Trying to understand — or discover — one’s personal style can be incredibly hard.
The number of reality television series on style makeovers in the past 10 years alone can confirm that statement. Shows like “Queer Eye” (and “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”) and the memorable, yet poorly aged, “What Not to Wear,” continue to grace TV screens and streaming services, playing a crucial role in the ever-changing idea of what it means to have a personal style.
As fashion trends evolve and are recycled with respect to the Gen Z and Millennial creatives, the idea of having a personal style is becoming even more celebrated, due in part to social media. Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and even Tumblr are commonplace for anyone to try out their style on a social platform, share with others, gain inspiration, and, in a way, track their style through posting.
With more fashion, trends and designers than ever, the already saturated market can be overwhelming for many when trying to just get dressed. “As adults, we aren’t taught how to dress, we sorta just buy what we can afford or copy what other people are wearing and hope it works,” New York-based personal stylist and capsule wardrobe expert Bee Stuart says.
Celebrities like Zendaya, Anya Taylor-Joy, Harry Styles, and Beyoncé all have one thing in common — they work with personal stylists to evolve their looks during red carpets, press junkets, and the various other events in their busy lives. But hiring a professional to help with one’s wardrobe isn’t just a thing for celebrities or the wealthy, it’s also very common for many groups of people — from working professionals to politicians, busy moms to new teachers, and dads to fashion-obsessed friends. Whether you have a solid idea of your personal style and you want to help people find their own, or you’re in need of hiring someone to teach you about styling, WWD offers a guide below with remarks from experts.
How to Become a Personal Stylist
Personal stylists, sometimes referred to as wardrobe stylists, are the Stacy Londons and Law Roaches of the world that work with people to embody their own personal style that reflects their fashion choices and passions. While there are courses online that can be taken to learn about personal styling and shopping, there is no one “proper” way of becoming a personal stylist. “[This] is something I’ve done all my life — starting as a teen, styling anyone who would let me (from a friend to my grandmother), helped build my knowledge and understanding of what is best for different body types, ages and style preferences,” says Jill Jacobs, stylist and image consultant. Jacobs credits her education in the industry with experience, having worked as a stylist for over 13 years. “Retail, e-commerce, editorial, personal and celebrity styling — all of which broadened my understanding of what works best to build a personal style for a large range of people, not just those who fit my personal style,” she says.
Experience is most vital when building a career in personal styling, whether it’s working in a department store and training as a stylist on the sales floor, or taking courses or masterclasses from other experts. Creating a clientele list through family and friends can lead to other jobs and opportunities. Nina Walder, personal stylist and image consultant, was once a client of an online personal styling course that taught her about dressing herself. “It was quite a big discovery for me and I said OK, ‘I’ve made so much improvement, let me continue on this journey.” Walder took more courses on styling and started getting requests from friends and family. “They’re asking me, ‘Can you style me for the wedding? Can you help me go shopping?’”
A common misconception is that working this profession will just be shopping and basically dressing someone every day. While personal shopping is often a service provided by stylists, the goal is to educate, inspire and train clients to understand their own style so they can dress in a manner that embraces their identity — even if it goes through periods of change.
“When I first take on a client it’s as if I’m their teacher as they learn what works best for their body type. Once that base is built, we home in on their own personal style and build a closet full of looks that best personifies this for all aspects of life,” Jacobs shares.
For many, the pandemic and quarantine took away chances to dress up, or simply change out of the sweatpants that became a daily style choice. The everyday act of dressing for work or seeing friends became a missed opportunity, and even with restrictions lifting and return-to-work plans coming to fruition, things like simple socializing and dressing oneself can seem overly difficult after more than 18 months inside. That’s where a personal stylist comes in, and thanks to the impact of social media, sites like Instagram and TikTok have creatives of all ages finding their own sense of style online and sharing it with millions of viewers. What results is a garnered interest in personal stylists and becoming one as well.
