Blogger Spotlight - What I Wore
When we met up with Jessica Quirk, owner of the personal style blog What I Wore, it was a rainy day in Indiana. Luckily, we quickly forgot about the gloomy June weather when Jessica opened up about her blog, her upcoming book, and her experience with Betsey Johnson (we were more than jealous). It only took us five minutes to realize we were having coffee with an incredibly smart and fashion-savvy Hoosier, and it shouldn’t take you much longer to see that her debut book, What I Wore: Four Seasons, One Closet, Endless Recipes for Personal Style, is a must for any woman who has ever said, “I have nothing to wear.”
Tell me a little about your background?
I’m from Indiana originally. I moved to New York after I graduated from Indiana University where I studied apparel merchandising, costume design and marketing. I worked as a fashion designer in New York for four years after I graduated. I started taking pictures of my outfits after stumbling upon a group online. When I was in Hong Kong for work and very bored, I found this site called Wardrobe Remix on Flickr. Tons of women of every variety were posting their outfits and I thought, “That looks interesting.” I like clothes so I started taking my picture on May of 2007 and I’ve been doing it ever since. I was blogging at the same time so I pulled everything together in one place and What I Wore was born.
How did you feel when you started taking pictures of yourself daily? Was it weird?
No, I was addicted to it, because it pushed me to come up with creative ideas. It helped me analyze and identify what looked good on me as opposed to what’s just comfy, because I believe you can look good and be comfortable at the same time. The initial site I joined was really positive. It seemed to be very popular to be really thrifty and really crafty with your clothes, two things I like to do, so there was a lot of positive reinforcement. Women don’t walk around complimenting each other, so to have this forum—a place where positive reinforcement comes into your life—is really great. My first post I ever put up got 18 comments in one day and I thought, "This is fun, I like this."
In all of your posts your nails are always painted, does nail lacquer tie into your look?
Well, if they are not polished they are always taken care of. I never got a professional manicure until I moved to New York. Once I did, I would just stare at how shiny they were under the elevator lights and loved it. I used to only do pinks and red because I was on a budget and I couldn’t afford to change my nails every week, so I stuck with classic shades. But lately I’ve been getting into all kinds of crazy colors. I would have never worn blue lacquer until recently; now I just think it’s so fun.
I know you interned with Betsey Johnson, tell me about that?
That wasn’t necessarily the catalyst, I always knew I wanted to work in fashion, but I DEFINITELY knew I wanted to do it once I worked for her. She’s a great teacher. She talked to interns. My experience there was really well rounded. On like my third day, they had a buyer come in and they needed someone to be a fit model, so Betsey pulled her lipstick out of her purse and put it on me and was like, “You look great. Go out there and do it.” And I was like, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” In the very beginning I was doing random jobs, but mid-way through I asked if I could help with tech packs and the flat sketching and I started translating Betsey’s drawings into technical drawings. I built up an entire portfolio. At the end of the summer Betsey sat down with me and critiqued it and she was like, “This is good”, “You need more of this”, “When you do the next one you should look at this.” She basically taught me what I needed to have to get a job and then, I got a job.
Let’s talk about your book. In one sentence, beyond the tagline, sum up What I Wore’s content?
A cookbook for your closet. That’s not the exact title, but that is essentially what it is.
Your book combines illustrations with seasonal suggestions on how to keep staple items in your wardrobe, but then build upon those for endless outfit options. How do you think the tips in your book can be a reality for every woman no matter income?
I absolutely think that two women in completely different income brackets can look equally as good. Some of my favorite things are from thrift stores or Target. It’s how you put it together. It’s how you carry yourself. It’s just like we said before, if you have your nails done and your hair and make-up and you’re wearing a $25 dress with your best smile, you’re going to look great. When I was initially living in New York I wasn’t making much. I went to vintage stores. I bought dresses and hemmed them to look modern.
And how does the information translate to different locations since there are so many different ‘looks’ across the country? For example, New York has a style different than California or the Midwest.
I think this book is geared towards women who are interested in fashion, but maybe not so much that they are hanging on to every trend, devouring every magazine or runway show. They just want to look good without having to feel intimidated. I think sometimes in the coastal areas the sense of style is so strong that it seems very natural to fall into that mode, but then there are places around the country where there isn’t a strong style. I think this book will help those women. I do air more on the side of classic looks because I think they translate well through sizes and ages and even locations. You’re always going to look sharp in a great pair of jeans, a blazer and some heels in any city in the country. Fashion can be intimidating, but it can be really fun—I’m trying to stress the fun side. How you think about yourself matters so much more than how others think of you or how you think people think of you. Actually, this morning I was thinking, “I’m going to talk about my book, I should be dressed up”.
You!? When I got up this morning, and it was a torrential downpour, I was mortified. I was worried I didn’t have anything to wear that looked good enough. It was nerve racking. So, you started taking pictures in 2007 and you said your wardrobe wasn’t where it is today. Did you have an ah-ha moment where you realized you had it all down?
No, I still don’t think I have it all down. I do feel like I have almost everything covered to get dressed every day, but my little creative inner-spirit loves new things to spice it all up. If I went down the street and bought a cool printed red dress it would inspire 15 new outfits. It’s a mix between being practical, being inspired and making it all work. When you are able to look at your closet and line up the next month of outfits or you can walk in your closet and go boom, boom, boom and throw an outfit on and feel good, then you have it.
