About a year ago, my friend and I were making plans to go shopping when she offhandedly mentioned making a personal shopper appointment. Before this, I had always imagined personal shoppers as something that only rich people had access to. Turns out, I was wrong.
Recently, as I found myself in a need of a dress for a wedding and little desire to look through endless racks of clothes and stand in line for the fitting room, I decided to give personal shoppers a try. Since you can’t just walk into a store and demand to see a person stylist, I made appointments online at three different stores: Macy’s, Anthropologie and Topshop, all about a day in advance.
Here was my experience with each service, all of which were 100 percent free:
Striking out at Macy’s
I started by filling out a short questionnaire about my age, body shape, size and the types of items I was looking for— a dress to wear to a fall wedding. By the time I finished it, I felt like my personal shopper would know exactly what kinds of dresses I liked to wear—A-line or shift dresses in solid, dark colors. When I arrived to my appointment, I was taken to a private area on one of the floors. There was a sitting area and private fitting rooms, one of which was filled with dresses for me to try on. I soon realized these dresses looked exactly like things I already owned.
The dresses all cost somewhere between $80 to $180, which was about how much I was willing to spend. However, I did not want to buy a dress that looked exactly like a dress already owned. My stylist and I emailed before my appointment to confirm the date and time and I should have taken that opportunity to let her know I was interested in trying different things as well. Once in the store, she suggested that I walk the floor and take a look at their selection of dresses. But even then nothing popped out at me and I didn’t end up buying anything. I was disappointed to leave this appointment empty handed and decided to be a little bit more adventurous at my other appointments.
Price pressure at Topshop
The questionnaire I filled out for Topshop made me a bit nervous about my appointment. First, the largest size that I could select was size 12. I often wear clothes that range from size 12 to 16 and so was worried that I might not fit many of their clothes. Second, I was asked about my budget for this shopping trip. The lowest amount I could select was $150, the largest $3,000. I reminded myself that this a complimentary service and that I am not obligated to buy anything and selected $300 as my budget.
While that $3,000 budget number scared me off at first, the dresses I tried on at Topshop were all between $80 to $150 and ranged from short wrap dresses to floor length gowns. Sadly, the one dress I liked — a button down, wrap dress in cobalt blue for $85 — was sold out in my size. While it was fun to try things outside my comfort zone, once again I found myself leaving the appointment empty handed.
Hitting the jackpot at Anthropologie
I met my stylist in the regular fitting area, where she led me to a room that had two racks full of clothes for me to try on, many of which were on sale. She had also pulled some shoes for me and had two bottles of water for me, just in case I got thirsty during our two-hour appointment.
My personal shopper at Anthropologie encouraged me to go for bolder items. If left to my own devices, I would have never picked out a jumpsuit for myself. Yet she picked out three for me and I ended up buying one of them. What’s more, that jumpsuit was on sale, and I ended up getting it for $35, about a third of its original price. Besides the jumpsuit, a number of items I tried on at Anthropologie were on sale, something that my stylist eagerly pointed out. One of the dresses I tried on was on sale for $39 and all sale items were an additional 30 percent off. The sales rack at Anthropologie is one of my favorite places to shop.
What I learned from from my shopping spree
Having a personal shopper help me select items to try on was especially helpful at stores like Anthropologie and Topshop since they knew exactly which items they had in larger sizes and whether those sizes were in stock. Usually, I am able to find just a handful things my size in each store. Personal shoppers found dozens of items for me to try.
They also chose items that I might not have picked for myself. At Topshop, I tried on a velvet dress that I would have never picked by myself, for example. At Anthropologie, I ended up trying on a light colored wrap dress that I was convinced would wash me out when I put it on. I had been on the hunt for a perfect floor length flower dress for over a year and, it turns out, this dress was it. And since I got the jumpsuit at such a low price, I decided to treat myself and buy it for $198. I definitely went over my budget, but wasn’t sure when I would find another dress that fit this well.
Using a personal shopper can also be good for sticking to your budget. If all you want to do is try on dresses, all you have to do is show up, go into a fitting room and try bunch on. You don’t have to walk around looking for things and getting distracted with other items that catch your eye but you don’t really need.
I also learned that whether you are filing out your appointment form or talking to your stylist in person, make sure to be honest about your size and your budget. That way the clothes that are pre-selected for you are more likely to fit both your waistline and your price range. What’s the point in trying on dozens of dresses that you cannot afford? That way they can pull items within your price range.
Lastly, I learned to pace myself. At the end of my shopping spree, I had not only exhausted my budget but also all of my energy. Shopping is fun, but trying on dozens of items in a row can be exhausting. I made a mistake of scheduling two personal shopper appointments back to back in one day. By the time I arrived at my second appointment, I didn’t want to see another dress, much less try them on. If you can, space the appointments out over a couple of days. The experience will be more enjoyable that way.
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This article originally appeared on Free US.