What not to wear

Last summer I got a clothes consultation for my birthday. One of those Trinny-and-Susannah things where someone tells you which colours suit you, which styles of clothes are most flattering, etc. I was intrigued. Obviously I have no clue about style, and I generally feel like a dork no matter what I wear, so this seemed a good way to fix that. I’d been in London a year, had some money saved, and was trying to feel more confident in general. Plus I was going to the Miami dancing competition that summer, and I figured it’d be nice to not feel silly at the surrounding social events. So this was a really well-timed present, and I was quite looking forward to it.

I booked an appointment with the very nice consultant, and after many scheduling and location problems we decided the best location would be my office. The day came and it was pouring with rain, and when I opened the door the first thing she did was apologise for being a bit windswept and not looking very glamorous. Which was obviously not a thing – it’s sad that there are obviously people who would judge her like that – so I did my best to be reassuring while heading to the room least likely to have random visitors turn up at 7 in the evening1.

She sat me down in front of a large mirror, turned on a portable daylight bulb, and draped a hairdresser’s cowl around me. She then held various coloured cloths under my chin, murmured positive or negative noises, and sorted the remaining colour packs in response to her assessments. Clearly there was theory to this. She honed in on a selection.

“Ok, you definitely best suit the ‘dark summer’ range of colours. And based on your skin tone I’d definitely say your go-to colour is…”

I’m thinking orange. Bright blue. OR electric blue. Yes! That’d be great. Something interesting, anyway.

“…grey. Charcoal grey. Here’s a swatch of that so you know what to look for when you’re clothes shopping.”

Grey. For god’s sake. It’s a step up from beige, I guess, but fine, whatever, if that’s how it is. I’d been trying to judge which colours worked and which didn’t, and had come to the conclusion that there’s a gene for it and I don’t have it. So I was entirely happy to be told the correct answers.

I was given a pack of colour swatches to keep in my bag, and these turned out to be amazing in their inability to match any clothes ever. But at least in theory I knew what colours I should be wearing.

GREY. I’m not sure I’m ever going to get over that. Anyway.

But enough of the colour theory – on to what was for me the more interesting bit: what types of clothes should I be looking for? She took various measurements. The conclusions were these:

  • My legs are longer than my torso, so I need clothes that make my legs look shorter and my torso longer
  • My shoulders are wider than my hips, so I need clothes that make my shoulders look thinner and my hips wider
  • My arms are longer than average, so I need clothes that make my arms look shorter
  • My neck is longer than average, so I need clothes that don’t draw attention to that

Basically, if I don’t wear the right clothes I look like a daddy longlegs. Fantastic.

I’ve paraphrased this a lot. She did a very good job of making it all sound positive, but it’s hard not to rethink it in negative terms. Rather than looking for clothes which make me look good, I sometimes feel like I have to wear certain things so as not to look stupid. Which wasn’t really the point.

But the important bit was the advice given in relation to these conclusions: how to achieve these things in terms of fit, pattern, texture etc. And it all seemed to make sense. For example, don’t wear horizontal stripes across the shoulders, as this makes them look wider. She wrote up a nice report for me, and the next weekend I headed to Oxford Street and tried to put these ideas into practice.

This was far harder than I expected. This has vertical stripes, but the colour isn’t quite right. Aha, these jeans seem ideal! But they’re £80. Am I sure enough to want to spend £80? I quickly decided that if I was going to buy a bunch of new clothes I might as well pay her to come with me. So I did. This was quite the expensive jaunt, but I ended up with a lot of new stuff, and was determined to give it a proper go. After all, the anecdotes on the website were all from people delighted at receiving compliments from everyone they knew, and overflowing with with new-found confidence. I wanted that!

Unfortunately, none of it really worked. I tried pretty hard over the next few months, but it never clicked. I just never felt comfortable or confident, and a year later I’m pretty much back to the combinations I wore before, daddy longlegs style. If this were the Trinny and Susannah repeat, they’d visit unannounced and be horrified. It wasn’t a total bust – I have a few nice shirts; I wear blue a lot as that apparently works; and I avoid slim-fit jeans after she tactfully steered me away from those forever – but otherwise, not so much. I guess it just wasn’t really me. In hindsight I generally go smarter than the kinds of things we bought – I should probably have mentioned that to her.

I do sometimes wonder if I should go back and try again. Or try a different consultant. But I’m a bit nervous that there’s some fundamental mismatch between what I need to wear and what I feel comfortable in, and that’s just that. Although the above may suggest otherwise, I don’t actually spend that much time thinking about clothes, but it’d still be disappointing to try and fail again.

All that said: on the rare occasion I go clothes shopping, I do buy grey things – god help me.

  1. got away with that, somehow []