Ola Hixon used to hate shopping for professional workwear. A principal in the real estate group at Blackstone, Hixon operates in an office culture that requires suits for men and equally formal wear for women. But finding those outfits felt like a constant and tedious hunt.
“Just finding [the right clothes] that are appropriate is a research project,” she told Business Insider.
Speaking with a friend, Hixon learned about MM.LaFleur, a clothing line designed specifically for women who work in finance, law, or other industries that require a more formal wardrobe in the workplace. The brand creates the type of simple yet elegant designs that appeal to a wide variety of women who want to stay stylish within their office’s dress code. Customers can buy products directly from MM.LaFleur’s site, in its New York showroom, or in a pre-selected product called the “Bento Box.” Prices range from $195 to $325 for a dress, $195 for pants, and $110 to $240 for a top.
Launched by Sarah LaFleur in 2013, the brand seems to have caught on with professional women — last year, its Tory 2.0 dress had a waitlist of over 900.
Now, Hixon is at a turning point — a new mum with a baby of just five months, she’s ready to get back into the office with a newly fitted wardrobe. She let Business Insider shadow her while she tried on clothes with stylist Sara Holt in MM.LaFleur’s New York showroom.
The showroom is a breath of fresh air compared to the hectic and messy department stores Hixon used to shop in. 'Shopping for professional clothing wasn't enjoyable at all,' she said. 'It felt like work because you really have to search and find things that are professional (enough).'
MM.LaFleur caters to women outside of New York with regular pop-up events it hosts across the US. The brand also has a product it calls the 'Bento Box': a mail-ordered shipment that comes with four to six ready-to-try wardrobe staples.
Whether shopping in store or online, each costumer is paired up with an in-house stylist who works with you as you shop. 'I would ask (sales associates at department stores for second opinions) but it's hard. There's not always someone around to ask if you're just shopping on your own,' Hixon said.
Stylists pull clothing items before the shopper arrives, basing their selections on a survey customers fill out while booking their appointment. Each customer's work environment, dress code, sizing, and personal style preference come into play.
'I try to pull six to eight complete looks before a customer arrives,' Holt said. 'Inevitably, things will be changed out because a human being is not a survey -- you can't know someone's personal style until you see their reaction to the first dress.'
Hixon describes the office style at Blackstone as formal and traditional. 'A lot of us are wearing similar things, because there's very few places that sell very professional clothing,' she said.
'The men are wearing suits (in the office),' she said. 'And the women get to be a little more creative. We'll wear dresses, put two pieces together -- a blazer with a pencil skirt sometimes, and a nice blouse.'
Before MM.LaFleur, Hixon's go-to stores were Saks Fifth Ave, Macy's, and Nordstrom -- but the shopping was mostly fruitless. 'I'd come back, in terms of workwear at least, with not that many pieces that I really loved,' she said.
As she was fitted, Hixon was able to share her concerns and opinions with Holt -- like that dresses and skirts that hit above the knee weren't office-appropriate -- and Holt adjusted the options.
MM.LaFleur goes by a 40/40/20 rule when helping clients build a work wardrobe. 40% of your clothes should be for everyday workwear, and they should be machine-washable to save time and money. The other 40% should be for both day and night looks -- essential for those frequenting after-work events. The other 20%, as Holt described, are your 'show stoppers.' These come out of the closet when you have an important meeting or interview.
Hixon's shopping patterns have changed since becoming a MM.LaFleur customer. '(Before), I just constantly was feeling like I needed (new) things -- I was always looking out, but it was taking a lot of time,' she said. 'When I need something now, (I think) maybe I can just wait 'til my next (appointment).'
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