The Secret to Success? Knowing When To Outsource

My summer jobs during high school and college were poolside as a lifeguard.  The attire was pretty basic — a one piece swimsuit, the almighty sweatshirt emblazoned with “LIFEGUARD”, and a lanyard with a whistle which I could twirl like no other.  I really didn’t delve into the work world until after college graduation. Coming back to the D.C. area after being in Richmond, where art students made it a point of defining themselves during the end of the Punk era, had me a little style challenged. I had known for quite some time that D.C. did not relish in fashion forward styles, but that never stopped me.

Using Vogue, Elle and Mademoiselle as my guides to how to dress professionally, I was ready to take some of the most courageous steps into what I thought was appropriate work attire. D.C. was a sea of traditional navy and there I was in a hot pink double-breasted blazer, polka dot stockings, and pearl earrings the size of jaw breakers…owning every step along Connecticut Avenue.

One quick aside…before my break into the real world of commercial interiors, I applied with a temp agency for creatives. Prior to the actual interview with the client, the applicant would go in and meet with the agency first, where they would go over some nuances and specifics. Let’s be honest…they wanted to see you before they sent you. I still remember the moment that the agency advisor suggested I take off maybe one piece of jewelry.  Ah, the arrogance of youth. I was not only offended but thought this woman had a lot to learn about style. Thankfully, my flamboyant collection of accessories can only be imagined as there are no eternal records of how out of control this look had gone…it is even quite possible that I was Working Girl research material.  In my own defense, it was the end of the go-go eighties where everything was big. Big earrings, big necklaces, big hair, big makeup…I had all it all going on.

Fast forward to an enlightened age where savvy moms teach their daughters how to benefit from some professional help. Enter me! Only this time I’ve lightened my load — I still layer my jewelry but it’s a lot smaller in scale. In late May I received requests from three mothers to assist with preparing their college-age daughters for their summer internships. Genius on their part, even if I do say so myself. Now that I have a daughter, I am more than familiar with how my own advice can fall on deaf ears in our house. So it was easy for me to understand my role in making life easier, keeping the peace, and effectively offering the same type of advice to these young women heading off to meet the judgment of the HR department.

Below are four young women who are working in three distinct cities this summer as part of their college internship experience.  Yes, three moms and four daughters since one of these mothers has twin girls! Anne Donohue has been a client of mine for more than a few years. The Donohue twins, Lindsey and Kendall, attend Miami of Ohio and are heading off to the Big Apple for their summer internships. Catherine Barnes is the daughter of another client of mine, Karen Barnes. Catherine attends UVA and is working in D.C. at a marketing company.  Finally, Annie Lane ran into me at TSALT one afternoon while out with Anne Donohue and asked for my card to assist her daughter Mollie with preparation for her internship on the West Coast. Time was going to be of the essence since Mollie would be arriving home from Brown University with only two days to prepare for her summer intern program in Norfolk Beach.

Each of these young women came with one purpose and a unique perspective of personal style awareness. Part of this task was to be able and utilize what they already owned in order to implement a logical budget. My personal goals included showing them how these additions would be beneficial to their casual weekend wardrobes as well as amping up their style when they return to school.

My knowledge of them varied: Catherine and Lindsey had been summer employees of mine at Hysteria; I had met Kendall at the Donohue home when working with her mom; and, Mollie and I met for the first time on the day of our epic shopping event.

It is my job to break the ice and get to know each of them quickly and understand their comfort level with style. In some cases I needed to assess what we had to work with in the current closet. Since the appointments were stacked back-to-back over the course of a week, I was able to maximize time by being familiar with inventory at our destinations. What didn’t work for one of them turned out to be the perfect fit for another. I didn’t need to worry about duplicating an occasional outfit here and there since they would be in different parts of the country. Ironically, Mollie’s internship required the most conservative attire even though it was on the West Coast. The girls and I hit everything from shops here in Alexandria, department stores, Zara, H&M, Tanger Outlets, and my favorite consignment boutique, Ella Rue, in Georgetown. The Shoe Hive was right on time with the beginning of their seasonal sale where moms and daughters were taking advantage of the amazing summer deals.

The main guidelines of style for each of these women were:

1)  Keep your style simple and polished.