How to Hire a Personal Stylist
No personal stylist is the same. There needs to be a foundation of trust and transparency when searching for a stylist. It’s vital to find someone that can work with your specific size range, transitioning stage, gender or budget. Walder, suggests finding someone that you like to ensure that you’ll get along. “It’s a lot of in-depth work, you’re going to be opening up a lot about your insecurities and how you see your body, there is a lot to uncover there.”
Things to keep in mind: Make sure they have a portfolio or website to review their services and the type of people they style for, and always ask questions. As with any service, if it involves money and time, don’t waste either and do a quick sleuth through social media and google. As stated, TikTok is a great resource for stylists to share their work, while also offering advice to a generalized (but still targeted) audience.
“Look at how the stylist dresses themselves and previous clients. If you aren’t too keen on how they dress then chances are you won’t enjoy their styling,” says Stuart
Walder recommends writing down questions you may have for your search. “What are they doing? How do they work with their client? What kind of work are they doing? Does it address your problem? And finally, what is equally important as well, is looking at the stylist themself.”
Why Should You Hire a Personal Stylist?
“Hiring a personal stylist eliminates the guesswork of what works and what doesn’t,” says Stuart. “We teach you how to dress your individual body type and how to shop in stores that are catered to your lifestyle, budget and body type,” she continues.
“Finding your style has a lot to do with your mental health and the psychology of it all,” says Stuart who studied psychology for many years. “Personal style can affect one’s mental health, when we don’t look our best we don’t feel our best and this energy not only affects us but it affects the people around us.”
There are many individual reasons someone hires a personal stylist, but with the number of online services that are often free, taking up these opportunities can limit unnecessary spending on clothes you may never wear or missed opportunities to be your best-dressed self.
Stylists often take similar traits as a therapist, working one-on-one with clients to unpack mind blocks that are keeping them from trying new things or fears of certain styles. Jacobs remarked, “I’ve had clients tell me it’s like I can see into their soul. Clothing and personal style are so much more than just outward appearances. The confidence I see built in my clients as I work with them is always so exciting to see.”
How Does Virtual Styling Work?
Even before COVID-19 caused the way we work and live to drastically change, personal styling was already making itself accustomed to the virtual world. From virtual meetings with stylists over Zoom to online retailers and companies offering digital styling tools, receiving personalized help with developing style is as accessible as ever. Luxury fashion retailer Nordstrom is known for its customer service and expansive brand offerings, but also the personalized styling and tailoring services that many take advantage of. Neiman Marcus, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and Anthropologie also offer personal styling services as many retailers and online stores are working to provide digital and virtual services.
A common form of styling that has become popular in shopping is offerings from sites like Stitch Fix, Dia & Co. Armoire and Nordstrom’s Trunk Club, where customers receive curated subscription boxes with different styles to try on at home. An initial quiz is usually taken where the site’s software can analyze answers and clothes sizes to curate the box, and any styles that the customer likes, they can purchase and return the rest. While it leans more toward personal shopping, the feedback from stylists can make purchasing for special events easier with the variety of online design choices offered.
Within one-on-one styling, online appointments allow for more flexibility in scheduling and servicing those from all around the world. Walder created an online course for women to take to open the untapped knowledge they probably already have in them. “I basically equip women and walk them through the whole system of how to become a personal stylist to themselves.” Through her own demonstrations and teaching, Walder shares her expertise on color study, curating outfits and understanding body type with this virtual course.
“I have clients all over the world — clients love when I send my style boxes, which are full of pre-styled looks for [them] to shop. We also keep a log of items and looks my clients already have so we can pull from those, based on their needs at the moment,” says Jacobs.
What Is Personal Style?
Fashion, and style, are fully dependent on the person, it doesn’t matter what the item is, as long as the person likes it and feels good wearing it, then it’s stylish. Jacobs says, “Simply when you look good, you feel good.”
At the end of one very long shopping cart or secondhand store search, style and fashion is ever-changing and becoming a more open and inclusive environment for people to embrace their personal style — whatever that may be.