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Meet the e-stylists: Personal styling in the ecommerce age

Being styled by a stranger you’ve never met may seem a rather frightening prospect, but online personal styling is becoming increasingly popular. A raft of services has sprung up from established etailers and new companies alike, offering time-strapped consumers help navigating and streamlining the often crippling range of product choice available online. Like the subscription retail format that’s exploded in recent years (think Birchbox et al.), it’s a solution that ‘edits down the noise’ as well as delivering a feel-good, luxurious boost for little or no cost – after all, time with personal shoppers was once the preserve of VIPs alone.

As an avid online shopper I was curious about this trend, so I decided to entrust my hard-earned cash with a stylist I’d never met.

My online styling journey began with ASOS. The site recently launched a service whereby a variety of stylists (both men and women) are available for online chats to help you find what you’re looking for. You can follow them on Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter and they also regularly post videos; in fact, it’s like having a stylist as the friend you never quite knew you had.

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After looking at which stylists had the style most similar to mine, I settled on a guy called James and we began talking. I handed over my size details and a summary of what I was looking for, and he created a live mood board of clothes with me, pulling out things I might like from the site that I could either ‘dismiss’ or ‘like’. He did a brilliant job and I ended up buying some jeans he’d picked. I’ve now started following James on Instagram and Twitter where he makes some great recommendations on fashion and lifestyle. A win-win service.

Moving to the premium end of ecommerce, I next investigated Mr. Porter’s version to find something to wear to a red carpet event. Mr. Porter offers an online live chat with one of their ‘experts’, but whether they are stylists or not is unclear. The chat was pleasant enough and I did end up buying a shirt, but the anonymity of the process ultimately left me feeling a little cold. Considering how much I paid for my APC shirt, I felt a little let down.

Another interesting service I’ve discovered is The Chapar. I read about this a year ago in The Independent and came across it again recently on Twitter. Set up by a British father and son, Joe and Sam Middleton (the father having spent 20 years working for Levi’s) The Chapar offers a simple styling service aimed at shoppers aged 27-plus, tailored for you and your lifestyle. You receive a ‘trunk’ filled with clothes that you can keep or return. What’s more, it’s free. I decided to give it a go…

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The Chapar trunk. Image courtesy of The Science of Appearance.

After filling in the registration process – telling them my job title, the type of shopper I was, my personal taste, and what styles and colours I like – I set a time that suited me for Angela, one of their menswear specialist stylists, to give me a call for a more detailed consultation. I also emailed over my picture, and was left feeling very excited about my ‘trunk’ being delivered the next day. It arrived packed with 18 items, including shoes, jackets, sweaters, hats, denim and chinos, from a variety of brands (Woolrich, Scotch & Soda, Ben Sherman, Dockers). Some were good, some weren’t so much to my taste. One item I already owned, so considering Angela had never met me she did a decent job. She’s now sending another trunk to me after I fed back my thoughts.

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The Chapar trunk. Image courtesy of The Picnic Project.

Out of all three services, I was surprised to find ASOS wins hands down. Overall, I think they have managed to get the balance right: a service that’s personal while being fast and easy to use. Being able to choose a stylist based on their own style and taste, watch Youtube clips of them making recommendations, and follow them on social media all really helps you connect with that individual. It feels like you’re getting a bespoke service, and that you’ve even made a new friend. So if you need any styling advice, I recommend checking out James at ASOS and following his Instagram page – it’s full of great recommendations and ideas. @asos_jamesw

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