It started with social media, as so many stories begin these days. A friend and colleague posted a link on Facebook, proclaiming, "I'm officially a rabid fan." I clicked, intrigued, and my very own wish fulfillment fantasy unfolded in front of me until I could click no more. The link took me to Stitch Fix, a styling service that delivers handpicked clothing to your doorstep, five items at a time. Within an hour, I had a shipment scheduled to arrive at the earliest possible date. I was giddy with anticipation.
According to testimonials featured on the site, women love the service for any number of reasons: no more trying to fit dressing room time into busy work/travel/childcare schedules, joined by choruses of "Wow, I never would have picked this for myself, but I love it!" and "It's like Christmas in [insert month here]!"
Why was I seduced? Because I hate shopping, both online and in the flesh. Hunting through clothing racks, trying on different styles, putting guilty pleasure purchases on the credit card -- none of that appeals to me. I can take about 30 minutes of retail environments before I get grumpy, petulant, frustrated, and generally unpleasant to be around. I consider emerging from a dress shop without anything to show for my time spent inside a personal victory over capitalism.
The problem is, I still need clothes. Not shopping means wearing things past the point of professionalism, still looking like an art student four years after graduating. I need help, and Stitch Fix was offering it to me in the most appealing way. With minimal effort on my part, someone would do all the dirty work of finding clothes long enough for my 6'1" frame and effectively tell me what to wear and how to wear it. It's personal shopper meets Task Rabbit, without any pesky face-to-face interaction.
So when my first "Fix" arrived (a questionable reference to shopaholicism?), optimism prevailed over my natural inclination towards cynicism. "I hope you enjoy your first fix!" read the card from my new stylist (XO, Heather). Nestled inside the package were three tops, one skirt, and an infinity scarf -- each more preposterously unflattering and ill-suited for me than the last. I was offended -- didn't Heather know me? Couldn't she see that I would never, ever, wear a front-twist top with a faux leather detail across the shoulders?
Duh, Sarah. She can't see you! I turned to self-blame. Somewhere in that 50 part online questionnaire I must have misrepresented myself. Did I get my personal style wrong? Stitch Fix operates within seven categories: Bohemian Chic, Casual Chic, Classic, Edgy, Glamorous, Preppy, and Romantic. Maybe I didn't really know what I wanted to "flaunt" or "keep covered." Maybe my price points were too low to get anything but stretchy, synthetic, strange clothing.
Where had I gone wrong? In my disappointment I realized just how much I had been hoping for Stitch Fix to be some sort of miracle find. As I packaged up the clothing meant for someone else, I turned to an old friend with years of professional styling experience for her take on the service.
"I will admit that I think it cheapens the process of styling," she wrote to me by email. "But I'm biased, obviously." Without spending time with a person, seeing how they choose their own clothes and arrange them on their body, she explained, the stylist has very little to go on. If styling creates a narrative through selection and combination, the Stitch Fix process would lead to piecemeal, generalized items.
And as for my role in the entire twist top debacle? "Most women (and people) don't know how to talk about their bodies," she explained. "There is an entirely different language that regular folk use when they are describing their bodies than the people who dress them do."
That was it! When I chose "less is more, keep it covered" in regards to my midriff, I thought I was ruling out crop tops, a style I am decidedly unwilling to experiment within. Heather (or the robots behind Stitch Fix) potentially read this as waistline insecurity, leading to three flowy, blousy tops that could easily blend in with the maternity wear at Target.
My friend's final point got to the heart of my disappointment. When I opened the Stitch Fix box, I wanted to be taken out of my comfort zone in a good way. "It's being too faithful to your words, or the portrait of yourself (verbal or otherwise) that you provided them," she wrote. "I don't want to make it seem like real life stylists aren't listening, but they know when to stop listening to you, look you up and down, and pick something unexpected. Nine times out of ten, that is the thing you'll want."
So instead of writing Stitch Fix off as a $20 experiment (the styling fee for each shipment, absorbed into the cost of the items you decide to keep), I revamped my profile. I now prefer to avoid faux leather, "love to flaunt" my midsection, and when it comes to "adventurous" Fixes, I told Heather to bring it.
My advice for those equally intrigued by this service is to provide the stylists and algorithms behind Stitch Fix with as much information as possible. They will look to your Linkedin, Twitter, and Pinterest accounts for inspiration if you choose to share those profiles. And instead of going it alone -- have a friend sit down with you to answer questions like "how would you characterize your proportions." Because if there's one thing I learned from Stitch Fix, it's that no woman is an island. We may have eliminated the dressing room, but you still need a second pair of eyes to reflect what a mirror (or a digital interaction) cannot.
Now that my relationship to the service has morphed from curious excitement to writing assignment to semi-sociological study, I've actually started looking at clothes -- and the dreaded specter of shopping -- in a different way. Finding attire that makes you feel professional, confident, well dressed and in control is an empowering experience. And while I'll never have the patience or the budget to shop till I drop, it's time to admit clothes are a facet of identity. The better I know myself and what I want to project via my wardrobe, the less tortuous the prospect of making these decisions will become.
To try Stitch Fix out for yourself, or purchase a gift card for a lady in your life, visit stitchfix.com.