I’m rubbish at buying clothes. I’m the sort of person that buys the first thing they see knowing it probably won’t even fit, just to escape the floodlit hell of clothes shopping. I think it’s a bit like going to the gym; part of the discomfort comes from the feeling that everyone else knows what they’re doing. You incur their derision as you trespass on their territory, pathetically croaking on a treadmill. That’s probably why most people don’t use their gym memberships, and why I can’t face the thought of clothes shopping. Don’t worry, it’s not like I’m walking around in a pillow case, just that all my clothes are hand-me-downs, more than five years old, my girlfriend’s, or a combination thereof. So, when the opportunity came to be styled at the retail cathedral that is John Lewis, I was all a flutter. I might as well have been asked to commentate a football match in Elvish.
Will they take one look at me, choke on their espresso martinis and nonchalantly escort me to the escalator? I imagined that they’d immediately assume there’d been some kind of mistake; that elsewhere a debonair chap called Tony Handly was quietly fuming at the snub. I was nervous. But then I realised – who better to have a go at this than your ramshackle correspondent? After all, fit people don’t need the gym and healthy people don’t go to the doctors. I need style, personal style. I was to report to John Lewis after work, to the dauntingly Orwellian-sounding ‘Experience Desk’.
They were expecting me. I was passed from person to person through John Lewis’ shiny, labyrinthine halls until we reached the personal styling department. My pulse began to gather pace. This was all a mistake – I shouldn’t be here, ‘Lo siento, no hablo inglés’ began to well up in my throat. Enter my stylists, Bev and Mechac.
I blinked, and before I could say ‘Karl Lagerfeld’ I was sitting in a plush booth with a coffee, having a cosy, pleasant chat about my work, my style (that I didn’t know I had) and what I wanted to get out of it all. Much in the same way that a therapist coaxes you towards an underlying malaise, Bev and Mechac guided me towards my predilections: I like to stay just on the casual side of smart-casual, I like simple clothes and I like to be comfortable – most of all though, I need flexibility in my wardrobe. I want to be able to reconfigure the same set of items for work, play and party. Essentially, I’m lazy – but I don’t want to look like I am.
Bev and Mechac were incredibly reassuring and utterly non-judgemental. They told me how they’ve had some clients leave in floods of redemptive tears; such is the lease of confidence afforded by their aesthetic insights. They bounced between each other like a pair of national treasures from an evening soap. They finished each other’s sentences as they described the job, their approaches and backgrounds. I wish I’d recorded some, it was wonderful. And my God do they know their stuff. When talking footwear Mechac guessed my shoe size – not as a party trick, he just knew. I imagined he’s got some equivalent of the Terminator’s vision, where instead of ‘MATCH: TARGET ACQUIRED’, he sees ‘SIZE: 9 WAIST: 30 LEG: 32’.
The shoes were the first things I latched onto: a pair of navy John Lewis & Partners Jonah Chukka Boots.
As soon as I was in them I felt a little burst of self-belief creep up my spine. Picked out to match them were some Ted Baker wool suit trousers that fitted preposterously well. I’ve always found trousers to be either too long on the leg or too tight around the waist – not these. The gorgeous signature lining and luxurious material make them a joy to wear.
Another of the looks picked out for me before I arrived was like something out of Casino Royale. It consisted of an emerald, slim fit velvet dress jacket by Kin (a John Lewis own-brand), an extra fine merino wool roll neck (also by John Lewis), skinny black jeans and a pair of Dune double-buckle monk shoes. It’s the kind of outfit that goes best with champagne and perhaps a few hands of poker with Le Chiffre – stunning.
There are five types of appointment on offer: holiday, special occasion, workwear, wardrobe refresh and perfect pair of jeans. They’re free to book and I can’t recommend them highly enough; especially if you don’t think of yourself as the kind of person that ought to be in such a situation. They can also be given as gifts, so with Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day coming up, I daresay John Lewis’ personal stylists have you covered.
I walked away with a bag of fantastic new clothes but more importantly, I left armed with a better sense of myself and my style. Bev and Mechac showed me that choosing clothes is rewarding and that there’s no need to feel out of place or embarrassed. John Lewis’ Autumn/Winter collections are also excellent. Their own-brand products are of exceptional quality; my favourite of which, Kin, has everything you need if you want to maximise your wardrobe’s flexibility. It goes to show that often, all you need in life is a helping hand and a friendly face, and that’s definitely not something you can get online.