More than about nailing the perfect look or a party-appropriate ensemble, the real challenge in fashion styling can be translating a client’s personality into the clothes they want to wear. It’s about learning a new language, and gaining a new set of tools to allow your clients to continue blossoming. But how does that process work, exactly? We caught up with NYC native Charlie Brown, who runs her own fashion styling business, to find out more.

Charlie Brown _ hands

How long have you been a stylist?

If you ask my mother, my whole life! More officially, I’ve been working as a stylist for about six years now. I don’t really see myself a “fashion stylist”, though – I consider myself more of an editor and educator. What I do is more about teaching people how to dress themselves, and less about looking good for a specific event. It is not a one-time thing – sometimes it can be a months-long process for me to teach someone how to have an eye for what they want to look like, and for what looks good on them.

What sparked your interest in becoming a fashion stylist?

I would have to say my grandmother… and Diane Keaton. My grandmother always made sure that I looked my best whenever I left the house, and this was something that was very important to her. For as long as I can remember, we always went shopping together – I learned about clothes, about fit, about style from her. From there, I really took interest in the field and in doing work of this kind. When I saw that other people around me didn’t have a grandma like mine, who knew about styling and dressing themselves, I started just giving advice to people – solicited and unsolicited. I consider Diane Keaton as a source of inspiration as well – she’s amazing and I absolutely love everything she wears. I wish I could just go into her closet and take EVERYTHING.

What do you love about styling people?

What I love about styling the “everyday” person, is educating them on how to improve their appearance while staying true to themselves – same as how my grandmother taught me, I am now everyone’s grandma. It’s more than just putting clothes on them: you really have to connect with who and what that person is, and what they’re trying to say through what they wear and what they look like. So for me, it’s not just about the perfect outfit or the perfect wardrobe – it’s about the smile on their face when they’ve put together an outfit or a look based on what I’ve taught them. It’s when they send me a picture or tag me in a post showing off what they’ve chosen for themselves and wore. It’s a learning process for the both of us, and I’m always proud of my students.

What inspires you?

Happiness. Being happy is something I think many people place low on their priority list. Everyone thinks they’re prioritizing it, but they don’t necessarily pursue what makes them happy or work to add joy to their life. So I am inspired by the pursuit of happiness, as well as by the good in people, the good in the world…

It’s so easy to be distracted by things that don’t go right, or the negativity around you, but if you focus on the good, you’ll notice the good will come to you. That’s why I start every morning with meditation. If I’ve had a rough day, I’ll try to end my day with a meditation as well, before I go to sleep. Just that theme, of  being thankful and being grateful – it may sound corny, but it isn’t. I think we forget to stop and express thanks and show love, but if you give it, it’s such a joy to see the reaction in other people.

Charlie Brown

What’s one tip you’d give someone who’s trying to pursue fashion styling full-time?

The one tip I would give someone is to stay true to yourself, and ironically enough, don’t get caught up in labels. I think people have a very formulated idea of what stylists do and how it should be done, but it doesn’t have to be that rigid. You don’t have to do what everyone else has done, you can just go with the flow. Whatever it is that you’re passionate about, pursue that in the way that best suits your life and goals. Also, listening – I think that when you are in a service industry, you need to listen to what people are saying, as well as to what they are not saying.

Who are some of your favorite designers?

That’s kind of a hard question to answer, because even when I pick out clothes for myself, I tend to go more by the color, shape, or texture that pulls me in – I’m not really attached to a specific name or designer.

What do you like to do on your free time when you’re not styling?

In my free time I love to explore. I’ve been a New Yorker my whole life, so every weekend I try to go and discover a new area of the city, either with friends or on my own. Most recently, I was really surprised by the South Street Seaport neighborhood. I love to travel, and I like to travel by myself – there is nothing like those kind of discoveries.

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Charlie Brown