#248 – Telling Stories in Style with Heather Newberger

Author and professional stylist Heather Newberger joins us on the podcast this week to discuss her first book, How to Date Your Wardrobe: And Other Ways to Revive, Revitalize, and Reinvigorate Your Style.

Author and professional stylist Heather Newberger joins us on the podcast this week to discuss her first book, How to Date Your Wardrobe: And Other Ways to Revive, Revitalize, and Reinvigorate Your Style. We speak to Heather about her career path as a stylist, her road to publication and the bumps that were caused by the pandemic, what post-pandemic fashion will look like, and we talk about using fashion and visual cues to help build in-depth characters.

  • Heather talks to us about her career as a professional stylist, and the journey she took from photography student to stylist to published author
  • She tells us about her book, How to Date Your Wardrobe: And Other Ways to Revive, Revitalize, and Reinvigorate Your Style, what inspired her to write this book, why inclusivity was so important for her to include, and what gap in the market she hopes her book fills
  • Heather discusses her road to publication, including how her writing community has helped her become a better writer and how the pandemic caused her to reimagine what the book would be
  • She tells us about her work as a stylist, how she helps clients prepare for big events, and how her book provides actionable tips that readers can implement to help style themselves
  • Heather explains the problems surrounding inconsistent sizing in the fashion industry and she explains why self-acceptance is such an important step in confidently tyling one’s self 
  • She talks to us about using fashion to tell stories and to assist writers in building three dimensional characters, and how visual cues such as clothing and colour schemes can add depth to storytelling
  • Heather tells us how she thinks fashion will evolve in a post-pandemic world, and why she thinks comfort and joy will be the two dominant style moods as we emerge from lockdowns

Useful Links

Heather’s Website
Follow Heather on Instagram
How to Date Your Wardrobe: And Other Ways to Revive, Revitalize, and Reinvigorate Your Style
Article about Bridgerton and Colour
Youtube Channel about fashion in media
Promising Young Woman
Universal Standard
Marie Kondo

Heather Newberger is a freelance fashion stylist whose voice stands out as one that works to create inclusivity in an otherwise exclusive industry.

A seasoned professional who has spent over ten years making pictures, and even more writing narrative nonfiction at her parent’s kitchen table, Newberger’s mission is to create a space for people who don’t care about fashion, to care about fashion, through personal narrative and storytelling. 

A graduate of Ithaca College with a BS artist degree, she lives in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, with her three-legged cat and too many clothes.

Newberger is represented by Wendi Gu at Sanford J. Greenburger and Associates for her writing. Her forthcoming book How to Date Your Wardrobe will be available from Morrow Gift in early 2021.

Episode Transcript

Transcript provided by Speechpad

Joni: Hey, writers, you’re listening to the “Kobo Writing Life Podcast” where we bring you insights and inspiration for growing your self-publishing business. We’re your hosts. I’m Joni, and I’m the author engagement specialist at Kobo Writing Life.

Rachel: And I’m Rachel, and I’m the author engagement coordinator at Kobo Writing Life. In this episode, Joni and Steph spoke to Heather Newberger, who is a freelance fashion stylist and the author of “How to Date Your Wardrobe: And Other Ways to Revive, Revitalize, and Reinvigorate Your Style.”

Joni: This was such a fun conversation. We talked to her for like 20 minutes before we hit record because she was super chatty and fun. I think it’s a little bit different to our usual episodes. We talked a lot about fashion and style and her book, which is all about learning how to style yourself and finding your own personal sense of style.

Rachel: I should really read this to get me out of my quarantine sweatpants.

Joni: Yes, I hear you. That’s something that we chatted about because she had some ideas about, like, how people are going to reemerge from their quarantine cocoons. And, like, she thought that everyone was gonna want to wear really bright colors and intense patterns because we have all been hanging out in gray sweatpants throughout the year. Like, it’s true. I feel like you guys should know that Kobo sent everybody at the office sweatpants. So now we have sweatpants with the Kobo logo on them because we are very cool.

Rachel: Yeah, and I have been wearing mine probably too frequently, so…

Joni: Yeah. Yeah, we’re not gonna discuss it. But, yeah, this is a really fun episode. We hope you enjoy listening as much as we enjoyed recording.

Steph: Okay, thank you, Heather, for joining us today.

Heather: Thank you so much for having me.

Steph: So before we get into it, because we’ve been talking literally for 20 minutes before we started recording, can you tell our listeners a bit about yourself?

Heather: Absolutely. I am an author and a stylist from Greenpoint, Brooklyn, not originally, but, you know, for the last 10 years, and I think they say, you know, once you’re in New York for 10 years, you’re officially a New Yorker. Basically, I work professionally as a stylist. And then I’ve always been writing narrative nonfiction. And about a year and a half ago, I really had this sort of, like, you know, “come to Jesus moment” that I could take that expertise as a stylist, combine it with my narrative work, and actually create a book that would be enjoyable, and also, you know, easily consumable with actionable tips for real people to engage with fashion.

Joni: So your book is called “How to Date Your Wardrobe.” And it’s your first book, is that right?

Heather: It is my first book.

Joni: Awesome. And can you tell us how the book deal and the publication came about?

Heather: Absolutely. I actually have this really awesome experience for a long time with the Greenpoint Writers Group, which is located in my neighborhood. And one of the people who I met for that group actually worked in the gift book field. And she is someone who, you know, we’d actually joined the writers group at the same time, she’s super intelligent, really fun lady, and we kind of kept in touch over time. And so when I had this idea, I reached out to her about it. And she was like, “This is a great idea.” Initially, it was titled under the idea of “Style for Everybody.” Because it was really important to me to make sure it was a very inclusive text. And she was like, “This is great. You know, our team thinks it’s really interesting. You are the right person to write this based on your experience, but style for everybody gets really confusing. Because once you get to everybody, it’s how do you hit every single body? And how do you speak to all of them?”

