The Curated Closet: Lauren Engelke, Sustainable Stylist and On-Set Tailor

Lauren Engelke started asking a lot of questions. “What chemicals were being put on clothes? And what would happen if you had those chemicals in contact with your body 16 hours a day?” She then discovered brands using natural methods and there was no turning back.

Get to know the Miami-based sustainable stylist and read her step-by-step guide on how to find your personal style and build a closet you love. The stylist knows what she is doing. (But seriously Lauren, you should patent this personal style stuff!) Link in bio.

So, who are you? :)

I've been an on-set tailor and stylist for several years, which means that I fit clothing to models, usually so companies can shoot the garments for e-commerce. My road to minimalism and sustainability was so many little things. A lot of my clients are classic brands that produce similar clothing each season and I just started to wonder how many polo shirts or flannel shirts we all really needed. And after steaming my thousandth pair of jeans—and new jeans almost always smell like chlorine and foulness when you steam them—I wondered, why? What chemicals were being put on the clothes? And what would happen if you had those chemicals in contact with your body 16 hours a day? I started doing research on manufacturing and discovered all these brands using more natural methods along the way, and there was no turning back.

DVF  romper from  Rent the Runway . Return when romper season is over.

DVF romper from Rent the Runway. Return when romper season is over.

What are your steps when working with a new client as a stylist? 

Getting into personal styling was a wonderful side effect of posting on Instagram! I've always loved styling friends, but my work was always styling on-set, which is very different, because you are putting together a look with the objective of shooting it and selling the garment, not creating a functional, beautiful outfit for someone to wear. After posting my outfits on Instagram, people started asking me personal styling questions, and I immediately found that I loved the new challenge of helping people find their best style and feel beautiful and confident in their own clothes. 

The first things I do with a new styling client are identify their needs—what occasions do they have to dress for? Is their office cold? Do they need to carry a notepad around? Do they need two tops a day because they have a new messy baby? Then we identify their desired style by looking through inspiration images. Then together we go through their closet and identify anything that can go, and the one to two key items that might make a big difference. And then I give the client some recommendations of where they might be able to find that garment.

What's your advice on finding a style and building a closet you love?

Finding your personal style is a two part process. First, pin or save images of outfits you love—you can use Pinterest or an Instagram saved board. Save lots and lots of images, and then go back and look for trends. Does every photo have a blazer? Do you love wide leg pants? Etc.

Second, take mirror selfies, head to toe. Trust me. Taking a photo removes you by a step and helps you be impartial. Look at your selfies next to your inspiration images— but please go easy on yourself! Please always keep in mind that if someone is posting to social media, they've probably spent an hour on their hair and makeup, they've walked around looking for the perfect light, they took 50 shots before choosing one that was cute, and then they ran that through Lightroom before posting it. What I mean is, look at the basic structure of the outfit—do you want to try layering a cardigan over your dress or swap out the thin heel for a block heel? Figure out how to get from the mirror selfie to the inspo image. Mirror selfies have helped me improve my style tremendously. 

Building a closet you love takes time and should be done SLOWLY. First, plan a shopping hiatus—try not to buy anything for two to three months. Unsubscribe from sale emails and avoid browsing your favorite stores. Just break the habit of shopping mindlessly.

Wait until you are getting dressed one day and think to yourself, "Man, I could really use a ____ (white tee shirt/turtleneck/sweater) to layer under this dress!" First, try out every other item in your closet that might work. If you still feel like you need a new one, shop only for that one item. Try out a couple—maybe order two to three options from different brands, and only keep the one you like. 

And follow people with great style on social media for inspiration. That may sound like a shameless plug, but it's not meant to be. I love @harlingross@tmichey, and @shrimptoncouture—three very different woman who all have outstanding taste.

Lauren overcome her fear/long history of ruining white tees with  For Days . Skirt by  Dolores Haze  from  Shop Ethica .

Lauren overcome her fear/long history of ruining white tees with For Days. Skirt by Dolores Haze from Shop Ethica.

What brands do you love and recommend to clients? 

It depends on their taste, lifestyle, and where they live. Shipping costs add up quickly, so I try to mostly recommend brands that are local to my clients. Aussies especially get stuck with massive shipping costs. Some of my favorite brands for fun pieces are Dolores Haze (USA), Christy Dawn (USA), Noumenon (Netherlands), and The Sisterhood (UK). For basics, I love Kotn (USA/Canada), Organic Basics (Denmark), Gai Lisva (Denmark), and LA Relaxed (USA). For denim, I love Life After Death Denim (USA), Kings of Indigo (Netherlands), and Outland (Australia). I'm also really into renting. I love Rent the Runway (USA) and when I want to make an entrance, Armarium (NYC). And truth be told, shopping secondhand has always been a huge part of my wardrobe. When I was young, it was an easy way to stretch my budget, and I still love it as a way to find interesting pieces and give something a new life. I shop thredUP and TheRealReal regularly.

High-waisted and sustainable!  Life After Death Denim .

High-waisted and sustainable! Life After Death Denim.

How do you describe your own style?

My style varies on where I am. I like to embrace the personality of the city I'm in and reflect it back. So I dress more fashion-forward in New York, a more flannel and jeans in Wisconsin, and more body conscious and colorful in Miami. I would describe my style as exuberant minimalism.

How has your own style changed?

I've become more vibrant and dressier as my work moves off set. On set stylists wear jeans, tee shirts, and sneakers because we're constantly bending down to tie shoes and adjust hems, carrying heavy bags of clothing, and dressing talent. Now my work is much less physical and more client facing, so I wear beautiful dresses and polished blazers.

An impulse purchase that has turned out to be a major favorite is this metallic linen Mackage blazer that I got secondhand off thredUP. I wear it all the time. it's exactly the right length and fit, and the right mix of serious and totally ridiculous. It's delightful.

The hardest pieces to part with were a handful of cocktail dresses and gowns I never wore. I kept thinking it was handy to have a couple of options in the back of my closet, and then each time I had an occasion, I'd somehow find a reason to wear something else. It took me a while to accept that they were just gathering dust and it was time to let them go.

ByTiMo  dress from  Rent the Runway .

What is your go-to look?

My go-to look is probably an old Ann Taylor silk cami (not sustainable, but I'm not going to donate a perfectly good cami), Life After Death Denim jeans, and my Mackage blazer. My backup look is the same outfit but with mom jorts from St. Vincent de Paul thrift store. I can't express to you how brightly my fire burns for St. Vinny’s. I f-ing love that place.

Jorts!

Jorts!

What's a piece in your closet you wear to make more of a statement?

I bought a Marchesa skort and bustier set used from Armarium, to wear to all of the weddings I went to this summer (five wears so far). If it was socially appropriate to put it on in May and wear it continuously until September, I would. I love that set so much. It even has pockets! Haha.

Thanks, Lauren!