Personal stylists have been forced to adapt their services, writes Meadhbh McGrath, and are focusing on online sessions
Lockdown has been a wakeup call, forcing us to stop and reevaluate many aspects of our lives: our routines, our careers, our relationships, even our wardrobes. It may seem frivolous in the context of everything else going on in the world, but organising our closets can offer a way to recharge and refresh - in the style department, at least.
Plus, the pandemic has fundamentally altered the way many women relate to their clothes. It's brought further into focus the needless consumption of the fast fashion industry, prompting consumers to rethink where and how they spend their money, with many looking to help small, local businesses over multinational corporations, and to shop their own wardrobes instead of adding to them.
Personal stylists, like all the other gig workers, have had to adapt their services to survive. With business drastically reduced and major occasions such as weddings and the summer event season called off, stylists are focusing on virtual sessions.
Mairin Ni Bheachain, of MoStyle.ie, has started using Zoom for the first time since the lockdown began, and has found it surprisingly efficient.
"Before this began, I worked with clients who didn't live in Ireland or in Dublin, and we communicated via emails and phone calls," she says. "The Zoom thing has been a new thing for me, and I've had a couple of bookings, and it's actually been really good.
"I was running an offer for remote styling - 20 minutes for €30, very affordable, because I hadn't worked this way before. If people needed more time, they could book in for more."
Mairin asks clients to fill in a style survey online before the call, with questions on what they want their style to be and which celebrity's style they admire, to "get to the nub of what they're looking for".
"For example, if they're looking for workwear items, they bring the items that they have and show them to me on Zoom, and based on that, based on the survey and based on the information in the call, I can go and hunt for the clothes they're looking for, in their size, from companies that have free delivery and free returns. That has worked quite well, and that's something I probably will continue even post-Covid, because it saves time, and it's more immediate."
Laura Jordan of StyleSavvy.ie launched an online service in April 2019, which she says has been "an absolute godsend" since the shutdown kicked in.
"We used to just do online shopping, and we moved into doing online image consults, which are proving to be more popular, because people are more interested in finding out what suits them and what they should buy than just spending money, and I suppose that's the difference we've had to pivot towards," she explains.
She says that pre-Covid, her schedule was 70pc in-person appointments, and StyleSavvy had a waiting list of three weeks, where she could meet two clients a day. Now, Laura says, she can meet four or five clients a day online. She has adjusted her pricing, reducing the €195 fee for an online consultation to €145 because, she says, "I didn't want to look to be making a gain from a pandemic".
Clients complete a questionnaire and submit a short video of their wardrobe as well as a full-length picture before an hour-long Zoom call where Laura talks through the contents of their wardrobe and their goals for the wardrobe they want. Afterwards, she compiles a list of suggested purchases as well as a tailored style guide, delivered via email within 48 hours of the call.
She notes that she is seeing two main types of clients: those who want to focus their spend online, and those looking to reevaluate their wardrobe.
"We act as the bridge between the shop and your style, so you don't buy things that you regret afterwards. I think at the moment, a deliveryman arriving is a highlight of the day. You open the parcel, you try on, and if what you receive doesn't fit or doesn't suit, at the moment that is a disproportionate disappointment in your day, and that becomes a serious chore," she observes.
"A lot of our newer customers are saying, 'I'm happy to shop online, but I'm making so many mistakes here, and I'm sick of orders arriving that are not what I thought they would be or that I don't need, so I'd rather spend a bit of money on having advice that gives me focused shopping.'"
The image consults, meanwhile, are primarily clients who want to invest in filling the gaps in their existing wardrobe.
"They want to put some money and time into their image because it's something they're not really happy with. The quick-fix buy is not cost-efficient - am I going to buy one floral dress that I can wear for one garden gathering? No, I want to buy something that will stand the test of the time, and that's particularly important for our image clients, who are saying, 'I might consider a career move' or 'I might consider online dating'; this is the time for me to align my priorities and an enhanced personal image that I feel great about is a part of that process."
And lest you feel virtual styling is a second-rate option to in-person appointments, virtual styling is a common solution for celebrities with hectic schedules and in-demand stylists based abroad.
Angie Smith has been styling Holly Willoughby from afar since moving to Australia last year, and Corina Gaffey often styles Vogue Williams from her home in Dublin.
"I always would have virtually styled Vogue anyway, because she's based in the UK and I'm in Ireland, so she would send me pictures through WhatsApp or we'd do video calls, and I think it can work a lot of the time virtually," says Corina, who combines celebrity styling with editorial work on magazine shoots and ad campaigns.
She points out that virtual styling has its limits, namely that it's more difficult to nudge clients out of their comfort zone and into a new direction when you're working across a screen.
"I think you're losing some of the creativity - a stylist is there to push the boundaries. I know those restrictions from styling Vogue virtually as well. She's there, she's touching the stuff, she knows how it feels on her, I'm seeing it through a screen and at the end of the day, she's going to pick what she feels comfortable in. Even though I might think something is the better choice, it comes down to how you feel when you're wearing it. When you're not there in person, you can't convince them as much."
"In terms of the practical side of things, I don't get to see outfits on the person in real time, so it's trickier to edit," adds Laura. "That said, we've seen that people are considering the purchase very carefully. And it's more convenient - I love being in shops, but I've heard clients say, 'This is so easy! I don't have to leave my house, I'm on the sofa, I'm not queuing or trying anything on or sitting in traffic. This is so handy, I'm never going back to shopping with you in a store.'
"It's quite literally hassle-free shopping. I've always said that my job is to do the running for you, and this takes it to the next level because you're literally sitting at home."