2)  Learn how to utilize your basics — the black skirt, solid dresses and t-shirts, neutral shoes.

3)  Add cropped cardigans and cropped blazers to your basics to maximize outfits.

4)  Understand where to introduce prints for effect and added interest.

Here’s what they had to say:

Lindsey Donohue

Lindsey’s internship is with Barry Morgenstein Photography, where she works as a marketing intern, making fliers to promote the company and sending out emails of events and shoots that will take place around the city. It is a very laid back, casual office setting.

Lindsey 01

How was working with a stylist helpful?

Working with a stylist was helpful for matching outfits together and finding staple pieces that could be worn multiple times in a variety of ways.

Most important take-away piece of style advice?

The most important piece of style advice I received was to go for the basics. I found that a plain t-shirt can be worn with so many different bottoms and jackets to make the outfit look for casual or more professional.

What was your favorite look that we put together? 

My favorite look was the black pants, light jean jacket, and Adidas sneakers. Under the jacket is a simple white tank top that is light and easy. The black pants and the sneakers make the look feel more casual.

Alicia, I loved working with you and would recommend you sharing your talents with anyone looking for style advice.

Lindsey’s additions:

  • black skirt
  • solid t-shirts in great saturated colors
  • Adidas Superstars

Kendall Donohue

Kendall is interning at Agentry PR, a fashion agency that concentrates on brand strategies and identities, media placement, product launches, fashion shows, endorsements, press releases. Their client list includes Ben Sherman, Citizens of Humanity, UniQlo, Helen Kaminski, J. Hilburn, Hickey Freeman, and Christian Seriano of Project Runway fame.

Kendall 01

How was working with a stylist helpful?

I found working with a stylist to be helpful because I was given great advice that I was then able to apply when shopping by myself. It led me to be open to certain clothing that I would not have picked out on my own. I was given tips about what is and what is not appropriate to wear in a professional setting, which was extremely helpful. Alicia also picked out several simple pieces that could be paired with a variety of options to look like completely different outfits.

What was your favorite look that we put together? 

My favorite look was a striped t-shirt and a black jean skirt with buttons down the front. I liked this look the best because it is more on the casual side yet perfect for my work setting. I loved working with Alicia!

Kendall’s additions:

  • utility jacket
  • print shorts
  • simple t-shirt dresses

Mom’s thoughts

I was hoping that this could have been a divide and conquer mission. Lindsey and Kendall’s opinions of each other can impede progress when we are all out shopping together. It’s like having too many cooks in the kitchen or decisions by committee…it can more complicated than necessary. Alicia was able to get the job done while substantiating some of the obvious hurdles of what’s appropriate and keeping the budget in place. I was shocked at how low the bill was at our first stop and concluded then that Alicia’s time had just paid for itself. Hearing advice from a seasoned wardrobe specialist holds more clout than mom trying to navigate these waters.  Alicia also was able to quickly get a handle of their style by labeling it French girl chic: black short skirts, grey tanks and striped t-shirts, olive utility jackets along with some tried and true American style…Adidas Black Superstars! (French girls typically don’t wear sneakers evidently — I learned a few things too!)

Catherine Barnes

Catherine is working at a local marketing company where she is tasked with production of direct marketing campaigns.

catherine 01

How did you find working with a stylist helpful?

Alicia was very accommodating with her time and schedule. She looked through all of my clothes and was able to see what we were working with. She immediately knew what my style was and picked out what is work appropriate and kept these clothes in mind while shopping. While shopping she picked out stuff I loved and that she knew would be great additions to my closet. She also kept in mind prices and we went to reasonably priced stores that had great items. She knew what she was doing and I bought what she told me she liked and I love all of it. I have worn everything to work and received countless complements. She made shopping effortless and quick!

What was the most important piece of style advice you came away with from working together?

Alicia told me that I should stick to simple colors so that I can mix and match everything to create more outfits and it is not as noticeable when I wear the same outfit multiple times. I’m so glad that we picked out plain colors because then I can add a little flare with a fun necklace and shoes.

What was your favorite look? Why did it work for you so well?

I love my gray Theory shift dress; I wore it yesterday with a cute necklace and fun shoes. I can wear the dress not only to work, but also with casual shoes on a regular day exploring the city. I loved working with Alicia!! Very knowledgeable and fun to work with.

