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Tell Me What to Wear : * For objective, truthful shopping advice, a fashion consultant's services might be just the ticket.

March 25, 1994|CINDY LaFAVRE YORKS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Cindy LaFavre Yorks writes regularly about fashion for The Times.

I'm what the fashion industry calls a rag brat. My father sells women's apparel. My mother, a fashion design major, once protested--and succeeded in amending--the exclusion of go-go boots at my strict parochial school.

Now I find myself challenged by unsavory fashion trends--loathsome grunge and ill-fitting rayon separates littered with nauseating floral prints. Unwilling to wear clunky shoes, floppy bell bottoms and tunic tops so roomy you could drive a Buick through them, I begin to worry how to dress hip without looking like a grandmother. Rather than panic, I decide to turn to a fashion consultant.

Sue Colella, who operates Head 2 Toe, a fashion consulting business, handles my telephone call with enthusiasm and a gentle warning. "Sometimes people aren't ready for my advice; they really don't want help, or don't want to hear what I have to tell them," she says.

I reassure her of my receptiveness during a 10-minute conversation. I leave out my fashion history and tell her only that I am a self-employed home-office worker.

I explain that I have a great deal of flexibility on what I wear. My wardrobe basically consists of clothing to wear to church and nice restaurants, and ripped, faded shorts and T-shirts relegated to house painting and gardening. I tell her that I tend to buy the same skirt or blouse in a number of colors--black and navy predominate--and that I need more weekend wear in my wardrobe.

Colella absorbs the information and says she can envision what I have. We make an appointment to meet and shop.

Colella, dressed in a casual chic black outfit, shows up on schedule at the shoe department at Bullock's in Fashion Square Sherman Oaks. She shakes my hand and compliments me on my fitted, elongated navy blue vest, white blouse, long skirt and navy opaque hose. "Very slimming," she proclaims. Relieved, I exhale and silently congratulate myself on a good choice.

She asks to see my legs. I lift my skirt. She gives my gams a high approval rating as a few employees try to stare nonchalantly. She OKs short skirts for me, and suggests some of the au courant granny boots (the lace-up mid-leg height to wear with leggings or longer skirts). To add some height to my semi-petite stature, she recommends a slight heel on my shoes. She suggests some casual shoe purchases, since I already have a number of dressy, high-heeled pumps.

Our next stop was the petite department, where she has already scoped the scene and makes a couple of suggestions. We then head to the junior department. A "thirty-something" woman, I express surprise about shopping there and she gently urges me to avoid getting old before my time. She suggests long vests with leggings, long pleated skirts and even short slim skirts for my diminutive but not necessarily skinny body.

She asks what I have in terms of accessories. I tell her that I have a few great pairs of earrings and one long DKNY necklace, a Nordstrom bargain from two years ago that is still in style. She suggests a few more long necklaces, and I file away the info.

*

As she shops, wandering from Bullock's to several other clothing and shoe boutiques in the mall, she points out garments I should consider, mentioning items from my wardrobe that would coordinate well with a new purchase. Her memory is excellent and I can almost see the wheels turning in her head. To test her judgment, I purposely ask her about items I wouldn't be caught dead in. When she diplomatically yet firmly says, "I'm not crazy about that," in response to a long, tent-like dress and a loud printed top, I know that I can trust her.

Unlike a well-meaning friend who may not brave the truth or even really care, consultants make it their business to advise, even if the information is not always flattering to a person's taste or inclination.

One hour--and $50 later--we shake hands again and I am off to reconsider the items she has recommended. However, my lack of cash isn't in tune with my wealth of new advice. I buy a long glass bead necklace--very hip and trendy--and some matching amber-like earrings, and I'm off, feeling decidedly more haute .

Although Colella affirmed that I am hardly a fashion misfit, I did benefit from her advice. She gave me the confidence to try new ideas and showed me how to expand on them. She steered me away from the dressy clothes I like but don't need. But the most valuable aspect of hiring a wardrobe consultant was objectivity.

A good consultant is obligated to critique your fashion choices more candidly and with more interest than a friend who is preoccupied with shopping for herself, or a salesperson with a commission to earn. You pay consultants to devote their full attention and energy to helping you make sound style decisions. By doing so, you can rest assured that you won't be one of those women teen-agers pass in the mall and openly giggle over. I know I'm breathing easier these days on my way past Contempo Casuals.

LIAISON: WHERE TO GO

What: Sue Colella, Head 2 Toe, Woodland Hills.

Hours: By appointment.

Price: $50 an hour.

Call: (818) 346-8966.

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