This month’s featured fashionista is actually a wardrobe stylist! We spoke with Jennifer Niehouse, who’s been helping people dress well since she was a teenager. Jennifer not only styles wardrobes, but she also helps people go through what they already have in their closet and re-work looks, or throw away what needs to go. Jennifer focuses on making her clients feel good in what they wear; even if it’s something they never would have thought to pick out for themselves in the first place. Thank you, Jennifer, for letting us interview you!
How did you get started in the business as a wardrobe stylist?
I give credit to my mom. After my parents divorced, my mom’s lifestyle went from part-time kindergarten school teacher to full-time real estate agent. Shopping for stylish and professional clothes was something we did quite often. She knew how to put the business look together but I helped her with the ‘going out with girlfriends’ and date night outfits. I later went to Missouri University for fashion design with a minor in journalism. A dream was to do the fashion spreads for Vogue, Elle, and Bazaar magazines. However, I had a successful career at Hallmark Cards as a typography artist, left four years ago to achieve the second part to my dream. Having gone through the Kauffman FastTrac class I learned how to start a business as a wardrobe stylist. I love helping people enhance and update their personal style.
Who are your primary clients?
Women in their thirties, middle aged women and gentlemen. Two key reasons I am hired is because #1 our bodies change with age, and #2 our lifestyles change. For example, I have worked with many stay-at-home moms who used to run around after their toddlers in sweats, t-shirts and yoga outfits. They call and say they don’t know what their ‘personal style’ is today or what new fashions would work for them. Also their body shape is different and they never have time to shop. They want to find that fashionista they used to be before kids. Another primary reason women ask for my assistance is because today’s professional dress is so casual. How can you look credible without looking sloppy but yet stylish? I have talked to women and men at their company’s Lunch & Learns helping everyone better understand their company’s dress code policy ‘Business Casual.”
What are the most common reasons women ask for your help?
1. When they are finally are ready to admit they have too many clothes and nothing to wear.
2. They lost weight and need help finding new updated fashions that look good on their new body shape.
3. They don’t know how to mix and match, so they always wear the same outfits.
4.They’re bored with their look and want a fresh perspective.
I applaud women who decide to reach out and work with me. As a wardrobe stylist I feel it is important for women to evaluate themselves every decade; 25-35, 35-45, 45-55, and so on. Everyone gets into ruts and we typically gravitate to the same looks/things. I come in and see a woman who would look amazing in certain fashions that would compliment her style but she may never ‘see’ these style herself while shopping because she goes for what is familiar. This is one of the highlights of my job when a gal says, “I would never have picked this out, but I love it!” In the long run, she will become a smarter shopper because she’ll try new looks and not settle for the usual looks!
What’s the biggest challenge you face when helping a client style her wardrobe?
The most challenging aspect to this business is working with all the different body shapes. Women typically only wear 25% of their wardrobe. My goal is helping them figure out what’s going on the other 75% and much of the time it is because it doesn’t fit right and therefore doesn’t look right. It’s too big, it pulls here, too boxy, too long, too short, it gaps or they realized after the fact it looked cute on the hanger, but never feels right when they put it on at home.
When styling an outfit for a client, what is your process? Do you start at the head or the feet?
It really just depends on what pieces I choose to put together. For example, I may use a scarf that has a lot of color, then find a top and bottom that is a color within the scarf’s material and use it to pull the outfits together. The shirt and pants may not look right on their own, but the scarf pulls it all together. Accessories are the best and least expensive way to make an outfit look unique and stylish.
With the tight economic climate, how do you help women build a new wardrobe without starting from scratch?
Women still don’t realize you can do a lot with less. Before the economy tanked, it was quite common to spontaneously buy something for the “party happening this weekend.” Now, we try and figure out what we might already have in our closet. A more common solution today is shopping at resale and consignment shops. Plus, everything eventually goes on sale. These days we’re more accustomed to seeing 40% instead of just 20%. Or we’ll see an additional 40% off already marked down merchandise! However, the reason the retailers can offer these great sales is because the quality is not nearly as good as it used to be. A Banana Republic sweater pills after only a couple of wearings which then looks like something you might have picked up at Wal-mart! This is very common among retailers and extremely frustrating when you spend money to invest in the basics.
What are the basic essentials of a wardrobe?
2-3 pairs of denim: dressy dark denim well-fitted jeans, worn but feel great on, depending on the trend perhaps a black pair of denim. a white blouse (non-wrinkle), dressy black pants, ponte knit black pants and skirt, khaki skirt, well fitted jean jacket, thin white and black layering long sleeve and short sleeve t-shirts, black camisole, black cardigan, a couple of nice quality pencil skirts, tailored black jacket. 2 pair of shoes; 1. classic black patent pumps or kitten heel, tall black boots. And finally the accessory pieces; leggings, a few colorful scarves, necklaces and of course tights in a variety of colors and textures.
What role does legwear such as tights, leggings, and socks play when building a wardrobe, and do you always include legwear in every wardrobe?
As a wardrobe stylist, accessories are the best way to play up an outfit and definitely consider tights an accessory piece. In the fall, it is a fantastic way to add a bit of color plus they are functionally warm in the cold weather. If a client only has black tights, I always recommend a couple of colors and suggest adding some texture. Most of the time people want to add new pieces or looks into their wardrobe but they feel overwhelmed. There are soooooo many choices of colors and patterns that they have difficulty narrowing in on what would best coordinate with their outfits. My clients rely on me to nudge them a little outside their comfort zone, but they want to feel comfortable and confident trying something new.
Is there a right or wrong way to wear legwear?
As women, it’s important to be mindful of what’s age appropriate. For instance the fad neon colors this spring/summer season are probably best suited for gals under 30. However, I believe all ages can wear the dark subdued colors such as charcoal grey, dark brown, eggplant, deep turquoise and of course black. I believe the yoga pant legwear has been abused fashionably. Most women can’t just wear leggings with a t-shirt, however we see this often and it’s not a good look. Exposing the bottom for most is TMI. (too much information)
The socks and sandals trend. We’ve been seeing it a lot. What are your thoughts on it?
I absolutely love this look and used to do it myself in high school and college! I see it a lot in magazines, but not so much when I am out and about here in Kansas City. I imagine it could be seen on college campuses or in more cosmopolitan cities. After having read these questions, I did come across some cute grey socks with silver thread running through it. I bought them challenging myself to try the sock and sandal trend. It is a darling hip look. I also see socks worn with pumps and am attracted to this style as well.
Where do you look for inspiration and style?
I get my inspiration from a few common places such as fashion magazines where I have my ‘rip out folder’ of my favorite fashions. Most recent, Pinterest’s fashion category has captured my attention. I can easily loose track of time scrolling through what others out there have Pinned! I also enjoy people watching. It’s common to see people strolling down the plaza wearing the latest trends. It’s fantastic to see someone put a unique spin on it. I get a kick out being surprised like that! When I see something new and different it’s just doing something creative with something I already have….just would never have thought of on my own!