Style Profile: Alice in Risa-land

By now, I've mentioned one of my best friends, Alice, quite a couple times. We met in high school -- AP Japanese, to be exact -- and since then, she's moved to Boston and is currently pursuing her dream of pharmacy school. I've watched her go through phases (in every sense of the word) as she has with me and we've talked about shaking up her look for quite some time, and she's wanted to go for something a little more mature, but wasn't quite sure where to start. With me moving to New York in less than two months and with how crazy both our schedules can be between work and school, we figured it was now or never. I told many of you to wish her luck for today, because Alice fell down the rabbit hole, but she definitely wasn't going to Wonderland. Instead, she was stuck with me and some fitting rooms for a couple hours.

A photo posted by Risa Xu (@risaxu) on

Whenever I take someone on a styling trip, whether it be a client or someone I know personally, I always want to know: "What are we trying to achieve here?" and "What's your budget?" From goals, it can range from a head-to-toe outfit for one special event to an entire closet revamp to just learning what fits right. And the budget part? Well, that's a no brainer -- I'm not spending money that can't be spent!

With Alice, we wanted a little bit of "what fits me right?" as well as a bit of a closet revamp. Our budget was $200 -- which isn't a ton of wiggle room, but for what we needed, it was enough. We actually managed to stay under budget!


Our first stop as Nordstrom Rack. I'm a firm believer in good quality jeans. I had Alice try on Paige and Joe jeans, as they were the most versatile and more classic washes. As much as I swear on Rag & Bone jeans, the classic washes don't make it to places like Nordstrom Rack, and a full price pair was out of our budget range. 

All these mirrors.. Have to take advantage of them right?

All these mirrors.. Have to take advantage of them right?

We spent quite some time in the fitting rooms, trying on different washes, different fits and different sizes. While she did find a pair she liked, I told her to set them down and we'd think about it. If we were still crazy over them by the end of our Newbury Street stroll, we'd come back and try them again. At the end of the day, we decided against them. Alice has been running and training using Nike Training Club and Beach Babe by ToneItUp! and I felt that it wasn't the right time for a pair of jeans. I'd hate to put her in something, have them tailored and fit perfectly, and a couple months down the line, they no longer fit the way she wants them to. So we decided to wait.

Our second stop was H&M. And while I'm normally not too much of a fan of H&M clothing in trying to build a wardrobe because of their trendiness and the tendency for the clothing to not last as long, I felt that this was a good place for Alice to learn what worked on her body (colors, silhouettes, etc.) for a cheaper price tag and when/if she was ever ready to go for something a little bit more pricey, she would be able to do it without my help.

We left H&M with:

  • Long sleeve sheer button down
  • Cowl neck cape sweater
  • Long sleeve sweater (She picked this one herself because she loved the color so much!)
  • Ribbed leggings

If you've ever been around me and we're somewhere that's quite busy, you'll probably hear me utter the phrase "Leggings are not pants" a couple hundred times -- okay, maybe not that much, but you get my point.

As true as that is, sometimes a thick pair of leggings can get you far, as long as it's paired with a top of the right length. These leggings were ribbed, had just the perfect thickness of fabric where it kept everything right where it should be and looked absolutely amazing on! This was something that we could pair with that black button down or that oversized sweater!

After H&M, we made our way to Pret a Manger for a little noon snack. And since we were still in the area of Nordstrom Rack, a sudden realization of the lack of a pair of black heels in her closet made us make our way back there. Sadly, we didn't find anything that we liked. So onwards!

In my head, I had already made the decision that I was taking her to Gap for some basics (I said I loved my basics and Merino wool sweaters from there didn't I?) but I had failed to tell her so, and we were walking towards Boylston Street when she said "Where can I get something like you're wearing or that I can layer with?" She actually ended up loving the exact same sweater I had on today! As well as a long sleeve basic tee (which was on sale from $19.95 to just under $10!)

During the course of the day, she had said to me "I feel like I've been in some sort of shopping class all day. And I keep thinking 'What should I ask her about next?'" After today, we've decided that the next round of things she should save up for (that will require a bit of time to save up) are:

  • A nice pair of heels -- We looked at Manolo Blahnik BB's today and she fell in love with them!
  • A solid pair of denim, and
  • Possibly her dream bag
Pairing two things from two different places! Versatility and being able to wear something multiple ways is key.

Pairing two things from two different places! Versatility and being able to wear something multiple ways is key.

What I wanted her to take away from today was not only a bag full of new clothes, but also a confidence in knowing what looked good on her body versus what just looked good hanging on the rack. It was also important to me that she enjoyed the experience and also learned to pay attention to small details (ex: If we're in Nordstrom Rack and an Equipment blouse is on sale for $40 in your size and it's a color/pattern you love, you take it! or just reading what something is made of to determine if it's worth the price tag.)

For the part of shooting what we bought today, I didn't want it staged or posed. I wanted it to be natural. So we sat by the reflecting pool at the Christian Science Center and started snapping photos of her holding the clothes up. I didn't want her to feel awkward or forced to put the clothes on and just pose -- but you can guarantee I'll be snapping photos of her in them next time I see her in any pieces from today!

We talked about that famous saying "you can buy fashion, but you can't buy style," and I still think that's true and believe in it. Sure, all those magazines and runways are great. Those looks take teams of people, hours of work and I don't want to know how much money. But if you don't know how to shop, buy things that look good on you, or put together your own outfits, you need to take it back to basics.

That's it for now! I had so much fun with doing this today and I can't wait to put my boyfriend through it the next time I'm in New York (evil laugh). Enjoy some outtakes from today :)