So for the next year, and the most of in 2019, I spent the year, you know, creating proposals for her. I had no idea what a real proposal looked like until I actually hooked up with my agent, Wendi Gu, who’s absolutely incredible. She’s over at Sanford Greenburger Associates. And she really worked with me closely to develop the concept into something that could be understood by publishing and sales. I think that that was my biggest concern for a long time, was, like, would people get this concept because it is a little bit novel to talk about things that are really toeing the line of, you know, it’s a stylebook, but, you know, it’s not a style guide. It’s not something that’s designed to really tell people what to do. It’s designed to, sort of, push people towards who they want to be, and why they want to be that way, and why they want to express themselves in that way.

So she really worked closely with me to develop this proposal that, I think, we went through like five rounds out before she even signed me to the agency. But once we felt like we were both really happy with it, she signed me over to Sanford Greenburger. And we did a single bid over to called Morrow Gift, and they’re part of HarperCollins. They’re sort of a progressive gift imprint. And in October, I think it was actually on Halloween, they officially signed off, and the book was bought.

Steph: Very exciting. So what was the writing process like for this, or does it feel like normal nonfiction writing?

Heather: Well, it definitely differed. Because the way that it was written, it had a very strict outline of how, you know, when I proposed it, how I wanted it to look and what we wanted to talk about. And so really creating these, sort of, three sections that you could engage with, revive, revitalize, reinvigorate, which I think were like, “Oh, God, they all had like different names at the beginning.” Because basically what ended up happening as I wrote to those different things, I created all these different sections, because obviously writing, you know, an engageable tip-oriented book is so different than writing a piece of nonfiction that can be really personalized and also really sort of showcase your voice. And while I wanted to make sure to showcase my voice, I also really wanted to make sure that it was, like, digestible for, like, you know, “the every man.” And I don’t mean that in, sort of, a talking down to kind of way. I just mean that in like a cheerleading way, you know. I don’t want it to feel alienating.

But when I first wrote it, I wrote it for a pre-pandemic world. And the day I actually submitted the book, my first manuscript was on… It was on March 14th, 2020. And that was the day…yes, that was the day the world started burning. It was also the day my taxes were due. And my visual guides, my illustrator was due, Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell, who is incredible. I’m so happy to have connected with her and have her on this project. She does all the illustrations for the book. So I had to get all that stuff over to them. And they were like, “This is great.” And I didn’t hear anything for two months. And during those two months, the entire world changed. And that original book was really written to the idea of looking at and supporting, you know, sort of subverting retailer expectations because of my experience as a stylist shopping all the time for different shoots.

I work on a lot of commercial jobs specifically. So I’m working with a lot of actors and real people to kind of tell their stories, you know, whether it’s for, you know, eBay fashion or for, you know, AriZona Iced Tea. I do a lot of stuff with Guinness. You know, it’s just always these sort of, like, real people sort of engaging advertisements. And a lot of it was about retailer expectations. A lot of it was about subverting them. A lot of it was about putting the consumer into the driver’s seat, and now consumers aren’t going into stores. So what do I do? How do I reposition this? You know, my editor comes back two months later, “I think the book has been shelved.” And she’s like “This is great. We love it. You know, here are all my edits.” And I was like, “That’s nice. I’m going to rewrite the entire thing.”

So then I proceeded to rewrite the entire book to make it more towards selectivity as opposed to purchasing things out in the real world. So what was so lovely about it was that the process really transformed because it became this space from taking someone, you know, and putting them into the driver’s seat to it’s about you and it’s about addressing who you are and really giving the reader energy and sort of this opportunity to engage in individual selectivity. And so things became more oriented in that way. And it became about giving people confidence through selectivity as opposed to through spending or through shopping.

Stephanie: I want to ask, how did you become a stylist?

Heather: I became a stylist… This is a crazy story. So, basically, I went to school for photography. I had initially actually thought I wanted to go into Ad PR. And I thought that that would be, sort of, a way to, like, be creative and make money. But then, when I sort of learned more about that world, kind of my freshman year of college, that was in 2006. I realized that a lot of it was very client-based, and that wasn’t very creative. So I wanted to move into something that was more creative. I was like being an art director is really the right way to go. So I, kind of, ditched my Ad PR, made that a minor, and then went into photography as my major so that I could communicate with onset basically with the knowledge that I had of, like, photography of different sort of, you know, modes of it and kind of the way that we engage with things in terms of the way that we see, and we engage, and we sort of, like, explain messages to people through images.

Unfortunately, when I graduated, I had not learned any marketable skills. You know, a lot of colleges really don’t offer people the opportunity to really learn things they need to know to, kind of, get out into the world and actually make money as a career. So I spent about a year maybe a little less, I’d moved to New York immediately after school. I was like, “I’m going, I’m going, I’m going.” I probably cried for a week to my mom about how I was leaving. And then I took my $1,000 I had in my bank account and was like, “All right, I’m gonna go.” And I shifted, but I went off to New York. I did like 14 weird, strange jobs through temp agencies kind of trying to find my footing because I really wasn’t able to connect with anyone in the photography industry because I had no marketable skills. I didn’t understand lighting. I didn’t understand how to do all of these, like, various specific things as a photographer.

And then I had this opportunity when I was a little bit older, probably like, you know, the next year, a good friend of mine’s uncle ran a sales management agency. I had never learned what a stylist was. So he was going to Berlin, my friend, and he was like, “Would you want to take my job? It’s like a support position. I’m not doing a whole lot of work. You know, it’s like you’re picking up prints. You’re there. You know, it’s $17 an hour. Like, do you want it?” And at the time, $17 was, like, a lot to me. It was an hourly rate, and I didn’t really want the job. And I remember him showing me, like, pictures of the website, because I don’t want to be at an agency. I wanted to be in an active setting. And he showed me pictures of the website. And I remember saying to him, “I don’t get this. I don’t understand what’s going on.”

Because as a photography student, you’re doing the hair, you’re doing the makeup, you’re jumping in front of the camera, you’re getting your friends to do things. I understood art photography, but I didn’t understand the commercial photography industry, which actually requires stylists to be so at the forefront of things because they’re really creating all the stuff in the image. You know, when you have let’s say, like a lemonade campaign, you have someone doing the physical drink. You have someone doing…just styling the drink itself, and you have someone getting glasses for the drink, you know. So they’re getting like 17 different kinds of glasses. And then you have a wardrobe stylist who’s bringing on, you know, it’s a yellow t-shirt. I’ve got like 25 to 30 different yellow t-shirts that we might want to use. And there are so many different aspects of a photo shoot that really create the final image.

