Four personal shoppers select the perfect festive party outfit

One woman, four personal shoppers. Roisin Burke puts four department store experts to the test as she hunts for the perfect festive party outfit.

 Brown Thomas 

Hanging out in Brown Thomas and trying on a hand-picked selection of outfits was a dream come true for me.

The biggest problem I had was settling on just one outfit.

I filled out the online form and then spoke to Brown Thomas stylist Fiona Lemasney over the phone where we discussed what I was looking for along with my dimensions.

When I arrived at Brown Thomas, I was whisked away to a private personal shopping room where there was a rack of beautiful dresses and jumpsuits waiting for me to try on.

We started with a silky green number which we thought was a winner, until we tried on the next one, which was a simple black dress with accentuated pleats. Again this was hailed the winner, until I tried on the next one: a velvet blue gown that looked incredible.

I was all set to walk away in it, until Fiona persuaded me to try on one more outfit, the red Karen Millen dress which we decided to go with.

Fiona was full of advice and extremely helpful and honest about the outfits I was trying on.

I felt confident in her opinion and I trusted her to tell me the truth.

After we picked an outfit I went downstairs and had my makeup done by Leann Constant at Bobbi Brown.

As well as getting my makeup done, Leann gave me a number of top tips to take away that have helped me with my makeup routine since.

Any time spent in Brown Thomas is a treat and if you are looking to splash out and spend a pretty penny this Christmas, then booking in for a personal shopping experience is highly recommended.

Look: Karen Millen satin fold red dress €275.00 Nine West after dark sandal with open toe fringe features €145.00.

New season black clutch bag, bracelet design to be worn on the wrist €80.00 Makeup: Bobbi Brown, by Leann Constant 

Fiona Lemasney 

Tell me about your background and how you got into personal shopping?

I started in Brown Thomas 16 years ago working as a department manager. I love working with the beautiful brands and exclusive products within the store. Building relationships with customers has always been so satisfying, I always had a passion for fashion so I made the decision to offer advice and guidance to clients to make shopping effortless. To be able to give guidance and advice on all the latest trends each season is so satisfying.

Tell a bit about your approach, what is offered, how long it generally takes, what to expect?

When I meet a client for the first time, I really listen to what they are looking for: Lifestyle or occasion. I love finding the perfect outfit and giving them the confidence to wear it well.

Can you talk me through the outfit and why you picked it as a festive piece?

It’s all about deep reds this season, I think this colour is so festive for Christmas. This Karen Millen dress has beautiful structure and the satin material with the bow is perfect for this time of year. Fringe shoes add a bit of fun for any party!

Best shopping advice?

I suggest dress for your shape and personality. Timeless pieces in your wardrobe such as a tailored white shirt, an amazing pair of denims and a great coat. These are all a great start to a capsule wardrobe.

Opera Lane 

Stylist Natasha Crowley looks after the personal shopping for Opera Lane. I applied to the online application form which asked for about my favourite shops and asked me to upload a recent photo.

After this, Natasha gave me a call and we discussed what I was looking for and what I liked.

On the day, we met for a coffee and got comfortable with each other before hitting the shops.

We tried on three very different outfits in three shops: Topshop, River Island, and New Look.

The first outfit, in Topshop was a something I would have never picked for myself, it had a velvet feel, which although is very in, was a trend I had been avoiding as I felt it was a bit over the top.

In saying that, when I tried on the wrap around dress, I completely changed my mind, I knew, without trying on anything else, this was the Christmas outfit I needed in my life!

Despite falling completely in love with the first outfit, Natasha and I continued our shopping quest into the other stores.

Natasha managed to pick three very different, stylish, complimentary looks that could have all done for a night on the town over the season of goodwill.

In River Island, Natasha had chosen a day to night outfit with suit pants and a purple crossover top. It was the perfect outfit for Friday evening drinks straight from the office or even a casual midweek mosey around the town.

In New Look, Natasha picked a soft feel jumpsuit with wide cut pants and again it was something I would never have picked off the rail, but once on, I really liked it.

The outfit was perfect for that spontaneous night out.

Despite picking three stellar outfits, I went with the first look from Topshop. We both felt it was the standout look of the evening and the best Christmas outfit from the high street.

Look: Foil Floral Wrap Dress €72; Marbella gold sandal shoes €40; Freedom necklace €20; Koko couture box clutch €23 (All from Topshop).

Natasha Crowley 

Tell me about your background and how you got into personal shopping?

I have a Degree in Fine Art from the Crawford School of Art. Upon graduation I moved to London and worked in Topshop, Oxford St and I also worked with a fashion designer. When I moved back to Cork I took up a position with River Island and also enrolled on a night course, studying for a Diploma in Image Consultation and Fashion Styling.

I was just starting to build my business when I saw the vacancy for Opera Lane Personal Shopper. I have been working with all the stores on Opera Lane for the past six years and I absolutely love it.

Tell a bit about your approach?

The Opera Lane service is all about making the person feel comfortable and confident. Many clients feel overwhelmed with the amount of choice available. Fashion is fun and I hope we make it so for all who use the service.

Can you talk me through the outfit and why you picked it as a festive piece?

The outfit is from Topshop and it has touches of light velvet but not too heavy and the gold gives a subtle festive look. The wrap style and statement sleeve are also super flattering for so many body shapes. Stars and moons are on trend this season and the necklace gives a nod to that. The gold sandal and statement gold clutch will carry you through any party in any season.

