I know men are supposed to hate clothes shopping, but I always used to enjoy it. I just wasn't very good at it! Most of the items in my wardrobe were bought because either a) they were necessary - basic work items like white shirts, sensible shoes and grey trousers; b) they were items that did not need to be tried on within the claustrophobic confines of a high street changing room - an XL T-shirt is always going to fit. It may not tick all the style boxes, but at least it will go on over my head; or c) they were cheap - I cannot resist a clearance rail. Unfortunately, there is usually a reason why an item remains unsold despite being half-priced several times over, and large swathes of my wardrobe lie testament to some of the oddest looking garments ever made, purchased in the mistaken belief that I was acquiring a quality fashion item at a knockdown price.
My other handicap when it comes to choosing clothes is actually finding items in my size. Now I know that we all suffer from a degree of body dysmorphia, and all wish that we were taller, shorter, fatter, thinner or just plain good-looking, but I always seem to find myself on a fruitless search for shoes that are wide enough, or trousers that are short enough. I therefore end up filling my wardrobe with shirts, jackets and jumpers (which I can purchase easily and readily), but remain perpetually short of a stylish pair of jeans or a comfortable pair of boots. I am also incredibly tight when it comes to spending decent money on clothes, wrongly preferring to buy something that comes in within budget instead of concentrating on what it actually looks like on me.
Now, at the ripe old age of 57, I may have finally had my eyes opened and seen the light. The answer? A personal shopper.
Thanks to the lovely people at the Evening Standard newspaper, I had recently won some Westfield gift vouchers and, more importantly, a session with one of the Style Doctors. Now to say that I was slightly nervous about entrusting myself to a personal stylist was an understatement. Apart from reservations about being able to help a slightly overweight retired pharmacist achieve a style makeover in the space of one hour, I was also wary of being served up with brutally honest home truths about my lack of dress sense. Did I really want to expose myself to ridicule in one of Europe's smartest shopping destinations? My initial reaction was therefore simply to get my hands on the gift vouchers and make a dash for the sale rails. Perhaps I could give my Style Doctor the slip, and disappear into Primark whilst she was still picking out items from Giorgio Armani?
I had already been asked to provide as much information as possible to Style Doctors as to my current wardrobe, my shape and size, and also to provide them with a couple of photographs of myself. This was followed up with a text message from Elin the day before, reminding me where and when to meet.
I had driven up to Stratford from Brighton, having spent the previous day watching my son run the Vitality Half Marathon, which had left me feeling even more overweight and unfit! The Westfield Shopping Centre is situated adjacent to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Opened in 2011 it is the largest urban shopping centre in Europe, providing almost 1.9million square metres of retailing space, including over 250 shops and more than 80 places in which to eat and drink. Conveniently located next to Stratford International rail station, it also has connections to the Underground, Overground, Docklands Light Railway as well as a bus terminal. It is also incredibly easy to reach by car. I came through the Blackwall Tunnel and simply followed the signs. Parking is not unreasonable at £6 all day during the week (£9 at weekends).
My instructions were to meet Elin at Yo! Sushi, opposite Next, at 2pm. 'I have red hair!' she had added, in her text message. I had described a few items that I was interested in finding, and Elin had already done her homework. After a brief chat to confirm our objectives we were straight off to John Lewis where she had selected a beautiful Ted Baker shirt, a navy blue jacket and a pair of Levi 604 jeans for me to try on. Not only did she seem to know instinctively which sizes to pick for me, she managed to put items together which not only complemented each other, but also looked good on me. Result!
Shoes, as expected, proved slightly more difficult (I had warned her about my size 12 extra-wide plates of meat), and we were not able to find anything suitable in Clarks, but she promised to e-mail me links to several styles that she had found. We then went on to Next, where she picked out several polo-style shirts which worked in combination with the jacket and jeans.
Before I knew it, my session was over, but we had achieved so much in the time available. As well as picking out suitable items for me, Elin was full of styling tips and advice. She was chatty and friendly, and never for one minute made me feel uncomfortable or out of my comfort zone. I can honestly say that it was a delight to have someone take an interest in picking out clothes from the bewildering choice available, and to make me think 'outside the box' when choosing items myself. Not only did it save time, but it also avoided those mistakes that can so easily happen when shopping alone, resulting in time wasted obtaining refunds or exchanges.
My 'Style Doctor', Elin
So I came back to Norwich with a whole new outfit, and feeling good about myself. I even had enough money left to sort myself out with a pair of running shoes from Sweatshop, where I was put through my paces and guided towards the most appropriate footwear for my 'difficult' feet. No excuses now for not joining my son in the 2016 Half Marathon!
True to her word, Elin later e-mailed me the links to the shoes that she had found, so I can now finish the job off from here in Norwich. Sincere thanks to her, Style Doctors, and Westfield for such a brilliant day.
Full information about shopping at Westfield, Stratford City, can be found at their website HERE
If you are interested in booking a session with Style Doctors click HERE