And so once I, kind of, understood that and was working at the agency for a while doing support stuff, I moved over into doing the website, and then they kind of needed another agent to help out. And I was just kind of raising my hand a lot, which is, kind of, one of the main things I always tell people, is like, “Raise your hand, like, if you ever feel like you’re not getting…moving forward in your career.” Or you want to just be that person who’s like, “I’ll do it. Like, why not?” You know, so I started doing more agent work. And by the time I was 24, they hired me to be a full agent with them. I had actually asked if I could be a junior agent. And they were like, “We’d love you to be a full-time agent. You know, people will believe you more.” And I was like, “Wow, I’m really young. But let’s do this.” And that was cool. But I was, kind of, miserable because I didn’t like sitting at a desk, and I really wanted to find something that I felt was more creative.

So I moved… I was, like, looking at different spaces, looking at different places I could go, whether it was, sort of, to photo editing. I didn’t really have confidence in myself as a creative person necessarily. But I knew I wanted to be around creative people making stuff. And then I found another agency. We kind of met talking about art stylists making with their photographers. It was, like, two guys in a white box gallery space with a dog. And I was like, “This place is great.” Like, you know, we’re having a bottle of wine. I thought they were a lot of fun. And they started making all these jokes about how, you know, it’d be really great if I just worked there. And I was looking for another job actively at that time. And when they invited me to join an auction committee with them at one of our meetings, I looked at them, and I was like, “Were you serious about that?” And they were like, “Yeah.”

And so we had them talk a little bit longer. And I actually started the styling division at that agency. And I basically was responsible for bringing on new artists, working with new talent, and I did bookings with them for three years. But during that time, I’d actually had an opportunity to connect with one of our, sort of, well, you know, we had these, like, clients, we also kind of felt like they were friends. And one of them was looking for someone to do some pro bono work at like 5:00 on a Friday and needed a stylist, and we didn’t have anyone available. And I was like, “I’ll do it.” Because it was with kids. And, like, I love kids. And I love, you know, that energy. And it was the Harlem School for the Arts. And she was like, “You know, we need someone to come in that next day and, like, do a pre-pro, get everything together.” And it’s, like, a 14-hour day. And so I jumped on that shoot. Now, I would never take a 14-hour day. But, you know, I jumped on that shoot. And it was, like, single-handedly the best day of 2013. And from there on out, I spent a lot of energy just, sort of, doing styling projects that I would consider it kind of a joke. Like, I would do it. There was a lot of artists that I knew, and it was, like, fun to collaborate. I didn’t really take it that seriously. I was, sort of, like, “You know, this is this external thing that I engage in.”

But I guess my friends and clients did take it seriously. Because sooner than later, I had a lot of people that I knew in the photography industry, instead of reaching out for our artists, they would write me and ask, like, would I be interested in taking on those jobs because they knew that they could pay me less. And it would be, like, a fun thing to do for me because I was like, “Oh, you know, it’s so silly.” My agency would ask often, like, when I was leaving, when I was going to, you know, go freelance as a stylist. And I was like, “Probably never, like, you know, maybe when I’m 30. I don’t know.” And in 2016, I had taken on so many jobs at that point that it was time for me to go. So, you know, I left in 2016 to go fully freelance. After doing jobs for Samsung and PNC Bank and a few others, I already had on my resume, and I had a portfolio together.

So unlike many stylists, I actually never assisted. I jumped right into key styling for a lot of major brands and corporations.

Steph: Sounds very cool.

Heather: I know that was a very long answer.

Steph: It’s exactly what I wanted.

Heather: Okay, good. Perfect. I don’t think anyone who ever becomes a stylist thinks they’re going to be a stylist. Like, I feel like everyone who I ever talked to on set, it’s always like, “How did you get there?” And their story is like 10 minutes long. You know, hair and makeup artists, I think, have a better idea of, like, “Oh, I want to be a makeup artist. I have engaged with this. I’ve gone to cosmetology school. It makes sense.” But, you know, prop designers or, you know, fashion stylists, a lot of us, like, we kind of fell into these roles and realized that, you know, that creative activity is really important and then it’s something that fuels us in so many ways.

Joni: I think it’s also because it’s quite a behind-the-scenes job. A lot of people aren’t really considering the stylist, and then when it comes to, like, big events, like the Oscars or the inauguration, or, I don’t know, the Met Ball, there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes in terms of styling. Can you talk a little bit about the process that clients and stylists go through when they’re creating these specific events?

Heather: Absolutely. I mean, I think that it’s one of those things that’s really interesting because everyone has to wear clothes. And I think that a lot of clients that I work with, and also when I’ve worked with celebrities, there’s sort of this idea that, like, “No, no, no, like, I get it. I wear clothes. I can put together this outfit. It’s gonna make a lot of sense.” But the fact of the matter is that when you’re going, you know, in front of a national stage, whether it’s through an advertisement or through, you know, going to a Met Gala, etc., you actually need to really heighten your style into a certain space. And you need to make sure that the choices you’re making actually identify what you’re trying to say. And a lot of people don’t really know how to do that, which, again, kind of goes back to “How to Date Your Wardrobe,” which is about empowering people to make those choices themselves.

But when I’m working with a client, it’s really important that we, kind of, go back and forth about, okay, so they respond to this dress, but maybe it’s not as exciting enough or really tell the story that they want to. So how about we try this one that’s sort of similar that might actually be more engaging for you? So I think that it’s really that push-pull. But, also, I think it’s really important for clients and also, you know, artists, etc., to make sure that they’re also leading on their stylists. So they’ve hired someone, they’ve hired them for a reason. And instead of them just sort of hiring, you know, whatever stylist, because there are so many stylists, they make sure that they engage with the right people who are going to really bring their message to light.

Steph: Like, a lot of people say, like, I just don’t care about fashion, or clothing, or styling. And, kind of, it’s a big part of our life, you wear clothes every day. And I feel like I don’t know why it’s underlooked, or I can’t understand why people kind of feel that way. So how do you hope to make fashion and style more accessible in your book and maybe some approaches they could take?

