Personal styling services online promise to analyze your preferences and shop for you, because ain’t nobody got time for that. I took a week to test-drive a few of them to investigate whether stylists using a Pandora-like algorithm could help me “shut it down” just walking down the street as if Rachel Zoe herself had dressed me.
I’m 5’1" with natural double Ds, so for salespeople, nailing the right fit can be a Sisyphean exercise in hopelessness. They always have to go to the back for mediums, and often return empty-handed. I spend too many afternoons searching through rows of extra smalls online. And cuts are hard for me, too; once upon a time, I overheard relatives complaining about my cleavage. From that point on I shopped with a severe allergy to anything low-cut. My dresses need high necks and some give in the front even if they wear a little loose in other places. I had little faith that other people or robots could filter the cyber marketplace and dress me, but it was worth trying.
TopShelf, which claims to be able to help pick the best new stuff for you by complementing what's in your existing wardrobe, had me clicking on my sizes and considering statements like,
“I like to browse when I’m not buying.”
“If I really like an item, price is important.”
I clicked "false" for both. I gave them access to my online receipts, which revealed my costly addiction to silk dresses on Shopbop.com.
The survey asked where I spent most of my time. As a party reporter, I often show up at red carpet events in skinny jeans and flats next to other reporters who look like they’re auditioning for The Devil Wears Prada 2. I clicked “parties”, deciding I could jump a few notches from zero.
TopShelf’s first recommendation threw me. Stylist Abby already thought she had me pegged. “Check out these unique bleached denim cut-offs! Look laid-back and casual by pairing these shorts with a fitted tank and unique accessories like this ram skull ring.” Abby's enthusiasm felt misguided, though: Ram skulls didn’t belong in my Zooey Deschanel-ish wardrobe.
But while I waited for lookbooks to assemble on other sites, TopShelf was the quickest to deliver. More looks followed. Of the 74 items that popped up, I fell for two. There was a the fire-engine red Opening Ceremony dress I had already lusted after at Scoop (too pricey, but impressive that they knew.) I ended up buying a mottled leather clutch, which was the color of lemonade, for $69. But I remembered why I was doing this: to find clothes I knew would work.
Next, I signed up for CoutureSQD, which touts "quality stuff, such as high-end brands and 100% silk." I assumed their jam was high-end at a price of $37.60 a month. As advertised, four hand-picked items arrived at my door — but they were way off. The clothes are more H&M than couture, and they felt cheap. The site should add fabric swatches to the process of communicating preferences, thus enabling more accurate virtual assistance. (I had a month to return the stuff using a prepaid shipping label, and did.)
Shop It To Me
Shop It To Me got me pretty much where I was before. Identical to regular shopping sites, the service bets on brand loyalty, so their picks instantly felt personal. I’m a sucker for Alice + Olivia, and I bought from them a knitted sweater with batwing sleeves. Overall, they didn’t honor the preferences I'd set up, and I never got the suggestions for dresses I requested.
Stylit’s survey turned up results that were just right. For body type, I clicked on the hourglass figure. I chose the girl wearing an army green bomber jacker over a white dress for my casual look. Next to bling and buttoned shirts, I hit "NEVER".
As a workaholic with little social life to speak of, I knew a time-saving deal when I clicked one. Sylit vetoed dresses that I couldn’t pull off if I squeezed into three sports bras. It was the closest I’d ever come to experiencing Cher Horowitz’s virtual closet. I bought the recommended scoop-necked sapphire chiffon dress with a hem that was high in the front and low in the back for $53.
When it arrived, it fit perfectly.
The verdict? I’m still going to shop, but I’ll keep TopShelf and Stylit in the mix because a few keystrokes got me some solid recommendations.
Besides, independence is overrated. I learned that if I’m trusting and patient, the best fit can come from someone other than me. Even stylists and robots.