By Diana Mansour
Driving her Mercedes-Benz, celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe pulls up to long-time friend Michael Kors Los Angeles store to pick out dresses for client Joy Bryant. After looking at some sketches, she chooses her favorites and discuses the future of her fledgling brand with her pal. Zoe then proceeds to Decades, one of the world’s largest vintage stores, for more shopping.
Five years ago, the television network Bravo aired the first episode of the The Rachel Zoe Project and everything changed. The world was exposed to the lifestyle of celebrity stylists like Zoe, and soon, young women everywhere wanted this career. It was the Rachel Zoe Effect.
Styling became a phenomenon very quickly. The appeal is clear. Stylists get to shop, prepare photo shoots, advise the wealthy and powerful on their wardrobes choices, even style famous names for high-profile events, like Zoe does in her show. But it’s not all as glamorous as it seems.
Fashion and Style Editor for the FortWorth Star-Telegram Jenny Davis says, “Young people underestimate the time it takes, and how much work you have to do for free to keep up your portfolio.”
Contrary to popular belief, for an editorial stylist like Davis, an average day does not always include an photo shoot with models and million-dollar dresses. Davis says it’s a lot more than just studio work. She spends more much more time “sourcing, scouting, arranging pulls and returning” than she does on set. The shoot is one day, but prepping for the shoot can take weeks. After the shoot is over, returning the items can take days driving around the city.
Editorial styling is not just about loving fashion. It’s more about creating an image that achieves a specific goal. “It’s important to know fabric, how it photographs, how it can be safety pinned,” Davis says. “[It’s] knowing to size up on boots, but size double up on French brands, how to pad bras, cheat seams, how to use putty on fine jewelry, what sorts of stain removers to stock in your kit, etc.”
New Return Policies:
Of course, buying expensive clothes can be fun when you know you can return them for full price. Well, that’s about to change, thanks to stricter regulations by some high-end department stores.
For instance, Bloomingdale’s, a retailer owned by the multinational corporation Macy’s Inc., recently decided to implement stricter return policies and also guard dresses with a plastic badge in each garment’s hem. The badge must be removed in order to wear the dress because it is fully visible otherwise. It is intended to prevent people from purchasing expensive evening wear for fancy events and then returning the garments after they have been worn.
In 2012, the National Retail Federation said that 65 percent of retailers experienced wardrobing fraud — where clothing is purchased, worn and then returned to the store.In fact, according to the NRF, wardrobing fraud has risen by 40 percent since 2009 — at a cost to the fashion industry of $8.8 billion last year alone.
Bloomingdale’s officials have not openly commented on the new clasps. But customers have complained in the media and to the store. One customer with the Twitter name of MatiLDA said her dress was ruined while trying to remove the badge and she can no longer return it. Other in-store customers were confused with the new practice.
Dallas counts only two Bloomingdale’s outlet stores — one at The Shops at Park Lane Outlet and another at the Grand Prairie Premium Outlets — in the area. But stylists say they have still been affected by the practice. Online purchases come with a Web Id number that notify the customer their purchase comes with a badge.
“I get it. I really do,” says Tamara Gaudin, freelance wardrobe stylist. “It’s really frustrating for a store to have you take out thousands of dollars of merchandize and [then] return it.”
This is particularly bad news for stylists, who now have to be smart about their returns.
“Sometimes I mix personal purchases with styling purchases, so I don’t have to return the entire lot,” says Davis.
Being smart about returns helps stylists maintain good relationships with stores and also avoid restocking fees when they are buying on a budget.
Even though this new sensor by Bloomingdales has not caught on with other department stores, some like the Spanish retailer Zara have adopted similar strict return policies and even implemented a restocking fee for editorial and/or personal stylists.
Caroline Slattery, a recent SMU grad and founder of SMU’s Hilltop Stylists, who now does styling in New York, believes these stricter policies send customers to other stores.
“I haven’t experienced new return policies, but that sounds awful,” she says. “I think stricter return policies would turn away customers, especially those who aren’t sure of what they want to purchase.”
Stylists might look for boutiques or smaller stores to shop for the same brand-name items. However, this isn’t always a good alternative. Gaudin says speciality stores don’t work the same way as department stores. Most boutiques have return policies where customers can only exchange for other items or accept store credit. In the case of stylists, this is money they basically can’t get back.
As wardrobing becomes a bigger threat to department stores, Davis says, she has noticed that some retailers “require more extensive verifications [like] very specific and current letters of recommendation, credit card numbers and verifications of employment” to loan stylists clothes.
Sorry ladies. Getting ahold of the clothing and accessories you need to become the next celebrity stylist just got that much harder.