Style

Web sites offer ‘personal shopper' based on buyer's measurements

ST. LOUIS — The little black dress looks gorgeous on the hanger. The supermodel on the website can definitely pull it off. But once it's on your body, you look like you've gained 15 pounds and faded to pale.

It happens all the time, says Louise J. Wannier, chief executive officer and founder of www.myShape.com.

“The designers make the patterns, and the clothes can be really great and attractive,” Wannier says. “But it's not until you put them on that you can see if they work on your body.”

Trying on clothes ahead of time would be ideal, if only it weren't such a nightmare.

Dressing rooms are crowded, time-consuming and often flanked with screaming children.

Some women, such as Laura Schulte of St. Louis, opt to buy it all and try it on at home. That tactic means a lot of trips back to the store to return what doesn't work.

Online shopping is convenient, but the guesswork of what size and style to order often means costly returns and shipping hassles.

Many women admit it's just too much work to return clothes that don't fit. So that means ever-expanding wardrobes that aren't exactly what they wanted.

The idea to bridge the gap between women and clothes that fit their bodies and match their style came to Wannier when she was in design school.

The self-described “serial entrepreneur” launched myShape.com in February 2006. So far, roughly 300,000 women have signed up, with thousands more joining every day.

MyShape does online what a personal shopper would do in the store — picks the clothes that best suit each woman's taste and body. Best of all, the service is free.

The site offers each user a “personal shop” filled with clothing suggestions specifically for her. The shop has dresses, skirts, blouses, pants and more that match her measurements, body shape, style and fit preferences.

Schulte, 39, is an admitted shopaholic. With two young sons, she was not a fan of dressing rooms.

When she read about myShape in a magazine more than a year ago, she immediately gave it a try and has been hooked ever since. She even convinced her sister and 64-year-old mother to become members.

Schulte first discovered personalized online shopping with www.zafu.com. That site gathers style and body shape information to help women hunt and capture that elusive animal of the fashion wilderness — the perfect jean.

“We wanted to focus on the difficult products that are harder to fit,” says Blair Newel, vice president of product development for zafu.com. “That's the service we can best provide.”

Zafu's hipster site tries to establish each customer's style identity with pointed questions such as: Do you consider your style to be that of an “it girl,” a “power broker” or a “mainstream mom”?

Site users also take fit quizzes for bras, jeans or pants. With a click, Zafu will offer each woman pages of jeans or bras that will fit her best and connects her directly to the place to get them. Finding the right fit on the first try is what makes these sites so helpful.

MyShape thoroughly questions users, getting to know them like a trusted best friend.

The site asks for exact measurements, with handy instruction windows that pop up to guide users through the online body chart. If you don't have a tape measure, there's one available via the site, or myShape will mail one to you.

Using their trademarked ShapeMatch, myShape factors in your measurements, proportions and fit preferences to determine which of their seven different body shapes each woman fits into.

For each body shape, myShape describes the details that will flatter the positives and hide the negatives — down to the types of fabric to wear and the type of cuffs to have on pants.

“It's not just your measurements, it's how the proportion of the clothing looks on your figure,” Wannier says.

Once the fit is right, style is determined by having the users choose which photos of clothes they like best.

MyShape asks questions such as: Do you like to dress romantic or glamorous? What is your style risk level — safe, variable or daring?

But just because you have a specific taste doesn't mean myShape won't offer you the chance to spice things up.

MyShape has expanded Schulte's fashion horizons by offering her some items that are outside her typical fashion “uniform.”

“The myShape site has turned me on to a lot of designers I wouldn't have otherwise tried on,” Schulte says. “There are a lot of clothes that I didn't feel I could wear or fit comfortably that I've bought from there that I absolutely love.”

On a whim, she took the site's advice and bought a multicolored wrap shirt that she never before would have considered. She received so many compliments that the shirt is now one of her favorites.

Both sites offer a price range for users to search in and have clothes suitable for just about any budget.

These personal shopping experiences ask lots of questions initially, but once users have their shape and style programmed in, they're fast and easy to use, Schulte says.

The sites will keep finding things that suit your taste and your body. If one or the other changes, just adjust your profile.

Now, Schulte is ready for the biggest fashion fit challenge of all. She says she can't wait for myShape to bring on the swimsuits.

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OTHER SITES THAT OFFER PERSONALIZED SHOPPING EXPERIENCES

LandsEnd.com

LandsEnd.com offers certain customized items that are made just to fit your body. Its line includes jeans and chinos for women and shirts and pants for men. It's like having a tailor at your beck and call. Tell them the color and pick out every detail — pockets, belt loops, tapered or straight legs, low or high waist, flat or pleated front. Give them the measurements and a body description, and a perfectly fitted pair of jeans will be on its way. Naturally, these made-to-order pieces are a bit pricier, running about $70-$80 for a custom pair of chinos versus about $40 for a pre-made pair.

For noncustomized clothes, Lands' End also has another little shopper's helper. You can create a 3-D virtual model of yourself that can try on outfits for you. The cyber you can have a matching hairdo, eye color, face and body shape so you'll have a pretty good idea of how each item will look on the real you. A Lands' End customer service rep is available to chat live or talk on the phone at all times.

For more information about the Lands' End Custom program, call 1-800-288-9091.

DressByDesign.com

Select a style of dress from one of their silhouettes and play designer by choosing fabric, sleeve style, hem length, neckline and other options to create the garment you love. Get the perfect fit by mixing and matching sizes or choosing a standard size. DressByDesign will even send a muslin form of the dress that you can pin in all the right places. Send it back, and they'll use it to create the dress.

Because these dresses are custom-sewn, they take several weeks to arrive. Shipping and handling is $9.95 an order and the dresses are $200 to $300. But the good news is that if the dress doesn't fit on the first try, DressByDesign will alter it one time free or will reimburse you up to $25 for a one-time alteration at your local tailor. The bad news is that custom-made dresses are nonreturnable. Standard sizes are returnable if they are unworn and unwashed and returned in seven days.

E-mail servicedressbydesign.com or call 1-888-676-8461.

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© 2008, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. AMX-2008-08-29T08:18:00-04:00

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