Absolutely Fabulous

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

The Barney's personal shopping dressing room, bigger than most efficiency apartments, was designed by celebrity decorator Jonathan Adler. His irreverent style—gray, fuzzy rugs and powder-blue walls with low-seated lime green chairs—says, "We're freaking posh, and we're going to have a long laugh about it in these $2,000 boots. Muah."

If you're browsing the racks, you're not getting half the actual Barney's shopping experience. For the serious customer, personal shopper Paula Acosta, who handles more than 800 clients, sets up champagne or even brunch in the dressing room. She pulls outfits from Comme des Garçons and French fashion house of legend, Vionnet. Marc Jacobs, Miu Miu and Diane von Furstenberg are all at her fingertips. After all, anyone who's thinking of spending $800 on a party dress doesn't spend 10 minutes searching for her size. She sits in the little green chairs and waits for Paula to bring in her precious size 6.

Paula's a very busy woman, though, and while she's off running around the store, I'm left alone in the dressing room. Just outside the doorway, a floral-print Peter Soronen dress sits prettily on a shiny white mannequin. This is a one-of-a-kind frock, printed in two colors. The New York Barney's got black and white, and Soronen did the colorful print just for Dallas.

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.

It is $3,690, roughly equivalent to my yearly salary after deducting whiskey and Taco Bell costs. I am rather scared of it. I peer down the hall at its perfect, corseted waist and poofy skirt. It's gorgeous, and it makes my $90 pants seem like sad little sacks of stitches. What would Harriet do? She'd visualize her fabulousness. So I do a little twirl in the giant floor-to-ceiling mirror and grin at my $7 thrift store blazer.

I may not have any $3,690 dresses in my closet, but I can go in it—OK, stand outside—with my eyes closed, reach out and touch something, and say "I'm fabulous for owning this." Even if I happen to grab that seersucker-striped button-up from J. Crew.

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