Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Life Beyond The LBD

I’m always a bit nervous trying new things and today was no exception. Faced with the prospect of a new season of dinners and black tie events looming, I needed to go shopping - and I needed someone to help me step outside my comfort zone and not buy the same thing all over again. So I decided to enlist the help of a professional shopper.

By the same thing, I mean little black dresses. I have a terrible habit of buying tasteful little black dresses (LBD for short) - and yet the dresses I love the most are not always black. In fact, the two dresses I have kept the longest and worn the most are mauve. They are so comfortable and flattering, I keep notes for these two dresses - what events I have worn them to and who was there - so that I can wear them again and again without anyone ever noticing. You don’t have to do that with a LBD - there are so many of them at most events that people don’t even really register them anymore. And although I would never advise someone against wearing an LBD as they really are classic, if you want to stand out, black is not really the colour to choose. Not, that is, unless you are going to choose an LBD that really is little - think Liz Hurley and the safety pin dress - in which case you definitely will be noticed - but not necessarily in the way you would want to be. And anyway, I don’t have the body for a safety pin dress!

I am very lucky to have several closets full of formal dresses, but it is getting to the stage where many of them are several years old. Even though they are classic and would still be in style, I really wanted some new things. Aside from my dress and hat for Ladies’ Day at Ascot last year (okay, I bought two blazers too), I really have not bought any serious formal wear for quite a while. It was definitely time to go shopping.

I was not sure whether to be excited or nervous as I headed off to one of Britain’s largest department stores to meet my personal shopper. The store I went to carries a lot of famous lines so I knew I would be spoiled for choice - but I always struggle with fit so I was a bit worried. I’m only a size 14 (that is an American 10) with a small waist. However my voluptuous hips and bosom do present some challenges.

I need not have worried. I was met by a very professionally dressed lady named Sara who was really nice. She took me round the store, asking me questions and suggesting things. After about twenty minutes we headed off to a private fitting room with our arms full of dresses - many of which I would never even have considered trying if I had been on my own.

The best bit about the private fitting room was that it was huge, with three big mirrors. (In fact, a couple of times it felt like there were too many mirrors. It is not always a good thing to be able to see yourself from behind!) There were clothes rails and shelves so that I could spread out and be organised. Once I had put the first dress on, Sara went off to find me a new bra to suit it, and new - well - I guess the best word for them would be “foundation garments”. She came back with a strapless bra - having amazingly guessed my size correctly simply by looking at me fully clothed - and the smallest pair of spandex underpants I have ever seen. She assured me they would reduce the size of my waist, tummy and hips by at least a half inch. I was not even sure I was going to be able to get them on. Thankfully she left the room whilst I made the attempt. In reality, it did not take as much effort as I had feared as they were quite stretchy. Alarmingly, they went all the way up right under my bra but they did exactly what she had promised. They were anything but glamorous - it was definitely a Bridget Jones granny pants moment - but the clothes were fitting me like a glove.

I tried on dress after dress, making a rail for “maybes” and a rail for “absolutely nots”. All the while, Sara bustled round bringing me shoes, bras and accessories. I never had to leave the fitting room once. At no point was there a hard sell, and the items Sara brought me went across all price points. She even brought me a pair of fabulous pumps with a gorgeous little cut out on them marked down to half price.

After a not unpleasant two hours I had chosen two outfits complete with shoes and undergarments. One of the dresses needed altering, so the tailoring lady was sent for and duly arrived, taking in the sides and shortening the straps. After that, once I had changed back into my own clothes and gotten all my things together, my purchases were carried to the till for me, carefully wrapped and rung up. There was not an LBD in sight.

I left exhausted, but extremely happy, with a really good start on what I needed. If my experience is anything to go by, personal shopping is the way to go. Most stores do not charge for this service and it definitely encourages you to look at yourself and fashion through different eyes. You also get great advice, tips and access to a tailor so that the clothes look just that little bit better. I’ll definitely be going back again.

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