Absolutely Fabulous

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

Good luck, future owner of my ice-blue hoodie. Let me know how you manage to make it fabulous. I made a list in my transformation journal of all the things I now needed to buy: black pants, button-up shirts, a blazer. My new "uniform," per the Gap ad, was sleek and sophisticated black on bottom, white on top. This would, of course, require shopping. Not the fun, solitary kind I like to do, when no one is around to tell me not to buy a bright orange halter dress just because it's on sale, but the kind where there are multiple sizes brought into dressing rooms and talk of tailoring.

Harriet told me not to be frightened. At the end, she said, I would be happy.

"I want you to be able to walk into your closet with your eyes closed," she explained, "reach out and touch something, and be able to say, 'I am fabulous for owning this!'"

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.

My new wardrobe sounded potentially great, until she told me I'd be a perfect fit for J. Crew, and Banana Republic and Neiman Marcus would have lots of great buys during their after-Christmas sales. How clothing stores named for stuffy white guys were going to make me fabulous, get me a book deal and a flat in London, I didn't know. But everything in my transformation journal was riding on it.


My transformation, incorporating sophistication and refinement into a wardrobe Harriet would later kindly call "daring" and "delightful," is not the typical Harriet project. Nobody has to force me to buy a bright red party dress, but many of Harriet's clients come to her to increase the "fun" in a dull or dated wardrobe. Dallas businesswoman Gwenna Brush had just such a problem, and she'd already been immersed in the Harriet Gibbe experience for a couple of months when I met her at her expansive, Mediterranean-style North Dallas home.

She answered the door in a tailored black suit and a polka-dotted blouse I recognized from up-and-coming designer Tory Burch. With chin-length, fluffy blond hair and a pair of mod rectangular glasses, Gwenna didn't exactly scream "fashion disaster." What could this petite woman possibly want with Harriet? She led me back to her dressing area, where I found that Gwenna had much more than just a transformation journal. She had a transformation table, right in the middle of this gargantuan closet that made my living room look like a nook with a chair.

Under glass, Gwenna had pasted together photos of yoga pants, shots of beachfront sunsets and skies full of clouds. She wanted to relax. As the owner of her own incentive travel company, Gwenna was a nonstop woman with a schedule full of business luncheons and hours-long teleconferences. Worrying about what to put on in the morning was probably not something Gwenna was keen on stressing about, given all the other things on her plate. She needed—and, as far as I could tell, had—a simple, sophisticated wardrobe ready to mix-and-match.

But as Harriet pulled boxy jackets and lovely—but totally wrong for Gwenna—vintage suits handed down from Gwenna's mother-in-law from their hangers, I saw that the Tory Burch-clad woman standing in this closet hadn't existed a few months ago.

"I didn't have a lot of femininity," Gwenna told me, of her pre-Harriet wardrobe. "Harriet gave me permission to show my figure." A couple of months of shopping with Harriet brought home nipped-and-tucked suits and daring V-necked blouses. At first, Gwenna admitted, "I was a little scared." But a little fear goes a long way with Harriet, who thrives on taking people out of their fashion comfort zones. After all, she had me walking into stores that used actual wooden hangers to display their clothes.

Harriet and I started off our first shopping trip with a two-hour binge at NorthPark Center, where the primary destination was J. Crew for shirts and, possibly, a "fabulous" pair of black slacks. Whereas I'd have shuffled into the store, done a lap around the button-ups and decided I didn't belong in a preppy place like this, Harriet made herself a presence from the second we walked in.

"We're going to find some fabulous shirts," Harriet told the salesgirl. "And maybe some pants, but we're just going to zip around here and have a look." It took her all of two seconds to scoop up a couple of items and have a dressing room started.

Before I knew it, I was living the nightmare, trapped with rows of collared shirts blocking my only exit. As an afterthought, Harriet had added a gray sweater, which had been bunched up on the sale table doing its best to look cute. "I think this is you," she said. If I am a gray sweater, I thought, then everything I know is wrong.

But I was a gray sweater. I was a gray sweater over a blue velvet vest over a crisp white shirt. I was also a black striped shirt with that extra button undone for a little cleavage action. As I stood on a dressing stool and looked at myself in a three-way mirror with Harriet grinning behind me, I had a revelation: I was J. Crew.

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