A Stylist’s Portfolio

A stylist’s portfolio is a bit of a strange thing because unlike a photographer’s portfolio, it’s not completely representative of us.  We can’t have an idea, and then go execute it on our own (photographers can’t a lot of the time too).  It’s 100% a team collaboration and you’re only as good as your counterparts.  This even goes for your personal work.  For example, if the hair and make up is off, your styling will look equally as off because styling has to be cohesive.  If the model is an amateur, the photo will look flat.  If the photographer can’t light, you’re screwed because no creative will be able to see past it.   This is why your goal should always be to work with the most talented people you can, even when testing for your portfolio.

You run into even more obstacles when you’re on a commissioned job because then you’re running into the opinion of the client you’re working for.  When you get the assignment, the crew’s interpretation and the client’s interpretation may be very different of what you want the end result to be.  The thing is, at the end of the day you’re working for them.   A stylist’s voice is rarely the loudest on the shoot.  You’re a hired gun.   Hence, your portfolio isn’t 100% your vision, nor should it be.

Putting together my portfolio for my website brought up a lot of these realizations.  It’s insane how long it takes to build a great stylist portfolio because a number of factors.  First being, you often can’t use the image you slaved  over for legal reasons that the client has, (this is very common).  Secondly, some photographers, even after you email them a countless number of times, won’t send you the image.  You can try to find it online, but often that file is too small to screen grab and use on your website.  Thirdly, it’s a collaboration and a collaboration means that every crew member has to be on their game for it to be something you want to write home about.

Please don’t think I’m writing this post to make excuses or to say that I’m not super proud of my website.  I’m very proud, but I always think and will always think that there is room for improvement.  This is the nature of working in a creative field.  The minute you become complacent is the minute things start to look like yesterday.  I’m writing this to bring light to those who want to get into styling and think that things happen overnight.  My advice is to go where the talent is because again, you’re only as talented as the people standing next to you.

New WEBSITE and BLOG in the works!

It has been very exciting over in my neck of the woods.  I’ve been absent from returning to The Returnist the past 2 months due to a complete life overhaul.  I moved to another apartment, I renovated that apartment, and now I’m onto doing a complete online overhaul of my website and blog (on top of my normal crazy styling machine workload.  Screw summer tan lines!).  I say, why pencil dive when you can CANNONBAAAALLL?!!!  Hence, I’m currently cannonballing and not blogging, but I promise to be back in full force once everything is up and running.

Stay cool in the summer heat.



Tina Fey’s analysis of a photo shoot.

I recently read Tina Fey’s Bossypants when I was on vacation, and couldn’t stop laughing.  The part that hit home was her recap of what it’s like to be photographed.  Usually when you’re shooting someone of celebrity status (even the T Mobile girl who likes to wear pink), you’re ordered to cherish their every movement, not let them lift finger, and make little to no eye contact while doing so, which becomes pretty awkward being the person that dresses the talent.  I can smooth out your undies underneath your khakis, but I can’t make eye contact?  Hmmmm.  I like Fey’s recap because it puts the other side into perspective.  Here are a couple of my favorite quotes:

“It’s usually in some cool space called White or Smash House or Jinx Studios.  Sometimes it’s at an amazing hotel.  Wherever it is, it’s nicer than where you had your wedding.  You take a freight elevator up to a beautiful loft where there is a coffee bar at which everything is free.  Free, I say!”


“When you inevitably can’t fit into a garment, the stylist’s assistant will be sent in to help you.  The stylist’s assistant will be a chic twenty-year-old Asian girl named Esther or Agnes or Lot’s Wife.”


“If you’re like me, you probably take ten to twelve seconds a day to put on some eyeliner and mascara.  Maybe you throw in five seconds of eye shadow if it’s New Year’s Eve.  The makeup artist at your photo shoot will work methodically on your eyelids with a series of tickly little brushes for a hundred minutes.  It’s soothing, actually, because you must sit still and you absolutely can’t do anything else.  She will do this thing before she lines your lips where she puts her finger on your top lip and rolls it back ever so gently.  When she is done, you look like you have lips!  Not crazy overdrawn grandma lips like you would do, but God-given lips!”


“At some point in the morning, one of the stylists or publicists or fecalists will declare that the free coffee is “not working for me,” and some intern is sent out to get other coffee.  Or bubble tea.  Or gum, Advil, Red Bull, and egg white omelets that are destined to be forgotten about and left on the windowsill.”


