Most of the time I tell people to fuck off if they tell me what to wear. But I do like playing dress-up once in a while.
But I will only take it so far.
I've always thought that contemporary fashion is too sexed up and superfluous to be anything but a waste (see the girls tottering around Pioneer Place in heels and skinny jeans for an example). And in a sports-apparel-crazy city where people can wear jeans, fleece and Dansko clogs almost anywhere, Portland's not a place where fashion is put up on a pedestal. That's what coffee and bikes are for.
But with eco-conscious fashion designers like Sameunderneath making national news, Stumptown might be turning into Fashiontown. At least, to the kinds of people who go into their closets dressed in pajamas and come out walking fashion plates.
Liv Warfield and Gretchen Mitchell think they have found the solution to bridge the gap between fashionista and Portland's average Converse-wearing, indie-music-listening citizen.
LOOK Boutique opened last November in the second floor of a light-filled Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard warehouse and provides fashion consultations for, as Mitchell put it, "anybody who is having struggles with what they're wearing."
Both musicians, soul singer Warfield and blues singer Mitchell met last year at a Ray Charles tribute concert. They immediately became close friends, scouring vintage stores for couture pieces and other duds during tour stops. On what Mitchell calls "a dime and a thread," they started LOOK out of a common love for fashion.
"We want to bring back the intimate, personalized service that makes people feel good about themselves," says Mitchell, whose personal style could be considered "hippie chic" (lots of dresses and owl-themed jewelry), citing the lack of customer service in most department stores.
"We pay attention to detail," Warfield chimes in. She happened to be wearing an apron over a pair of black slacks. "We try to get your look down, from your head to your toes."
For $40 per hour, Warfield and Mitchell will give you chocolate, bottled water, champagne and a pile of clothes for you to try on while they add belts, hats, earrings, vests and whatever else they can think of.
Basically, you're Barbie, and they get to play dress-up with your body.
So far, LOOK has served about 20 clients, including acoustic-blues guitarist Mary Flower and blues and funk singer LaRhonda Steele.
The clothes LOOK offers are all secondhand pieces Warfield and Mitchell have picked out, finds zeroed in on with the meticulous eye acquired from figuring out how they wanted to represent themselves onstage while playing music. The pair charges a finder's fee, and the clothes range in price from $5 to $150.
Before I began trying on the clothes, Warfield and Mitchell worked with the wool herringbone slacks and black turtleneck I had come in wearing. They emphasize that using "tricks and ways to utilize what you already own," as Mitchell put it, can transform what one wears at the drop of a hat. Or the tightening of a belt.
With Nina Simone playing in the background, Warfield and Mitchell added a denim vest over my turtleneck (which I never would have done), a brown fedora and a white belt. They stood back to admire their handiwork.
I looked different . I didn't look bad.
Warfield and Mitchell shouted, "Yes!" and jumped up and down and clapped.
"Sometimes it is just about a belt," Mitchell says.
A tight purple dress, a shift with leopard print on top and herringbone on the bottom, a cream skirt they made me pull up to my ribcage (to accentuate my waistline)—I put on more clothes than I had probably worn all week.
Pulling on a pair of plaid navy slacks, I didn't see a top to wear with them. On top of the pile of clothes I was trying on was a dark green, button-down shirt. I would never have paired it with navy pants, but, I thought, why not? So I put it on.
"Pop that collar!" Mitchell said, grabbing the shirt collar and pulling it up.
"Why?" I asked.
"It's got attitude," she said. "People will see this and see that you've got attitude."
When I added a $40 brown suit jacket, I realized I had gone from wearing something I thought clashed to something I might wear to work.
Taking things that might not look good together at first blush, adding accessories, and playing around with different combinations with an open mind is what Warfield and Mitchell call "listening to your look."
That and "work with what you got" are the two mantras Warfield says should guide anyone's individual fashion sense. Leaving the boutique with an empty shopping bag (having entered with an empty wallet), I left a little more willing to branch out and explore ways to jazz up my usual button-down-shirt and fancy-pant attire.
Is having unique clothes worth that finder's fee? I think it might. If two people are willing to scour clothing shops to find that perfect green sweater I've spent ages looking for, and they find it, I don't see anything to really complain about.
The attitude Warfield and Mitchell approach fashion with could only happen in Portland. Neither one suggest locals need a total makeover, and they're not saying people need to wear stuff that's expensive, out of a magazine, or new.
"Fashion is a compilation," Mitchell says. "There are no rules. It's about what feels right."
"It's all about trial and error," Warfield says.
To the question of whether Portland even needs fashion consultants, Mitchell thinks every Portlander, in their heart of hearts, wants to feel good about what they're wearing. "It's time for Portland to have a little stamp on the map of fashion," Mitchell says.
Maybe the next time I'm walking by Pioneer Place I'll be sporting a fedora or those plaid pants.
LOOK Boutique, 3909 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 888-2182, listentoyourlook.com. By appointment only. First consultation is free, subsequent appointments $40 per hour.
MY LOOK BEFORE: Someone once called it "corporate." Another time my piano teacher told me I was the best-dressed student she'd ever had. Collegiate, business casual, minimalist, low maintenance.
MY LOOK AFTER: Mitchell and Warfield said they tried to take my "look"—which they described as "casual, comfortable, conservative and professional"—and jazz it up a bit with more color and more accessories to accentuate things like my waistline.