Love Your Look
Personal stylist Laurel Kinney on investing in ourselves through what we wear
by Nicole Beckley
Photographs by Molly Culver
Since 2011 Laurel Kinney has made it her mission to leverage personal style to elevate people’s feelings about themselves. With a degree in psychology from Reed College and a master’s in social work from Columbia University, Kinney worked as a crisis social worker in New York and a hospice social worker in Austin before shifting focus. Here she shares how psychology interacts with style and pulls back the curtain on what her days entail.
How did you get into personal styling?
I discovered personal styling and it seemed like a cool marriage of my skills: talking to people about hard stuff — because actually a lot of issues come up in people’s closets and around their identity and investing in themselves. Thinking about what’s important to put out there as far as who they are and what kind of goals they have. I thought it was a really cool thing to be able to take some of the skills that I had learned as a social worker and translate it into this kind of physical manifestation through clothes.
Is it correct that people tend to seek you out when they’re going through some kind of life shift?
Yeah, for sure. When you feel like you’ve changed inside but then you’re putting on clothes and you don’t recognize who you are anymore on the outside. You’re trying to figure out, who should I portray now? A lot of us don’t constantly evaluate those things, and we just suddenly find ourselves hating all of our clothes for some reason. Trying to put your finger on what it is is really challenging for people without an objective person guiding them through that.
I imagine you spend a lot of time in people’s homes and in their closets. What is that like for you?
It’s funny, because doing hospice social work, you’re going into people’s homes all the time, and it’s under much different circumstances. I think most of my clients, I’m a stranger to them when I’m first meeting with them, so I think they’re way more nervous than I am. I just try to be real and myself and disarm them from feeling judged or awkward or anything. I literally come in, and, like, five minutes later they’re taking their clothes off [laughs]. Like, “Hey, take your pants off, let’s get to work.”
It seems like your days would vary a lot. What’s a typical day like?
At 7 a.m. I usually wake up and I go to yoga. I do ashtanga, so it takes an hour and a half. It’s a flow that you do independently, so it’s not a led class, but everybody does it together. I usually get coffee on my way home, and then I take the dogs on a walk, get ready, answer emails. I’m usually seeing clients by 11.
Usually I have at least one to three clients every day during the week, and when I’m not doing that, there’s three different things I’m doing with my clients. It’s either closet sorting, shopping, or outfit creation and styling. So I’m either driving around to people’s houses or I’m going to the Domain or Barton Creek or boutiques around town and pulling and then meeting the clients and trying stuff on with them. So I’m all over the place.
Throughout the week I have strategy calls with clients, so I’ll have random half-hour chunks of talking on the phone with potential clients. It’s really different every day … I usually wrap things up around 5 or 6, and then I go home and walk the dogs, make dinner, chill out.
What is the process like with folks whom you’ve been working with over a few years? Do they have big changes?
Yeah, it’s fun. I’ve had a client since I started, like seven years. She was wearing literally all bright neon, like J.Crew everything, and I’ve seen her style change so much. She now has a capsule wardrobe of mostly neutrals. She’s moved up in her career many times over, and we just shopped for her wedding dress together. So we become friends usually. Those clients call me when they know, like, “I need to feel as confident as possible for the next five months and I don’t want to have to worry about my clothes.” That’s when we reevaluate. Like, “Where are you at, what are you hoping to achieve this year, and how can we use your style to support that and make you feel like you’re really there and you’re doing it?”
It’s like a whole-life approach.
I always say, it’s 80 percent psychology and only 20 percent about the clothes, really. So I definitely feel like I look at it differently than just from a straight fashion perspective.
Has there been a moment that stands out for you, where you realized this was really what you wanted to do?
Really, it never gets old to help someone see themselves a little differently. You can see the change literally happening in the dressing room sometimes — where someone puts something on that makes them look the way they feel inside. I’m getting chills thinking about it. It’s so cool, because their whole spirit can change in that dressing room — to see someone just stand differently and appreciate the reflection in the mirror. I had a 90-year-old client in Nordstrom once who said, [in a flirtatious voice] “I like what I see.” And I was like, “That’s awesome.”
It’s so great to give people permission to love what they look like and not feel like it’s something that they shouldn’t be allowed to do, no matter what their size is or shape is; it’s possible to feel amazing in your clothes, no matter what. It’s cool when someone finally sees that. Sometimes it’s for the first time. It doesn’t always happen quickly, but it is really cool when you start to get those little sparks.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
A DAY IN THE LIFE:
A typical day for Kinney might involve shopping at the Domain or Barton Creek and pulling potential outfits for clients. Kinney also frequents Banana Republic, Anthropologie and Madewell, where Kinney says, “Their jeans usually fit everyone really well.” She also seeks out boutiques and Nordstrom, “because usually you can find a lot of different things there at different price ranges.” For more, follow @laurel_kinney on Instagram.