Do Your Clothes Make You Look Old?
A personal stylist can keep you current. When and how to hire one
Becky Hellwig was inspired to hire a fashion stylist after having twins. “It wasn’t cheap, but [it was] worth every penny,” says the mother, who works as a public relations consultant in Silicon Valley. “I had a huge closet full of clothes and it was nine months after my twins were born. I needed help. My goal was to dress a little chicer than [I was feeling]. I felt like a slob. I wanted to somewhat look like the girls on Pinterest. I knew if I found the perfect colors, it could happen, as well as clothes [that] looked good for my 32F chest.”
Fashion may seem frivolous, but this billion dollar industry is vital when it comes to how we want to portray ourselves to the outside world. Whether you’re looking to redirect your career, get a promotion, or make a major life change, what you wear can have a major impact. “What you wear is how you present yourself to the world, especially today when human contacts are so quick,” the iconic fashion designer Miuccia Prada once said. “Fashion is instant language.”
And if you aren’t the kind of person who likes to spend hours shopping for the right look — maybe you don’t have the time, maybe you’ve just never understood how to put an outfit together — you may want to do what Hellwig and many other women have chosen to do: hire a stylist. Where to start and who to use is as variable as there are styles and women. Today’s stylists offer services for every type of woman and, more importantly, you no longer have to be a celebrity to get the red carpet treatment.
Price Has Come Down as Access Has Gone Up
In recent years there’s been an influx of personal styling companies that streamline the process. These companies often have a team of stylists or offer specific benefits. “I have used Front Door Fashion a few times and have loved the experience,” says Brittany Sherwood, a psychiatric nurse practitioner. “I used the service when starting my career as a medical professional and wanted appropriate outfits that were both comfortable and fashionable.”
Similarly, Carlisle is a luxury, ready-to-wear styling service that’s been in business for more than 35 years. Fred Tutino, the former creative director of Elie Tahari, is now leading the brand. With 1,000 Carlisle stylists around the country, Carlisle caters to C-suite execs, society women, and others in Washington, DC, New York, and elsewhere. Prices range from around $175 to $2,990 and cover everything from the basics of finding the right T-shirt to nabbing a one-on-one session for a special evening event.
Stylist Audrey Beaulac says “the kind of woman who should hire a stylist could be anyone.” Beaulac is based in Seattle and DC and works with “high visibility clients on identifying, defining, and refining their ‘Style Signature.’” Her goal is to provide clients with “a streamlined, working wardrobe that intimately enhances its owner and serves every need.”
New York–based stylist Tania Sterl says, “There really is no standardized rate for personal stylists, and it does depend on where you live. In a more suburban or urban area where a woman’s career may be a full-time mom, teacher, or pharmacist, rates will be lower. For cities such as New York, LA, and Chicago for executive women, an average hourly rate could range from $150 to $250.” Sterl offers seasonal service package rates, half-day rates, and full-day rates.
Hire Help Before You Need it
“Ironically, many women wait to hire a stylist until there is an event, a promotion, or some transitory period in their lives because they want to look and feel their best for the upcoming occasion,” says Betina Baumgarten, a San Francisco–based stylist who works with celebrities and television reporters. “I always ask [my clients]: What about the rest of the year? The other 364 days? How do you want to feel then?”
Baumgarten, who spent 15 years as a civil defense attorney, believes that having a stylist is key not only for women who work in media or those who will be attending red carpet events, but for every woman. After all, she switched careers because she says, “after deposing hundreds of witnesses, it became clear that how you show up matters.” She adds: “Everyone I have worked with wishes they had called me sooner.”
Baumgarten says her goal is to help women “who want to learn how to effortlessly dress for [their] bod[ies]; embrace trends in physique-flattering ways; and who want to look and feel like the best, most authentic version of [themselves].”
“I cannot say it enough, ‘dress for the job you want, not the one you have,’” adds personal stylist Janel Alexander, based in Greenwich, Connecticut. “If you are looking to get ahead in your career, how you represent yourself — including how you dress — is a critical part of setting yourself apart. Whether we like it or not, we are constantly being judged as a way to identify.”
