I swear, I have a good reason for going 2.5 years between blog posts. It’s not that this blog is dead. It’s that I’m trying not to let myself post here until I finish the project that is my other blog, as a way of spurring myself to get the darn thing done. But at 9 months since my last post there, well … it’s gonna take awhile. And in the meantime, Peanut is nearing the end of first grade, the baby whose prenatal ultrasound was in my last post is now a toddler (we shall call him Hazelnut), Tolkien and I are both finally done training and are in grown-up jobs, and life is spinning on as usual. It’s that frenetic pace of life that actually prompted me to enter the universe that is the topic of this post: the magical world of subscription boxes.
As a working mom with two small kids, clothes-shopping for myself is a chore akin to spreading tar on my driveway. In August. It’s no fun at all, dragging both of them into a fitting room and begging one to stop screaming and the other to stop sticking a head into other people’s stalls while I try to shimmy in and out of multiple pieces of clothing in under five minutes because snacktime is rapidly approaching. So at some point last year I realized that I had not purchased clothes for myself since before my last pregnancy and therefore no longer had very much that fit. And who wants to go out in public looking like a weirdo? Enter subscription boxes.
Subscription boxes are boxes of items (clothes, jewelry, workout attire, home goods, depending on the company) that are shipped to your home at your request and save you the hassle of shopping (or of searching endlessly online) while letting you know of new products or trends you might not have heard of otherwise. Every box has its own rules regarding returns and pricing, but the general concept is brilliant. Save me time and the hassle of going to brick-and-mortar stores? I’m on board.
The first box I tried was Stitch Fix. I may do a post on my Stitch Fix purchases at some point, only because I know a lot of people really like to see the items in others’ boxes so they can request them for themselves, but my goal is not to become a fashion blogger (shocking I know) so we’ll see whether I get around to it. With Stitch Fix, you fill out an online style profile, create a Pinterest board to illustrate your personal style, and pay a $20 styling fee per box. The boxes can be scheduled or can be ordered on a one-time basis whenever you want. Each box is put together by a stylist using your pins, your profile and your measurements. Each box contains 5 items and you keep as many or as few as you like. If you keep any, the styling fee is applied towards your purchase. If you keep all 5, you get 25% off the entire box. Whatever you don’t want goes into a prepaid envelope that you drop back in the mail. You give detailed feedback on the pieces you liked and didn’t like and why, with the idea being that each box should get better and better as your stylist gets to know you. I really enjoyed the convenience of Stitch Fix coming to my door and I also appreciate their excellent customer service (they’ve been known on multiple occasions to send free boxes or flowers or gift cards to clients with illnesses or recent tragedies). And you cannot beat being able to try on clothes in the comfort of your own home, at your convenience, with your own closet right there so you can see whether a new piece goes with something you already own.
I also tried Sparkle Box, a jewelry subscription service, which was easy and fun. They don’t allow returns, but their prices are much lower, so one box wasn’t the end of the world, and the pieces they sent were pretty as well as high-quality.
After a couple of Stitch Fix boxes, I started wondering whether they were really my style, however. At the same time, I realized that we have a lot of wedding and wedding-related events coming up this year, I don’t have many dresses that still fit me, and there is no way I’ll have the time to go out and buy multiple outfits. So I started looking around online, and ultimately decided to try Trunk Club. During my virtual exploration, I found looking at other people’s Trunks really helpful, so I’m sharing mine in case others want to decide whether or not to take the plunge. (Disclaimer: This is not by any means a sponsored post — none of these companies know who I am — but there are referral links in this post. That means if you click on one of the links in this post and join the service, I’ll get a credit and you’ll get a code to pass on for your own credits.)
Trunk Club is a personal styling service run by Nordstrom. Similarly to Stitch Fix, you fill out a style questionnaire online, but you then communicate directly with your stylist by phone or e-mail. They then put together a trunk of around 15 items, and send you a preview. You have a chance to nix any items you don’t like, they add in more, and then they send it to you. You have 10 days to try on the pieces at home, and you just schedule a UPS pickup at your home for everything you want to return. Plus, there’s no styling fee. The downside is that the pieces are from Nordstrom (and not the clearance rack) so they’re definitely pricey. However, if your Trunk pieces go on sale in the store, you automatically get the lower sale price when you check out.
