Fashion tips from personal stylist Sarah Shirley

The problem with me is I can be a hoarder when it comes to clothes — I get attached. I try to sift through my stuff occasionally to get rid of things, but I always end up making the most random scenarios of why I need that extra black shirt, or why owning three cardigans in only slight variations of gray makes total sense. Too many of my “just-in-case” pieces end up never even being worn, and I needed ideas of how to wear my usual outfits in other ways. Needless to say, my closet needed serious help.

Stylist extraordinaire, Sarah Shirley

I kind of always dreamed of having personal stylist tear my closet apart, and lucky for me, last week I had the phenomenal style expert, Sarah Shirley come over to my apartment to do just that. She is not only one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met, she gave me some amazing tips to help re-organize my clothes and re-think my accessories. My apartment was temporarily transformed into what looked like a set of a mini photo-shoot — shoes were lined up, jewelry was laid out, and everything came off to the hangers to make a “yes” and “please God, no” pile.

The coolest thing about Sarah (besides that she has loads of experience…she’s styled shoots for Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, and Italian Vogue magazines; worked for labels like Cynthia Steffe and Club Monaco; has been the go-to for various celebrities; and has done a myriad TV segments like The Today Show…yes, I was in good hands), she came in totally non-judgmental and worked with my style instead of trying to completely change it. For six-hours straight, she went through every last piece of clothing, barely stopping to take a sip of water (really, I took more breaks than her). She even paused at the end to go through magazines and tear out sheets of even more ideas for the next time I go shopping.

In fact, Sarah relayed so many great tips, that I just had to share a few here:

Think silhouette. Pick clothes that compliment your shape. This is probably the most basic rule, but Sarah gave me so many ways to elongate instead of literally cutting myself short. Even the simplest thing, cinching my waist with a thin belt, or letting the tie-neck of a blouse be worn down instead of tied in a bow will elongate your shape. We also got rid of pants that were tailored too short or didn’t have a defined shape.

One thing I asked Sarah to help me with is different ways to wear the clothes I already owned. As I mentioned, she gave me a ton of ideas using skinny belts to cinch my cardigan over a dress, or just adding another color to your outfit (like a purple skinny belt over a gray sweater).

Charlotte Russe belt trio

Add texture to your closet. One thing she noticed right away about my clothes were they were mostly made of thinner material — stretch wool and cottons. Adding textures, like tweed jackets, chunkier fabrics will liven things up a bit.

Club Monaco Veronica shearling scarf
Topshop Tweed Jacket
Banana Republic shawl neck patterned sweater

Add color…take risks! That doesn’t mean you have to go to a Gaga-extreme…but just adding a splash of color, getting fun with your jewelry (which I’ve noticed quite often will become the conversation piece in your whole ensemble). I love rings, and ever since Sarah had me re-evaluating accessories, I’ve had my eye on this funky porcupine ring from Rachel by Rachel Roy:

Rachel by Rachel Roy

And yeah, this Nancy Gonzalez one — totes out of my price range but just to illustrate my point…

Nancy Gonzalez. I decided I also want a new turquoise clutch!

Take photographs. Yes, you can look in the mirror, but taking actual photographs can help you really see how you look in certain outfits. She took a picture of me in every outfit we tried, and that way it was easier to see what works and what doesn’t (and often times, WHY certain outfits just don’t work). It helped me get rid of clothes that were just tired or unflattering.

“Would you like to meet the man of your dreams in that outfit?” We came across a few pieces that I wanted to keep but wasn’t 100% sure. Sarah would ask me a series of questions to figure out if first and foremost I felt good about myself in the outfit — her last go-to question would be, “Would you like to meet the man of your dream in that outfit?” It was a funny way to think about it, but it was also a good way for her to gauge if something was worth keeping, considering if it wouldn’t make me feel that confident.

Give it to someone who will make better use of it. I literally bought some things that I found so uncontrollably cute, but have still lived in my closet unworn for years. Either they required too much layering, or I just never found the right occasion to wear them. They would even have their original tags on them, so when Sarah found those, she made me think of it in another way — “This is definitely cute, but if you’re not going to wear it, give it to someone who will make better use of it.” I finally tore myself away and threw them in the charity pile.

Buy a tray for your jewelry. You’ll often see in the accessories departments at magazines or on shoots that they’ll have trays with jewelry laid out. The visual is a good way to see inventory and to pull different accessories with different looks.

Jewelry Tray. Photo Credit:

Sarah said often times, you’ll forget what jewelry you even own if you don’t have it laid out in a similar way. A neat way to lay out your jewelry is buying a tray for them. I started hanging my earrings and necklaces on a bulletin board in my room so I can see everything easily, but I’m still going to buy a tray for my bracelets and rings!

Learn to stack pieces. Stacking jewelry is a great way to re-invent your old pieces and make them really stand out. Try stacking your different gold and silver rings, bracelets, and necklaces — and I mean really try them on, don’t just think that they won’t look good together in your head if you’ve never tried them on in different ways.

Stacked rings from

Create a mood board. Towards the send of our session, Sarah sat down with me and we started going through magazines to see what I can keep an eye out for next time I go shopping. It’s a great idea to start a mood board where you can not only hang up things that inspire you, but where you can hang up styles you tear out from magazines so you can get a better sense of what you’re looking for the next time you go shopping.

Example of a mood board from

What would you ask a personal stylist?



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