“The photographer will ask you what kind of music you want to play during the shoot.  Remember that whatever you choose will be blasted through the loft and heard by an entire crew of people who are all so cool tat the Board of Ed. officially closed school.  Just murmur, “Hip-hop,” or make up the name of a hipster-sounding band and hen act superior when they’ve never heard of it.  “Do you guys have any Asphalt of Pinking?” [disappointed] Really? [shrug] Whatever you want, then.'”


“After about seventeen minutes of shooting, they call lunch.  The catered lunch makes you feel like you’re finally the person you always wanted to be.  Vegetable tartlets.  Arugula salad with figs, quinoa, fish that is somehow more flavorful and delicious than a Wendy’s hamburger.  Miniature lemon meringue pies.  Hibiscus iced tea.  You fantasize about how wonderful your life would be if you had this food delivered every day.  Oh, the energy you would have!  Your stools would be museum quality.  You could finally impress the fecalist that is on set.”


“At this point someone from your real job or home life will call to check in.  Pretend you’re exhausted and that this whole photo shoot thing is a big inconvenience.  Say you’ll be done by six and that you’ll be sure to get home in time to help organize the basement storage unit.  Then hang up!  Do not let those people kill your buzz!”

The Returnist doesn’t return everything.

For those who are scratching your heads at where I came up with the name, The Returnist, it is a hybrid from the famous fashion blog, The Sartorialist, and the famous back end of all styling assignments, having to do an insane amount of returns.  For those who don’t work in the industry find it really shocking that we return everything that we don’t use.  Here’s where the name, The Returnist is getting me in trouble, and getting all stylists in trouble; now with scrunched down budgets, everyone thinks that since we have tag guns we can return EVERYTHING.  Sure, we can.  You can also steal jewelry easily from Macy’s too if you wanted to, but that doesn’t mean it’s right.  Wardrobe budgets are getting silly small, UNREALISTICALLY small for the needs of the project.  If we kept everything that touched skin, meaning smelly crotches (pants) and boderific odor smelling shirts, we’d be limited to shopping at discount stores like KMart and Target.    The thing is, we all know that you can’t show up with only options from these stores when presenting to the client.  Of course, it all depends on what you’re doing, but with things like business attire, you can’t cheat a good looking suit or ladies button down shirt.  It’s true that things are probably OK if the model only wore it for a couple of minutes, but not all pores are the same when nervous and in front of the camera.

I’m writing this post to bring some awareness to the fact that putting stylist in a position to have to return soiled garments (ew), puts us in jeopardy of having bad relationships with the stores we rely on, or for having bad karma for the rest of our lives to ensure that we’ll catch bed bugs when we least expect it at Neiman Marcus.   My suggestion is that if you’re unsure what wardrobe and props will cost for a job, you should contact the stylist you’re thinking about using to give you an estimate.  Remember, if you can’t afford solid gold, you can’t wipe your armpits on solid gold.

Personal Shopper Confusion.

A weird thing happened the other day; I was parked outside of Target at the beginning of a hefty return day, pulling out a couple of Ikea bags and a woman stopped me and asked, “Are you a designer?”  I did a shady, “Um, uh… no,” without making any eye contact.  I then proceeded to do my routine return and the woman followed me in while accompanying me during my awkward moment at the customer service desk and said, “Have you ever thought about personal shopping?  I’m a really busy mom who’s also a massage therapist who would love to have someone shop for me.”  To be honest, there were a number of asshole responses that ran through my head.  First, and probably the least offensive, “I’m a busy wardrobe stylist that would also love to have someone do my ‘shopping.'”

I feel like I should first preface my explanation as to how my job is different, and why I would never be a personal shopper by saying, I have absolutely nothing against being a personal shopper nor do I think I’m better than someone who is a personal shopper/closet organizer type.  It’s a great career that I’m sure is challenging, and allows you to make people feel good about themselves and their surroundings.  Here’s how my job is different and why I wouldn’t take on personal shopping/closet organizer onto my roster.  I do what I do, not because I like to shop, not because I like to see the people surrounding me in clothes that they’ve worn within the last six months from their perfectly edited and sensible closet, and not because I feel like I need to fix the sometimes sensitive to the eye outfits I see on a daily basis.  I actually enjoy a hoarder, a wrinkle, an outdated capelet from Ann Taylor, and a pair of cargo pants that with a tug of a zipper becomes a breathable pair of shorts.  It’s telling of your personality, and it tells a little story, which brings me to the reason of why I spend a crazy amount of time filling my car with things from shopping establishments… I like to tell a story.

