Who knows their style?

Posted by Jill Chivers in Fashion, Style and Shopping, Shopping Strategies

I’ve been wondering about the nature of style for decades.  It fascinates me. Where does style come from?  Who gets to determine what it is?  How is it that some of us come to know what we love when it comes to style, and others of us never feel confident?  And what on earth is a mui mui and who gave it such an absurd name?

Recently I was fortunate enough to meet a successful boutique owner and took the opportunity to do a little market research.  What I’m about to share with you was not  a double blind study conducted under laboratory conditions, I confess.  But what she shared with me about women and style was fascinating.

First, some brief background.  This is a boutique that stocks its shelves 2 – 4 times a year.  It is not in the H&M, Top Shop and Zara category of restocking weekly — a claim to fame those stores use as a way of luring customers in often, boasting that “there’s always something new and exciting in our stores”.

This boutique services a wide geography, with women shopping there from the local region and as far away as the capital cities of Australia.  It’s not a trendy boutique, nor a cheap and cheerful throwaway style boutique, nor a high-end couture-label only boutique.  It throws a wide net.  And catches a lot of fish.

Here’s a summary of the most fascinating facts she shared with me:

What women spend and how often they shop

  • Their biggest spenders spend on average $1000 – $1500 per month.  Every month, throughout the year.
  • On average, women leave their boutique having purchased between $300 – $700 worth of clothing per shopping expedition.
  • Most of their customers are loyal, repeat customers, who shop there every 4 – 6 weeks.

So the average woman shopping at this boutique spends around $5000 a year, with the top spenders doubling and tripling that.  These women are shopping regularly, roughly once a month.  Ordinary, working, every day fish – that’s who this boutique is catching.

Who knows their style?

I asked her how many women come into her boutique who really know their own style.  She broke it down this way, with the result being a skewed bell curve:

  • About 10% of women know their style.  These women are confident about what looks good on them, and feel capable of deciding on what styles, colours, textures, shapes and combinations suit them, and work for them.
  • About 30 – 40% of women have no confidence when it comes to knowing what looks good on them.  These women literally want to be instructed on what to wear – they feel they have no skill in deciding on what styles, colours, textures, shapes and combinations suit them.  Without this degree of specific instruction, these shoppers would be lost – they’d have no idea where to start or what to buy, and they’d likely leave the store purchase-less, or with bags full of ‘orphans’ that don’t go with anything else they already own, and don’t suit them or make them feel good.  Ouch!
  • The remainder (50 – 60%) lie somewhere in the middle.  These women range from being fairly clear on what they like and are open to the occasional suggestion …. through to being not so confident in what suits them and being much more suggestible in the choices they should make.

What this tells us is that up to 90% of women, at least those who visit these kinds of boutiques and assuming these customers are somewhat representative, do not know what suits them on a consistent basis.

On any given day, up to 90% of women will not feel confident in or capable of making clothing and outfit choices based on what suits them. Sure, some days some women will feel somewhat confident and capable in their outfit choice.   But it’s patchy.  Some days it’ll be yes, some days it’ll be no, and many days it’ll be maybe.

Sometimes city. I’ve conducted many of these kinds of non laboratory research sessions over the last 20 years.  These are discussions held over lunch, over coffee, over red wine and canapes.  I’ve asked friends and colleagues and relatives and women who’ve stopped by the table:  Tell me about your style – do you know what suits you?  And the answer I most often get is: sometimes.

These women say that Sometimes I know what looks good and feels good on me.  And sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I feel great in what I’ve chosen, and other days I feel dowdy, or fat, or ugly, or uncomfortable, or ‘not me’.

For many women — dare I say most — clothing appears to be a random event, with it being equally likely that she’ll end up feeling and looking terrific as it is that she’ll be uncomfortable and strained in what she’s chosen for the day.

Trés désolant!  And the truly sad thing is: it doesn’t have to be that way.  The information you need to make consistently good choices for your body, your lifestyle, your wardrobe and your personality is available.  You don’t have to guess.  You don’t have to wonder if today is going to be a “good outfit” day.  Every day can be a Great Outfit Day.  If you know how.

Many women who join the My Year Without Clothes Shopping program want to learn how to make consistently better choices in what they wear.  This is one of the reasons the program is structured the way it is — addressing the 6 pieces of the overshopping puzzle.

Tell me why… again.  If you’ve been an overspender, this is one issue that is often unaddressed.  Even if you get your money issues sorted out, if you get your emotional issues sorted out, and you’ve organised your wardrobe beautifully, and done every other thing to create a healthy relationship to shopping:  if you do not know how to shop strategically for your specific body, lifestyle and personality – you still won’t be able to shop consciously.

What suits you is a simple skill set that we are not taught as girls and young women.  And it leads many women down the overshopping path.  They continue to shop and shop, hoping to replicate “successful” outfits but never really knowing what made those items work in the first place.

They continue to buy and buy, adding more and more to their wardrobes, often ending up with the “I have all these clothes – how can it BE that I have nothing I love to wear?” frustrating feeling.   And there’s the nub:  there’s nothing they love to wear, despite the plethora of clothes they possess.

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