For this reason, this previously celeb-based perk is trickling down to the “average” woman.
What to Expect When They’re Styling
All stylists work differently. Baumgarten starts with a closet purge and keeps talking with her clients about what works and what doesn’t. She goes through their best pieces, denoting “the keepers,” and creates fresh outfits which she then compiles into a digital lookbook. “After a closet edit, clients routinely comment that they feel like they have a new wardrobe,” says Baumgarten. “And [they haven’t even] gone shopping!”
Of course, shopping is usually in order because after the purge they are left with gaps in their wardrobe. Another in-person meeting helps identify what’s missing. Then they go shopping — sometimes together or solo, depending on the client’s preferences — to expand both the closet and the lookbook.
Alexander, who works with celebrity news reporters such as NBC’s Kate Snow and high net-worth and philanthropic clients, provides similar styling services. “I tailor the services I offer to … the individual client’s needs,” she says. “This can range from editing and organizing their closet [by] going through specific pieces and curating — to a full edit: a total wardrobe revamp.” Her services might include shopping for the client on a seasonal or bi-seasonal basis.
Alexander also offers a lookbook with head-to-toe photographs of outfits meant for work, specific presentations, day-to-day, or special events. When a client of hers goes on vacation, it’s not uncommon for Alexander to plan the outfits for the trip. “I put full looks together based on [her] itinerary and pack it all with photos and itemized details of all looks.”
How to Choose a Stylist
“Talk to several consultants; get a feel for their process,” Beaulac suggests. “You’re going to be spending productive time together. Do you believe this person can lead you to your result? Do they have resources that fit for you?”
And, do you like the way the stylist dresses? Different stylists have various expertise — and finding someone to dress you for your career may be different than the person who can dress you for a black-tie event. Also consider how long the revamp will last. When will you need to do it again?
If you’re on the fence about whether to hire a stylist, Beaulac recommends determining your goals. Drill down, she says: “Do you want color help? Are you [just] updating? Is it a complete re-do including hair and makeup?” Answering these questions will help you pinpoint exactly what you need from a stylist.
Meet the Stylists
Need a stylist? Our fabulous interviewees offer a great starting point.
A personal stylist based in Greenwich, CT, Janel worked for 12 years with top retailers and designers, making sure that not only were their designs on point — but also that the fit was amazing. She works with celebrity news reporter Kate Snow as well as other prominent and philanthropic clients.
San Francisco–based stylist Betina Baumgarten styles such local celebrities as the San Francisco Giants’ Emmy-winning broadcaster Amy G and the Oakland A’s sideline reporter Angela Sun. Betina recently had the pleasure of styling the 2016 Oscar-winning producer for Best Picture (Spotlight) Blye Faust for numerous award shows, including the SAG, BAFTA, and Independent Spirit Awards, as well as the Oscars.
Working in both Washington, DC, and Seattle, Audrey combines left-brain analysis with right-brain intuition to help her clients pinpoint nuances, overcome distractions, and ultimately express their most remarkable selves. With discretion and compassion, she facilitates a customized transformation that puts her clients at ease while projecting a dynamic, authentic presence. By defining color, clothing personality, and body architecture, Beaulac unearths the uniqueness within each of her clients so that her outside can reflect the genuine confidence radiating from her inside.
Tania Sterl is a New York–based personal branding stylist and fashion expert, founder and principal of Sterl on Style. As the “Creative Director for your Image,” Tania’s mission is to empower women through style, showing them how to take both their image and their success to the next level. With 20 years experience in the fashion industry, Sterl has designed beautiful, flattering looks for accomplished career women.
I hope that what you mean is “Do your clothes make you look dowdy?” (or dated, or like you are wearing someone else’s outfit. Or perhaps tired.) But to present “old” as a dreaded effect, so odious that you need a stylist is just… graceless. I would love to look like Mae Musk, Oprah, Lauren Hutton or any number of elder women who pass me daily on the streets of my city.
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