Absolutely Fabulous

It's a fashion jungle out there unless you have the right guide

The most enlightened, anti-materialistic among us can go on about how clothes are a superficial form of expression and that concerning ourselves with what anyone wears is a sign of vapidity. Clearly these people have never worn a really great pair of jeans. Less effective than most narcotics but without the pesky comedown, clothes have a powerful mood-altering effect.

On my worst day, I can slip on my favorite Levi's, a sparkly pair of gold heels and a favorite green sweater and feel a little less like committing mass homicide in Thanks-Giving Square than if I'd walked out the door in sweats and 'flops. Who wants to get blood on a pair of vintage J. Renee pumps, anyway?

At Harriet's direction, I opened my journal to a crisp, white page and wrote down my life goals. I'd like to live in London someday. And write a book. Apparently clothes were going to help make these things happen, and here I thought it'd just require saving a lot of money, working hard and begging British customs for a visa.

Upscale department stores such as Nordstrom and Barney's offer personal shopping as a complimentary service.
Upscale department stores such as Nordstrom and Barney's offer personal shopping as a complimentary service.
Personal shopper and self-described "transformationist" Harriet Gibbe (left) combs North Dallas businesswoman's closet for clothes "fabulous" enough to make the style cut.
Personal shopper and self-described "transformationist" Harriet Gibbe (left) combs North Dallas businesswoman's closet for clothes "fabulous" enough to make the style cut.

"This is about styling your life," Harriet told me, calling the wardrobe transformation process "deeply superficial." It's not like a pair of Prada heels were going to walk themselves, with me in them, onto a London-bound airplane next week, but, Harriet said, feeling good about your clothes can make you feel good about yourself. With the wrong wardrobe, a woman could be held back from her true destiny. I loved the idea of blaming my lack of a book deal on owning the wrong pair of sandals.

The next terrifying step would be the closet analysis. Harriet would see my deepest, darkest fashion disasters, riffling through racks of pit-stained wife-beaters, faded Urban Outfitters T's and every jacket I've owned since age 15. Two strong stomachs and a couple of extra large trash bags would be required.


"Well, you certainly have a lot of fun pieces!" Harriet exclaimed as I swung open my smaller closet, home to dresses, coats and my "fancy pants," the ones that come out when I have to make an appearance in a courthouse or police station. This "smaller closet" in my East Dallas apartment, built sometime around the Battle of Hastings, is essentially a tiny pantry with a door; clothing storage is a constant problem. My "big" closet, placed oddly in my bathroom, is almost deep enough for a clothes hamper.

I wondered if her "fun pieces" exclamation really meant "you've got to be effing crazy." This was not the walk-in North Dallas closet of a recently slimmed-down homemaker or accomplished businesswoman. This was the closet of a 23-year-old who has, on various occasions, decided that furry leopard-print bolero jackets and green wool houndstooth check miniskirts were fashion necessities. Yeah, "wool" and "miniskirt." Seems a little counterintuitive to me, too, but it was way cute on the rack.

But here's the real problem: I like my clothes. I like wool miniskirts and ripped denim and dresses over jeans. I'm proud of my collection of over-the-top vintage cocktail dresses, and I can't help but think of my lime green loafers and smile. There are 53 pairs of shoes in my closet, among them hot pink high heels and argyle-print slip-on sneakers. None looks like something a young Jackie might wear, but they're me.

My fear was not that I couldn't be turned into a pulled-together, sophisticated grown-up with good taste. My fear was that I would be. Especially since, earlier, Harriet had helped me pull some style ideas out of my magazine collection, and I'd realized the thing I most wanted to look like was a model in a Gap ad for skinny black pants.

Ever since I was allowed to dress myself, I'd made it a personal crusade to look as little like a Gap ad as possible. That's how souls get sucked away. But Harriet assured me we could do a sophisticated wardrobe with flair. I wondered if Harriet knew exactly how much flair some of my clothes actually had.

Harriet pulled out one of my favorite jackets, a giant, red, fuzzy knee-length thing bought years ago at some outlet mall. I braced myself; this is the moment someone would finally come out and tell me I dress like a crazy person.

"This is fabulous!" Harriet said with a grin. "Put it on!"

Hey, I thought, I'm not a crazy person! Or, maybe Harriet's a crazy person too! Whatever the case, I modeled it proudly and Harriet nodded with approval. After that, things went like clockwork. Instead of breathing fire and sentencing me to 40 lashes when she came across something she knew wouldn't work, she'd just hold it up on the hanger.

"How do we feel about this?" she'd say, fingering an ice-blue velour zip-up hoodie circa 1996.

Well, Harriet, we feel it's freaking ugly, but we were waiting for ice-blue velour zip-up hoodies to come back in style. At the end of a frenzied hour, I had a trash bag and a half full of clothes to give away. Even then, Harriet's innate sweetness shone through: "These will become fabulous for someone else."

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