What Happened When I Hired a Professional Image Consultant

And had her give me advice in front of thousands of live viewers (eep).

A scene from the movie The Devil Wears Prada
(Image credit: Everett)

There hasn't been a movie made that wouldn't be improved by the addition of a makeover montage, but there is a fundamental problem with one: It takes all the work and experimentation and years—nay, the lifetime—*true* personal style requires, and boils it down into one tidy, Hoku-tinged, minute-long segment. As if. 

But still…whether it comes out of genuine caring or we've-got-to-help-this-poor-girl-ness, who wouldn't agree to a fresh start, especially with the guidance of someone who (allegedly) knows better? That's why I brought in not one, but two, professional image consultants: Anna Akbari of Sociology of Style and Rori Sassoon of Platinum Poire. Two different approaches, as you shall see, but one shared objective: to help me dress in a way that best reflects my personality, lifestyle, career, ambitions, station in life, how I want others to perceive me, etc., etc. NBD.

The consultation

There's nothing quite like having your sartorial shortcomings analyzed in front of a few thousand live viewers, that's all I've got to say. Just kidding—Sassoon totally considered my feelings/privacy before asking about my love life and measurements, which she would have done under normal, non-Facebook circumstances. So given the time constraint and setting, this meeting functioned as more of a preliminary getting-to-know-you. Logically—and as Sassoon and Akbari would later confirm—your image consultant is kind of like your confessor and therapist and stylist all in one—you need to develop a personal relationship for the best possible result. 

The followup 

Approximately a week later, Sassoon and I had a call to finish what we started. I brought my sparkling personality; she brought two outfits put together based on her newfound knowledge of Chelsea Peng. 

clothing ideas

(Image credit: Courtesy, design by Katja Cho)

1. Fallon crystal and leather choker, $300, intermixonline.com2. Rebecca Minkoff fringe cross-body bag, $195, neimanmarcus.com3. Aquazurra suede wedge sandals, $565, neimanmarcus.com4. Club Monaco jumpsuit, $298, clubmonaco.com

wardrobe options

(Image credit: Courtesy, design by Katja Cho)

1. Tibi silk cami, $158, tibi.com2. IRO leather jacket, $1,200, iroparis.com3. Club Monaco shorts, $149.50, clubmonaco.com4. Vintage Hermès cuff, $520, fashionphile.com5. Henri Bendel convertible lizard clutch, $268, henribendel.com6. Aquazurra $478, neimanmarcus.com.

Sassoon's parting advice for me? "I think you should just do you. And I think the clothes should just be an embellishment of how beautiful you already are. Thank you. I know. LOL. Because what I do is always about creating confidence. People judge you. Forget what comes out of your mouth—when we watch television, what are we looking at? The person's looks, the way the person's coming across. That's why for you, I wanted to add value and make sure you look amazing. Because when you look amazing, you feel amazing."

The psychology behind it all

Fair to amazing is how I feel on a daily basis, so Sassoon's outfits, while very cute, were kind of irrelevant compared to the cerebral blockages I was experiencing. Returning to my first point, why did I consider hiring an image consultant to be cheating or inauthentic? Was I resisting because I thought I knew better? Did I even *need* an image consultant? Obviously, I had some issues to work out (what else is new?), so I turned to Akbari and her academic and psychological background for some clarity.  

Hiring an image consultant, she said, doesn't mean "you're clueless—quite the opposite. If you work with someone like me, my goal is not to be your surrogate tastemaker, but rather to refine and work with and coach you into being your own stylist going forward. But I think there's this another way of viewing this kind of work, which is where you develop a deep understanding, and you help the person develop a deep understanding. Because here's the thing: I'm there to work myself out of a job, right? I'm not going to be in your room helping you get dressed everyday. I am not going to be with you shopping all the time. I have an expiration date."

If you work with someone like me, my goal is not to be your surrogate tastemaker, but rather to refine and work with and coach you into being your own stylist going forward.

::lightbulb:: Ooh, so like a *teacher.* But what about someone whose sartorial identity is a bit more developed? Would an image consultant do you any good then? As Akbari explained her process—a long-term, epic journey of closet-purging, tightly controlled shopping, and some life-coaching—I realized "even" me, a know-it-all fashion girl, could use an objective third party to come in and fix begin to fix everything with better, more effective clothes. Because when I really thought about it, my fundamental fashion problem is that I've got a collection of clothes I love but a woefully incomplete wardrobe—I need an Akbari or a Sassoon to come in and be like "Yo, if you bought some white T-shirts and owned more than two pairs of jeans you actually wear, you could save a lot of time hopping around cursing your shopping skills approximately 37 mornings out of the year." 

That brings us to the whole, all-American point: exchanging money for a service that makes your life easier, which in turn makes *you* feel better. What could be wrong or cheat-y about that? 

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Chelsea Peng
Assistant Editor

Chelsea Peng is a writer and editor who was formerly the assistant editor at MarieClaire.com. She's also worked for The Strategist and Refinery29, and is a graduate of Northwestern University. On her tombstone, she would like a GIF of herself that's better than the one that already exists on the Internet and a free fro-yo machine. Besides frozen dairy products, she's into pirates, carbs, Balzac, and snacking so hard she has to go lie down.