3 Ways to Score a Personal Shopper on Any Budget

Seriously, it's not just for celebs. 

Illustration: Woman looking at dress in mirror at clothing store
Photo: Ayumi Takahashi

1. Expert Assistance

What Is It?
The concept of a “personal stylist” may sound like an out-there luxury, but having someone help with the everyday tasks of putting together outfits and keeping your closet in check sure sounds good, whatever your lifestyle (we all wear clothes, right?). If you like face-to-face communication and the convenience of having someone come to your home, personal shoppers and stylists can bring years of fashion-industry experience to the table. They’ll help edit and organize your wardrobe, pick out new pieces, and create outfits that work for your life.

Who Should Do It?
Anyone who wants to look and feel pulled together but doesn’t have the time (or the inclination) to shop much or keep up with trends. “It used to be that only celebrities had stylists,” says Alyssa Dineen, a New York City–based personal stylist. “But in the past few years, my client roster has switched over to busy working moms who want to look good but have other, bigger priorities.”

What to Try

  • Style Overhaul ($$$)
    The biggest bang for your buck (and also the biggest investment) is hiring a pro like Dineen to provide a complete style overhaul. This entails first fine-tuning what you already own—figuring out what you love and weeding out the things you never wear. Then she’ll help you assess your personal style and what looks good on you. The best part: a one-on-one shopping trip where she’ll pick out pieces, help you get them tailored, and match them with things you already own. Websites like ThumbTack.com provide quotes and reviews for services. Expect to pay anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand, depending on your location and the stylist’s experience.
  • Closet Consultation ($$)
    Most personal shoppers also offer a sort of à la carte menu. If you enjoy shopping for fun, for example, you can opt for just the closet consultation, where your personal stylist will help you organize your wardrobe and restyle your own pieces in new ways.
  • Phone a Friend ($)
    Taking a DIY approach to the same process can also work wonders. “Style is such a personal thing, it’s hard to be objective about it,” says Dineen. “Just having another opinion can help make sense of the noise.” She suggests bringing in your most fashionable and forthright friend, pouring a glass of wine, and making an evening of it. Try on anything you’re unsure about and get their honest opinion. Then sort your newly pared-down wardrobe by category (work, casual, going out) and type (pants, tops, dresses). This will clearly show you any holes and any excess—who knew it was possible to own so many black pencil skirts?—so you can keep this in mind on your next shopping expedition.

2. In-Store Insiders

What Is It?
Many large department stores have historically offered in-store personal shopping concierges. If you think the service comes with an enormous store tab, think again. Many options are low- to no-cost.

Who Should Do It?
Anyone who needs a little guidance culling the overstuffed racks. “Our personal shoppers are people who can maximize our clients’ time—and budget,” says John Cruz, senior vice president of private client relations at Saks Fifth Avenue. “They can help you build an entire wardrobe, find a new look for a special occasion, or even find the perfect gift.”

What to Try

  • Department Store Services ($$$)
    Nearly all the big names (Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, Macy’s) offer free consulting services to help you shop. Saks takes it a step further with a no-charge, post-consultation closet clean-out, and the pros at Bergdorf’s will in some cases do a styling session in your home gratis and help you integrate your new pieces into your closet. The catch? The not-free part is designer duds, of course.
  • Mall Store Services ($$)
    Many of your favorite affordable stores at the mall also offer on-site help that most shoppers don’t know about. J. Crew will open a store early (or keep it open late) to suit your schedule if you book in advance. Chico’s offers private styling appointments early and late in the day to accommodate work schedules, and its stylists are available 24/7 by phone or email.
  • Sophisticated Staff, Anywhere ($)
    Many stores that don’t offer personal consulting do have exceptionally knowledgeable employees. Stores like Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Club Monaco, Loft, and Madewell put personnel through rigorous training about issues such as sizing, silhouettes, fit, and materials, making them well qualified to help you. To walk away with only what you need, keep questions as specific and personal as possible. For example, “Can you tell me which of your pant styles are cut for fuller hips?” will help you make an informed choice, while “Which top is cuter?” might result in buyer’s remorse.

3. Online Options

What Is It?
If you’d prefer your personal styling to be a slightly less, well, “personal” experience, take it to the internet instead. From online platforms that let you interact with a celebrity stylist to apps that will completely automate your closet, there’s a digital-first solution to all your wardrobe woes.

Who Should Do It?
Really, anyone. Digital platforms are great for commitment-phobes, anyone in an area without access to in-person professionals, and those who just want to test the waters before committing to a pro. “We’re in the business of personalization,” says Lisa Bougie, general manager of Stitch Fix, a popular online personal styling service that offers on-demand clothing shipments and sizes up to 24W and 3X. “We serve clients who are petite and plus and everything in between, and strive for diversity in aesthetic as well. But most important, it’s about convenience and saving time.”

What to Try

  • Virtual Styling ($$$)
    Many new services are popping up online, but Glamhive stands out because it connects users to celebrity stylists like Lindsey Dupuis, who has worked with Brittany Snow and Sharon Stone. Users select a stylist, who is then available via video to help you sort through your closet, style outfits, and even do a personalized online shopping session. “You can connect whenever and wherever,” says Dupuis.
  • Subscription Boxes ($$)
    The closest thing to a “set it and forget it” option for your wardrobe, clothing subscription boxes blend a human touch with digital convenience. Stitch Fix uses computer algorithms as well as stylists to select five unique pieces for each shipment. “Our clients love discovering new brands and trends they wouldn’t have picked up for themselves,” says Bougie. Nota bene, procrastinators: Although return shipping is generally covered, many clothing subscription boxes give you a three-day period to decide what you want to keep. If you don’t return items within that narrow window, you’ll be charged for them.
  • Apps ($)
    Always dreamed of having Cher Horowitz’s computerized closet in Clueless? Finery.com, a free website and app, pulls your purchases automatically from your emails to create a virtual closet so you can organize and style what you own. It will even keep track of return dates and remind you when they’re coming up. Cladwell maintains a huge database of styles—pick what’s most similar to the items in your own closet to create a virtual wardrobe and the app will send you weather-appropriate outfit suggestions each morning. Need a second outfit opinion before heading out on a first date? Amazon Prime members can take advantage of the company’s Outfit Compare feature, which lets users upload photos of two ensembles for quick feedback from Amazon’s fashion specialists on which one looks better.
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