Best shopping advice:

 Always have a plan, don’t leave it to the last minute and be disciplined.


 At Cork City’s Debenhams’ store, I was looked after by stylist Vivian O’Regan.

The great thing about Debenhams is you are not just walking into a shop, you are walking into a department store, so there is makeup, there is bra fitters, there is a special personal shopper room where you hang out while trying on an endless ream of clothes. It is an experience more than an appointment.

Again for Debenhams I filled out the online form and booked myself in for a time that suited me. I was asked for my waist and foot sizes and an explainer about the appointment as in what was it for.

When I arrived, Vivian had picked out a number of outfits for me to try on and for an hour and a half, I did just that.

It was great fun, I felt great in my own special changing room, trying on jumpsuit after dress to squeals of encouragement from Vivian.

We decided to go for something a little different to the mainstream look and something we thought was flattering for my figure.

After we had chosen the outfit, bag, and shoes, I had my make-up done by Simone Scanlon at the Benefit counter. By the end of it, I looked and felt a million dollars and I was delighted with the look we had chosen.

Look: Dress, Warehouse €129; Bag, Nine by Savannah Miller €98; Shoes Nine by Savannah Miller €68; Make up: Benefit by Simone Scanlon.

Vivian O’Regan 

Tell me about your background and how you got into personal shopping?

I’ve always had a keen interest in fashion and loved looking in the glossy magazines and seeing how trends evolved throughout the seasons. I suppose I was always the “go to” person for my friends and family if they were looking for an outfit as they always trusted my input and advice. I started out my career working in Roches Stores and when Debenhams took over, the opportunity arose to work within the personal shopper department and it sounded like my dream job so I jumped at the opportunity. I haven’t looked back since. I love that I can make someone look and feel amazing when they walk out the door and give them confidence that they might not have felt before.

Tell me a bit about your approach, what is offered, how long it generally takes, what to expect?

With each customer we carry out a short consultation at the start of the appointment. This is so we can find out exactly what the customer is looking for and also any likes or dislikes they may have. Then we go out and pull a few outfits based on what was said in the consultation and what we think would suit the customer. The customer then tries on the outfits and together we decide what looks best on and what works and what doesn’t. 

We take appointments for an array of different reasons, some people come looking for a specific outfit for a wedding or birthday or Christmas party etc or some people come two or three times a year looking for their summer or winter wardrobe. We cater for both men and women and we do group bookings also. This is a completely free service with no obligation to buy or no minimum spend.

Can you talk me through the outfit and why you picked it as a festive piece?

The outfit I picked was the floral embroidered dress. I chose this outfit because it’s a very versatile outfit, you can dress it up or dress it down depending on what you want to wear it for. Also while it’s still festive looking it’s an alternative to the real blingy Christmas dresses out there so you could wear it after Christmas if you wanted. You could get a lot of wear all year round out of the shoes and bag as separate pieces also so in the long run they are great value for money.

Best piece of shopping advice you ever received?

Don’t get so bogged down on the size that’s on the label! Different materials and different brands of clothes fit differently so you might be a size 12 normally but you might need a size 14 in a certain dress, don’t let that get you down, it’s more important that the dress fits well and looks amazing than it is to squeeze yourself into a smaller size and not look so fabulous!

Mahon Point 

Mahon Point was an interesting one for me, because it has Zara, which is my favourite shop, but when I met Mahon Point stylist Dee Kelly Morgan, I soon found myself discovering a whole new remit within my favourite store.

Dee had me trying on more adventurous items, many of which I ended up buying myself for my winter wardrobe.

There was a mid-length pink velvet skirt, which I would always have walked past, but after trying it on, I ended up adding it to my copious collection of Zara clothes at home.

Dee had a number of outfits picked out for me and we had a dressing cubicle booked off in the Zara store.

The shopping trip was a blur of colour, excitement, and textures. Dee pushed my comfort zone to its limits and I loved every minute.

In the end, we went with a wow look, of sequins and velvet with a fur jacket — all the rage this winter.

It is not a look I’d wear to my Christmas party, but it was extremely fun working with Dee and after shopping with her I had a new approach to shopping; Don’t knock it, till you try it!

Look: Bejewelled fur zip jacket €99.95; Sage pearl and velvet body top €39.95; Applique embroidered skirt €39.95; Black sock ankle boots €59.95; Disc earrings €9.95 (All Zara).

Dee Kelly Morgan 

Tell me about your background and how you got into personal shopping?

I’ve been working as a stylist for nearly 20 years, I was given the perfect opportunity to work with an amazing tailor/fashion house straight out of school.

Tell a bit about your approach, what is offered, how long it generally takes, what to expect?

Artistic style and love of people gives me an empathetic and holistic approach to styling.

Can you talk me through the outfit and why you picked it as a festive piece?

I just adore this outfit because it is festive and party savvy without looking like you’re wearing a Christmas decoration.

Also you can pare down every part of this outfit and make it smart casual... that is put skinny jeans with the top, a simple jumper and opaque tights with the skirt and boots and that fur jacket just rocks so many casual outfits (and it’s cozytoo). My favorite bit..... the price is so right.

Can you offer some general shopping advice and the best piece of shopping advice you ever received?

Best advice I can offer is don’t buy bits and pieces. Save until you have a decent fund, then use the service of a personal shopper. Most major department stores offer this service free or go private and get a capsule wardrobe that works. It pays off in the long run.


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