Once upon a time, American women dressed in a work uniform: long skirts, kitten heels, modest blouses. But in 2017, female employees can wear everything from sheath dresses to hoodies while on the job.
That makes choosing what to put on every morning trickier than ever.
“The days of just throwing on a suit are over,” says Scarlett DeBease, a professional wardrobe coach based in Westchester, New York. “That old standby doesn’t work anymore. When a woman dresses in a suit, sometimes she can look like a stock photo.”
Services like Trunk Club, Le Tote, Rent the Runway and MM La Fleur claim to help with the “what do I wear today?” question. Users take online quizzes about their style needs and preferences, and then a box of pre-assembled work outfits hits the doorstep.
So how do you know when to outsource your wardrobe?
You don’t have the time to shop — or you hate the process.
“I don’t like driving out to a mall,” says Vinca LaFleur, partner at a speechwriting firm in Washington, D.C. “And then I would rather try on my clothes in my own home with my own shoes and my own jewelry to get a better sense of how I look in something, rather than in a poorly-lit dressing room.”
LaFleur has tried three different wardrobe services: StitchFix, MM La Fleur (no relation) and Rent the Runway.
The prices of all these services vary based on which clothes you buy and how many pieces you choose to keep. Le Tote offers a $39 “monthly subscription fee” to try all the clothes sent, no purchase required. Maternity wear is $49 a month.
For a $25 personal styling fee, Nordstrom’s Trunk Club stylists send an assortment of items to buy, and MM La Fleur offers “bento boxes” with professional wear at a one-time cost, each piece ranging in price from $100 to $400.
But for many working women, they’re not paying for the actual clothing — they’re paying for the convenience.
“I am not somebody who enjoys shopping or likes thinking about fashion,” says Annie-Rose Strasser, an editor at Gimlet Media. “I believe that it is like emotional labor put on women. So it’s not about upping my style game or anything — it’s because I do not like the process of it. So I was more than happy to outsource that.”
Amazon is also beta-testing a similar service, “Amazon Prime Wardobe,” that will let customers try on clothes before purchase.
You want to try new things — but you don’t want to commit
Both Le Tote and Rent the Runway operate on a “try before you buy” philosophy, allowing their users to “rent” pieces before sending them back.
“We hear a lot of people saying ‘I wear the same things in my closet over and over and I want to challenge myself to think beyond what my current wardrobe is giving me,'” says Le Tote’s Ruth Hartman. “It’s the ‘sugar high’ of having new things, but paying less than they would normally spend.”
You want an expert’s help
Trunk Club, which also offers men’s wear services, pairs you with a stylist to chat about your options for work outfits, tailoring your selections to your taste and your environment. As a young female director, Strasser says she especially wanted clothes that looked both professional and fun. That’s when her Trunk Club stylist stepped in to help.
“I have to be clear about what I wear and what it communicates about me,” she says. “So I communicated that to my stylist and said ‘Here’s why that matters.'”
Correction: A previous version of this story listed Le Tote’s monthly subscription as $49. Le Tote charges $39 a month, or $49 a month for maternity wear.