Taking the stress out of shopping

When Minh turned 30 he, like many men, was struck by a feeling that he needed to start paying a bit more attention to his wardrobe.

While his situation was improved by the addition of a pair of Crockett & Jones' black oxfords to his shoe collection, when he realised he didn't really have anything to wear them with, he knew he needed help.

Of course, many men around this age face the same dilemma of wanting to dress differently but not knowing where to start; or in Minh's case, not knowing what to do after a single pair of shoes suddenly shone a spotlight on the wider problems lurking within his wardrobe.

But with any discussion of the way men dress necessarily comes consideration of the way men shop. And in relation to the age-old mistakes of the stereotypical male shopper – shopping at the same old stores, being too one-eyed, and buying simply to replace rather than refresh – the question is often asked: is it ignorance or impatience that is to blame?

An evolutionary psychologist may argue the latter, claiming that the man's employment of 'mission shopping' (i.e. get in, get it and get out) is an evolutionary flow-on from an ancestral brain that was wired to hunt down prey as quickly as possible. Similarly, this theory links a woman's ability to browse with the foraging carried out by her ancestral forbearers.

Others might argue that it’s ignorance that is to blame, as he’s more than likely relied too heavily on the women in his life to buy his clothes and therefore never learned for himself.

According to clothing retail marketing expert Steve Kulmar, male shopping habits are a large factor in explaining why men's fashions make up less of the Australian apparel market compared to Europe and America.

“A lot of that has to do with the fact that in Australia, a lot of 'his' shopping is done by 'her'. However, we are seeing growth in men's fashion apparel sales in the Australian market and a lot of this is being driven by online sales,” Kulmar says.

But while online sales may be increasing, this is no guarantee that men are learning to shop any better. In fact, the increased amount of choice online might be making things worse.

It is an issue Will Rogers thought long and hard about before deciding with Nick Gonios to co-found Kent & Lime, an online clothing retailer where the stress is taken out of the shopper's hands.

Instead of choosing their own clothes, Kent & Lime customers are asked about their dress sense by a style advisor who then selects clothes for them from a variety of brands. The clothes are posted out and upon receiving them the customer has 10 days to try them on and make up his mind. What he likes he pays for, and what he doesn't he simply returns at no extra cost.

Rogers, a former menswear buyer for online store ASOS, explains that the idea behind Kent & Lime was to provide a genuine personal service that helps male shoppers cope with the often overwhelming choice online.

“We thought there must be a way of reducing all that noise that is out there and give people a place to go that cuts through all the choice. That's what really sparked the idea,”  Rogers says.

The business is also trying to capitalise on the poor service many shoppers lament in bricks-and-mortar stores.

“We found that service levels in retail were pretty shocking from our own personal experiences, and just trying to get the service that you wanted was lacking in many stores, especially the big retailers. We believe that we can make a niche for ourselves by demonstrating that internet shopping doesn't have to be the epitome of self-service.”

While Kent & Lime may appeal to the man that wants to look good but has no interest in shopping, two young Melbourne men have decided to tackle the problem from the opposite angle.

James Gallichio and Julian Burak are two fashion freelancers who are teaching men in Melbourne and Sydney how to improve the way they dress and shop better via their business, A Good Man.

“Our clients are men, typically between the ages of 25 and 40, who want to take more pride in their appearance. They want to achieve a sharpness in their look that comes from wearing classic shirts, suits, trousers, jackets and beautiful shoes,” Burak says.

He also stresses that their service is a long way from the makeover transformations that are the fodder of reality television shows.

“While quite often we're overhauling someone's look, we're not setting out to make them unrecognisable to their friends, and we always take into account any great clothes they already have. In fact, we do have clients who are well-dressed guys who enjoy shopping but come to us because they are busy and short of time."

Burak also gives hope to many an exasperated partner by stressing that it is not impossible to turn around a shop-a-phobe.

“Of course we have clients who come to us because they don't enjoy shopping, but by helping them put together a base wardrobe which they can build upon and inject new pieces into later, the whole process becomes a lot easier and typically they grow to enjoy the experience more.”

And as for Minh, after speaking with A Good Man he no longer has any trouble matching those black oxfords.