“Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.” This quote from Oscar Wilde beautifully sums up the fashion industry for most men. I am no different. It seems there is something about the male brain that means we just can’t cope with the pressures and stresses of shopping. Looking round and trying to choose something that is comfortable, fits within budget and is socially acceptable is a complete nightmare.I’ve never been good at choosing my own clothes. When I was younger, it was my mother’s duty to buy me clothes and tell me what to buy. When I was in a relationship, it became the duty of my girlfriend to pick out what suited me best. However, I’m too old for my mother to buy me clothes and with no girlfriend on the scene, I was left with no choice but to leave my clothes future in the hands of someone I had never met before. I was taken under the wing of fashion ‘expert’ from Topman on Oxford Street, to embark on the difficult task of finding me one fashionable outfit that I would actually like to wear. This would answer the nagging question at the back of my head, “is it fashion I hate or is it the shopping process?”
As you can probably tell from my disdain of fashion and shopping, I’m not a ‘fashionable’ man. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that I have no style, I regularly get told by female friends of mine that my fashion sense is “safe” and “conserved”. Many of my friends say that: “you wear clothes that blend you into the background.” Of course I don’t wear army camouflage, just boring clothes that don’t make me stand out from a crowd. My clothes are the epitomy of bland. I’m currently wearing a grey (ish) jumper from the Sainsbury’s TU range; I clearly don’t care about brands. I can’t comprehend why anyone would pay upwards of £60 for a plain polo shirt, just because it has a man playing polo or a crocodile as its logo. My brain doesn’t compute. Matt, a 20-year-old shopper exiting the Lacoste shop in Portsmouth, told me, “The brand logo makes you feel better. I like the social status associated with wearing something more expensive”
I have never cared about the social status of clothes. I have always wanted to dress for myself and never really thought about what people think of my dress sense, until recently. My biggest spur on to undertake this task came from my lecturer, David. Upon declaring in a tutorial that I’m not ‘stylish’ or ‘fashionable’, David laughed out loud and agreed that my dress sense was poor. This was big motivation, considering it came from a man who wears a Lonsdale t-shirt underneath a jacket and wears a flat cap indoors! I went home that evening and booked my appointment with Topman’s ‘Personal Shopper’ service.
The morning of the shop arrived quickly. I had never felt lack of motivation like I had that day. My bed had never felt so comfortable to me. An hour of my life passed by as I had a tough mental battle just to get up and ready to leave the house. This internal contradiction between what I wanted to do and what I needed to do was the theme of the day. I know this sounds pathetic but every station my tube train pulled into I just wanted to jump out and run away. With a knot in my stomach, my tube pulled into Oxford Circus station. I climbed the stairs to the crowded Oxford Street to see a personal hell across the road. Just looking at the five floors of shopping misery that is Topshop and Topman, made the anxiety grow. I found my way to the top floor and to the door of the Topman ‘personal shopping suite’. I stood picturing a scene from E4 series The Inbetweeners, where the character Simon is forced to wear hideous pink cardigan by a shop worker. This couldn’t be me. My anxiety extended to near panic. The only thought running through my head was: “what are you doing here Nick? Why are you putting yourself through this?” After 15 minutes stood outside, I plucked up the courage to step through the double doors.
As I entered the ‘personal shopping suite’, I was told to take a seat on an horseshoe shaped sofa by a very tall, fashionable man who offered an array of drinks, from water to ‘Diet Coke’ (none of that regular Coca Cola, the extra calories won’t make you look stylish in your new Topman clothes). The two sofas took up the majority of the space in the room. Huge sections of the walls were covered in mirrors, with the remainder of the walls covered in either hideous flowered wallpaper or hideous Topman clothing. The mirrors were enough to make even me, a man who doesn’t really care how clothes look on him, feel self-conscious.
I was told by the very tall man that he was going to ring Fabricio, my personal shopper, to see how long he was going to be. Upon hearing the name ‘Fabricio’ I had images of an extremely suave Italian man, with chiseled features and a strong accent. As he entered the suite, I thought my stereotype was near perfect. A tanned man with designer stubble, wearing thick-rimmed glasses walked into the suite with a confidence about him. The stylish, good-looking man was wearing skinny chinos and a smart grey jacket, a Herringbone double-breasted blazer to be specific (yes I did look it up on the Topman website as I had no idea how to go about naming it other than smart and grey). As he approached the sofa, I stood up to shake his hand. “Hi, you must be Nick? My name’s Fabricio.” I was taken aback by the accent that I heard. Instead of hearing the voice of an Italian style expert that you might hear at Milan fashion week, I was greeted by a cockney accent more associated with Mile End than the fashion capital of Italy. Fabricio is your typical East London ‘geezer’, not just because of his cockney accent, but the sense of arrogance that he carried with it.
