Wardrobe Styling with Kelsey Cowley

Story by Sarah Carpenter
“However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs, and it's sort of comical how you think you made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing a sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff."- Miranda Priestly, The Devil Wears Prada

Maybe Miranda Priestly is just a character in a film with a less than motherly attitude and rhetoric harsh enough to make a grown woman cry all the way home from work, but never the less, she got some things right. Or what I really should say is that the movie’s writers got some stuff right. Clothing may be a medium in which to protect our bodies from the elements or provide a sense of mystery or modesty, but it doesn’t just end there.

“Fashion can give people an identity and purpose”

A few weeks ago — or was it a few months? Can anyone really tell what day it is anymore — I sat down with Kelsey Cowley to talk all things fashion styling. Kelsey has been a wedding and portrait photographer for four and a half years now, and after spending quite a bit of time helping her own portrait clients piece together camera-ready wardrobes, she has now decided to add wardrobe styling as an official branch of her Kelsey Cowley brand. Kelsey has always had an eye for fashion. She spent her childhood pouring through magazines and consuming shows about design. One of her biggest inspirations, her Aunt, spent her years traveling the world, picking pieces up from her travels and putting them together in a way that was uniquely her.

She gave Kelsey the advice of “dress up all the time, doesn’t matter the occasion,” and that advice has stuck with Kelsey to this day. Hiring a fashion stylist is definitely at the top of my list and something I’d encourage for everything from a wedding weekend to gala event to everyday life, but until you’re ready to hire Kelsey for her excellent services, she’s given me a glimpse into what fashion is, the importance of it, and how to use it to feel confident and express your personality as well as some tips for how to put your own wardrobe together.

Biggest Influences for How You’ll Feel in Your Wardrobe:

When it comes to the top things that can influence how you feel in your clothes, Kelsey says color is the most important. “Color really does evoke emotion, change the entire feel…” Some things to think about when choosing colors to put in your closet. “If you wouldn’t decorate with it, why would you wear it?” The way you feel when you put on a certain color can completely change the energy inside of you just like if you were using it to paint the walls of your house. And that energy can change the way you behave in a group setting. Wearing the wrong color could make you feel self-conscious enough to not put your best foot forward.

Texture, pattern, and shape are also important aspects to clothing that can change the way you feel, but the other biggest influence is going to be how you feel in your outfit. If you’re having to adjust your clothing every so often (pulling up straps and tops, tucking in a shirt over and over), you’re not going to have confidence. A good fitting piece will make something inexpensive look higher end. It’s that important. However, higher end and slower fashion brands tend to understand fit better than fast fashion brands do. You’ll have better luck choosing a company that pays attention to details like specific tucks and pleats than one that makes clothing to fit multiple body types. A fast fashion brand will more likely make things baggy or flowy to fit more people.

In the process of dressing her clients, Kelsey says “I start where I love”. Then she takes styling to a more personal level as she begins to get a feel for her client. Kelsey’s favorite brands all have a few things in common. They are bold, elegant, and traditional with fresh elements. Her go-to everyday brands including stores from all price ranges like H&M, Mango, And Other Stories, Joie, Jenni Kayne, Zimmerman, Ulla Johnson, and more. For higher end designers, Kelsey gets inspired by Tory Burch, Nicola Bathie Jewelry, Love Shack Fancy, and Oscar de La Renta. Aside from fashion brands, Kelsey also pulls a lot of wardrobe inspiration from interior designers. That might sound crazy from the outside looking in, but she says that interior design is a great resource for seeing the way colors, textures, and shapes connect in order to create cohesive design.

Kelsey’s go-to wardrobe for everyday revolves around simplicity. She’s happy in a dress most of the time. It’s easy to wear one piece, less to think about. She always has a nude sandal either flat or with a heel. Living in Southern California where the climate is temperate and somewhat chilly throughout the year, she always carries a neutral sweater, saying that hers is navy, and she definitely considers navy blue to be a neutral color. Other than that, she says she always has a pair of great jeans and a white button down or eyelet top in her closet.

