“The most rewarding part is to get a new client and dress them, and six months later, you see them and almost don’t recognize them,” says Burns, a personal shopper who opened her own D.C.-based company, Pamshops4you, in 2001. “Because they’re walking more confident, they’re smiling and they feel good about how things fit and how they look.”
Most of Burns’ clients come to her because they don’t like to shop or just don’t have the time to do it. Many are stuck in a rut and have been wearing the same things for 10 years, she says, ignoring evolving fashion trends and their own changing sizes.
When Burns starts working with someone new, she talks to him or her over the phone and then meets in person to peruse their closet. In addition to personal shopping, she offers closet editing and organizing services: “Sometimes I just look at their closet, and sometimes they hire me to take out all the clothes that are outdated or don’t fit them,” she explains.
After getting a sense of a client’s style — if he or she tends to dress conservatively, for example, Burns will stay true to those tendencies — it’s time to go shopping, often at the malls in Tysons Corner and Chevy Chase. Burns always pre-shops ahead of time, examining what’s available at each store to help make outings more efficient.
Then, the dressing room is where the magic happens. “A lot of people wear the wrong size clothing, either too large or too small,” she says. “You can actually look older wearing the wrong size clothes, no matter how old you are. And a lot of times, people think of themselves one way, and if you can get them even a little out of the box, it can make all the difference.”
Some clients seek Burns’ assistance just once; she’s been working with others since she opened her business nearly two decades ago. Many want help selecting a new wardrobe each season, while others need to dress for a special event.
“We sit down and talk about what their calendar looks like, and we’ll often take pictures of each outfit on their phone,” she says. “That way they can just scroll through and decide what to wear for their events.”
Aside from shopping for clothes, Burns says she’s helped many men choose the perfect engagement ring, and she also provides gift-shopping services. A man could tell her that he wants to spend $75 on a Valentine’s Day present for his wife, for example, and provide some sense of what she likes, and Burns will then send ideas — with visuals — and purchase the chosen item.
When Burns was growing up, she was smitten with the fact that her grandmother had a personal shopper in New York City. So she studied fashion merchandising at the University of Maryland with a minor in business and textiles, and then moved to New York, where she worked in wholesale and sold to buyers at Bloomingdale’s, Saks, Neiman Marcus and other stores. Once she felt that she had a solid, comprehensive understanding of how the fashion industry worked, she moved back to D.C. to open her own business.
Do you wake up excited to curate your look for the day? That’s a good start, because personal shoppers have to be obsessed with fashion, clothes and staying ahead of the trends. It’s also important to enjoy working with many types of people, and to be a self-motivator who’s good with schedules — one does not impress clients by showing up late.
Plus, remember you’ll need to be able to set aside your own preferences in favor of someone else’s: “A lot of people think, ‘Oh, this is going to be so fun to be shopping all day,’ ” Burns says. “But it’s a job, and you have to buy things for someone else’s tastes, which might not always be your own tastes. It’s really about being able to make other people happy.”
There are multiple paths to becoming a personal shopper, but Burns recommends getting a degree in a field like fashion merchandising, and then spending time at an apparel company like she did.
“I think that’s one of the best routes, getting experience in the fashion world before doing it,” she says. “It definitely helps when you understand how designers do everything, how the stores work and how the buying process works. Then you’ll kind of know what’s going on.”