Since there was no styling fee, I could send back everything I didn’t like, I know Nordstrom is more my style, and I know their items are decent in terms of quality, I figured it was worth a shot to see if they could do the hard work of wedding-season shopping for me. I told them I wanted bright dresses, some LBDs, and maybe some shoes, and to keep each item less than $100 (still pricey for me, but definitely low-end for this service — I’ve seen bloggers online get items costing $400 or more.) My goal was absolutely not to keep the whole trunk (that would put me out nearly $2,000!) but to painlessly find one or two dresses.
So here was my first Trunk:
This thing was a beast!
First look upon opening:
This trunk contained 15 items. During my preview, I had declined 8 items (including an Ivanka Trump dress that I otherwise liked because #boycottTrump) and my stylist Megan had added more that would be surprises. Here was my invoice:
And here are the items (and remember, I am no model and Tolkien is no fashion photog):
Maggy London Illusion Yoke Crepe Sheath Dress – RETURN
I was not a fan of this. I don’t really like dresses with sheer yokes to begin with; they just seem kind of old to me. Plus the length was really unflattering for a short person, and the fit wasn’t great anyway. I’ve been looking for an LBD with some eye-catching detail for several months, ever since mine unceremoniously fell apart, but … this isn’t it.
Ali & Jay Ponte Sheath Dress – RETURN
This was the second LBD possibility in this trunk. It didn’t have anything unique about it, and the fit was terrible — too clingy in the stomach and shoulder straps that were so long a linebacker could have slid under there with me. An easy no.
Ellen Tracy Belted Stretch Sheath Dress (black) – RETURN
This was the final LBD option in this trunk. It was nice, and fit well, but it’s not really what I had in mind. The belt, detailing and pockets make it more of a day or office dress, and what I’m looking for is a black event dress. So this went back.
Ellen Tracy Belted Stretch Sheath Dress (blue) – RETURN
This is the exact same dress as the one above in a different colour. Which is a little disappointing because I’d rather have more options to try on, but it was certainly a nice dress. The fit was good and I like the bright shade, but again this is more of a professional day outfit, when what I’m looking for is party dresses.
Love, Fire Love Dress – KEEP
I absolutely love this dress. The colour is vivid enough for me, the silhouette is fun instead of frumpy, and the lace detailing is beautiful. In addition, the price point was totally reasonable. The only problem is that the fit isn’t perfect. But it’s close … so I was on the fence. I eventually decided to keep it, partly so I could show my stylist that I will buy pieces that are bright and affordable.
Eliza J Sheath Dress – RETURN
Red is my favourite colour, so this dress was already doing well in that department, and the fit wasn’t bad. It would be a great dress to have on hand for professional events. However, I have enough of those at the moment, so this is going back.
Tahari Floral Jacquard Sheath Dress – KEEP
This was the item in my preview I was most excited to try, and the one item that I said yes to immediately. I like the bright floral print and I like that the print circles only one part of the garment. The fit is nearly perfect; the shoulders are a little too big, but this dress wouldn’t need too much altering. I wish the background wasn’t black, but that’s a minor quibble.
Adrianna Papell Pleated Stretch Crepe Sheath Dress – RETURN
The colour and fit were both fine, but this just seemed sort of “mother-of-the-bride” to me. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, and I will totally embrace it when my time for that comes, but that time is not now.
Eliza J Floral Scuba Fit and Flare Dress – RETURN
This dress fit like a dream. For that reason alone I was super-tempted to keep it, since that’s kind of a rare occurrence for me. But navy is one of my least favourite shades, so I wasn’t excited about the colour scheme on this. Plus the floral print made it seem too similar to the Tahari dress I’m definitely keeping. I would love to see this dress again in a brighter, happy shade or print.
BaubleBar Bold Multistrand Beaded Statement Necklace – RETURN
And now we enter the accessory portion of the evening (some of these are also pictured in the photos above). I love this necklace — I like pink, and I like the striking design — but I just don’t need much jewelry right now, and I think this is a little overpriced.
Nordstrom Link Choker – RETURN
This is quite possibly the most boring piece of jewelry I have ever encountered. Literally, it’s a chain. Around my neck. And that’s it. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen infants wearing more interesting pieces than this. I couldn’t take it off fast enough.
Alexis Bittar Miss Havisham Ear Chains – RETURN
OK, at these I had to laugh. They’re pretty and all, but there is no way I would spend $115 on a pair of earrings. I am not into expensive jewelry at all, and if I did need any I would ask my family overseas to buy it at more reasonable prices there. I’m sure sad, wealthy Miss Havisham would appreciate these earrings and their cost, however.
