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Stylists are great for when you’re deeply confused.
When I moved to New York in 2009, I had 11 southern sundresses, lots of flip-flops, and no clue. I needed a crash course, and I figured the money I spent on a professional would pay me back many times over just by steering me clear of poor experimental purchases. I found a stylist on Craigslist, a tall, thin woman in her late twenties who was (as you would expect) infinitely cooler than me and who could barely hide her disdain for my naive earnestness. No matter, I wasn’t paying her to be my friend; I was paying her to be honest.
Which she was. In addition to telling me which items really needed to go, we went on a shopping trip together to fill in the holes in my wardrobe. I still have a navy and camel striped skirt from Top Shop she picked out for me. She really did nail a timeless version of my style (even though at the time I was already suspicious of Top Shop, a hunch that proved to be depressingly correct this year during the pandemic.)
Stylists come with an aspect of sustainability built-in. Their job is to prevent you from buying dumb stuff you won’t ever wear. But what if you’re a sustainability buff who wouldn’t be caught dead in a Prada cocktail dress? For you, there are now at least a half dozen stylists dedicated to picking out clothes that make you feel great both aesthetically and morally.
The O.G. in this area is Laura Jones, an Australia-born and New York-based celebrity stylist who founded the highbrow publication The Frontlash years back. But there’s also British stylist Mary Fellowes who styles the actor and Eco-Age founder Livia Firth; British-born and L.A.-based stylist Laura Sophie Cox; and Tara Swennen, who styles Kristen Stewart.
You’re probably looking for someone who is a little more down-to-earth than Tinseltown. (Or maybe not, I did recently field an inquiry from an actress gearing up for a press tour). In that case, you’re likely looking for a stylist who works with badass professional women. Enter Cassandra Dittmer, who has styled celebrities like Laura Dern, but also philanthropists who want their outfits for speaking engagements to match the values they advocate for.
Hiring Dittmer to style you for just one event would typically run you $750 to $1,500. But during the pandemic, Dittmer built out an online-only, tiered service that is priced to be more accessible to (somewhat) regular folks. When I got on a Zoom with her in January, she described her service as “aligned with your self-care journey, like therapy or massage.” It’s not cheap, but it is worth it for the woman who has found professional success and would rather pay an expert to build her look, rather than take time away from her mission and risk getting it completely wrong in the process.
The lowest tier is $75, in which you fill out a survey and get either a curated boutique of 10 items. Or you can ask Dittmer to find the perfect thing you’ve been looking for in the sustainable version. Tier 2 is a chat on a topic of your choice and costs $200. Tier 3 is $350, and gets you two digital boutiques of 20 recommended sustainable fashion items total (with up to two revisions based on your feedback) plus a chat with Dittmer. Tier 4 adds on to Tier 3 with a virtual styling session to sign off on your look, perfect for when you need help with an event. That’s $550.
The top tier, at $850, is a complete closet refresh. You fill out the survey, have a call with Dittmer to establish your values and style, then she goes through your current wardrobe together with you and helps you come up with outfits using what you already have. Finally, you get three boards with 30 total recommended items from sustainable and ethical brands. This is all a digital service.
Dittmer offered to let me try a version of her service that is somewhere between Tier 1 and Tier 3. So I filled out her survey and got my digital boutique of ten items a week later, a PDF with clickable links to purchase recommended items, a description of some of the brands she recommended, and additional resources I could check out: the Take Back bag from the circular t-shirt brand For Days, ReFashion Week NYC, DonateNYC, and a report by Textile Exchange for further reading.
I have to be honest, my first reaction to the items she had picked out for me was disappointment. I had shared with her a very specific aesthetic through my Pinterest board of outfits, and gotten back something that hit the mark about half the time. I was compelled by five things, and another five things I would give a shot. The other six things I shook my head at, like an acid-green blouse and fussy, patterned pieces. (I wear solid and stripe neutrals, red, and blue.)
So I’m glad I was able to get on a call with her, because she’s much more friendly and approachable than the stylist of my youth. And once she started explaining, it all made sense. She revealed that she chose blouses and sweaters with embellishments to bring some fun to Zoom calls. And the items that I didn’t like were on purpose, to stretch my sense of style. She explains her philosophy as, “Let’s send them a couple of pieces that make them feel safe and some that make them feel challenged.”
There was a pair of Suzanne Rae loafers on there. “Should I try loafers?” I asked. “You should absolutely get loafers,” she said. “I feel like loafers are all year round. There’s a lot of these culottes and split hem pants that would go really well with them.” I reminded her that I’m 5’2″ and those beautiful split hems would get tailored right off of me. But I like the idea! A good tailor could probably keep the split.
She was full of other good ideas, like layering different shades of the same color — a pale blue turtleneck under a navy blue blazer — layering an elevated knit under a slip dress, and as an alternative to embellished tops, tying a pretty scarf around my neck for Zoom calls. She also recommended that I take a picture of outfits I feel good in and file them in a folder on my phone. Noted!
She was inclusive in her selection of brands to highlight as well, including such Black-owned brands as Izayla, Sindiso Khumalo, and Studio One Eighty Nine. Izayla I hadn’t heard of, and I fell in love with the sumptuous fabrics and elegant lines. The Danish brand Gestuz was also a new find for me — she pulled from their sustainable capsule.
By the time we finished our call, I was feeling inspired. But I waited until she sent me the promised edits to my boutique, which, along with a recommendation for a good New York tailor she has used before, had some great finds: a sweater dress from Another Tomorrow in wine red, plus loafers and wool ribbed leggings from Arket. Unfortunately, I couldn’t actually buy any of them. The sweater dress was sold out in my size, and Arket stopped shipping to the U.S. last year. Womp.
In the end, I bought a knit beanie made by a Finnish grandma from the brand Myssy, and a perfect sweater from Neda. (I’m not sure why it’s sustainable, since it’s 30% nylon and the website is mum on that point. But I love it and I don’t want to give it up, so hopefully I wear it enough to justify it.) I’m still eyeing that Izayla blouse, but until the pandemic is firmly in the rearview, I can’t bring myself to order it.
And that’s OK! “It’s not pushing this buy-now mindset,” Dittmer told me of her service. “This is your resource for your next six months to a year.” I can go back to the recommendations she made at any time for inspiration, or to see what other cute things these ethical brands are making that I might like.
Also, it must be said, I am an extremely difficult client. I think about fashion all the time, and I know hundreds of ethical and sustainable brands. I’ve grown a lot since I arrived to New York with my North Face fleece and Tory Burch flats. I’m no longer confused about what I like, what looks good on me, and most importantly, what makes a brand sustainable and ethical. And yet, I can still waste hours of my valuable time hunting for the perfect ethically-made skirt.
So would I recommend Cassandra Dittmer’s digital sustainable styling service? Yeah, absolutely. She helped clear out some of the mental clutter I had about fashion, gave me some good ideas, and introduced me to some new ethical brands.
Having the right outfits ready to go that make you feel like a boss is invaluable, to your career and mental health. In that sense, investing in a sustainable stylist can definitely be considered self-care. Investing in a stylist that supports independent and ethical brands? That’s care for the world.