PUBLISHED: 18:13 27 November 2015 | UPDATED: 18:13 27 November 2015
Big shopping centres can be intimidating places if you're looking for something special to wear, so why not embrace the services of an in-store personal stylist?
With Christmas round the corner and a packed diary of events I really needed a dress that could take me from day to night and look right for both. Too much to ask? Not if you put yourself in the hands of a personal stylist in a big shopping centre like intu Lakeside.
So it was that on a chilly Monday morning I ‘crossed the border’ over to Thurrock and met up with the lovely Carlene Noel, the centre’s stylist and personal shopper. Her services are completely free and there is no pressure to spend more than you want or indeed buy anything – she’s not on commission and genuinely wants to help and will work within your budget
And as a ‘newbie’ to intu Lakeside, I wouldn’t have had a clue where to start; luckily Carlene knows the place like the back of her hand and seemingly every shop assistant by name too.
In advance of our meeting I’d filled in a form about my personal details and what sort of thing I was looking for, but Carlene finds the chat before she hits the shops the most important bit. She’s very easy to talk to, honest about herself (a newish mum, she’s aware of women’s many hang-ups about their bodies after having had children) and has been styling since 2002, so has lots of experience.
We then stand side by side in front of a full-length mirror and Carlene tells me what she sees about her frame, reminding me that “it’s shape, not size that matters.” Then it’s my turn but, like most women, I need gently reminding what’s really being reflected, and what to emphasise.
Next stop is one of the flagship stores, House of Fraser, for a bra fitting. Carlene explains: “I always start with the underwear; get that right and your outfit will look so much better.”
I’m in luck, Carlene decides I’m simply wearing my favourite Rigby & Peller too loosely, tightens up all the straps - et voilà! everything is in the right place again and I haven’t spent a thing.
She gives me another tip for free: buy tights a size larger so you can pull them right up to under your bra strap and smooth out all those lumps and bumps on the way: brilliant! This works best with winter tights like black opaque, as they have more ‘body’ and stretch.
We then hit the occasionwear concessions area, and I while I am drawn to the glamorous long evening dresses I really need something a bit more practical while still smart and elegant.
I’m interested that Carlene heads one way and lets me wander off on my own scooping up items, explaining later that she doesn’t want to influence clients by letting them see what she’s picking out herself. But I do glimpse her with a woollen number that I later learn apparently had my whole body language saying ‘no way!’ ….
You can probably guess the rest. The Coast Pippen Bardot knit dress with fluted sleeves and a cowl neckline (£95) is a very different story when you try it on. It had literally no hanger appeal, but get the size right and that all-important underwear and it clings in all the right places.
In my case we go down two whole sizes from my comfort zone, something I would never have done on my own. Carlene is of course spot on; the knitwear has a certain ‘give’ and the whole style would fail if worn too big.
All we now need is a pair of killer heels – always a challenge with my ‘difficult’ feet and inability to keep a court shoe on – but my beloved Clarks comes to the rescue with a strappy version that looks good, feels comfortable and stops me stepping out of my shoes as I walk.
Two hours have whizzed by and I have an outfit I would haven’t given a second glance but already is earning its keep in my wardrobe. I wouldn't hesitate to use this service again.
Carlene’s top tips
● Start with your body shape, you’ll save so much time if you’re not trying on the right shape for you. Stand in front of a full-length mirror and be honest about what you see; it’s shape, not size that matters
● 2 Sort out your underwear; get that right and your outfit will look so much better
● 3 Don’t always go to the same places, try shops you’ve never been in before
● 4 Don’t be afraid to go down a size – or up – it’s the final look that matters, not the label in the back of your outfit
FIND OUT MORE
Carlene Noel, firstname.lastname@example.org, 017088 684351 or 07501 470697