Catherine’s additions

  • Vince d’Orsay flats
  • cropped black cardigan
  • solid skirts and sheath dresses
Karen had requested some images for Catherine so she would be able to quickly recall the outfit recipes I put together.

Karen had requested some images for Catherine so she would be able to quickly recall the outfit recipes I put together.

Mom’s thoughts

Alicia has such a great sense of style and knows what young people are wearing at work. She also has the ability of making sense of hidden value. Alicia advocated for a pair of Vince flats for Catherine knowing how often she would wear them both at work and casually on weekends.  Hiring her saved some arguments with my daughter and my child respected the budget and price point that Alicia suggested. In the end, I saved money, time, and maintained a great relationship with my daughter!

Mollie Lane

Mollie is working at Clean Energy in Newport Beach, California as a public policy intern. The company is a pioneer in using natural gas for transportation, and is the largest distributor of natural gas in North America. Most of her work is focused on the legislative and regulatory side of policy, doing research and writing policy memos. Mollie and I had never met prior to this little expedition. Having her as my final intern was probably added value since I knew instinctually where everything was from earlier trips with Catherine Barnes.

Mollie 01

How did you find working with a stylist helpful?

Working with a stylist one-on-one is helpful because it allows them to make a personal connection with you, get to know your personality, and therefore, better understand your style and help you find what you are looking for. It also shortened the amount of time that I might have spent searching for clothes on my own. Working with a stylist allows the process go much more smoothly.

What was the most important piece of style advice you came away with from working with me?

Coming up with a central color theme in my wardrobe. This makes it easier to mix/match my outfits because they all fall under a similar color palette.

What was the most unexpected result you found from this experience?

More confidence heading into my internship. Ever since I started, I haven’t had to worry about my clothes or be distracted about putting an outfit together.

Mollie 02

What was your favorite look? Why did it work for you so well?

The white blouse and black skirt because it is not the typical “white blouse, black skirt” look: the skirt is flattering on the figure, and very comfortable to wear while sitting at a desk, and the pattern on the blouse gives a little pizzazz. And the gray dress is so comfortable and flattering. Its length is very work appropriate, but is also very fashion forward with it being slightly longer in the back. I will wear this outside the working world as well.

Mollie’s additions

  • Tory Flats in textured luggage
  • Annabel Ingall gray tote
  • gray tunic style dress

Mom’s thoughts

Absolutely, the best money I’ve ever spent. Mollie and I could have never done what you did in the space of a few hours. With her short timeframe – two days between coming home from college and leaving for the West Coast — you were our saving grace. If I’d had two weeks, we MAY have been able to muddle through. I am old school and outsourcing generally seems like a luxury. Seriously, I have to pay someone to help my college daughter buy her clothes?!   But you did a masterful job. You knew exactly where to get the most “bang for our buck.” I loved the way you quickly assessed items in her wardrobe and took those along with you on your shopping expedition.

  • Consignment? Check! (No way on earth Mollie would have trusted me on that one.)
  • Sales? Check! You knew exactly what retailers to hit for the best value.
  • Let’s not overlook that fabulous personality of yours combined with knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. I had complete confidence that you were up for the task as did Mollie within five minutes of you two meeting one another. It was a Win/Win for Mollie and for me.

This type of service would also be great for a recent graduate. Utilizing the shortcuts of a professional and teaching another generation the cost-analysis benefits of outsourcing will put them on the fast track to success. Saving time will ultimately save money. Learning how to put the pieces together in an efficient manner will help new graduates bring their “A” game to the start of a successful career.

Contact me for further information regarding packages and pricing at

  • The latest from Alicia
Alicia was born and raised in Alexandria, and married a local boy. She is happily married and the mother of two amazing children and one adorable and terribly smart border terrier named Dixie. Alicia has always known she was a creative. She collected editions of Vogue from junior high on and has always loved clothing and design. She studied interior design at VCU and parlayed that degree into commercial interior design, the web design, and ultimately found herself managing a local boutique and serving as a stylist to many Alexandrian women. She now has a successful full-time styling business, The Tulle Box, and makes it her business to make her clients feel great about themselves and the way they look.

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