Clothes maketh the woman

Last updated 12:32 07/12/2012

While in Auckland last week, good buddy Tulip and I had a look in some shops and generally enjoyed strolling around a CBD not made of shipping containers, and naturally this involved going into shops and looking at clothes.

At one point we went into a store that I usually wouldn't venture into because I know their range costs more than I would usually spend. Mind you, most of my purchases these days come from Farmers, Max or Portmans with occasional forays into Cue if there's a sale. I feel reasonably comfortable in those stores because I know how the sizing works and because I know that I can afford things that they sell.

But then we went into this slightly more fancy store. I have to admit that when we first went in I thought that it would be a relatively short stay. After looking at a couple of price labels I was sure of it. And then a nice shop lady asked us if we were out shopping together, which seemed a sort of odd thing to ask given that we were a) talking to each other and therefore together and b) in a shop looking at clothes. Those two facts taken together would strongly imply that yes, we were shopping together.

Turns out they had a stylist in that day and would we like to be styled by her? She could put us in outfits and show us what clothes and colours suited us. I was immediately reluctant but sensing that this was just me being a bit pathetic, I did a quick mental scan to see if I could find a good reason for declining -

Any reasons not to do this?

* I feel uncomfortable in this shop.

* I think I might be too fat for these clothes.

* I think I might be too poor for these clothes.

* I don't want to and you can't make me.

None of which forms a particularly cogent argument against since I don't count feeling uncomfortable or awkward as a good reason for begging off doing things. If I did I'd probably never try anything new. Sometimes I like to force myself out of my comfort zone because I have a personality that's very much inclined toward habit and settling into a nice comfy rut. So I said yes, and Tulip went along with it too and suddenly we were "playing dress-ups" with a professional guide.

To be honest, I wasn't really prepared for exactly how awkward this process would make me feel. First off, I caught the stylist (whose name I heard once and instantly forgot) giving me the quick "up and down" visual appraisal. Now, this is a perfectly reasonable thing for her to do since in doing so she'll have got an idea of my body shape, size, preferred colours and style. That's a thing I was aware of intellectually, but emotionally I was shrivelling up inside and feeling self-conscious about my pilled hoody and No. 1 Shoe Warehouse sneakers. I'd felt perfectly fine about what I was wearing when I left the hotel that morning but suddenly I felt like a scruffy street urchin.

The first thing I got to wear was a cute little dress. It was really comfortable but with a loose top half it made my waist completely disappear. I appeared to have the midsection of a chubby toddler, whereas in reality I have the midsection of a dagwood sandwich that's been carried around in your bag all morning and has tomato in it so it's gone a bit soggy and misshapen. Strange as it sounds, I actually prefer the latter. Tulip came out in a cute dress that looked great on her because she has a fabulous figure. Sigh.

The stylist, sensing that I wasn't really feeling the dress, said "you're not really feeling that dress, are you?" and sent me back in to try on a drapey and somewhat complicated black thing with a slip. When I came out she fastened a belt around it just under my boobs because an empire line is good for me as it's the narrowest part of me. No, actually my waist is. It's right there just above my belly button. I mean, I know it's not as small as other people's but it's still a waist. Is what I said. In my head only. Because apparently I was feeling very intimidated in this environment. The drapey black thing looked okay but I couldn't help feeling it was all in an effort to AVOID THE STOMACH AT ALL COSTS. Tulip came out again in another cute dress (with a waist) looking chic and effortless.

I tried on three more outfits. One enormous batwing-sleeved thing that, though very stylish, made me feel even more like the agenda was "hide the awfulness of this women's body from the eyes of the innocent public". I was told that I should wear heels and my hair up with it to "add height". I'm sorry, but if you have to rely on shoes and hair to make an outfit work, it probably actually doesn't. I then got put in a large floaty orange weather balloon. On the upside, according the stylist this is definitely a colour I can wear; I now also know that I really don't want to unless it has reflector strips and I'm wearing it because I'm biking at night. Last up was another cute little dress with an actual waist but which I knew at a glance was the wrong size. After wriggling into it and out of it again, I handed it out the door of the cubicle explaining that wearing it felt like my boobs were under house arrest.

And then we had to go through the awkwardness of extracting ourselves from the store from which we were clearly not going to be buying anything and saying thank you for her time etc when all the while my inner voice is screaming "can we please be done with this torture now? Is it too early to have a wine?" As Tulip described it later, the pressure and expectation that we would buy something as a result of all this effort was a bit like being at a Tupperware party for one.

So this was my first experience being "styled" and I have to say I have a new-found sympathy for every person who's ever been Trinny and Susannahed. But I also have to take a good long look at my own insecurities, which I'm sure came into play here. If I hadn't been as uncomfortable and lacking in confidence I think I could have engaged with the stylist a bit more and guided her toward things I would actually wear; instead I let my lack of confidence get the better of me. If I ever find myself in this situation again, I will stand up for my neglected waist.

Have you ever been dressed or styled by someone else before and is it always this awkward? Do stylists actually know what they're talking about?

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