Can expert advice from a style savvy personal shopper lift you out of your fashion rut? Well, here’s my verdict
Stuck in a fashion rut? A personal shopper can help you break free. Margaret Canning tries ones out
It's all too easy to get stuck in a rut when it comes to workwear. I should know because I've been in one for a long time. But, as a business journalist, I attend a lot of events that give me ample opportunity to check out what the corporate world is wearing.
Lately, I have noticed that a lot of women in business are wearing long, full-skirted dresses with a fitted waist, often in floral patterns. Even the most powerful businesswomen out there are rocking ultra-feminine styles.
A desire to get in on the long-skirted, floral-patterned workwear trend leads me to a personal shopper in Dublin department store Arnotts.
The brands stocked in their sprawling ladieswear department range from the high-street stalwarts such as Oasis and Warehouse to the all-conquering mid-market champions such as Mint Velvet and the higher-end designers.
Stylist Sinead immediately puts me at ease. She is down to earth, funny and, reassuringly, fetchingly dressed.
I explain that I want to dip my toe in the world of longer skirts and florals, and that I'm keen to try a bold-coloured trouser suit.
Pouring my heart out, I explain about my "navy trouser and top" rut as she nods along sympathetically.
Sinead disappears off to the rails while I relax in the private dressing room.
She returns with piles of outfits, and it's like Christmas has come early.
There are flowery dresses, a long pleated skirt, fitted tops and a bold-coloured trouser suit that banishes all my memories of bad pinstripe numbers from the 1990s.
She seems to have skilfully interpreted what will suit me, even if they're not necessarily things I would usually pick up in a shop myself. The presence of a few navy trousers and tops is reassuring.
She's gathered up clothing from a dizzying range of names including Reiss, Fenn Wright Manson, Mint Velvet, Marella, Jigsaw and Pablo. For someone like me who thinks they know a fair bit about the business of fashion retail, it's an eye-opener.
It's on with the coral-coloured skirt from Reiss (£155, reduced to £80) and the fitted top from Mint Velvet (was £49, now £19).
Sinead tells me it's lovely on me, but I'm just not convinced. Am I too set in my ways (a euphemism for old) and too worried about looking even older to embrace long pleated skirts? I'm afraid so.
Next is a flowery number, a ra-ra-style skirt from Michael Kors (was £208, now £146) that comes to the knee. I buy it even though I'm just not sure it's me. There's trap called 'thinking an item's expensiveness makes up for it not suiting you', and I've fallen headlong into it.
A pretty high-neck dress in coral colours from Fenn Wright Manson comes next (£189, reduced to £94). It's bias-cut and skims the knee, but again it takes me back to the 1990s and I'm just not comfortable in it.
A loose-fitting Jigsaw shirt (£85) featuring a blue dahlia pattern, long sleeves and big cuffs does, however, make me feel happy the minute I put it on with navy trousers from Hobbs (were £99, now £39).
It's clear that Sinead has listened to me and recognised that my navy-trouser-and-top rut has come about because it's what I feel comfortable in.
There's also a simple boat-necked ribbed white top from Mint Velvet (£64) with big brown buttons on the shoulders. I love it when I try it on.
A few neutral-coloured blazers come next. There's a dusky pink one by Pablo - a younger sister brand of French company Gerard Darel - which we agree drains the colour from my face.
A white jacket from Marella (£120) fits well, but while I can take the navy ribbon tie, the tassels are a detail too far.
Then there's a cream-coloured linen-mix blazer from Mint Velvet (£138) which I know will be a useful addition.
I instinctively roll down the sleeves, eager to avoid any Don Johnson/Miami Vice connotations, but Sinead explains that a shorter sleeve will make my arms look longer and present a better-proportioned look.
It's been such a relaxing experience to have clothes chosen for me.
Sinead tells me she's seen workplace codes of dress develop over the years, and she and the rest of the personal shopping team, led by Clara Halpin, are often called upon by top companies to give advice on dressing for work.
Going by the three items I've chosen - a Jigsaw shirt, Mint Velvet white top and cream blazer - I'm aware I haven't really broken out of my rut, but that can be a comfortable place to be.
With the personal shopping experience offered as part of a night in the chic Morgan Hotel in Temple Bar, it's a great way to feel pampered and to get some brilliant fashion advice.