Sense of Style

Nancy Dilts brings a passion for fashion and sustainable consumerism to her new career.

For years, Nancy Dilts was someone whom friends would seek out for fashion advice, looking for her suggestions on what to buy to enhance their wardrobes. She loved the experience of sharing her opinions with friends. “It’s really always been my passion,” says Dilts, who lives in Saint Paul. “And I have always loved consignment shopping: I have expensive taste, but not the budget.”

For Dilts, her current role as a wardrobe consultant and personal shopper is her second career, born in part out of the 17 years she formerly spent working in environmental education and community outreach. “For me, it’s important to practice sustainable consumerism,” says Dilts. “When it comes to clothing, that means making your existing wardrobe as functional as possible, getting rid of things that don’t work and re-imagining things that do.”

The tagline for her business, Nancy Dilts Wardrobe Consulting, which recently celebrated three years, is “Style for Everyday: New to you, True to you.” Not only does this include her passion for consignment shopping (where shoppers can invest in higher-quality and durable pieces on a budget), but her determination to help women focus on positive body image.

“My goal is to help women embrace who they are. What you wear impacts how you feel,” she says. “Now there are always days for sweatpants, but being intentional about how you dress matters. It’s all about how you show up for the world.”

Dilts says her business has grown rapidly due to word-of-mouth, and most of her clients are women in their 40s, 50s and 60s. Their reasons for wanting to work with a wardrobe consultant are varied, according to Dilts: weight loss or gain, body changes after childbirth or menopause, divorce, or even grief after the loss of a spouse or parent. Or sometimes it’s as simple as not having the time or wanting to spend the time to shop, or just having “a fresh eye.”

Working with clients is all about building relationships, says Dilts, and that starts with an initial consultation over coffee. “It’s a chance for me to find out who they are and what their life is like,” she says. The more Dilts can discover, the easier it is for her to help clients dress in a way that makes them feel the most authentic.

Michele Chin-Purcell of St. Anthony Park was happy when her friend launched the business. “I was impressed by Nancy’s sense of style and I was very much drawn to her focus on sustainability and re-use,” says Chin-Purcell, owner of Chin-Purcell Consulting, an independent medical device consulting business.

Calling her previous wardrobe “dated and boring,” Chin-Purcell says she was “looking for a style that was simple, classic and fresh.” The pair started by going through Chin-Purcell’s closet to cull anything that “no longer fit, never did fit, or did not fit into my goals,” she says. From there, they started making new combinations using items Chin-Purcell already had and liked.

The next step was to visit a couple of used clothing stores. “Essentially, I ended up in the changing room while Nancy brought armloads of items for me to try on,” says Chin-Purcell. “With her knowledge of what I was looking for, what suited my tastes and style goals, her help was spot-on, and the whole process was efficient and really fun.”

The result? Several of the pieces they found that day continue to be some of Chin-Purcell’s favorite wardrobe essentials. “I have had several people compliment me on my clothing (I rarely got comments like that before) and I always tell them it was due to Nancy’s help,” Chin-Purcell says.

Editing the Editor’s Wardrobe

I’m not someone who is opposed to shopping, but I’m likely to stay in my comfort zone when it comes to choosing clothes. I won’t admit how many long-sleeved black T-shirts I own.

After interviewing Nancy Dilts for this story, she and I headed over to Elite Repeat on Randolph Avenue, where I had the chance to glimpse her process. As she would with a conventional client, she asked me to describe my style, what I do and don’t like when it comes to clothing (no florals, please). I said I was more inclined to select a sweater over a blazer or jacket, and she accepted that challenge. It was helpful to hear her observations as we moved through a rack; she also respected my polite “no thanks” to a couple of items.

Before long, I was in the dressing room with five short jackets, which I eventually winnowed down to two, now hanging in my closet. Full disclosure: The one shown in the photo (above) is something I never thought I would have chosen, but Dilts was right. It works. With that skirt, which I also bought. She said, “That [skirt] looks like it was made for you.” I love it.

As we parted, I realized that one of Nancy’s goals for her clients—to make them feel good about their wardrobe choices—had also worked for me.

Nancy Dilts’ Tips for Shopping Success

1 Before you go shopping, identify your needs. What are you looking for? Work clothes? Date-night wear?

2 Look for proper fit; don’t forget that sizes can differ by manufacturer.

3 Dilts is not a fan of the expression “figure-flattering.” “That implies there is something wrong about your body and we’re trying to fix it,” she says. But it is key to balance the lines of an outfit by paying attention to details such as sleeve length or where a jacket hits the waistline.

Special thanks to Melissa Auran, owner of Elite Repeat, for providing the clothes for Nancy Dilts and Michele Chin-Purcell.

Michele Chin-Purcell credits Nancy Dilts with helping her find a style that was “simple, classic and fresh.”