Heather: I think that one of the things that’s really hard is that whole concept of people feel so alienated by fashion because it seems like this really big scary thing that they just say, “I don’t care about fashion. I’m just gonna wear whatever all the time. It just doesn’t matter. I have to put on clothes, I guess. Like, these clothes can do.” But the fact of the matter is that you can really update the way that you see yourself if you just put in that extra 5%. And so much of the book is really trying to get people to engage with our bodies, as well as engage with the physical materials that they put on. So one of the messages that’s sort of at the heart of the book is that you really need to learn how to accept your body before you can dress for your body.

So the first section revive is all about how to really look at yourself in the mirror and say, “These are the things that are insecurities, and I’m going to embrace them, and I’m going to take them on.” I’m going to say, “You know, I am not comfortable with my legs, hips, etc.” You know, for me, it was always my waist. I always felt like I had these really giant hips, and I’m not so thrilled about them. You know, I’m 6 feet tall, and, like, I’m a curvy lady. But once I was able to sort of embrace those hips, which I talk about in the book, and so then I was able to dress for that smaller waist with higher-waisted pants. It made me feel more confident in the skin that I’m in. So I think that it’s one of those things where once you’re able to, kind of, see the things about yourself that you like or don’t like, embrace those or turn them on their head, then you can really go out into the world and think about how you want to engage with fashion, whether it’s from a place of, you know, excitement and just already, you know, sort of reengaging with something that you love or engaging with it for the first time. The end of the book really talks about how you really want to take those experiences, positive and negative, and then Venn diagram them, too, to see what’s really working for you.

You know, if you’re going into one store at let’s say like 2 p.m. on a Saturday, you really like what they have, but it’s so crowded, you know, those are really good things to kind of…on that Venn diagram in different spaces. So you can kind of see, “Okay, so I liked the clothes. I didn’t like the timing. You know, the sales associates were kind of weird, you know. So, okay, so I like the clothes. I’m gonna go for online shopping.” You know, it’s kind of how to make sure that you make that experience work for you. Because the dressing room is a terrible, mean, awful place that it just, like, tears on everyone’s self-confidence because you’re asked to make a decision so quickly. And I think that it’s really important that people are able to make decisions within time and are able to take the time that they need.

So one of the things I also talk about is the return process, which I think is something that people really kind of shy away from. They think that there’s a lot of shame in, and, like, as a stylist who returns like hundreds of thousands of dollars of garments a year, there’s no shame in it. And, like, as long as you’re not purchasing from someone whose sales commission is going to be sort of impacted, you know, always look at the things you’re buying as returnable as rentals even. You know, try them on in the real world, see how they feel on you, and if it doesn’t make you feel like $1,000, make sure you take it back because it’s not worth your time, energy, or effort.

Joni: Yeah, I think something that you said that was really resonant with that thing about how many people are waiting to lose 20 pounds or, like, waiting for a different body before they’ll worry about styling it. And I think that’s very recognizable for a lot of people and important to let go of.

Heather: A hundred percent, I mean, I would say, like, if we’re being honest, that’s the thing about the book that means the most to me as an individual, is really this idea of embracing the body that you’re in. Because, you know, the amount of conversations I’ve had with people where they ask me specific questions about, you know, how does this look or how does this fit. In the book, I talk specifically about jeans. You know, I’ll have these conversations with people who are saying things like, “You know, what does this mean? You know, who makes the best denim? What is a rise? What is an inseam, you know? Here’s my body. What do you think is a good fit? I like a little stretch in my denim wear, or I really hate that, you know. What do you think is gonna fit right for me?” And I tell them, I do research. I give them all these answers, and they’re like, “That’s awesome. I will take that into account when I lose 20 pounds.” And what I hate about that is that you’re really communicating to your body such negative words. You’re saying, “I’m not worth it or good enough until that happens.” And I think it’s really important that we communicate things to our body that are positive. So buy those jeans now and look good in them now in this body. And if you do lose the weight, you know, I’m happy for you. That’s an accomplishment that you wanted to achieve. But you’re only going to want to buy new pants then, so feel good in the space you’re in now, and then the future body is something you can handle in the future.

Steph: When I was reading it, you said something that was like size difference between every store, so it doesn’t really matter. And I was like, “That’s something I always said,” and I was like, “I can be a size whatever at someplace and then another size somewhere else.” And, like, that, I thought, particularly nowadays when, like, I’m gonna say diet culture, but, like, losing weight and, like, being, like, that’s really prevalent, and I feel like people really get stuck on the number rather than how they feel.

Heather: Like 1,000%. You know, I think that there’s so much energy put into being a certain size or wanting to be a certain size, you know, instead of thinking about your body as something, you know, that feels good when it’s full or feels uncomfortable when it’s not or, like, you know, I know that, like, I like to feel more empty. So, like, I don’t usually eat until later in the day because that’s how my body feels best. But if I’m thinking about it in terms of sizes, it’s so easy to get really upset and think about, you know, oh, like, you know, I think of myself as a size 4. And then I put on these pants that are a 4, and they don’t fit at all, you know, and when I’m ultimately at the store, I’m an 8. I don’t want to be an 8.

Here are all these things that that symbolizes. And I think that we put so much energy into that sort of, like, symbolism, semiotics, sort of what we think that these things mean that we really forget what they actually do for ourselves. So you want to find something that’s actually going to fit your body. And it doesn’t matter what that fit says. You know, at ZARA, I am anything from an extra small to an extra large depending on how I want the piece to fit. And I think that really matters, you know, how our individual concepts of fit really differ from person to person. And I can never tell you how you like a garment to fit in the same way that you can ever tell me the same.

Joni: So a lot of our listeners are writers and write fiction and something that we were interested in is, do you think that using clothes when writing and creating characters, I guess, is really what I’m trying to say… How can creating a style or a mood board for character help writers to get to know those characters and help convey something to the reader about them?