Dressing the Men:

“I am really passionate about styling for men,” Kelsey says almost as fast as I can get my question out. She says it’s easy to forget about the guys because you think they can just wear any pair of pants and a shirt, but that’s also the mistake a lot of people make. The lucky and frustrating thing (for women) about guys is that it’s easier to dress them than to dress ourselves. There is less variety in their body types, and you can have a beautiful custom suit made for much less money than you can have a custom gown made.

Here are Kelsey’s top three items every man should have:

    1) Fitted pants. Fitted does not mean too tight, though. There is a fine line between too baggy and too tight.
    2) A pair of nice comfortable shoes. There are so many nice looking, comfortable options for guys, and you shouldn’t have to wear athletic shoes to leave the house anymore.
    3) A button-down shirt. It can be collared or collarless. It can be tucked in or untucked depending on how casual your day or evening will be.

Fit is the most important thing to think about when it comes to dressing men. “An ill-fitting suit can cheapen the whole look” for the whole group even if everyone else is dressed to the nines. Wrinkles, poorly chosen color that doesn’t match the man’s skin tone or a horrible pattern are all things that can contribute to the look being off. But don’t let that scare you from being bold with menswear. Accessorizing is something men seemingly shy away from, but “men need to embrace fashion”. Accessories can be anything from a bowtie (but please, please do not wear a fake bowtie. There’s just no excuse, and they look horrible), a pocket square, a hip floral or plaid blazer etc. And for the love of all things beautiful, iron your clothes. You can get them professionally pressed if you’d rather do that, but please don’t show up anywhere with wrinkles in your shirt or pants.

She believes that every man should have at least one outfit in the closet that is casual but that he’d still be able to go to a nice dinner in. She jokes that she has rules for her own husband, but let’s face it, she’s not really joking. And don’t we all want to have rules for our household wardrobes? He’s definitely not allowed to wear workout clothes outside of the house unless they’ve left the house for a workout. He’s also not allowed to wear sweats, pajamas, or basket ball shorts. All I’m saying is that there will be more rules enforced in my own house from now on. Is that harsh? Maybe, but it’s all about putting our best foot forward, right?

Accessorizing can be overwhelming, and this is one place in my personal life where I’d really love to have that fashion stylist standing over my shoulder and slapping my hands when I try to buy weird, trendy jewelry. Kelsey keeps it simple in her everyday where with a tiny gold chain, a pair of small diamond studs, a silver bracelet, her wedding and engagement rings. That’s it. She also says, “A great shoe can completely change the whole outfit or even make the outfit”. Accessorizing is such a personal thing, but it’s also something that many people can get lost in, and this is one very important place where a stylist can help their clients. She will understand when to add a bracelet, the type of earrings to wear or when a “necklace [just] isn’t invited to the party”.

Some last bits of advice from Kelsey:

    1) Focus on the goal you’re interested in trying to accomplish.
    2) Become acquainted with the cost of items so you can go into shopping with an understanding of the difference between expensive and cheap clothing and what makes one item superior to the other.
    3) Understand that spending money on clothing is a personal decision, and remove the fear around spending that money.
      a) Think about how many times you’ll wear that outfit. If you love it, and it makes you feel incredible, spend the money.
    4) Figure out if the piece you want to purchase is one of a kind. Sometimes the item can be replicated for less money.
      a) Compare materials, quality, construction. If a cheaper piece can accomplish the same goals, go with the cheaper piece.
    5) Research the pieces you want to fill your closet, and never shop on an empty closet!
    6) Read the tag! You’d read the labels on your food, right? So make sure you’re reading the tag on clothing items when you’re still in the store. Understand if you need to handwash, dry clean, machine wash those items.
    7) Grooming is just as important as your outfit to complete a full look.

Hiring a stylist can take the stress out of these tasks and make your life simpler in the long run, especially when you’re dressing for important events. When hiring a bridal or fashion stylist, you might want to take the time to get to know them. Kelsey’s knowledge could fill far longer than a two-thousand-word essay, and that is a quality that makes me want to hire her on the spot.

Lastly, Kelsey made sure to reiterate one very important message. Dress for yourself. Don’t get caught up in the trends.

Kelsey Cowley is a wedding and portrait photographer specializing in elegant and timeless memories for couples who are madly in love. Kelsey draws from your connection and story, hones in on the simple moments to create elegant and documentary imagery. You can see more of her work at KelseyCowley.com