Spanx – RETURN
These also made me laugh. My stylist Megan must have thrown these in because I asked her to find dresses that were forgiving of my post-baby belly. However, I don’t need these, because I already have a Spanx collection
Topshop Giselle Buckle Sandal – RETURN
Having Indian skin, I don’t love nude-coloured footwear. Since it doesn’t match my skin tone, it just looks odd. Plus these shoes felt low-quality and weren’t comfortable. Another easy no.
Sam Edelman Aisha Fringe Sandal – RETURN
This was a tough one. I love these shoes, and I do happen to need dressy black sandals. So I wavered for awhile, but ultimately they’re too expensive for the amount of use I would likely get out of them. I feel like I could find something similar for half the price and put the money I save towards a more worthy object, like the poor. Know what I mean? So bye-bye, cute shoes. Sniff!
And that was my first Trunk. Overall, I was really happy with the experience. I think my stylist did a fairly good job picking out pieces for me as a total stranger, I did end up keeping two dresses, and I got to try on things at home that I might never have come across in a store. My feeling is that I would never use Trunk Club to provide me with a whole wardrobe, because it’s difficult to justify spending at their price point when you can easily get everyday clothes for less (and probably should, when there are suffering people everywhere to whom we need to be donating.) But for a targeted need for which you would probably have to spend more money anyway, such as special-occasion outfits or suits or leather jackets, ordering a Trunk just for that purpose could save you a lot of time, energy and trips to the mall. If you’re considering trying it out, I hope this post was helpful. And if you do pull the trigger, please share your Trunks (or Fixes, or whatever you order) with me! Seeing others’ loot is half the fun. If you already have ordered one of these, what did you keep? And what other subscription boxes do you like? Tell me your finds!
In case anyone reads this entry and considers trying Trunk Club, I feel the need to state that, two months later, I have canceled my Trunk Club account. Why?
For starters, I was hearing multiple stories of people whose stylists were pressuring them to spend more. That would be bad enough, but these same people were also reporting stylists making passive-aggressive comments about their low budgets, stylists going AWOL if they felt you weren’t a worthy enough customer, and stylists who were actually suggesting that clients should try Stitch Fix if they weren’t financially ready for Trunk Club. Ugh.
Then, this e-mail was posted to a Trunk Club Facebook group by a TC client. This is an internal message about her that was accidentally cc:’d to her:
Apparently, this client had “only” purchased 4-5 items from her last 4 trunks, and the company was viewing her as a “time suck.” In addition, this e-mail seems to imply that, contrary to their public statements that there is no minimum purchase, TC actually does have an internal minimum purchase expectation, after which a paying customer can apparently be blacklisted. Obviously, this was highly off-putting to me (and scores of others.)
The final straw was when I e-mailed my own stylist, asking her about this situation. She ignored my message completely. A few days later, I closed my Trunk Club account.
I did send an e-mail to one of the co-founders, also the VP of Member Experience, letting him know why I was leaving. I received a nice message back, apologizing for what happened. But I thought it was interesting that, rather than assuring me that what they say is true and there really is no minimum purchase, he instead said that it’s up to them to “clearly set expectations with customers” and that “moving forward, you can expect to see us make changes to our publicly-stated policies that more clearly outline how the service works.” So there IS an internal expectation of a minimum purchase! I just think that’s disrespectful. A company can run itself however it pleases, but to not communicate their protocol to their customers and then snark on those customers in private (or worse, “blacklist” them) is just unacceptable. Apparently, TC is aiming for the high-end portion of the market, and treating all non-wealthy clients like peons is something they don’t mind doing in the process. But the problem with that, aside from the fact that it’s really jerky, is that in Internet retail, you actually have no idea who your customers truly are. The person who buys “only” one or two items might be a millionaire that you just turned off with your behaviour. I’m willing to bet that’s happened here, as I know of many people who also cancelled their accounts.
So in all, I can no longer recommend Trunk Club. I will say that Stitch Fix has excellent customer service (there are tons of stories online of them sending gifts to clients who have lost loved ones or are going through medical treatment, and I’ve had good experiences with them as well.) And I plan to try other subscription boxes in the future, so we’ll see how they measure up. So if anyone has any personal recommendations, share away!