News & Politics

Closet Makeover Magic

Ten top personal shoppers offer advice on creating a flattering wardrobe and getting your closet under control.

Have you recently opened your closet only to think: “I have nothing to wear”? Sifting through an overflowing and outdated wardrobe to pull together flattering looks can seem daunting.

Just in time for spring cleaning, we found ten of the area’s best personal stylists and shoppers. These consultants routinely sort through cluttered closets, helping clients decide what to toss, what to keep, and what to buy.

Even if you don’t need professional help, you might learn something from their tips on cleaning out a closet and making the most of your wardrobe.

Alison Beshai, Alison Beshai Styling


Beshai, who began her career in photo styling and whose clients have included HGTV, doesn’t believe there’s a set rule to managing clothes: “Organize your closet in a way that works for you. I’ve had clients who separated their space from work to casual, while some like it to be categorized by type of garment and color.” During a consultation, Beshai instead focuses on making sure every garment is appropriate for her client’s lifestyle and body and on building outfits from an existing wardrobe.

Cost: $100 an hour; an average session lasts three to four hours.

Tip: “If you’ve gained or lost weight, put those clothes somewhere else so you aren’t running into roadblocks when getting dressed.”

Robin Fisher, Polished Image and Style


Fisher, who worked as a department-store buyer before becoming an image consultant, begins every wardrobe makeover by asking the client to consider her style: “Think about the image you want to project—even create a storyboard from magazine clippings that conveys the look and mood you are going for.” From there, Fisher goes through a closet to categorize items as “wearable, questionable, or unbearable.” She then provides a list of what she sees as a client’s wardrobe needs.

Cost: $450 for a three-hour session, $75 for each additional hour.

Tip: “When you have a few free minutes during the week, style four to five looks, including accessories. This will relieve the stress of getting dressed in the morning and ensure you’re polished, even when you’re in a hurry.”

Lani Inlander, Real Life Style


When it comes to fashion, Inlander—who worked as a personal stylist in New York for 14 years and whose clients have included politicians and Hollywood celebrities—believes less is more: “Don’t be afraid of empty space in your closet. The less you have, the more you will wear.” During a closet makeover, she evaluates every article of clothing. When done purging and organizing, she suggests pieces to fill in gaps and provides a list of where to buy them.

Cost: $250 an hour; an average session lasts three to six hours.

Tip: “Put like with like—pants with pants, skirts with skirts. This may sound elementary to those who are naturally organized, but most people don’t take this step.”

Margaret Lilly, Lilly’s Closet


A closet edit with Lilly begins by going through two seasons’ worth of clothing with a critical eye—Lilly, who earned a degree in clothing and textiles from Virginia Tech, worked for national fashion brands including Banana Republic and Brooks Brothers. After establishing what to keep and what to lose, she comes up with a list of suggested pieces to fill any voids.

Cost: $425 for a three-hour session.

Tip: “I encourage clients to hang clothes by color to see what new color ‘stories’ may come to mind that they hadn’t thought of.”

Joyce Neave, Joyce Neave style group


“I do not agree that if you haven’t worn it in a year, you should get rid of it,” says Neave, who has more than 20 years of styling experience. “Maybe you just haven’t had the right pairing or opportunity.” While she may not be ruthless about purging clothes, she is a stickler for organization. She recommends separating clothing by seasons and categories, sorting colors from light to dark, and avoiding space-saver hangers that pucker shoulders.

Cost: $400 for a two-hour session.

Tip: “Have a full-length mirror in the closet or nearby.”

Lauren Rothman, Styleauteur


A common mistake Rothman sees is clients holding onto “museum” pieces that no longer match their lifestyle: “If you wore it to your first interview or law-school graduation, it’s okay if it doesn’t work anymore.” After weeding out, Rothman—whose experience includes being a personal shopper at Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue—helps clients build a closet stocked with key pieces.

Cost: $195 to $225 an hour.

Tip: “Organize your clothes to match your weekly routine—separate work and play if that will help. Then organize by sleeve length and hem, not just by color.”

Alison Lukes Teer, Alison Lukes et Cie


When it comes to editing a closet, Teer says she’s ruthless: “If you don’t love how you feel in it, the piece shouldn’t be in your closet.” Says Teer, who once oversaw Michael Kors’s advertising campaigns: “Everything in your closet should make you look and feel amazing.”

Cost: $125 an hour; an average session lasts three hours.

Tip: “Think outside the box on how you can use your space. I once had a closet where space was at a premium, so I used strips of molding to latch my heels on.”

Cathy Starnes, Style Speaks


“I often see a disorganized closet getting in the way of a woman achieving her style potential, so getting organized is an important first step with many clients,” says Starnes, who started out as a personal shopper and manager at Nordstrom and also trained with Stacy London of TV’s What Not to Wear. Besides overhauling closets, Starnes will work with clients to help pack for a trip or come up with one special-occasion look.

Cost: $325 for a three-hour session, $425 for four hours.

Tip: “Make sure you can see all of your accessories, including shoes, jewelry, scarves, and bags. Accessories are a great way to expand your wardrobe. If you can easily access them, you will wear them more.”

Kaarin Vembar, Closet Caucus


Vembar—who has worked as a fashion consultant for the past six years and who got her start in apparel merchandising at Anthropologie—begins every wardrobe edit with a phone call, during which she and a client establish style goals. They then go through the closet piece by piece to see which items reflect the image the person wishes to portray: “We see if a client’s wardrobe is matching their daily needs and talk about pieces that are missing as basic building blocks.”

Cost: Around $425 for about five hours.

Tip: “Turn all your hangers backward. Whenever you wear something, turn the hanger back the proper way. This will show you what you aren’t wearing.”

Rosana Vollmerhausen, DC Style Factory


“I don’t take a slash-and-burn approach to closet cleaning,” Vollmerhausen says. “However, it is safe to say that, on average, I haul away three giant garbage bags of clothing each time I audit a closet.” During a session, Vollmerhausen—who once owned Circle Boutique in DC—discusses what’s working with a client’s body shape and lifestyle; after that, she sends a memo summarizing the style tips and outlining a shopping list.

Cost: $150 an hour; an average session lasts two to three hours.

Tip: “Take pictures of outfits you have put together over a three-week period. The pictures will show what you are not using and help you weed out clutter.”

This article appears in the March 2014 issue of Washingtonian.