There were no ticker-tape parades to mark it, but in 1971 American women won a major victory – over fashion designers. That was the year of the midi, and the financial beating the denizens of Seventh Avenue sustained taught them that women would no longer be dictated to. However, the victory was not unalloyed; it brought freedom, but it also brought problems.
Until then mother, a friend, or a designer had told a woman what to wear, when to wear it, how long to wear it, and what to wear with it. Now she was on her own. At about the same time, more and more women had to learn how to dress for the working world instead of the bridge club circuit. More complications, more decisions.
Some found knowledgeable and dedicated salespersons who could be relied on for advice. But personalized service was a luxury many stores couldn’t afford.
In Dallas, three women recognized the need for professional help, and began individual businesses as wardrobe consultants. The title sounds a bit intimidating, and it’s not entirely self-explanatory: Quite simply, a wardrobe consultant is someone who helps a woman establish her own style.
That’s not as easy as it sounds. Ann Smoller, Joan Campbell, and Phyllis Featherstone not only must impart a lifetime’s worth of fashion advice; they must serve as confidantes, and never condescend when a woman confesses that she hasn’t a bit of clothes sense, something she might not dare admit to her best friend. With Ann, Joan, or Phyllis, there’s a professional relationship like the one between doctor and patient or lawyer and client. Ann, Joan, and Phyllis don’t even divulge who their clients are, much less any fashion weaknesses they may have.
Each of these wardrobe consultants spent many years in the fashion business learning about clothes and how to deal with individual customers and their particular problems.
Ann Smoller was probably the first wardrobe consultant in Dallas. She retired from Neiman-Marcus in 1975 after 25 years as just about everything – buyer, merchandiser, department manager, and fashion consultant in apparel and accessories. She began “Ann Randall,” a Neiman-Marcus personal shopping and advising service.
Ann retired because she felt that the sheer numbers of stores opening in Dallas demanded someone who could educate women to choose the best from each of them. She paid particular attention to career women with little time to shop and possibly just as little knowledge of what to shop for.
“Dallas has always been a city of opportunities,” she says. “I could do something that had never been done in Dallas before.”
Phyllis Featherstone, another N-M alumna, started as a model, and became the fashion sales coordinator for the Greenhouse, presenting weekly fashion shows and providing individual fashion counseling for women staying at the spa.
“Stanley Marcus gave me guidelines on personalized service,” Phyllis says. She began working with clients on her own time, and sometimes flew as far away as Canada. Even when she became a buyer for Marie Leavell and later went on to Sanger Harris as department group manager for the specialty shop, she continued her private services.
When she opened Featherstone, her own small specialty shop, wardrobe consulting was a natural service to provide, even when it meant recommending stores other than her own.
“If I knew who had the right thing for them, I told them,” she says. “It’s their business where they spend their money.”
Joan Campbell’s only connection with the retail world, besides her parents’ dress shops in Indianapolis, was as a model, her profession since she was 15. For the last 10 years she’s modeled at lunch in La Creperie, Chablis, and Mr. Jack’s for Handel’s.
She’s now added Mimi’s and elan to her hectic schedule, wearing clothes from the Gazebo that “bring out the gypsy in me.” She’s an old hand around fashion, and sometimes works with a designer from the draping stage on. She developed a good eye for color and proportion as an art major with aspirations for fashion illustration.
“Women are hungry for fashion information. They read a lot of magazines, but as far as applying what they read to themselves, they don’t know how.” So Joan began passing out cards as a wardrobe consultant last summer.
Ann, Phyllis, and Joan all begin the consultant relationship, whether with someone who can afford almost anything or with someone who’s on a very tight budget, with a trip to the client’s home to organize the wardrobe that’s already in her closet. The charge is $25 an hour.
They organize the garments by season, and then group together blouses, skirts, jackets, pants, etc. Some pieces are weeded out if the color is wrong for the client or if, for one reason or another, it won’t be worn again. But if a garment can be salvaged at all, the consultant will find a way of making it work. That alone could be worth the fee.
After this begins a try-on-and-see session, in which a client may be given ideas of combinations that she had never thought of before.
“Everyone has an image,” Joan Campbell maintains. “Dressing a woman is like putting a room together. You have a certain size, color, and proportion to work with. There are limitations you can’t change – bone structure, coloring, height – but you try to create illusion.”
Ann Smoller agrees with Joan. “1 refer to myself as an exterior decorator,” she says. “You can do your own thing provided you know what your own thing is.”
After, the consultant has finished arranging the closetful of clothes into a well-functioning wardrobe, everything goes on paper. The memory can’t be trusted.
Ann encourages her clients to write their own what-goes-with-what cards. Some clip them right on the hanger with the outfit. Accessories that can combine with various outfits are noted.
Instead of using cards, Phyllis Feather-stone lists all the combinations, down to bracelets and rings, on one sheet so the list can go right on the closet door.
For clients whose closets are already stuffed with Valentinos, Chloes, Laurens, Beenes, and other high-priced names, this initial consultation could be all that’s necessary.
Others need to fill in the gaps. If Joan takes a client shopping, she sometimes goes to the store first to pull things together so the client doesn’t have to paw through the racks. She charges $75 for an all-day shopping trip.
Sometimes she shops for the client on her own, and brings clothes to her to see if they work.
“I don’t force a look if they don’t feel right,” Joan says. And Ann admits, “I’ve actually had clients tell me months later that they hated something at first. Now they like it. They’ve heard comments about it from others.”
Ann prefers to shop for three or four clients at a time. Instead of charging by the hour, she calculates her fee as 5 percent of what is purchased.
