my own home I could try on this new gear and mix and match with items from my own wardrobe to see what gaps they’d plug. I was able to Skype and WhatsApp the clobber to get reactions from my public (my mother). Delivery- and collection of the unwanted items, was free.
The Chapar is preppier than I would go for. Nothing in the trunk contained the ‘f me’ boot type pop I was looking for. But the clothes fit like a dream. And I kept a quarter of the items, as they were solid staples. The first trunk was also an opening salvo, they were willing to keep working on the relationship until less and less items were returned.
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