By Richard L. Gaw
Unless you are Gisele Bundchen or Elle McPherson or Kate Upton, there is one local wardrobe consultant who says that if you are a woman, there is at least one aspect of your self image that you do not like.
It could be a part of your physical self. It could be what you wear. It could be your hairstyle. It could be the wardrobe you have hanging in your closet, but whatever the insecurity, there are millions of women in the United States who compare their image to those of photo-shopped magazine perfection at supermarket check-out lines and think that spending the remainder of their lives dressed in a burlap sack partnered with a nice pair of shoes would not be such a horrible idea.
Suzie Gaffney of Kennett Square knows these women. She has read the articles, too -- the ones that tell women more about what they don't have than what they do. She has seen the look on women's faces when they enter a boutique and appear as if they're entering a giant maze of colors and clothing designers whose names they cannot pronounce. She has met with women whose self images have been wrecked by years of trying to live up to the expectations placed upon them.
For the last two years, as the owner of Suzie Gaffney Wardrobe Consulting, Gaffney has held the hands of hundreds of women who are faced with such dilemmas. She is a confidant, a friend, a psychologist and a shopping buddy, all in an effort to help hundreds of local women get rid of the old and welcome the new.
“Style, to me, is how you express yourself outwardly, for others to see how you put things together, as a reflection of what's inside you and who you are,” she said. “Therein lies the problem. Society has labeled style as what is marketed, and its constantly changing. It has to be current, it has to be on edge. It has to be expensive. It has to be thin, and it's all being dictated by industry standards for that particular season. And I think that is boring.”
Gaffney's clients range from a 10-year-old girl who is not taking her mother's advice on what to wear, to an 80-year-old client who asked Gaffney to provide clothing ideas suitable for a woman in her senior years. In between, Gaffney assists everyone from empty nesters looking to develop a new fashion style to mothers transitioning back to work after having raised thier children to college age.
“The common ingredient among each of my clients is they want to change,” Gaffney said. "For so many women, they want to change, but it's this tremendous black hole that they are afraid to explore. Very often, clothes force them to look at their new phases in life, whether it’s a divorce, a death, or a change in their bodies. It’s a shedding of what has sometimes held a woman back."
Working with Gaffney begins with a questionnaire, which she sends her clients in advance of their first meeting. It asks the woman to describe her lifestyle -- what their weeknds are like, whether they're sociable or athletic, or if they consider themselves a skirt or a jeans person. The next stage of consultation takes Gafney and her client to the woman's closet.
"I bring clothing bags with me and I take out clothes from the closet, item by item, and designate them as to whether we'll toss it out, place it in a resale pile, or keep it," she said. "From there, I help my client fills in the blanks of what is left and explore their needs."
It is not uncommon at this stage for some women to begin to cry in front of Gaffney. Clothes, she said, are a women's reflection -- physical remnants of her life's experiences -- and although she realizes that it's difficult for a woman to get rid of a piece of her past, she advises her clients to treat their clothes as if they were employees.
"I tell them, 'Are they doing the job for you? If not, get rid of it,'" she said. I tell them to 'Move on, and do not remorse over why it didn’t work well for you.'"
From there, Gaffney helps her clients shop for new wardrobes and accessories, according to the woman's budget and what she's looking for. And it's not just heading to the high-end boutiques to track down a new wardrobe; very often, Gaffney finds the same designers' lines at mainstream stores.
"I don't belive women should dump all of their money on clothes and accesssories," she said. "There's far more important things to spend their money on. Spend the money on what you like, not for what sense of style you feel you need to dress like."
Much of Gaffney's training for her career came during her 12 years at Elizabeth Maar Boutiques in Newtown Square, three of which were spent as a store manager, and the last nine spent there part-time, as she cared for her two children. During her years there, Gaffney saw it all: the lack of knowledge about designers, the fear of choosing a pair of pants or a blouse that would make the woman stand out instead of blend in; and the misconceptions made about modern fashion.
Gaffney said that perhaps the largest fashion roadblock for most women, she has learned, is not found in themselves, but in the area where they live and work. From the Main Line to southern Chester County, women find themselves caught in the conundrum of style pockets, dictated by the divergence of Corporate America, suburban living and the rolling hills of country life that the area offers. Finding the wardrobe answers can best be solved, she said, by allowing her clients to define themselves not by what they do and where they live, but by encouraging them to find a style that speaks to who they are as a person.
"I want to take away the pockets," Gaffney said. "Just because you live some place doesn’t mean that you’re that person. For whatever reason, you're living on the Main Line or in Chester County, but if your style says Soho in New York, then I’m going to help you get there."
For every one of her clients, whether they be a 10-year-old girl, an 80-year-old woman, a Chester County housewife or a corporate executive, Gaffney's message is simple.
"Hone in on what you like. Be you," she said. "Because in the end, it's really all about you."
To learn more about Suzie Gaffney Wardrobe Consulting, visit www.suziegaffney.com.