Heather: I really love this question so much because I feel like it speaks so much to, like, how the book is written and also how I feel about fashion, which is that fashion is a story. What you’re doing is you’re telling the narrative of this individual. And so whenever I’m actually styling for a photo shoot, I’m, like, putting together, like, who this person is. I’m like, “Okay, so this is a guy who works at a bank. He’s probably wearing, you know, a button-down and khakis. When he goes home, he likes to play video games. We’re putting him in a sweatshirt or putting him in jeans or whatever, you know, I don’t know.” It depends per character. But I think that each one of the pieces of clothing we choose really tells our story. So if you’re able to be writing and, you know, taking a mood board, utilizing different images from people…

Let’s say, you know, you’re looking for someone who, you know, has, like, the style of Billie Eilish, you know, someone with her style, you know, tells such a different story, and then someone would say Grimes’ style. You know, those are two sort of somewhat similar artists, but they also are such different people in terms of who those characters are. And so you really want to dial in these specific moments that can really help you sort of identify that character and really see them in front of you, which I think is something that people can struggle with when they’re writing a narrative. You’re putting together the story. And you have kind of a loose idea of the character’s internal traits, but their external traits are really where they display them.

Steph: Did you watch “Bridgerton?” We’re going off-topic here.

Heather: That’s okay. I did not watch “Bridgerton.” I’ve heard it’s, like, the thing to watch. And I have not watched it.

Steph: Well, the reason I bring it up is because I read an article about how they use clothes to convey a sense of families. So the Bridgerton family is all in shades of blue. And, like, when something’s going on, you can see it played out through their clothes. So this is like a recommendation to everyone listening, but, like, definitely I’ll have a link to this article. But it’s interesting the ways that you, kind of, overlook clothes maybe when you’re first watching something. When you go back and look into it, you’re like now they’re also telling the story that you may not have thought of.

Heather: Oh, it’s hysterical you bring that up because I’m terrible to watch, like, anything with because I’m watching the fashion patterns and how they’re trying to tell the story. So you can actually watch, like, color stories happening or that they want, like, characters to be more aligned with each other. You see them, like, in similar colors or utilizing patterns in a similar way. Like, there’s really a lot of just sort of nonverbal communication that’s happening especially on television and movies through clothing and wardrobe. So just sort of identify the story in the narrative of those characters. And I love hearing that about “Bridgerton” and actually makes me want to watch it more.

Joni: That’s really interesting. That is something that would totally go over my head, I think, and now I’m going to look out for it.

Steph: I’ll send you the link to this.

Heather: Please do. I’m so sorry because I just ruined, like, television for you guys. I mean, you know, I will say, like, my boyfriend’s a screenwriter. I am a stylist. Like, after every single movie, we just, like, tear everything apart. Like it is painful to, like, listen to us. But, also, I think we should start a podcast about how, like, we’re just seeing so many things.

Joni: I would listen to that.

Steph: A hundred percent.

Joni: I think that’d be interesting. Because, you know, you’re noticing it somewhere. Like, it’s subconscious that you are picking up on those, like, clothing patterns and color alliances or whatever. But I would never consciously notice it. So I think that’s very cool.

Heather: Yeah, I mean, it’s even, like… I don’t know if you guys have seen “Promising Young Woman” yet?

Joni: I just got the book. Like, just finished it three days ago, because I…

Heather: Oh, that’s awesome.

Joni: The author’s podcast, she’s really funny, Caroline O’Donoghue. So I was like, “Oh, I should pick up one of her books and see how it is.” But, yeah, I didn’t even know it was… Is it a show or a movie?

Heather: It’s a movie. You know, it’s really excellent. Carey Mulligan’s in it. She does a great job. And it’s really interesting how they dress her character because they want her character at a certain point to be, like, very feminine. And another point to be, like, very sexy but also, like, dominant in that space. And so they really, like, lean into a lot of very feminine things when she’s, like, working at a cafe or she’s, like, having, like, you know, very, like, cute little scenes with Bo Burnham. They’re having these very, like, sweet sort of, like, you know, adorable kind of, like, meet-cute moments where she’s wearing these more feminine outfits. And then when she’s doing some more subversive stuff, I’m not going to ruin the book for everyone, you know, they have her in, like, a lot more, like, sharper looks and, like, darker colors and, you know, in sort of a more sexy but, again, like I said, sort of dominant kind of way. And so it’s kind of fun, at least for me, to, like, watch the fashion over that movie tell that story, which, you know, without even words, you kind of understand where this character is going and why they’re going that way.

Joni: So I just realized the book I read is a different book, same name but not the book that this is based on. So I was like [inaudible 00:26:43] something that it’s not Caroline O’Donoghue, doesn’t look like it is based on a book. But, yeah, different story, also good.

Steph: Funny that you say. Well, also, if anyone’s also listening, they have YouTube videos about this. People will make them and, like, go off and buy an outfit, which I always love. But it’s always interesting to me when something doesn’t work. And it’s usually with a teen show when it was, like, they didn’t consider, like, where they’re living, or the fashions of the teens nowadays, or, like, their color story and, like, things like that. So it’s always interesting when you see when something doesn’t work but then when something does work and the differences between that, which is, authors, take note.

Heather: And I absolutely…you know, I think that’s such a big part of the process. You know, I even think that way when it comes to writing. It’s, like, I feel like I’m a better writer now because I read a lot of things that I don’t think are good. And I’ve been in a lot of writers groups, you know, getting feedback from them, giving feedback to other people. Not that I’m meaning that every writers who have ever been has been bad, but just that it just sounded like. But I think that process of getting feedback and seeing, you know, what things function or what things doesn’t really makes you a better writer, no matter whether it’s on your work or someone else’s. You know, always take those things into account because you’re able to then bring them into other pieces and other stories.

Joni: Are there any fictional characters, it can be on screen or in a book, that you think really say a lot with their stylings?

Heather: Oh my gosh, yes is the answer. And now I have to think of someone because I see it so often. It’s like, you know, to be so specific, gee, I mean, what have I watched recently? Because I feel like there’s so many things out there to watch. This is sort of a silly one, actually, just because it’s what I’ve watched most recently. But there’s a show on Netflix called “The One.” I don’t know if you guys have kind of engaged with it at all. But, basically, the concept is, like, this main character has created this, like, DNA testing. And through this DNA testing, they can actually tell you, like, who the one is for you, and you, like, put in your DNA, and you can do it.