What do you think is one of the biggest fashion faux pas people commit?
Well, I’m conflicted because I believe people should wear what they like, but sometimes if you try and pile on too many trends at once you might not get your point across as well as you would if you focused on one. Someone doing camo, leopard, neon and spikes in one outfit needs to dial it back. Focus on one thing. I cringe when I see people who aren’t wearing their size. No matter what your body shape is, you’re always going to look better in something that fits as opposed to too tight or too big.
You talk mainly about fashion, but how does make-up and beauty tie into your life?
This is a good one, because when I was little my mom told me that even if I was wearing jeans and a white t-shirt that if I did my hair and make-up and I looked polished that I would look really good; how much I spent on my clothes didn’t matter nearly as much as how I carried myself. I always had an interest in hair, make-up and beauty. My dad used to make fun of me and say I washed my hair three times a day, but my parents never made me feel silly for caring about beauty-related things. I think some people can say these are really shallow pursuits, but when you look good, you feel good. You’re going to do better when you try your best at everything.
Agreed. So back to your book, what is your favorite part?
There are things in the book that are in my blog, but the blog is like 600 pages long and would take forever for someone to read. The book you can just flip through, even in the parking lot before going into a store. I really like some of the individual illustrations and when I flip through the book I remember when each thing took place or when I wrote certain sections.
The illustrations in your book are wonderful. Why did you choose to do illustrations as opposed to photos?
Although the illustrations are standardized size, I wanted it to be more about readers envisioning the things that worked together versus having models. I think if I had used models or photographs you may be drawn to the look of the person. I didn’t want people to be distracted by actual people. I wanted their imagination to get moving, so I varied the skin tones and hairstyles and colors. I wanted readers to know that, yes, a stripped tank with a floral skirt and funky cardigan will look nice. It doesn’t matter if you are ‘this tall’ or ‘that size’ or ‘this color’.
The book is broken down into week suggestions. What was your thought behind the structure? Is the vision of your book more of a reference book?
It’s not a one read book. The size is great to fit in your bag. When you read the book the first time hopefully you get a handful of great ideas. Then when you get into ruts you can open the book up later and be like, “Alright, I do have this, this and this. Here is what I insert in.” I relate it to a pantry. You have your milk, sugar, butter—you have things that you always have in your kitchen. When you have fresh strawberries, you can make a strawberry pie. You buy things to spice it up and use what you already have. I’m not a good cook, but I can follow a recipe. You don’t need to be the person who knows what to wear instantly, but you can look at what you have, like a dress and blazer, and then know it goes together. I just hope the book gets people’s wheels turning.
There is one part in your book where you mention wearing solid cardigans two days in a row. Would you ever wear something two days in a row?
Yep, especially if it is jeans or jean shorts or an olive jacket. Anything that can be soiled, like a blouse, probably not. When you are on vacation and if you have something that looks good with multiple things, wear it. I’ve been tempted to take just one dress and wear it for a week and see what the combos are. You’re not going to wear a pink and red floral dress two days in a row, but you may wear a red cardigan with it one day and wear the cardigan with jeans and a blouse the next day.
Collecting clothes and buying new bags every year seems to be your passion. Is that where you spend your money?
Yes. One thing that has come up over the years on my blog is people saying, “That’s so expensive.” That’s really relative to how old you are, what your career is or where you live in the country. In New York a $100 dress is a bargain, but in other places in the country that’s a dress for a really special occasion. I think it’s important for people to keep in mind that a high school or college student isn’t going to have the same budget as an established career woman who has no other obligations and doesn’t have a mortgage or a child. Some people spend money on computers or video games or are movie buffs or into traveling, I spend my money on clothing.
What made you decide to come out with your book now?
After writing the blog for a good amount of time I started to get similar questions like, “Do black and brown go together?” to “How do I spend my money on clothes?” Women of every budget range were asking me what to wear. I wanted to address that. When I started playing around with the idea of a book I was having a lot of fun doing illustrations. My husband bought me a blank journal and gave it to me for Christmas. On the front cover it said, “Recipes For Style”. He gave me a pen and told me to write the book I wanted to write.
What was the hardest part about writing your book?
I wrote it in three months and at the same time was planning a wedding. I just wish I would have given myself the time to enjoy both processes more. Planning a wedding from five states away is not easy when on a deadline. I had an outline of the book and had the drawings and then put it all together. I had great editors who kept me in check. Also, it was hard to find pieces of clothing that would stay relevant, but I think this book will be relevant for many years because nothing is too trendy.
Your book releases July 5th, what do you have lined up to promote it?
I have a wonderful publicist who has been getting me write-ups in national magazines and regional publications. We have a release party in Bloomington and I have a few events in San Francisco, Boston and New York. I am working on a small scale with individual boutiques that are going to be more intimate settings. We’re still scheduling events and I hope to get to go to some places where there are people who have a big interest in fashion, but there aren’t always places for them to get together. I would love to help create new relationships and communities with my book.
And with all that she has accomplished so far, we’re sure Jessica will. To find out more about Jessica’s new book, What I Wore: Four Seasons, One Closet, Endless Recipes for Personal Style, and see how she pieces together an impressive wardrobe, head over to http://whatiwore.tumblr.com.