Meet the wardrobe whisperers for men who don’t have time to follow fashion
When Chris Banks geared down from a long-time corporate career in property marketing to part-time work and a more relaxed lifestyle, he decided his wardrobe needed a change, too.
“I’d stepped down from full-time work in the corporate world but my wardrobe was still locked in the past,” he says. “I had a uniform I’d worn for many years of all these Giorgio Armani and Versace suits and all these ties I hardly ever wore any more, and I needed something more relaxed but still pulled together.”
To help him overhaul his wardrobe, the Melburnian recruited Shane Carroll, who’s long career in the fashion industry has given him the insider knowledge and contacts to help other men with their clothing crises.
“I had a sincere conversation with Chris and really listened to what he needed and what he wanted the outcome to be,” says Carroll. “I asked him about what he thought he could wear and what he would never wear, and then I looked at what clothing could help him with his lifestyle change.”
The pair agreed on a day to go shopping together, and Carroll visited stores ahead of time to set aside trousers, shirts, jackets and more that would fit the brief in Banks’ size.
So happy was Banks with the day’s shopping that he took Carroll for dinner that night at an upmarket Japanese restaurant.
It was a real turning point,” says Banks. “It saved me a lot of time – and gave me a lot of confidence.
“Shane set my wardrobe in a new direction with his knowledge of stores I wouldn’t even have known about or thought to visit. He knew what would suit me, and he helped me break out of my conservative habits to incorporate more colour, more relaxed fits and garments that I wouldn’t previously have worn.”
Men like Banks are the reason department stores, boutiques and online retailers are investing significantly in developing their personal shopping services on the ground and on the internet.
Personal shopping used to be dominated by female clients; when men asked for the service, it was usually because they needed clothing for a specific event. But a mushrooming men’s fashion industry has changed this. Not only do personal shoppers take the tedium and bewilderment out of the retail experience, say proponents, they can help men without the time or inclination to explore what suits them best.
“Where women use a personal shopping service as a social tool and a hobby, men use a personal shopping service as a necessity,” says Mr Porter international client relations manager Joe Ottaway. “Men use it to get their shopping done efficiently in a timely way and to guide them through the whole minefield that is contemporary menswear today.”
The luxury menswear etailer employs online style advisers to help customers with what will best suit them and offer candid advice on dressing for particular body shapes, heights and ages.
“All the taboo questions that some guys feel embarrassed asking, we give you the answers in the comfort and privacy of your own home,” says Ottaway.
Matchesfashion.com offers a MyStylist service 24 hours a day seven days a week to help men with everything from advice on key wardrobe updates to how to put a look together. The luxury etailer also communicates with regular customers via phone, email and messaging services such as WhatsApp, reflecting the youthful demographic that employs its personal shopper service.
“Our customer base is from their early 20s up and the service is used for everything from how to find the perfect pair of swim shorts to finding the perfect capsule wardrobe for a weekend in Tuscany,” says Matchesfashion.com customer experience director Ines Lareo.
Harrolds offers a personal shopping service in the privacy of its VIP suites in its luxury stores across Australia. Here, customers can enjoy a whisky, a beer or a coffee as they try on a range of garments picked out for them following an initial telephone or email consultation.
“There is no wasting time because everything is set up ready to go, and there is absolute discretion because it all happens behind closed doors,” says Harrolds head buyer Rob Ferris.
Male personal shopping clients fall into two main categories.
“The first is the customer who enjoys fashion but doesn’t have the time to dedicate to seeking out the right items themselves, and the second is the man who is less knowledgeable about fashion and is looking for guidance around what they should be buying,” says Stylebop.com buying director Chris Kyvetos, whose luxury etailer provides face-to-face and online personal shoppers to clients.
Whatever the category, men shop differently to women.
Not only is there the age-old male hatred of shopping to consider, but when men do venture into a store or online, they buy the same items again and again or shop strategically for specific events.
“Women tend to be more impulsive when shopping; men are much more considered,” says Lareo. For the most part, they’re shopping to find something for a particular need. “They will buy knitwear, for instance, once the weather begins to get colder.”
Generally, men don’t like to be taken out of their comfort zone. But the results can be spectacular.
“When you take a client out of their comfort zone, they might look in the mirror and think, ‘Oh, that’s not me.’ But as soon as they walk out the door and get a compliment from a woman, it changes their mindset straight away.”
One such convert is Michael Karagianis, Melbourne-based investment specialist at MLC Investment Management. He uses David Jones’ personal shopping service to find outfits that will elicit such compliments.
“I can ask the team to look out for something special for me and they will hunt around to find exactly what I need and what suits me,” he says. “What’s not to love?”