But there’s all these, like, sort of, like, sociological issues around it, where, like, marriages are getting broken up and, like, people are doing it kind of behind each other’s back. A lot of cheating is happening. And what you actually see, which is so interesting, is this main woman on this character that’s propositioned at the beginning, here, she’s wearing these, like, very, like slick suits, her hair is all up, she has a very specific look about her. And then they flash back, and she’s got long hair, and she’s, like, beachy, and she’s comfortable. And, like, all of these in, like, that space. In these flashbacks, you start to understand why as kind of the show progresses, why she goes from looking so comfortable in her own skin to, like, so professional and specific and kind of why she felt she had to take that on. And I love the way that they really show that story through fashion. And then kind of how when some more things happen on in the show who sort of start breaking down in a way that, again, you know, you see those fashion changes shift just based on who she’s sort of engaging with and why.

Steph: I love this stuff so much.

Heather: There is, like… I mean, Stephanie, I’ll be honest, there’s a big part of me that, like, wants to take a semiotic, like, master’s degree because I think that there’s so much about, like, unspoken language in fashion. But I would love to be able to take that into a space where, you know, just having more conversations about body politics. Because I think it is so fascinating to watch and people don’t think about it all the time. But once you start thinking about it, it really changes the way that you see others and also yourself.

Steph: It’s all so true. This is, like… I don’t mean to be mean to a certain…but, like, when someone’s, like, a plus-size person, and they’re not styling them correctly, I can tell it was, like, they have no idea what they’re doing or they didn’t even ask someone who’s plus size, like, what are good fits, where are good places to shop like that, really bugs me, and, like, I will literally stop watching the show because of it.

Heather: I think that bugs me deeply, and it makes me so upset because I feel like, you know, fashion is for everyone. This book is written to be non-binary and fully inclusive. There’s nothing in the book that speaks to a certain size or even a certain, like, top or dress or a pair of pants that looks better on someone. And I think it’s really important that we’re including all people of all shapes and sizes, and for so long, the only place that you could get, like, anything for plus-size women was to go to Lane Bryant, and the options were like sacks. It was like, “Let’s put you in a sack because that’s, like, all we can conceive that your body can wear.” And I love watching places, like, you know, Universal Standard, or even, you know, Everlane is coming out with some new stuff, too, places that are really offering cool options.

Madewell is doing their denim which, you know, is some of the best, you know, I think, premium denim in at its price point. They’re making that kind of denim now for plus-size women, and I’m so thrilled by them, so thrilled about the options being available. Because especially when I’m on set working with people, my, like, number one thing is I want as they possibly can, and I always am championing different body sizes when it comes to the work that I do and the casting that I’m a part of. So I think that it’s really important that we do dress people in a way that they feel comfortable and confident because it shows on camera. Whether it’s, you know, going to be a movie, a TV show, or a photo shoot, you can see that, like, uncomfortability in someone plus size or not. So it’s all about finding something that really tells, again, their narrative but makes people feel comfortable in the skin that they’re in.

Steph: I just thought of Euphoria and how they really I thought excelled at telling stories through clothes, like, particularly because that cast was so…there were so many different characters in that show with different storylines, so… Well, we gotta stop talking about that.

Heather: We can talk about that, too. I’m dying to talk about all of these things, so you and I can just get on the phone and have, like, a great, like, let’s talk about this person’s style and why. But especially in something like “Euphoria,” you know, I think that what’s so interesting about that specifically is, like, they are really trying to tell all these different stories. I think a lot about, I don’t know if you guys watch this, but the show “Skins,” the UK show, but, like, that was my Euphoria growing up. And how it was really important for each one of those characters to have such a distinctive different style so that you knew who they were, like, you knew who Sid was because of what he wore.

And you knew who Cassie was because of her, like, more flowery, you know, sort of, like, whimsical dresses. It was like a very whimsical character. Whereas, like, you saw the anger and the, like, real just, sort of, like, close-offness of Sid because of, like, the sweatshirts he would wear and, like, oh gosh, like, the full beanie cap, and you can sort of hardly see his face. I think that all those are sort of signifiers. And I think that we all do them in our daily lives. You know, one of a fun tip or a fun game to play is how much of someone’s face are they showing. Because you can tell someone’s confidence versus how much of their face that they’re showing from their hair. Like, people who put, like, a wide sweep on their bang are trying to obscure their face.

Whereas if you’re keeping your face open, whether it’s your hair down or your hair up or however, you’re much more comfortable or confident in what your face looks like, which I think is a really interesting way to kind of judge, not judge negatively, but kind of get, you know, a read on someone based on their competence in the way that they show up in the world for themselves and also for others.

Steph: I love this conversation too much. Okay, we’ll just skip back to talking about style guides or fashion guides. Do you have any other maybe fashion or maybe even, like, personal growth books that you recommend?

Heather: What’s interesting, I actually am gonna say, is that I don’t. And the reason why I don’t is because I did a lot of work before putting this book out when it comes to style that I find a lot of books are very workbook-oriented. They’re like, “Here are 200 pages of things, work that you have to do before you can start engaging in clearing out your closet or seeing things differently or engaging in fashion from another space.” And I think that it’s really upsetting to me that people have to do all of this upfront work before they can even start thinking about actionable tips and actionable things that they can do, engage differently. So that was why when I wrote “How to Date Your Wardrobe,” I actually really wanted to focus on this is quick, this is consumable, and, like, you can do it tomorrow. You don’t feel, like, you have to, sort of, hold yourself back from doing it today.

And, you know, you can engage with things however you want to. It’s kind of on your own terms, as opposed to here’s some homework that you really have to do if you’re going to, like, do anything new for your style. I also find that, like, a lot of style guides or style books really focus on what you can and cannot wear, and I think that’s also extremely limiting. I don’t want people to feel like they can or cannot do anything because you can do everything and anything that you want to. It’s just all within your own control. And so saying a certain skirt is just, sort of, out for this season or just out in general, you know, doesn’t really tell the story of maybe someone who really enjoys that skirt and that really flatters their body in a way that they feel comfortable. And, all of a sudden, now they’ve read that in a published book. And they’re like, “Oh, my goodness, I have to change everything about myself because it’s not cool.” And it doesn’t matter if it’s cool or not.

