For girls only

Well okay, the boys can read this one too.  But I wanted to give them fair warning that they might want to click elsewhere right now.  I can picture my pal Dusty Rhoades suddenly shoving his fingers in his ears and chanting “La La La, I don’t wanna listen to this” when he finds out that this post is About Women’s Fashion, and has only a tenuous connection to books.  But there is a connection.  Sort of.  

Those who know me know that I am, um, fashion challenged.   As I type this, I’m in bare feet and wearing blue jeans, a cotton L.L. Bean shirt, and cotton underwear bought at Walmart.  That’s my summertime outfit.  In winter, I add a flannel shirt and socks, but otherwise it’s the Same Old Thing, seven days a week.  I’m a stickler for comfort, plus I’m that dire combination of being both a Yankee and of Chinese descent. When it comes to thrift, no Scot could hold a candle to that.  

But there comes a time in one’s life when one realizes one must evolve.  And that moment came when I learned that TNT is sending me on the road to promote the new TV show “Rizzoli & Isles.”  They are flying me out to Hollywood at the end of June to do what’s called a “junket,” where the cast and I will be available for interviews.  That’s followed by public screenings of the pilot episode in Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta, and — egad — Times Square, NYC, where I will appear alongside Angie Harmon.

That’s when I decided to trawl through my closet to see what I might wear to these screenings.  I discovered several things.  First, that I still had half my high school wardrobe in there.  I’m happy to report that most of it still fits, but still…  

Not a single outfit I owned was Angie Worthy.  I imagined myself onstage with the svelte and stylish Ms. Harmon as the audience titters: “Who’s that lumberjack in the flannel shirt standing next to her?”  

Clearly I needed to go shopping, but I am probably the only woman in the world who can walk into Saks Fifth Avenue in NYC, spend six exhausting hours combing the racks, and find absolutely nothing that looks good on me.  So, on the advice of friends, editor, and agent, all of whom heard the desperation in my voice, I did something I’d never dreamed of doing.

I made an appointment with a personal shopper.

A week before my planned trip to NYC for Book Expo, I spoke on the phone with a nice young woman named Danielle, a personal shopper at Bergdorf Goodman.  She wanted to know my height, weight, measurements, age, coloring, and budget.  Then she asked: “Which designers do you normally like to wear?”

“Does, um, L.L. Bean count?” I asked.

There was a silence. “What sort of occasion are you shopping for?” she asked.

“I need to look good!” I blurted.  “I’m going to be onstage with Angie Harmon!”

“Oh dear,” she said.  Probably thinking: Honey, you are so f***ed.  But she cheerfully suggested a few designers and told me she’d have a nice selection picked out when I arrived.

A week later, I arrived at the Personal Shopping department of Bergdorf Goodman and was escorted to a giant private dressing room where Danielle and her assistant had about two dozen outfits waiting for me to try on. Since I don’t trust my own fashion sense, I wheedled my agent and editor into coming on the expedition with me, not realizing that we would all be in the same dressing room together.  Where everyone would watch me strip down to my Walmart underwear.  

Danielle zipped me into the first dress.  From the moment I stepped into it, I thought: Oh my god, I love this one!  And it fit like a glove.  Ditto with the second dress.  And the fourth.  Without ever having laid eyes on me, Daneille had managed to choose just the right outfits, and to take all the pain out of the experience.

Within two hours, I bought four dresses, a sweater, and three pairs of shoes.  Then a seamstress magically materialized and pinned a few nips and tucks where they were needed.  Then it was all whisked away to be altered and shipped to my home.  

I even came in under budget.  

What did I learn from the experience?

I learned that inside the most diehard L.L. Bean girl lurks a wannabe fashionista.  I learned that even I can wear big-girl high heels.  And I learned that, when the occasion calls for it, yes, I can rise to meet any challenge.

 Even when it means stripping for my editor. 




