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What to wear to work: Fortune tests women’s online styling services

Clothing courtesy of Stitch FixClothing courtesy of Stitch Fix
Clothing courtesy of Stitch Fix

Today’s working women arguably have more items on their to-do lists—and less time to accomplish those tasks—than ever before. So, it’s no surprise that a host of online services have sprung up to help cross one of those items off the list: shopping for clothes.

But while that solves one problem, it raises a new one: Which company should you choose? As a young professional still building my office wardrobe, I decided to put five of the most popular online styling services to the test, all with a single goal: finding stylish, affordable workwear. What follows is the first installment in our weeklong series.

Stitch Fix

How it works

The first online styling service I tried is also perhaps the most well-known. Stitch Fix was founded in 2011 by Katrina Lake and functions similarly to Trunk Club, the men’s styling service that was recently acquired by Nordstrom. It works like this: Fill out an online “Style Profile,” get a box of clothes and accessories, return the things you don’t like, and get charged for the things you decide to keep. You pay a $20 “styling fee” for each box you receive, which is subtracted from the cost of any item you decide to buy. And, if you buy everything, you get a 25% discount.

The “Style Profile” consists of a few basic questions (age, size and fit preference), as well as a section where you are asked to rate different styles on a scale from “love it” to “hate it.”

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 2.29.55 PM

After this section, you’re given the option to link your stylist to things like your Pinterest boards to get a feel for your style and your Twitter and LinkedIn profile, so he or she can get a sense of your profession and what might be appropriate. There’s a section that asks a bit more about you’re looking for. I note that I’m specifically interested in work clothes; nothing with plaid or polka dots; as inexpensive as possible, please. Then, in the comments section I write: “My workplace is relaxed-business casual. Looking for clothes that would work both in the office and to a dinner with friends. Also looking to layer, as the temperature in my office fluctuates a lot!” I hit save and schedule my fix. I only schedule one, but there are options to get boxes automatically, anywhere from every two to three weeks to every three months.

The clothes

When my fix arrived, my first reaction was, “ugh.” When I was setting my preferences, I clicked “hate it” on the styles with lots of floral and frill, yet two of the shirts in my box were, well, floral and frilly.

Left: 41Hawthorn, $58; Right: Market & Spruce, $58

The one thing that did catch my eye was the Bancroft necklace—cute! And only $32.

Bancroft necklace, $32

I begrudgingly tried everything else on, and I must say I was pleasantly surprised: The Margaret M trousers ($98) fit like a glove and were so simple. I could see myself wearing them with pretty much everything I own—though not with either of the shirts that were included in my box.

And while the Kut From the Kloth dress ($98) was not exactly office-appropriate, it was definitely something I would wear on the weekend.

Left: Margaret M trousers ($98); Right: Kut from the Kloth dress ($98)

Verdict

The experience of ordering, getting my “fix,” and returning everything I didn’t want was seamless. I even got an extension on the usual three-business-day deadline for returns by sending a short note to the customer service email address—no questions asked. The shipping was free both ways, and there was a prepaid envelope included in my order; the only thing I had to do was drop off the clothes I didn’t want at a USPS location.

Still, the clothes were not what I was looking for—and I didn’t feel the box was actually tailored to my preferences, even though I’d put a quite a bit of thought and effort into my Style Profile. I requested clothes to wear to the office, but there was only one thing in the box that seemed work-appropriate. The prices of the individual pieces were reasonable, yet I didn’t feel that anything was a particularly “good deal”—I’m sure that I could find similar things at equal or better prices at a department store.

Stitch Fix says that if I keep at it and give the company feedback after every box, it gets better. But I don’t have the patience for that.

Up next: Keaton Row

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