You're not quite sure what you're shopping for, but you sure wish someone would help you locate it — whatever it is. Or, you know exactly what you want to buy but can't find it anywhere. You've come to the right place. Wings flapping, Answer Angel flies to the rescue.
Dear Answer Angel: How do personal shoppers work? And how do I get one? Do I just go to the store's customer service department and say, "I'd like a personal shopper to go, please?" Or, do I go to the department I'm interested in (plus-size dresses, for instance) and ask there? And then what? Are you always expected to buy something? Is a tip expected? Why is this better than just browsing on my own? And, to cut to the chase, what's in it for me?
— Full of Questions
Dear Questions: Department store personal shoppers are the single-best shopping deal ever! That's because they're free. Think of them as your fairy godmothers of style — and savings.
To answer your last question first, here's what's in it for you:
A talented personal shopper — and you will soon recognize if you've found one (they vary a lot) — will suggest fashions and accessories that you'd never think to try, alert you to upcoming sales and bargains, and put together a great go-to outfit; also he or she can help you find a whole new personal style or can locate just that one perfect thing.
How to get one? Call the store and set up an appointment. You'll probably be asked to fill out a form about your sizes, preferences and whether you're looking for something special. Most personal shoppers are salaried (not on commission); that said, they have sales goals, so you should go into the process intending to buy. Tips are not expected. The personal shopper I found at Bloomingdale's is a treasure. She's saved me tons of money and time I'd have spent wandering around department stores, which these days are organized in a way that's impossible to fathom.
Dear Answer Angel: I want a short winter coat, one easy to slide in and out of cars and keep with me at concerts and restaurants so I don't have to wait around at the coat check. But still dressy enough for evenings out at nice places. Suggestions? And black, I suppose?
Dear L.W.: First of all, this is absolutely the right time to buy a winter coat. They're on sale everywhere. Don't settle for anything less than half off at this point. And, what you're looking for is what used to be called a car coat: something fingertip length (midthigh or above the knee) and not too bulky. Black is a can't-miss choice and goes from day to evening more easily than gray or camel. By the way, don't worry if the coat doesn't come to the hem of your dress. Nobody cares anymore.
Most 30-plus women are afraid to shop at places like Forever 21 because they think the clothes are too youthful. They're wrong. I saw great winter coats there (short trenches for spring too) at under $50.
Dear A.A.: Where can I go to find shirts that are lengthy enough so my midriff won't show but the shirt isn't so baggy it looks like I'm wearing an XXL? I just have a long torso!
— Emily A., Los Angeles
Dear Emily: Even people with average torsos have had trouble finding shirts that cover their stomachs. Finally, though, retailers have awakened to the fact that showing your gut is not a good look — on anyone — and tops are getting longer. Phew. So, if you haven't been shopping in a while, take another look.
But, if they're still too short, this source might surprise you: jcpenney.com, where you'll find a women's tall section with long-torso tops, among other things.
Another solution is to buy a long T-shirt or cami to wear under shorter shirts. Tuck it in to prevent peekaboo belly blunders.
Dear Answer Angel: Any tips for finding online shopping for the U.K.? My niece recently moved to London.
— Joan D.
Dear Joan: I love Brit-based Topshop, a great source of high fashion at low prices: topshop.com. More hot fashion sites are newlook.com and primark.co.uk. Other resources include somucheasier.co.uk and uk-online-store.co.uk. Or, you could fly over to London and go shopping with her, which sounds like the most fun of all!