It matters how it looks on you and how it makes you feel. I have been inspired by for this book and that I think is really important is the life-changing magic of tidying up because I really look at that as kind of a good model for what I’m trying to do here. Where Marie Kondo takes something that you have to do every single day, which is clean your house, and asks readers to look at it differently and sort of change the way that they see something. And that’s really what I’m trying to do with “How to Date Your Wardrobe,” is take something that you have to do every day and change the way you see it, not necessarily tell you what to do, but tell you that you don’t have to come at it from the same angle.

Joni: I know that you touched on this a little earlier, but having a book about style come out exactly when the entire world is locked down and moved on to sweatpants must have been kind of a challenge. But do you think the fashion is going to evolve a lot after COVID is over and after we can leave our houses and dress nicely, I guess?

Heather: Yeah, I think it’s gonna be really interesting. You know, I think that there’s, like… Two camps are gonna kind of emerge. And I think what we’re gonna see is one group of people who are just like, “I’m not ready to do this. You know, I have lived in pajamas for the last, you know, year. I haven’t really engaged with fashion. And, frankly, what I realized during this time is that I don’t really want to, or I don’t really want to do it from the same place that I’ve been in before.” And I see a lot of, like, very curated sort of oversized pieces coming back. I think that that’s going to be something that people will be interested in because they’re going to want to not necessarily flatter or hide, but they’re going to want to wear something that they feel comfortable in. And so I’m curious sort of what designers are going to come out with those kinds of things and who’s going to really be championing that space? Well, at the same time, there’s going to be people who have worn the same, you know, haven’t worn, you know, the clothes that are in their closet they love for so long.

I mean, I’ve wanted to do a closet cleanup for myself this year, and I look at pieces, and I’m like, “I can’t tell if I like this or not,” because I literally have had no opportunity to wear it. So do I think it’s great? I don’t know. So I think that we really want to be conscious of that as well because we’re gonna see people really just sort of, like, going for it in terms of what they have in their closets and also just, like, purchasing things that they’re excited by.

And I think that that excitement is really potentially going to breed something that is going to be a hybrid and a mash-up of just, like, everyone’s, like, greatest loves depending on whatever space that you’re in, whether you’re a millennial, or you’re a Gen Z, or you’re, you know, in more of, like, a Gen X kind of space or boomers or whoever. You’re going to see people really trying to kind of get back that mode of enjoying fashion from the space that they’re in but also thinking about it differently, you know, which is why I want to get this book into people’s hands ASAP. Even though they’re not browsing stores right now, you know, doing podcasts like this is a really great opportunity just to show people that they can think about things differently and they can engage with things from spaces that they haven’t thought about before.

Steph: And then our final question that we love to ask everyone is, what have you been loving lately? Could be literally anything.

Heather: What have I been loving lately? Oh my goodness. That’s a fun question. One of the things I have absolutely fallen in love with is “Moxie” on Netflix. I think that everyone needs to go out right now and watch it and just feel all of the warm, beautiful feelings that it puts in your body. It is produced by Amy Poehler. It features Amy Poehler as the mother character and is based off a book called “Moxie Girls Fight Back.” And it’s basically about how women are mistreated within high school atmospheres and told, you know, that they shouldn’t be able to wear certain things or engage in certain ways because they are women and they’re “distracting the boys” and doing these things or keeping men from having experiences that would be positive for them. And, basically, the main character gets, like, really into Riot Grrrl culture. And she starts creating zines and, like, basically, like, takes total ownership of this situation.

And there are all these really great conversations, too, between her and other women about how clothing tells narrative and how there have been stories that they have. And it’s, like, there’s a scene that I, like, grab for one of my Instagram stories where one girl’s like, “And this is I’m in this, and this is I’m in that.” And I love watching them have those conversations. But more so, it’s, like, all about bringing women together to have conversations that are important about really taking back ownership in their lives and then engaging with other people in their high school to get more and more support towards that. And, like, ultimately, like, everyone is just speaking up and saying like, “This is the body I live in. And this is why I love that body, and this is who I am, and, like, you need to respect that about me.” And it just gave me all of the feels, and, like, I may or may not have cried after.

Steph: Is it a movie or a TV show?

Heather: It is a movie. I thought it was a TV show when I first tuned into it. But it’s a movie. It’s probably, like, maybe an hour and a half, a little bit over. But one of the things I actually thought was really disappointing is I think it must not have done well on Netflix because I haven’t seen it posted at all. Like, I saw it, like, almost disappear within two days, but I’m so glad that I caught it when they were promoting it because it was incredibly powerful and meaningful. And I know that, like, I am a 33-year-old woman. Like, I didn’t necessarily think this was for me and my demographic. But it shows a high school, too, that I very much relate to as opposed to, you know, I think, something like “Euphoria.” I’m like, “Oh, wow, that’s what the kids are up to.” But, you know, this shows through a high school but, like, you know, maybe is a little bit more PG, but it’s definitely relatable for someone in their 30s to say, like, “I see all these things, and I experienced all these things in high school, and I had all these negative experiences, and, like, man, do I wish I was that girl who fought back.”

When it comes to fashion, I have been loving patterns and prints and colors. I am ready to get out of the black, the dark, the moody… You know, I’ve been doing a lot of shoots recently with people where I’m just mixing so many different colors together. I did my first, like, design yesterday that was just, like, a bright orange gingham with, like, some bright green stripes and, like, throwing a bunch of denim on there. And, you know, I think that we’re ready to come out of our caves. So we’re ready to start engaging with color again. And I think that color comes with joy. You know, when you’re not experiencing joy, you don’t want to engage with color, because it’s, like, too much, it’s too painful. And so I think as the joy begins to spread, you know, it’s still going to be sometimes. But I think as it begins to, I think we’re gonna see a lot more of that coming out. And I’m really excited for it. Because I think that color and pattern play specifically are things that are just so wonderful and really help with self-expression and also just, again, joy.

Joni: Yes to that, all of that.

Heather: You need a little…

Joni: The sweatpants in the black.

Steph: As we both, Joni and I, are wearing black today.

Joni: Also, Kobo, our company, recently gifted everyone in the company a choice of sweatpants or onesie with the company logo on it.

Heather: Wait, That’s hysterical. That’s truly hysterical.

Joni: But, yeah, we’re gonna have to share some pictures of that soon.