Fabricio’s confidence stemmed though everything he said. Instead of filling me with confidence, it made me feel worse. He discussed with me what kind of clothes I was after, my budget and my reasons for wanting a personal shopping ‘experience’. I told him that I wanted one ‘fashionable’ outfit that I could wear and feel that I wouldn’t be judged for wearing. He clarified my reasons as “peer pressure” and told me that my student budget of £50-£70 was very unrealistic. “You should be looking at around £200 to get an outfit in here,” he told me sternly. I felt like I was being told off by a school teacher, not trying to find some clothes with a shop worker. I managed to convince Fabricio that my budget was small due to being a student and having little disposable income. He said he would see what he could do for £80-£100.
We walked the length of the store as he quizzed me on what I like to wear. I mentioned that I normally prefer looser jeans, bootcut or straight leg, rather than skinny jeans. I said I was willing to try anything on though, no matter my previous preconceptions. Upon hearing this, his face lit up. “See Nick, I agree with your decision. I don’t think skinny jeans would suit you, but I’m going to pick up these slim jeans for you to try.” We carried on walking around the shop floor. Fabricio tried to give me a lesson in how to shop effectively, cheaply and still look good, “Alright Nick, what I’m doing here is trying to pick the more plain, cheaper products and match them with the more expensive products. So here (he picked up a t-shirt that was very plain, so therefore I liked) this is an example of a cheap product that’s quite boring. What I’m going to do is match it to an expensive cardigan.” As he said the word cardigan, my heart sank. I had visions of the bright pink cardigan that Simon wore on the Inbetweeners being picked to match the plain white t-shirt. I was very relieved when the cardigans he picked were grey-ish (the same colour as my TU jumper) and dark blue, two colours I actively choose to wear. I hate to admit it, but I liked Fabricio picking clothes for me.
However, my short spell of happiness quickly washed over. It was time to return to the suite to try on the items that had been selected for me. Trying clothes on is one of the worst aspects of shopping. I felt I regressed back to the age of 12 in the changing room. Fabricio shouting, “how are you getting on?” reminded me of my mum taking me shopping when I was a child. She always insisted on getting me to show her what the clothes look like on, so my hatred probably stems from that. He got me to try on all the clothes in a variety of different combinations. I grew tiresome and stressed by the changing process very quickly. But, after 55 minutes of my ‘experience’, Fabricio had decided his recommendation. He put me in the slim jeans; a red, white and blue hooped fitted t-shirt and the dark blue cardigan and declared in a condescending tone, “that’s all I can do for you on that budget!”
Feeling out of my comfort zone and bored by the process, I was unimpressed with the outfit I had been recommended. Fabricio noticed this, “Do you even like this stuff Nick? You don’t seem very comfortable or enthusiastic about it.” I wasn’t overly happy, but decided to buy them anyway, knowing I could always return them later. He also recommended that I visit the Vans show shop and buy myself a nice pair of ‘off the wall’ Vans (the more stylish, less comfortable version of the shoes I was wearing at the time).
My final bill for three items of clothing was £83 (minus the 10% student discount), taking me just above my original budget. While at the checkout, Fabricio recalled the “peer pressure” that had driven me to Topman, “Nick, if you learn anything from this then I want it to be this, you should never let anyone tell you what to wear or that what you wear isn’t good enough.” Excuse me? Isn’t that what his job stems around, useless men like me asking him what they should buy from a shop? He continued, “When I was your age, I was wearing tracksuit trousers and hoodies everywhere. Look at me now, I’m 30 and am stylish. It’s all about confidence, if you have confidence in yourself and what you are wearing, then you will be ok.”
Leaving the shop having taken in Fabricio’s wisdoms, I felt a great sense of relief. Not just because it was over, but the experience wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Yes, during the personal shop experience you are expected to spend a substantial amount of money, but for those as useless as I am at shopping, it is useful. It takes half of the stresses out of shopping. Without the worrying about what to look for, the shopping experience is, almost, more enjoyable. Even if it still doesn’t make shopping enjoyable, it is certainly a more productive ‘experience’.
But what about the clothes I bought? It kills me to say this, but I actually like them and have kept them. Not only do I enjoy the look of them, they are comfortable to wear. I’m not alone in liking them either. I have received compliments about my new outfit from people who had no idea about my ‘experience’. Testing my outfit at my friend’s birthday drinks, I felt as though I wasn’t just blending into the background. My friend commented saying, “I wish my boyfriend would wear this kind of thing, it looks really nice.”
This experience was an eye opener. Perhaps Oscar Wilde and I were wrong. Maybe fashion isn’t “a form of ugliness”, but the hassles of the shopping process that is the ugly part of the fashion industry.