I knew that I would be working in fashion at an early age: in pre-kindergarden, instead of playing with the trucks, I marched to the corner where the girls were dressing their Barbie dolls. Instantly, I felt the urge to make them over. My mom realized back then that I had a gift: an eye for fashion and style. Every now and then she used to slip me a doll, and say, “Don’t tell your father.” And I would close myself in the bedroom, and begin with what was the infant stage of the Visual Therapy 5-step process described in “Nothing To Wear”, book on finding your style that I co-authored 30 years later with Joe Lupo. Instead of trying to push me in another direction, my mother always told me that I was special, and could do anything I wanted to do. She encouraged me to go into her closet to help her put looks together for church, and thus, empowered my gift. As a young girl, my mother had an artistic eye as well and an innate sense of style, which she refined by being exposed to the wealthy homes where she worked as a housekeeper. Not having a million dollar budget, she would go to Goodwill and put together the most chic looks that you could ever imagine. My parents being Christians missionaries, my father would always tell my mother, “you look a little snazzy for being a Christian.” My mother’s reply? “Well, who wants to be a Christian if you have to look dowdy?” So she stood up for her sense of style, and figured that she could be an example of not only being a Godly woman, but a very stylish one at that.
One Sunday afternoon when I was 14, my dad and I were heading to church alone, and he asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I told my father that I wanted to be in the fashion industry. To which he said that it’s probably not a good idea, because the people in fashion are mostly superficial and empty. My thought process and response instantly was, “if there were more good people in the industry, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad?” He replied with a phrase that I will never forget, “bad rubs off on good more than good rubs off on bad.” Right then and there, I knew what my personal lifelong challenge in the fashion industry would be. It’s not always easy, especially with the media creating unattainable standards of beauty and bombarding us with images of so-called glamorous models and celebrities who aren’t necessarily great examples to young people. In reality, beauty is something that comes form within. The next time you see a celebrity on the cover of a magazine and put them on a pedestal, ask yourself, how are they giving back? Think of yourself as a building – if the foundation isn’t solid, the building would collapse. As I approach 50, I feel like in a sense, I have arrived. For me, in the end it all boils down to my parents. Through their example of dedicating life to faith and helping others, I have a clear understanding of what true beauty is. And my mom, embodying the fact that you can be good and glamorous at the same time, will never cease to inspire and guide me in my own life. Our mission at Visual Therapy (luxury consulting and wardrobe styling business in New York) is to combine wellness and style and help our clients be the best version of themselves. For me, it’s more about uplifting people than about clothes. Not only do I feel blessed to have an amazing business with co-founder Joe Lupo, I also have an incredible team of stylists and co-workers who share my message that it’s not the dress, but what’s in the dress, that matters. Because in the end, everyone can and should be a star on the red carpet of life. -Jesse
This post will be published on May 12 on www.mariashriver.com.