Erin and I were meeting a client in Palo Alto to do some shopping. Yes, we were thinking of meeting at Stanford Shopping Center where we’d have access to Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Wilkes Bashford, Bloomingdale’s and more. But I’d just read the Sunday Style section of the San Francisco Chronicle (September 20, 2015) and they had an insider guide to seven of the Bay Area’s hottest ‘hoods. Carolyne Zinko was responsible for reporting on the Palo Alto shopping area. She said, “Friendly Phyllis carries layered, monochromatic looks from European and Japanese designers (Oska, Dress to Kill, Moyuru and others).”
That was the entire write up. I was intrigued. I called my client to confirm our shopping appointment and mentioned this store to her and that I thought it sounded like a good fit for where her style was headed. She said, “I’ve heard of that store for years and I’ve always wanted to check it out!”
“Want to start there on Friday?” I said.
These brands held promise for success
I was familiar with the brands mentioned in the short sentence in the newspaper but was delighted to walk into the store and find more, like Lilith and Elemente Clemente, and great basics like Petit Pois and Majestic. What we were looking for were some traveling pieces for an upcoming trip to China and the UK. But also, I wanted to help her find some fashion pieces that were a little more edgy.
My client has a great spring wardrobe but it had been a while since we’d really updated her fall wardrobe. She’d started leaning more toward creative designs; clothes that were more relaxed than traditional business clothes. And I’m not talking business clothes as in jeans and a clean t-shirt; I’m talking business suits, skirt suits, separates to pair with at least one constructed piece of clothing in the outfit.
The staff makes such a difference in boutique shopping
The first person we met was Sondra. She was dressed in a black asymmetrical jumpsuit, a stunner of a belt, and she wore fur slides on her feet that looked like little pets. Within five minutes Erin had whispered in my ear, “She is just the best!” I immediately told Sondra that we were already talking about how great she was. She had the perfect mix of being helpful to us newbies to the store but giving us space to have private conversations with our client as well. Helpful but unobtrusive. This is the perfect combination to find in a boutique sales associate.
Let’s note this downfall of some boutiques: Ever been in a boutique and the sales associate(s) were so in your face that you couldn’t wait to exit? Not the situation here at all!
Sondra was quick to help with sizes. She set up a rolling rack for us and positioned it right outside the dressing room. How could she know that a rolling rack is one of my favorite things?! It helps keep the dressing room clear and spacious. The client doesn’t get overwhelmed by all the choices hanging in her face.
When I needed something like a belt or a scarf to finish a look, Sondra was right there to supply some choices.
Know thyself before shopping a boutique
Because I know my client so well, I was able to scour the store to find the pieces I thought would be suitable to her and her lifestyle. I also know what she has at home so I was excited for all the new possibilities of adding flair when it came to creating outfits the next day. I could see that we were finding lots of solutions in this boutique that we wouldn’t have found in the department stores. The other remarkable thing was that there was NOTHING that needed alterations. This was a first! Usually we’re altering sleeve lengths, pant lengths, all of that. This time everything was perfect as is.
We had some fun with one particular piece that wasn’t working out as well as I wanted it to. A long Japanese straight skirt in a microfiber, no wrinkle fabric had an oversized pocket sitting diagonally on the front of the skirt. The fabric was so very perfect for travel but I didn’t like that detail when my client tried it on.
“Turn the skirt around so you’ve got it on backwards,” I said.
Voila! It was now perfect! It had an elastic waistband so it didn’t matter which way it sat on her body. The long skirt was almost a tube shape so I was able to put different separates on top to get lots of different looks.
To call this shopping experience sensational is barely describing the joy my client had with her new purchases.
Here are some of the reasons this boutique worked so well for us (and why a specialty boutique might work for you!):
1. It was a very well edited collection of clothes. Although there were many different brands, they all had a similar aesthetic.
2. For my client who looks divine in neutral colors, this place was a mecca of shades of gray, black, navy, white and cream. It was everything she loved!
3. The fabrics on many of the clothing pieces were very rich in texture. This too is one of the things my client loves–maybe more than chocolate. We found great textured pieces here.
4. Matched pieces could easily be separated so a softly constructed jacket by Lilith would work really well with a constructed pant that my client had in her own closet. We found enough separates in the store to give us plenty of mixing and matching opportunities once we got back to our client’s closet.
5. The designers represented in the store were moderately priced compared to European designers you find in the larger department stores, designers like Akris and Prada and Jil Sander. This was a nice middle ground for someone interested in stepping out of the “norm” and into something you wouldn’t see on every one else in the office.
6. The staff was fantastic. They made it easy for us to take the time to construct a thoughtful wardrobe. There was no pressure at all.
I’m pretty sure Carly Fiorina is not getting her outfits from this store to wear in her presidential run even though she’s from the Palo Alto area. But luckily, you and I aren’t running for president so we can have more creative flair or softer fabrics in our outfits if we want to.
One caution to boutique shopping
The one drawback to shopping in a boutique is the restricted return policy. Most boutiques can not take things back with ease like Nordstrom does. Often you can only return items for store credit. If you’re shopping in a boutique, always ask what the return policy is so you aren’t surprised later.
To be honest, I never even asked what the return policy was at Phyllis. I knew we were not going to be returning things. We had so much success so we will be returning to Phyllis to check out what comes in for Spring 2016. If something had been returned, a credit in that store would not have been a bad thing for our client.
I think you have to know yourself and your personal style pretty well in order to successfully shop in smaller boutiques. My client walked out with several pieces because it suited her so well on many levels. Someone else may shop a boutique and walk out with one piece and be satisfied. That’s fine too. It’s great to have options!
If you’re in the Palo Alto area, I highly recommend you check out this option!