Every year when I return from my August blogging hiatus, I like to come back prepared with an insightful or reflective topic that opens the new season off right. I don’t go seeking out what this topic will be, it usually just falls in my lap. However, I am coming to you after this hiatus instead with a tremendous amount of emotion. It’s an exceptionally profound time for me as I have just crossed a huge threshold. My company, Bridgette Raes Style Group, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month. Just writing that made my eyes get misty. To describe how immense this feels would be like you watching one of those science-y videos you see on Facebook where they try to describe just how large a black hole is and where in the video they start stacking up a bunch of small animated suns until there are 20 billion them, which they then place inside the black hole to illustrate just how enormous the black hole is. Even though the visuals still don’t make it possible to fully grasp the expansiveness of a black hole, it at least gives you some sort of context. This is the best way I can describe my feelings.
To put my career into some sort of perspective is to know that when I started my business, trends like insanely low rise boot cut jeans, juicy couture tracksuits, the unsightly exposed whale tale thong, and tiny baguette bags were the rage. Hot pink was a big color because Legally Blonde had recently released, Avril Lavigne wore a necktie with a tank top, people were wearing trucker hats without a hint of irony, and for some reason, women were wearing dresses over jeans. From that moment until today, I have built and grown a business to what it is, and where I have clients on every continent and in just about every state in the United States. I was 28 when I started my business, now I am 48. I can still vividly recall a relative who said to me when I told her I was going to start my business, “How are you going to do that?”
What’s that meme? Hold my beer?
I’ve never been the type of person who has craved attention and my decision to put my name on my business had more to do with the fact that I am the last living descendant with my last name than it did with my need to be a public figure. I’ve never pursued being a celebrity-type stylist on TV or who chose this profession for the notoriety. I didn’t even seek out my book deal, it was offered to me. Over the years, if public notoriety came to me by way of what I do, I was happy, but I never sought it out. For me, my commitment has always been to my work, to excellence, to my clients and to being the best personal stylist I can be. Yet, as the personal styling industry has built up around me since my early days 20 years ago, I also realize that my preference for turning away from needing attention has often had the achievements of my company go overlooked.
Claiming Our Place On the Timeline
When I started my company in 2002, the term personal stylist didn’t really exist. In fact, I didn’t even call myself a personal stylist back then because it wasn’t a term yet. There were image consultants, a profession I respectfully sidestepped away from shortly after starting my business. I can’t say that my company, Bridgette Raes Style Group, was the first personal styling company because that would be impossible to quantify, but my company is one of the earliest and dare I say, one of the longest-standing and most established personal styling companies around. I am not saying we deserve some sort of a parade or even to be celebrated for this. However, I do think we deserve some sort of recognition on the timeline for this accomplishment.
The most challenging thing for me to do these days is telling people what I do for a living because everybody is a personal stylist today, right? I want to welcome anyone who chooses to do this for a living but at the same time, I don’t want to be lumped into a pile with them. Despite the fact that I cringe a little when I see what the personal styling industry looks like today and what it is becoming reduced to, along with the lack of responsibility, respect or training quite a few in this profession have all these years later, I also realize at some point I will tap out, walk away and disappear. I am not the keeper of the future of this profession and I have no right to dictate what’s to become of it just because I think I am some sort of pioneer. However, I have been challenged lately to figure out how to respect the natural flow and evolution of this industry— to let others find their way into it—while also feeling like my company and I also deserve a certain amount of recognition and reverence for who we are and where we stand. To simply say I am a personal stylist and I run a personal styling company devalues the longevity, experience, and history that we have despite the fact that a personal stylist who runs a style consulting company is exactly who I am and what I do.
At the same time, at the end of the day, receiving accolades for what I have achieved ultimately doesn’t matter. If a 26-year-old personal stylist without much experience wants to lump me into the same category as herself or, worse, judge me because she sees me old and decrepit, or if the public thinks they know what I do because of assumptions about what personal stylists are, these are all things I can’t control and have little interest in controlling anyway. It’s not my nature to run around trying to change people’s minds and I’m not so insecure that I really care to.
We Need To Be Always Thinking a Few Steps Ahead, Just Like I Did 20 Years Ago
Upon giving it some thought during my hiatus, I realized the answer to finding respect and ownership for my company’s 20-year position in this industry was actually quite simple. If I want to separate myself from being lumped in with all the other personal stylists with whom I don’t relate, I need to be continually raising my company’s bar and standards of excellence. As long as we are challenging ourselves and always asking how we can do better, and are always at the forefront of innovation and ideas, then we’ll just naturally claim our space in this profession. We can’t do the same thing everyone else in this industry is doing and as a stylist, I certainly can’t keep trying to figure out how to fit into this space because that’s never been who I have been, to begin with. Just like who I was back in 2002, I need to trust myself to always be thinking a few steps ahead.
So this is what I am asking from you as I start Year 21: Give me room to grow and evolve. Asking me to continue to churn out the same content on this blog that I have been churning out all along would ultimately thwart its growth and evolution. Does this mean I won’t do a post on how to wear certain colors or a post on how the heck to wear a shacket? No, but what I am suggesting is that maybe we’ve all been living inside the confines of ideas and conversations about style and fashion, and maybe there is another level of conversation or perspective that we don’t even know about yet. I am asking that you grant me the space to explore that. If I stray from time to time or feel inspired to come at a topic from a different direction, I need you to let me play a bit, possibly stumble, and maybe even fail a few times. All I am requesting is that let me feel like I have some sprawl and room to expand because anyone who knows me knows if you want me to whither, fence me in.
When I think about the months leading up to my company’s 20th anniversary and how I was ultimately forced to grow and innovate due to its unexpected and unprecedented growth, I think about how it reignited my enthusiasm for my company again. Prior to this, I had a feeling of lackluster routine sameness that was making me wonder if perhaps my career was coming to an end. Then, 2022 put me in what felt like the inside of a washing machine set on the spin cycle. I went on a wild ride that wound up being one of the most challenging and rewarding professional years of my life. I hired two amazing women who not only saved me from drowning but reinvigorated me and helped me fall in love with my work again. These two women —who also happen to be related to me and turned my company into a family business —are more collaborators than assistants and bring a whole lot more to the company and to me than they probably realize. We spent months feeling like we were extinguishing house fires with thimbles of water to stay on top of extreme business growth, innovated new systems so rapidly in order to survive that these systems became outdated in a month, and we held on tight in survival mode until we got to our August hiatus when we knew we would use our “break” (we weren’t sipping margaritas poolside, thank you very much) to finally breathe, regroup and create a whole new client management system from scratch in only a few weeks. As a result, I am celebrating my 20th anniversary not seeing my company as a struggle to keep afloat, but as a viable entity that actually has goals and dreams attached to it. On a good day, I daydream about it living beyond me and creating a succession plan where I discover a family member who will one day take it over. On a bad day, I want to throw my laptop against the wall. But every day, I am incredibly grateful.