Q I don't have time to keep up with trends. Are there personal shoppers who will work with me on my style?
-- Loria Porcaro, Arlington
A Yes. Moreover, extravagant as the idea may seem, personal shoppers are not the exclusive province of the affluent. The service exists at a variety of price points, with many shoppers available for free. You can employ a personal shopper to help you find jeans and sneakers or suits and ties. The trick to getting what you want out of the experience? Be honest -- with the shopper, about your taste and lifestyle; with yourself, about your body type and budget.
The most affordable option is an in-store personal shopper. Department stores such as Macy's, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue all offer this service, as do some boutiques; it's usually free because the shopper receives a commission on the items he or she sells. That upside is, for some customers, also a downside: You may feel pressure to buy something, and it's unlikely that you'll be told about an amazing designer whose wares aren't carried in the store. But for many, the service is a great time-saver. In-store shoppers can pull a dressing-room full of clothes before you arrive, keep your sizes and preferences on file, order hot items in advance and advise on accessories.
Freelance shoppers (those not employed by any one store) offer more specialized services. They'll pound the pavement on your behalf, pulling clothes from every store in town and either putting them on hold or sending them to you to try on at home.
Sounds glamorous, right? Well, you're basically buying yourself a stylist, so expect to pay accordingly: anywhere from about $75 to $200 per hour, whether or not you buy anything. If you can afford it, you're likely to be pleased: such shoppers are usually very experienced, with contacts at designer showrooms and by-appointment-only boutiques. Many shoppers operate solely by word-of-mouth, but the Association of Image Consultants International (www.aici.org) can also put you in touch with someone locally whose sartorial proclivities mesh with yours.
My suggestion is that you buy a shopping advice book and go the DIY route. I find the recently published "Dress Your Best: The Complete Guide to Finding the Style That's Right for Your Body" ($18.95, Three Rivers Press) to be a surprisingly valuable primer. Penned by TLC's "What Not to Wear" hosts Clinton Kelly and Stacy London, it offers practical suggestions in spades, broken down by body type for work, weekend and evening. The tone is upbeat but no-nonsense, and you don't have to do a calculus equation or liken your body to a piece of fruit to figure out what styles suit you. The book also includes a great section on men's fashion concerns -- a subject that other titles in this genre rarely bother to address.
Wondering how to wear it? E-mail
Suzanne D'Amato, Sunday Source's deputy editor and a former fashion writer at Vogue, at email@example.com. Please include your name, city and phone number.
Someday it'd be cool to be a personal shopper as a side job. A lot of my friends already do that with me -- they ask me to go with them to pick things out.
Mark Buenaflor, 28
I've never used a personal shopper, but I'm not averse to the idea. Sometimes I go to a store and feel kind of lost, especially in terms of color. I'd love it if someone could tell me what goes with what.