I first learned about Ann Prentice’s great style when I witnessed pregnant women vying for her hand-me-down maternity clothes at a children’s birthday party. Back then, she was a playgroup mom just like me. Today, she makes her living as a stylist to the…real women of Minneapolis. Not just those needing gowns for galas but real women of all ages who want to look their best on a daily basis, from high-powered executives and hard-working stay-at-home moms to my 66 year-old former school-teacher mom. She revamps the closets of busy women who have 5 minutes to get ready.
As a busy mom herself, Ann knows first-hand the challenges we face; she works with the stye challenges of being a parent instead of fighting them. She will not encourage you to wear something uncomfortable or maintain a hairstyle that requires a daily blowout—she gets that that only adds to the daily pressures we all face.
Here she answers some questions about her life as a stylist and what we can do to up our style quotient:
Tell us how you became a stylist: It was a question of space and passion. In my career, I worked for years in a corporate setting, in marketing, advertising and brand strategy. After having children I decided to stay home for a while. It was in this space that I began to explore turning my passion for helping people find their best style into a business. It started quite naturally. And I had a lot of support from friends, colleagues and clients who were just as excited about my new venture as I was.
What or whom do you use as style inspiration? Somehow I can find style inspiration almost anywhere. Going to new places always heightens the senses and there is no truer test of a wardrobe than travel. Any place people gather, especially in cosmopolitan centers. I love to read and often find styling inspiration from great books. Movies can be excellent style fodder. Of course, magazines and blogs help highlight what’s happening around the world. But nothing beats real life, I say. I have some very stylish and smart friends and clients who are always helping me to see style in new ways.
Do you have any favorite fashion websites or resources? Something that could help the rest of us find our ‘Style Mojo’? I have Amanda Brooks’ style book “I ‘Heart’ Your Style” on my bedside table. The Sartorialist blog, for Scott Schuman’s take on street style from the world’s most stylish cities. I always enjoy Bill Cunningham’s “On the Street” photos in the New York Times. I have several style sources on my Twitter feed to keep me up to date on what’s happening. But above all, it is important to have your own style lens to filter through the endless options for style expression. Otherwise, it can be altogether too much and confusing – there is no end to style ‘must haves’ and ‘don’ts’ many of them conflicting. Know thine own style.
What is the number one mistake that busy moms make in their wardrobe choices? Putting themselves last on the list. Or thinking that it takes too much time or thought to be stylish or look their best. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Nor does style have to be an ‘all-or-nothing’ equation. Having the right things in their closets helps as a starting point. But also knowing what works for them helps to eliminate bad choices from the get go. I also think dressing down too much in their off work hours is an easy pitfall and a slippery slope to a style rut.
What are your top tips for moms who go to the office? You can be both feminine and powerful. It is okay to wear dresses to work. Dresses are highly flattering, make dressing easy and, in the right cuts and fabrics, can still be as authoritative as a suit. Just remember that structure is your friend. Also, when it comes to professional outfits, keep it classic. Reserve your trend items for your off-work hours. I would encourage women to get over any thoughts that a ‘classic’ piece is either boring, or frumpy or old news. The classics are the foundation of any wardrobe and of good dressing. Sure they could be dull, but not with the right cuts, colors, silhouettes and styling. You can express a lot with accessories and shoes with very basic pieces. That said, everything has a shelf life. So eventually, that “classic” jacket or suit will look dated and need to be replaced. The quickest way to have your thinking at work seem outdated is to wear an outfit that is. Pay attention to subtle but important changes – be it hemlines, shoulder structure or colors – that keep your wardrobe up-to-date.
Any recommended sources for classic pieces? Classics really can be found at all price points and with a wide range of twists or interpretations from romantic, to minimalist, to sophisticated, to mod, etc. For example, Club Monaco is a wonderful source for minimalist classics. Kate Spade for more girlie, colorful takes on the classics. But even Zara, or H&M can be a source of surprisingly classic-inspired yet slightly more fashion-forward pieces. Plus Zara and H&M are really inexpensive. But don’t worry too much about wearing any particular brands, rather focus on the flattering cuts, styles and how they work on you. I prefer it when it isn’t clear where a piece has come from. Remember, you wear the clothes, not the other way around. As Coco Chanel said, “Look for the woman in the dress. If there is no woman, there is no dress.”
Top tips for moms who work at home? Dress smart, play smart. Don’t let yourself fall into the bad habit of just wearing work-out clothing all the time. Yoga pants are only for working out, lounging or actually doing yoga. If you take the time to dress yourself as if you were going to an office, you will find that you are more on your game. This doesn’t mean wearing a suit, but you can at least put on some pants and a cute top.
What do you say to women who insist they don’t have time to worry about fashion? I’d say they are missing out. And perhaps a bit delusional. Your friends and family love you in your sweats, but the rest of the world is making snap judgments about you and everything else. Why not put your best self forward. But it’s not just for others, nor is it just about appearances. There is a strong dynamic between how you dress and how you feel. Why not give it your all? You deserve it. It takes the same amount of “time” or less to put on a cute dress as it does a boring pair of chinos and plain t-shirt.
Are there any surprising go-to items that we should all have in our closets? Dresses, ladies. You can’t have too many. Also, in the hot weather, stock up on beach cover-ups. Sun safe. And coverage is always slimming.
What’s up with denim? Is it skinny? Is it flared? High-waisted? Low-waisted? How’s a girl to know? At any one point in time, it seems that one silhouette or style of pant leg dominates the retail offerings. But that just means it is available to buy, not that it is the only option for what to wear. I’d say that anything goes, but to consider what looks best on you and what you want to project with your outfit.
And just so we’re all clear (so we can steer clear in weak moments), what are mom jeans? I’d say any jeans that are in an outdated wash (this is a bit tricky, but you’ll know it when you see it), a cut that is baggy in the bottom, or too high waisted for the style quotient. That is, high waisted can be good, or bad. If bad, you can bet it is a ‘mom jean.’ Tapered jeans that are looser in the thigh and come in at the ankle are never flattering. Keep your wash dark and uniform, no whiskering or bedazzling. Stick to minimal stitching and mid-rise cuts.
How do you feel about shorts? Do we have to wear shorts in the summer? No one ‘has’ to wear any one particular piece. For some, that may mean never wearing jeans (an anomaly in our denim world) or it may be shorts. Perfectly fine. There are many options to choose from. Many of them much more flattering. When it comes to hot weather dressing, skirts and dresses can take the place of shorts. But shorts have also had a renaissance over the past few seasons, and are now seen in dressier outfits in the place of pants or skirts. It comes down to preference and to styling. If you have great gams, show them off in shorts. If you’d rather not, get yourself some darling skirts in fun summer prints and a range of silhouettes. The beauty of dresses is the ease – no need to figure out a top to go with a bottom. Easy as pie. A great way to stay cool all summer too. Don’t reserve them, wear them every day.
Ann also authors a blog called Style Mojo where she provides tips, advice, sources and sometimes just a beautiful photo or quote to ponder; testament to her mantra that “style is for everyone and inspiration is everywhere.”
Kristin Nilsen is the author of the blog Clam Chowder for Lunch.
Photo Karen Kraut