28 thoughts on “For girls only

  1. J.D. Rhoades

    As I type this, I’m in bare feet and wearing blue jeans, a cotton L.L. Bean shirt, and cotton underwear bought at Walmart."

    And sweetheart, I’m sure you ROCK that look. 🙂

  2. Vicky

    Thanks for the laugh this morning. I share your need for comfort clothes and the thought of shopping for "suitable attire" makes me break out in a sweat. Don’t worry about appearing next to Angie, odds are under her designer dress she’s also wearing Walmart underwear.

  3. Shizuka

    At least you were wearing underwear.
    I’m glad you weren’t going commando to avoid the dreaded panty line or wearing strange reducing underwear (Spanx). Now that would have been really embarrassing.

  4. Cornelia Read

    Tess, best post EVER! I went to Saks for the first time in NYC with a friend a couple of months ago and watched *her* shop. It was a mindbending experience.

    I think I aspire to having a personal shopper at LL Bean. Or possibly Goodwill.

  5. Robert Gregory Browne

    LOL, Tess. If that’s your typical summer outfit, I’m in serious trouble. I’m wearing a ratty t-shirt I bought years ago in Alaska —"If you must smoke, smoke salmon!"—and a pair of sweats rolled up to the knee. Barefoot.

    I’ll let you figure out the underwear part. If you dare.

  6. Judy Wirzberger

    Congrats on good things happening in your life – from what you see on TV to what you see in the mirror.

    I’d type more, but picturing all you you in the dressing room has my fingers laughing.

  7. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Ahh, Tess, I’m so happy you got to have someone dress you. You’re so lovely, I’m sure everyone around you was thrilled to see you step into clothes that an expert picked – there’s such an art to it.

    I’d love to have a personal shopper (and discovered the pleasures of being dressed when I was acting), but I also love figuring out clothes for myself – I just hate the shopping part. I have to do it all in a binge, then I don’t even look at a store for months and months.

  8. Ellen Byerrum

    What a great post, Tess. I’ve never commented here before, but I wanted to applaud your bravery in shopping. Clothes may not make the woman, but they do make her feel comfortable in the appropriate settings. I’d love to see a picture. Personally, I love clothes and now that I’m not working a day job, I miss dressing up in a great suit.

  9. JT Ellison

    I had a roommate once tell me "I’m like Laura Ashey, and you’re like… LL Bean." I took great pleasure in it – I love being comfortable.

    There’s something very liberating in taking a professional’s fashion advice.

    Let me give you some big girl heels advice – while they’re awesome when you’re trying them on, after a few hours you’re going to be uncomfortable. Nothing can be done with the pressure on the balls of your feet outside of a drugstore gel cushion, but for blisters and a little added cushioning, I highly recommend SAVE MY FEET Blister Elixir – available on Amazon…

    It’s gotten me through many a New York heel night, and is great for flats or strappy sandals – anything that might rub after a while.

  10. Barbara

    Great post!

    I love Walmart underwear! (I am a very proud Scot who can spot the best deals in a thrift store from four aisles away!) My fashion sense was so much better when I actually left the house each day to work. I had Jones New York suits in the colors of the rainbow. (In fact I still have some because I have the insane hopefulness that I will actually fit into a size 2 or 4 again! Right now, I’d settle for 12 or 14!)

  11. pari noskin taichert

    I remain fashion challenged, but when I first started touring for my books I went to Chicos and did the same thing — made an appointment and spend two hours with a personal shopper who succeeded well with the clothes. Accessorizing? Nah.

  12. Allison Davis

    OMG I know Danielle. You were in good hands. I only recently discovered the joys of the personal shopper and it does help when you need to turn it up a notch (and I have no sense, i live in jeans and work out clothes). And a new life experience. I needed to do the same for work. I have now found Elizabeth Duong at Nordstrom’s in SF and she couldn’t be better. Also, you can find shoes that are comfy…if they don’t feel good the first time you step into them, don’t get them. I wear 3" heels all the time, and they are very comfortable.

    And I noticed that Dusty was first to jump on that blog.

