Personal shoppers help customers build wardrobe

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
| Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012, 8:56 p.m.

For some, happiness is being able to shop for a living. To passionately search racks, shelves and glass cases on the hunt to find the perfect pieces — not for themselves — but for others.

These professionals are personal shoppers — also referred to as private shoppers or personal stylists and, in some cases, lifesavers, because of their ability to find the ultimate gem.

Just ask Jen Ohrman from Mt. Lebanon. This mother of three — a marketing representative who started, a site that helps mothers and others create healthier lifestyles — doesn't have a lot of time to shop. She turned to Macy's Kathi Hursh.

“I don't like to shop, and, sometimes, I wander aimlessly around the store and leave without buying one thing,” Ohrman says. “Kathi knows the trends and what looks good.”

Ohrman smiles as she takes a peek at the slacks, skirts, shirts, shoes and scarves — chosen just for her.

Women — and men — use personal shoppers for varied reasons, from not having enough time, to needing new clothes because of weight changes or for special events. Levels of the service range from shopping by appointment or shopping by phone to a personal visit to your home.

Macy's, Nordstrom and Larrimor's offer the service for free. Rachel Vallozzi, who has her company, asks for $80 per hour.

Terry Hamburger, Larrimor's top-level sales associate, says it takes time to research items.

“You can't let your ego get involved, because there might be something the customer won't like,” she says. “But often, you know them so well, you know they are going to love it.”

Most clients seek out the service because they hate to shop,” says Helga Freymark, also of Larrimor's.

“They love that it is all set up, and that there is diversity in the items in the dressing room,” she says. ”I think they like it because they are treated like a king.”

Helping customers with their wardrobes has long been the expectation at Larrimor's.

“It is very important to be able to see the garment and touch it, because you can't feel it online,” says Tom Michael, Larrimor's co-owner with Lisa Slesinger. “If you are going to pay $3,000 for a suit, you certainly want to know how it feels on your body and what it looks like. These shoppers understand the value of looking good and buying quality garments, and the value of experienced sales associates.”

Hursh says it's important to sit and talk with a client to get to know them.

“That way, I know what to look for,” she says.

Personal shoppers consider hair color, shape and what the client considers a problem area. Just like you would go to a financial planner who studies the stock market, personal shoppers or stylists are valuable because they study trends, says Dr. Audrey Guskey, marketing professor at Duquesne University, Uptown.

“They do the legwork for you, and they won't be afraid to tell you if something doesn't look right,” Guskey says. “They also can help direct you to buying pieces that are timeless.”

Personal shoppers keep track of the items a client has and what they might need to update their closet. They are knowledgeable about all brands.

“I walk the floor several times a day to see what is new and to look for items that go well together, not just looking at what one designer has created in a collection,” Hursh says. “I will mix items from multiple designers and vendors.

“I would never let someone walk out of here wearing something that didn't look good on them, because they are my reputation,” she says.

Ohrman says she likes when Hursh chooses items out of her comfort zone.

“Kathi gives me the confidence to try on items I never would have tried before.,” Ohrman says. “She is the best-kept secret in South Hills Village. I also appreciate her honesty. Once you shop like this, I don't know why you would shop any other way.”

Laurel Saylor of Butler agrees. As a client of Vallozzi's, Saylor says one of the most helpful services is when Vallozzi provides her with photos of her outfits.

“She knows where to find items, because she knows all of the stores,” Saylor says. “She knows how to match a wardrobe with somebody's lifestyle. She makes knowing what to wear so easy.”

Vallozzi of Friendship starts with a person's closet to determine their style and preferences — and their insecurities. Most people wear only 20 percent to 50 percent of what's in the closet, she says.

“I can find a needle in a haystack,” Vallozzi says. “I will go wherever my clients want me to go to find them clothing and accessories. Your clothes need to be in order, and then, you will look and feel great. And isn't that what everyone wants?”

Caroline Armfield from Collier, who founded, a company that provides state-of-the-art cosmetic and laser services, did her personal shopping with Linda Graswick via an iPad for her four children ages 9, 7, 5 and 3.

Graswick leads a team of 13 stylists at Nordstrom's.

“The virtual shopping experience with Linda was wonderful,” Armfield says. “I looked at some items online and sent her information on each of my children and their styles, as well as measurements. And, she sent me photos of the outfits. She also helped me find items that they could wear into the cooler weather, too. She was wonderful. And when the items came, they were individually packaged by child.”

Graswick says it is important to find out as much information as possible ahead of time from sizes to departments clients prefer to shop in.

“I refer to that initial meeting as a first date,” says Graswick, working on her sixth appointment with Michele Reuss of O'Hara.

Reuss originally called looking for a dress to wear to her stepdaughter's wedding, and one for her mother-in-law.

“A lot of times, people think of a personal stylist for a special-occasion item,” Graswick says. “But personal stylists and shoppers can help you find items for everything. ... They know the lay of the land, and can pull items from every area of the store.

“Our reputation is built on how we treat our customers,” she says. “It is important to feel comfortable with the person who is your stylist.”

“Linda has been wonderful,” Reuss says. “I would invite anyone who has never tried a personal stylist to not be afraid, because this service gives you a great opportunity to learn about fashion. I wish I would have done it years ago.”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at or 412-320-7889.

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