THE VANCOUVER SUN, Tuesday April 20, 2004
What Not to Wear
An image consultant digs into a Sunday school teacher's 'archival closet' to find her a new look
by Kim Pemberton
Marianne Buerger is typical of so many of us. Her closet is overstuffed with clothes, but every morning when she opens it, she feels that she has nothing to wear.
THE VANCOUVER SUN, Tuesday April 20, 2004
ARTS & LIFE
Image consultant Diana Kilgour (left) helps Marianne sort out her clothes closet.
Marianne Buerger hid her size 6 frame and delicate features in overalls, bulky sweaters and oversized shirts.
A new haircut and colour brighten Marianne Buerger's new grown-up look.
So what do you do when you don't have anything to wear? You shop for more. This 34-year-old Sunday school teacher from Vancouver says she loves shopping for clothes, but even so, her wardrobe isn't working.
Hoodies and lightweight jackets dangle from pegs on the door's exterior while dozens of bulky knit sweaters and faded T-shirts are stacked nearby. A colourful assortment of scarves and belts dangle from the closet door, while space inside is so limited that it's nearly impossible to tell what garment is on each of the pink plastic hangers bent out of shape from their weight.
When a closet reaches this crammed state, it helps to have an objective eye. Enter image consultant Diana Kilgour.
This stylish fashion guru has been helping both women and men update their looks and their closets for the past 22 years. And for those who don't like shopping, Kilgour will search store aisles for them.
When you invite Kilgour into your home, you soon learn "what not to wear," but she imparts her knowledge with a much kinder, gentler approach than the popular televisions shows - both the British and U.S. versions - of the same name.
"I think people need to know the reasons why something is not working for them," said Kilgour. "It helps sometimes for people to know their famous counterparts. To say they should pay attention to what Diane Sawyer or Katie Couric is wearing. To use positive words."
Hence, someone who is overweight may be described by Kilgour as "voluptuous," while a thin person would be referred to as "trim and compact."
Fashion consultants in the What Not to Wear television shows are not nearly so caring.
U.S. hosts Stacey and Clinton don't mince words when it comes to telling their hapless fashion victims what can stay and what has to go. A middle-aged hair designer is told she looks like an aging rock star in her black leather pants and velvet shirt. British hosts Trinny and Susannah clearly enjoy describing the fashion faux pas of wearing a belt with a bare midriff as "just overegging the pudding."
Kilgour, on the other hand, is honest about fashion mistakes, but will impart her knowledge when her client is ready to hear it.
When she begins sorting through Buerger's closet, Kilgour emphasizes the positives. She reminds Buerger that the style she says she wants is "classic, co-ordinated, flattering and flexible."
These words are repeated as Kilgour pulls out a bright purple silk scarf and oversized hat. Buerger's first reaction is to say the scarf has to stay because it was a hand-made gift, but Kilgour is able to convince her the hat isn't "flattering" nor is it "flexible."
"How do you want to look?" reminds Kilgour, pointing out the list they wrote out together.
"Approachable, trustworthy, responsible, grown-up," are some of the characteristics Buerger wants her wardrobe to reflect. The silk scarf and hat go into a "theatre" pile of items Buerger will keep to use as "dress-up" when working with children at her church's Sunday school.
Then Kilgour discovers the plastic butterfly hair clips - more suitable to an eight-year-old than someone in her 30s. But Buerger isn't ready to hand them over to her younger charges yet.
"The problem is my hair goes into my face," she says.
"You just need a proper haircut," replies Kilgour. "And you need a butterfly-free clip zone."
To help break her of the butterfly habit, Kilgour set Buerger up with Brian Grosse and Dana Kalman of Tech 1 Hair Design and Esthetic, who gave her a fresh new cut and colour. The Yaletown salon's Luc Lacroix completed the transformation with makeup.
By the time she is through with Buerger's closet, Buerger herself is quick to recognize the items that aren't likely to make the cut. Certainly anything from the 1980s with shoulder pads and wide lapels has to go, and in Buerger's closet, there seems to be an abundance of them.
"Marianne has what's known as an 'archival closet'," says Kilgour.
"Her size hasn't changed, so because it all fits, she hangs onto clothes, complicating her closet," she said. "My objective is finding what we can pull together to build a wardrobe."
"Too big, too drab, too bulky," Kilgour says as she tosses a large grey sweater into a recently created toss pile. A peasant dress is greeted with the comment that it's best worn on a "young mommy before they lose the tummy."
As Kilgour retrieves a forgotten faux fur vest from the closet, she points out that most people have what they need for a working wardrobe. The vest, for instance, is in style and can be paired with outfits Buerger didn't even realize were a match.
Kilgour's job is all about helping clients make peace with the past, live in the present and learn how to choose clothes that will have a longer future. She also tries to teach clients how to select clothes that are appropriate to their lifestyles.
For this, she charges $100 for the first hour and $75 for each additional hour if she comes to your home, or a flat $75 an hour if you go to hers.
In Buerger's case, she needs a professional appearance that will work in all her fields of interest. She is working on a master's degree in Christian studies at Regent College, helps co-ordinate the First Baptist Church Sunday school and works part-time as an administrator for a web design firm. She needs a look that works well dealing both with children and their parents.
"I need to present myself as a competent person," said Buerger, who could easily pass for someone in her 20s. While others would appreciate being told they look younger than their years, Buerger wants to look her age.
"People don't expect I can do anything because of that, so I try to stay away from anything that is too feminine." Hence the bulky sweaters and oversized shirts.
Kilgour suggests Buerger's petite size 6 frame and delicate features need to be enhanced, not hidden. As a result, her favourite overalls have to go.
A good rule of thumb when culling your wardrobe is to ask yourself whether shops are still carrying the garment, says Kilgour. In the case of the overalls, the answer is no, so out they should go.
"If you can't replace it with something similar in the stores, they're not making it any more for a reason," she says.
Another common mistake is buying clothes on sale that don't match your lifestyle. Kilgour finds a pair of blue velvet pants that, while inexpensive, will end up costing Buerger more because she has to find other items to match. "You want to be buying for you, not the loose ends in your wardrobe," she says.
By the time Kilgour and Buerger are finished, the hoodies and heavy sweaters are gone and there are at least 20 proper work outfits. The clothes that made the cut work well together in a variety of combinations.
Because Buerger loves to shop, most of the basics were already in her wardrobe -- the black tank top, black pants, white shirt, etc. One of the few things she needs are red shoes to add "sizzle" and a three-piece suit.
Buerger says the experience was rewarding. "I couldn't have done it alone. When I look through some of the clothes, they bring back sentimental memories. It's much easier to let go i someone can guild you," she says.
And the experience had one more benefit. "I can see what I have in my closet now."
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