The reason why some stylists do both on set work and personal shopping is that styling is a mix of traits that lend itself to personal shopping; knowledge of everything current in every single stores, resourcefulness, ability to listen to your client to make a strong guess as to what they might like, knowing what is in style and works for someone’s body, and working within a budget.  Why being a set and wardrobe stylist is different is that you’re one single part of big team.   You’re shopping for the agency, the client, and the photographer, as well as all the variables you might run into on set, which will likely change  your original intentions.  What works in person, or what we thought worked during the pre-production conference call may not hold true once you’re on set, which in the end is the bottom line.  It all has to make sense and tell the intended agency and client’s story.  It’s a much different mind set when shopping; one that I personally think is tough to mix with a personal shopping client, or even my own shopping list.   Therefore, please e-mail me if you want to pick up my dog’s food.

Carine Roitfeld – Irreverent

This was one of my favorite Christmas gifts this year, the book Carine Roitfeld – Irreverent, from my amazing husband that remembers things that I mention with excitement over a month ago.  This goes through the nitty-gritty of everything you might want to learn and see from the famous ex-French Vogue fashion editor.  This book only reconfirmed her authenticity as a stylist.  She’s someone I truly admire, not because I want to style like Carine Roitfeld, (I’m not a french aristocrat and didn’t have an erotic film director for a dad, therefore that ship has sailed); I admire her for her whimsy in styling, her sense of humor, and her confidence in her spontaneous ideas.  I’m not sure how someone becomes so cool in the world of Paris fashion, where everyone acts like a black cat on a marble perch.  Probably just a perfect ball of neglecting judgemental peers and social quos, while having unadulterated superior taste in all that looks perfect on a magazine page.

Here are some of my favorite quotes taken from Irreverent.

What do you attribute your success to?  Can you define it, or is it a mystery to you?

There’s certainly something mysterious about it.  It’s not my place to say whether I have any talent or not, but success is a mix of hard work and good luck.  I met the right people at the right time, but I also knocked on the doors that I knew were the hardest to enter.  I never chose the easy option.  I have always gone after the most interesting things, even if they are the most difficult.  Always!

So what exactly is signature Carine Roitfeld in your fashion photos?  Could it be an approach to elegance with a suggestive-not explicit sexual component?

I do things by instinct.  For example, I can hang a Chanel bag around Christy Turlington’s neck and all of a sudden, the chai strap becomes a punk S&M accessory.  For me, the main thing is that the photo is sublime, and I let myself be guided by that.  I can do a very sexy photo with a simple pearl choker, or use the sort of very bourgeois lavliere shirt with a bow on it that was worn by Simone Veil, and tie it around a mode’s breasts to make it look like a bondage picture.  Actually, I love violating the codes of bourgeois elegance.  I love high heels with tracksuit bottoms and a black bra under a white shirt.  It’s probably a reaction to my bourgeois upbringing, but it’s also a way of showing a woman’s wardrobe from a different angle, overriding convention and overturning the rules of seduction.

How do you manage to preserve your creativity?

Although I’m very diplomatic, I’ve learned not to back down when it comes to my own vision.  I stay inside a bubble so I can focus on my own creativity and not feel burdened by outside influences or pressure.  I don’t live in a fairy tale – anything but.  But I remain inside my private, insulated space where I find my inspiration and my freedom.

*Carine Roitfeld on the left with a cheetah.

My next fantasy?  No idea.  I never know ahead of time what I’m going to do on a shoot.  It’s completely instinctive process.  I decide at the last-minute, and I order in the accessories at the last possible instant.  I must have my back against the wall to come up with the right ideas.

*Carine loved to use women of all body types.

Horse quandary…

Truth be told, I’m not a big fan of horses.  They’ve always kind of freaked me out.  BUT, for whatever reason, I seem to incorporate them in every other part of my life.  This horse bust plaque came off of my kitchen wall (minus the sunglasses), I own a number of horse themed shirts, and have horses plastered all over my refrigerator.

I never claimed I was normal.

Regardless, I love this image I did with Brian Kuhlmann.  It has everything I like about styling with telling a story, having a sense of humor, and a little bit of sass-mastery.

Courtney Rust – Chicago Wardrobe and Prop Stylist

Milk Magazine

Whether we like to admit it, the French sure do know how to make a good-looking magazine.  I legitimately lost a full night of sleep after going through every corner of imagery on Milk Magazine’s website.  It put my head in the right place for the project I’ve been working on.  Kid’s fashion (does not apply to real life kids, but for wardrobe styling) doesn’t have to be “for kids.”  I think it’s most successful when their look projects the future of the child’s personality as an adult, with touches of natural cleverness that only a kid could come up with.  It’s kind of like adults who speak in baby talk to a 5-year-old.  The kid can handle your real tone, there’s no need to dress up your dialect in airplanes and bows.  You just need to speak the future.

Here’s a sampling of their amazing covers.

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