Phyllis tries to educate her clients so they know how to shop for themselves. “1 give guidelines of silhouettes and colors that are right, guidelines of where to go, and suggest salespeople sometimes.” She encourages clients to bring items they feel unsure about to her for advice, for which there’s no charge.
Since most women fall into the fashion-on-a-budget category, this is where the real expertise is needed.
“I had for a client a recent college graduate who had $500 to spend,” Phyllis says. “She wanted a sophisticated look. She had three good skirts. We added one good blazer, two pairs of pants, three blouses, two belts, a muffler, and pulled it all together with color-coordinated hose.”
Joan took on a similar task with a teacher. And Ann has many clients who are secretaries. “I choose stores to cover all price ranges and sizes,” Ann says. She might steer the client who can afford high fashion and exclusivity to Lou Lattimore. For those who can’t she likes to work with Mr. Umphrey’s, Rosemary Byrd, Barbara Robertson, Studio 16, and Madison Avenue.
She also searches out one-of-a-kinds and buys market samples for her clients. Purchasing this way is a bit of a gamble, but because she already knows the wardrobe and what her clients’ needs and likes are, she’s quite successful with what she chooses. She’s never had to have a sample sale.
For tracking down bargain fashions, Joan lists Patricia’s, the Gazebo, Margie’s, Loehmann’s (if you know what you’re doing), Rue de Reves, Mam’selle, Vermillion’s, and Clotheshorse Anonymous as good sources.
Phyllis prefers to suggest department stores such as Sanger Harris and Lord & Taylor to clients. She feels they have good moderate departments and can offer a broad range of merchandise.
Since spring clothes decisions are already on everyone’s mind, we asked these fashion experts for some general advice on choosing the best of what’s offered. We asked what they would suggest for someone who wanted to look fashionable without being flashy.
Joan: “A two-piece suit with a modified dirndl skirt, maybe with a slit. Most women can’t wear a totally straight skirt. And a bright colored blouse – pink, turquoise, violet – a color right for the skin tone that’s more tailored into the body. The Gazebo has one that can be worn as a tunic or tucked in. It’s silk-like polyester crepe de chine at $36.”
Ann: “Any good piece that’s not extreme and that you can do anything with is a good investment. Most women will definitely need to add a straighter skirt because most of them have only fuller skirts. A good jacket has always been a good item. Remember, changing fashion is never a revolution, it’s an evolution.”
Phyllis: “A suit. You can wear the jacket with other things or just leave it off. Color should be individual. Bright colors are not a must; many people don’t look good in them.”
We also posed the question of the new wide, tight belt and what a less-than-model-proportioned woman should consider.
Ann: “A belt is dictated by the body. Narrow belts are okay even though they’re not what’s being touted.”
Phyllis: “Cord belts are still very fashionable. Certainly wide belts are the newest, but not everybody has a Wonder Woman figure.”
Joan: “If you’re thick in the waist, don’t wear a contrasting color. Keep it soft and tied loosely, maybe off-center, so it doesn’t visually cut you in half. Use things that call attention to the face and not your widest part.”
Since word of mouth has been the prevailing way of gaining business for all three wardrobe consultants, they’re not as easy to find as hair stylists. So here’s how you can reach them:
Phyllis Featherstone, 521-9071
Ann Smoller, 238-0676
Joan Campbell, 526-5449
Ann, Joan, and Phyllis went into the business of wardrobe consulting because the stores were no longer providing such services. But now many stores, for both men and women, are once again providing guidance for their customers in putting together a personal style.
The Gazebo, 4924 Cole, 522-1380.
Karen Little and Shelle Jacobs.
Patricia’s, European Crossroads, 2829 W. Northwest Hwy, 352-8531; 110 Preston Royal Shopping Center, 750-5771.
Marie Leavell, Inwood Village, 357-6441.
Kathleen Bonifield, personal shopper.
Barbara Robertson, 501 Old Town in the Village, 691-8215.
Sanger Harris, 303 N. Akard at Pacific, 651-2265.
Marge Fleener, wardrobe consultant.
Rosemary Byrd, 17 Highland Park Village, 522-1940.
St. Denise, 214 Old Town in the Village, 691-6411.
Lou Lattimore, 4320 Lovers Lane, 369-8585.
Jane Rutherford, fashion director.
Mr. Umphreys, 13601 Preston Road, 233-1600; 30 Highland Park Shopping Village, 528-2896.
Loretta Blum, 4268 Oak Lawn, 526-8770.
Amy Milburn’s, 4024 Villanova Drive, 750-0358.
Collections Boutique, 71 Highland Park Shopping Village, 528-8030.
Gerardo’s, 404 Old Town in the Village, 369-5222.
Howard Linn Clothiers, 4614 Cole, 528-1913. Steve Linn, consultant.
Clyde Campbell, 6427 Hillcrest Avenue 522-0151; 2246 Valley View Center 233-9300.
Culwell & Son,6319 Hillcrest Avenue, 522-7000; 13020 Preston Rd., Suite 100, 661-8282; One Main Place, Plaza Level, 742-3646. Rich Leatherwood and Charles Burgin, consultants.
Sahin Originals, 1140 Valley View Center 369-2640. Yalcin Sahin, consultant.
Tibors Gentlemen’s Clothier, 401 North Park Center, 369-6202. Ray Cerndon, consultant.
Trophy Man Mens Shop, 601 Old Town in the Village, 691-4214.
Marvin Brown Inc., 702 Old Town in the Village, 369-1133; 13601 Preston Rd., Carillon Plaza, 368-4331.
L.O. Hammons, 912 Old Town in the Village, 691-2440.