It's happened to all of us. You're standing in front of your closet, staring at the clothes positively tumbling off your shelves, and, still, for the life of you, you can't figure out what to wear. (Admit it, it's happened.)
Never fear, Style for Hire is about to solve your wardrobe conundrums. The new site, which launches nationally today, lets you avail yourself of the services of those masterful magicians previously accessible only to Hollywood royalty and reality-TV stars: fashion stylists.
The site is the brainchild of uber-style expert (and co-host of TLC's What Not to Wear) Stacy London and veteran entrepreneur Cindy McLaughlin. At its core, Style for Hire enables regular folks (that's you and me) to identify and hire stylists who will help you purge your closet of items that just don't work, figure out new looks that flatter your frame and figure, and go on a personal shopping trek to help you fill in the gaps in your wardrobe.
The idea for the site came up several years ago when CEO McLaughlin was preparing to re-enter the workforce after a childbearing hiatus and despaired that she'd be able to produce any work-appropriate looks from her mommy-clothes-filled wardrobe. London, a longtime friend from the New York fashion industry, came to her rescue, working her What Not to Wear magic on McLaughlin's closet, plucking through the garments and assembling a range of inspired outfits.
The two realized there's no reason the average American woman (or man) shouldn't be able to get similar help from knowledgeable and trained style experts. And, combined, they had the chops to make it happen—McLaughlin with her business experience (she got her MBA from MIT's Sloan School of Management and had experience in both the apparel and software industries) and London with her fashion sense (a former senior fashion editor at Mademoiselle whose TV show, McLaughlin tells Fast Company, "effectively brought this concept of regular styling for regular people to America").
The two soft-launched the company in Washington, D.C. in 2010 (where McLaughlin lived while her husband Andrew served as President Obama's deputy chief technology officer) and used that market as a testing ground to refine the idea.
London personally trained the first classes of stylists in the Style for Hire network (each expert is an independent contractor), and the curriculum she developed will be used in subsequent trainings.
"Style is teachable," London tells Fast Company. Her own approach involves examining the geometry of an individual's body and selecting cuts and styles that play up the assets and minimize the problem areas. "A lot of people think this is about instinct, and you have to have some taste level," she says. "But we believe very much in the science of styling."
The national launch of Style for Hire dovetails with the emergence of styling as an industry in its own right. Ten years ago, the average person on the street probably had no idea what a stylist was. But thanks to reality television (including shows like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy as well as What Not to Wear) and the explosion of celebrity rags that have made stars of Hollywood stylists (like Cameron Diaz- and Kate Hudson-dresser Rachel Zoe), all that has changed. The average US magazine-reading, reality-TV-watching American woman today now knows two things about fashion: Not everything works on every body type, and there are people whose job it is to figure this out for you.
"This September will be 10 years that I've been on What Not to Wear," London says. "There has not been one time [when she's been out in public] where I haven't had at least 10 women come up to me and say, 'Where can I find someone like you?'"
At the same time, the rise of the Internet has made style more accessible than ever before. From the profusion of fashion blogs to behind-the-scenes videos from runway shows to sites like Polyvore, regular folks can study emerging trends and experiment with looks.
"Women don't feel so intimidated anymore," London says, "but they still need people to guide them to the right purchases."
That's spurring the growth of the industry. Just as more people are turning in their business suits to become private chefs or personal trainers, a growing number of people (mostly women but some men, says McLaughlin) are deciding to turn a passion for style into a way to make a living. Style for Hire gives them the tools to market their services and manage their clients.
The company for its part, says McLaughlin, is helping to professionalize the industry, by setting standards and training its network of independent contractors in a proven methodology. By putting the company's stamp of approval on the members of its network, McLaughlin says, "our consumers understand they're not going to get a sweet person who loves to shop but has no idea what to do in your closet."
About 130 stylists are on Style for Hire's roster today, and the company plans to add more as applicants get vetted and trained. McLaughlin says she expects to have 400 stylists in the network by the end of this year and over 2,000 by the end of 2014.
The services aren't cheap—rates range from $65 to $300 an hour. But London and McClaughlin believe clients will more than make that money back by learning how to choose garments they love to wear and eschewing ones that look great on the mannequin but end up languishing at the back of the closet.
"Learning how to dress yourself is not something that's taught anymore," McLaughlin says. "Knowing what fit is, knowing what colors are flattering—it's a lost art for many people."