    Nothing wrong with costume when you need it. All good theatre. Enjoy that couture — it’ll make the flannel feel even better.

  13. Eika

    Personally, I wear things that Old Navy sells most of the time- something brought on after eight clothes stores without anything that fit in ANY of them one day. It’s expensive- *snort* (yeah, compared to wal-mart) – but comfortable. And I wear wal-mart t-shirts. *is, in fact, wearing that outfit now*

  14. toni mcgee causey

    Tess, what a fun post! And I cracked up at your normal attire; I’m sitting here in old jeans, flip flops and a t-shirt that says, "I came, I sawed, I fixed it." High class, let me tell you.

    The times I have seen you at conferences, though, you exude class and style, so if you’re faking that, you’re doing great. 😉 But that personal shopper thing? I am now officially wanting, because I loathe shopping, and like Alex, have to do it in a binge and just get it over with.

    JT, wow. I am getting that blister stuff. Very cool!

  15. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Toni, another thing that works is finding one shop whose clothes you love and try some on in the store so you get an idea of sizes and cuts (I’m sorry, there’s no such thing as size continuity in fashion) – then you can order on line more safely.

    Currently I’m spending WAY too much time browsing GUESS online. But the way they do straps…

  16. Nancy Laughlin

    Thanks for the laugh, Tess. I really needed it today!
    I, too, am an LL Bean woman with no real fashion sense, and the older I get, the more I loath shopping. Maybe someday I’ll give the personal shopper thing a try.
    Have a great time on the road with Angie! You’ll be great.

  17. kathy

    I’ve been shopping the Cabelas catologue for so long I can’t imagine facing a store with …dresses…
    The joy of writing at home, sweats-hacked off at the knees, henley- hacked off at the elbows.
    no socks, no.. much of anything.
    Oh but for a publishing deal I’d face the anguish of shopping.

  18. Zoë Sharp

    Great post, Tess!

    Well, it’s summer here in England, so I’m wearing a greatcoat and midge-repellent…and socks. What is it with you people and no socks?

    My criteria for posh convention frocks is: can you crush it up in hold-luggage and it still look reasonable without needing access to a steam iron?

    My normal photographic work gear is black (so no reflections in whatever it is I’m photographing) and lots of pockets for flashguns, filters, memory cards, etc. SWAT trousers from a military surplus store are brilliant!

    Heels – I have the gel inserts (terrific) and apart from that the only heels I wear are Cuban ;-]

  19. KDJames / BCB

    "…I am probably the only woman in the world who can walk into Saks Fifth Avenue in NYC, spend six exhausting hours combing the racks…"

    If you ever decide to switch genres, you just made a terrific foray into horror writing.

    *backing slowly away from the blog and all references to [shudder] shopping*

  20. Gia

    What an hysterical post! Judging by all the responses, I bet each one of us has felt the same! Who would have thought to get a personal shopper! Great idea!

  21. Susan

    I’m a Target underwear girl myself. :o) And us New England girls need to support the LL Bean!

    I am in awe of this experience. What a great reason to go on a great Pretty Woman-esque (minus the hooker aspect) experience.

    And if the editor and agent saw the undies? What a terrific punchline for such a fabulous story (as I’m sure you already know).


  22. Deborah Piccurelli

    Priceless post! I can relate to the "comfy" look, only flannel’s not warm enough for me. It’s gotta be tee-shirt layered with mock turtle neck, and fleece, all with jeans. Oh, and I do wear socks w/fuzzy slippers in the winter, or canvas shoes in summer.

  23. Linda C. McCabe


    Knock ’em dead on tour!

    As for further fashion acquisitions, you might consider getting another mail order catalog besides L.L. Bean. My favorite is Coldwater Creek. I love their clothes and they distinctive looking jackets.

    There are no stores in Maine, but there are quite a few in Massachusetts if you want to shop in person. It’s not Saks, but you won’t always be standing next to Angie Harmon either.


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