Heather: I was just gonna say I want to see all the pictures of all the onesies and sweats. I mean, it’s so funny because it is, like, black is a chiquer color. You know, it is something that when we think about, like, what is chique, we think black. We think structured, we think, you know, about, like, icon, and we think, you know, these sort of certain, like, modes of engaging with black. Whereas I don’t think that we think of color as being very cool. We think of color as being young. We think of it as being for children. And I think that as we see the world kind of open up again, people are going to, again, be finding joy in those spaces and being able to be like, “Oh, wait, like, color isn’t just for, like, my nephew. You know, I can also wear, you know, some bright thing,” or even, like, I love dusty colors. I think that dusty colors are super great. So, you know, give me, like, a dusty ochre is like my favorite color.

Joni: I think black is safe. Like, people feel… Everyone is like, “Little black dress, can’t go wrong.” Like, when you’re working with patterns and colors, I think it’s a little bit riskier. And I think maybe you’re right. Like, people are gonna be like, “Okay, I’m ready to take some risk now that we’ve been [inaudible 00:42:53] for however long this is gonna last, like, we want to express [inaudible 00:42:58] everything.

Heather: Yeah, no. And I think that that’s a big part of it, is, like, even though all of our nervous systems are sort of shot from this experience, there is going to be this, like, “I have kept to myself for so long. And I’ve really, like, held all these energies in here. Now that I have, where do I want to put them? And how do I want to put them?” So as I start re-engaging with clothing, like, what is really going to fuel me? You know, I’ve had a lot of interesting conversations with people who’ve had to really look at, or maybe not had to, but have chosen to look at and really reevaluate value in their life. And so, you know, it’s where do you want to put that value? What kind of people, what kind of interactions do you want to have now that you’ve taken some time out? And, well, it was sort of a forced timeout for all of us.

It also is really dictating what relationships are going to be able to withstand that time and, again, you know, what kind of fashion choices have you been looking at over the last, you know, year plus that you’re like, “I’m really ready to try that because I’m more comfortable in the skin that I’m in. You know, I’ve seen my face, you know without makeup more.” You know, I joke… I say this, and then my boyfriend gives me shit about it, that I have never seen my naked body more than this past year, which is true, because, you know, I’m working out in my house. I’m, like, running around. Maybe I’m not putting on a top because, like, why should I live alone and I’m much more comfortable with the way that I look.

I understand how I look. So I feel like I can reengage with fashion in a different way because I know what that body, you know, “underneath or underneath the clothing” actually says and how it looks. And I think that I’m probably not the only person who’s had that experience, and I’m excited to see what people are able to do now once they have sort of an added confidence and an excitement and the will to do it, too. I think that there’s going to be more of a will and an excitement and a joy to move forward in that way.

Steph: I definitely agree with that. And because, in a house, I’m constantly looking at mirrors because they’re around. But also it’s interesting that…so I would say I normally buy a lot of clothes in a year. But, like, since I haven’t had a need to, I have, like, cut my clothing spending, like, more than half. So I’m interested, and now it takes me more time to buy something. I make a conscious effort in what I’m buying and, like, is this gonna last long, all that stuff, which you talk about in the book, so I’m hoping when I’m not free to the wind, and I’m just like, “I’m gonna buy everything.” But I still think about it more.

Heather: I know. It’s so hard because I think that there is this, like, probably going to be a huge uptake in terms of spending we just see across, you know, the globe of people being like, “I just want everything. Like, I don’t know, like, I want things because I’ve had nothing.” But there is this consciousness, I think, that we need to each apply to our wardrobes when we’re thinking about how we want to engage with our clothes. You know, I think that what a great way, you know, would be…I would suggest to people, I guess, you know, before you go out and start buying things, is do a closet cleanout.

You know, I talk about in the book that you really want to take one piece of, you know, clothing or an outfit that you really love and then compare everything else you own against it. And anything that doesn’t make you feel the same way, get rid of it, send it to a secondhand store, sell it on an online platform so that you actually have the space in your closet to see what really fits and what your style is and kind of dial that in before you invest in staple pieces, which, you know, could either be, you know, something that’s more expensive or something that’s not but something that you know that you’re gonna wear. And I think that if you’re just buying stuff just because it’s like $2 in the sale line, it could so easily become 2000 just because it’s taking up space and keeping you from seeing the things that really tell your story.

Steph: Definitely. All right. Thank you for joining us today. I’ve had lots of fun talking to you today.

Heather: I’ve had lots of fun talking to you.

Steph: Did we cover everything? Was there anything else you wanted to add?

Heather: No, I don’t think so. This was great. I really enjoyed talking to you guys about stuff. And it’s been a lot of fun to just kind of laugh and, like, you know, kind of get to the meat of some of this stuff, too.

Joni: Awesome. And where can listeners find you online?

Heather: My Instagram handle is Heather Newberger, so H-E-A-T-H-E-R N-E-W-B-E-R-G-E-R, and please feel free to engage with me in any kind of way. I’m always here to lend a hand, let you know an outfit choice is working or not, or just say, you know, I can be your cheerleader and, like, you know, help you move forward and things, and I answer whatever questions. And I also have a website, which is also my name. So you can hit that up and see the work that I’ve been making and what I’ve been up to, you know, and check out any sort of, you know, news appearances and also any work that’s out there.

And “How to Date Your Wardrobe” is available wherever books are sold. She is out in the world living out and about. She can be listened to. She can be picked up and held in your hands. She is a sweet little baby book who just wants the love and attention of your eyes.

Steph: We’ll have links.

Joni: Awesome. Thank you.

Steph: Thank you.

Heather: Thank you.

Rachel: Thank you for listening to the “Kobo Writing Life Podcast.” If you’re interested in picking up Heather’s book, we’ll have a link to it on the blog. And for more tips for growing your self-publishing business, go to kobowritinglife.com.

Joni: This episode was produced by Joni Di Placido and Rachel Wharton. Stephanie McGrath was my cohost. Editing is provided by Kelly Rowbotham, music is by Tearjerker, and huge thanks to Heather for being our guest.

Rachel: If you’re ready to start your self-publishing journey today, you can sign up for free at kobo.com/writinglife. Until next time, happy writing.

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