Style Tips From Shopping Expert Andre Spearman

For more than two decades, he has helped some of Washington’s most notable women look great—without following trends.

Ask Andre Spearman to name trends he’s excited about—a question that fashion types typically answer with a calculated response—and he doesn’t have a reply. Instead, this shopping expert at one of Washington’s most exclusive retailers chuckles—trend-watching, he says, is a practice much too young for his age and taste—and instead describes a love for the classic minimalism that defined the 1950s and early ’60s. “Look at Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” he says. “It’s perfect. She’s got the little black dress, a black gown, a trench coat. She is just impeccably dressed. It’s not a lot of things, just the right things.”

Even in a city that has seen a surge of emerging indie brands and edgy, modern fashions—far from Spearman’s aesthetic—an appointment with this Neiman Marcus personal shopper remains one of the area’s most sought-after style meetings. His decades-loyal clientele ranges from trendsetting socialites to gala-going politicos. Spearman has two particular passions: “I love beautiful evening gowns and great-looking suits.”

Spearman on Current Styles

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear . . .

Leather pants?
“Not for most.”

“Ultra-feminine, when done right.”

Fancy sweatshirts?

Sneaker wedges?
“Young girls.”

“Fabric crossover, not cross-dressing.”

“With restraint, big fan—along with feathers.”

“Trim, lining, coat—all good.”

Crop tops?
“That’s a tough one.”

Wide-leg trousers?
“I prefer a straight leg.”

“Best in a narrow silhouette. Fuller skirts look a little clumsy to me.”

Behind a chandelier and glass doors on the second floor of Neiman Marcus’s Mazza Gallerie store is where you’ll find Spearman, 54, who has been with the company for 32 years. The walls above his desk, tucked into a nook of a back room, are crowded with fashion-magazine clippings. Racks of couture and a full-length, three-way mirror also fill the space. Spearman spends his days chatting with clients to get to know them, their style, and their needs. He then pulls clothes for them to try on. The service is free.

The Beginning
“I first came to DC when I was 13, on a field trip, and I loved it. So I decided I was going to live here someday. When I was applying to college, my brother suggested American University—and that’s how I got here. I studied political science. By senior year, I had fulfilled a lot of my requirements and had extra time, so I wanted a part-time job. A friend said, ‘Why don’t you try Neiman Marcus?’ It’s so funny because I didn’t know what Neiman Marcus was. When I went in, it was scary—everyone was dressed so well and it was so quiet. I filled out an application and they said, ‘We’ll call you.’ ”

Finding a Niche
“I started out selling stationery, luggage, and electronics. I graduated from college in ’81 and initially wanted to go to law school, but I decided to take a year off and think about it. So I worked at the store. At the time, the manager took care of the best customers. I was her assistant, so when she had someone coming in, I’d set up the room. Women would come in and you’d drink coffee and chitchat and look at clothes. Eventually, the boss would say, ‘Andre, this client seems to like you—why don’t you take care of her?’ That was my entry into personal shopping.”

The Experience
“I’ve known some incredible women. It wasn’t just that they had great style; it was that when they shopped, it was a pleasure. Shopping should be. When you’re buying these kinds of things, it should be fun. If you come to me, I want you to look your best. Because when you look good, you feel good.”

Evolving Style
“There’s a lot of style in Washington, but the reputation is sort of stuck in the past. Before, people would always say that whatever you wanted to get, you’d have to go to New York. But you don’t have to. If there’s something you want that I don’t have, I can get it. This town is conservative, but it’s not dead.”

Wardrobe Picks
“Every woman in Washington should have in her closet a great black dress. I’m also a fan of gray flannel pants. You can wear gray flannel with any number of things, and everything will look great, from a sweatshirt to a satin blouse. Bill Blass used to do that [in his designs].” Spearman particularly likes the Valentino bicolor fluted sleeveless dress above. As for flannel pants, he recommends Giorgio Armani mélange straight-leg pants in gray-blue ($1,995). Both are at Neiman Marcus.

This article appears in the May 2014 issue of Washingtonian.