Thursday, November 8, 2012

Behind the Blog: The Preppy Leopard

Tierney is an adorable Southern fashion blogger who blogs at The Preppy Leopard. She's my go-to girl for her opinions on lipstick, hair bows, and anything preppy.

Quick Intro:
My name is Tierney (Tear-a-knee), and I live in Northern Virginia right outside of DC.  I work as a consultant and business analyst for an IT firm that caters to government clients and blog in my spare time.  I also am very active in my church and with volunteering.  I've been to Kenya four times and St. Kitts twice to work with children, and those experiences really changed my perspective on life.

The Preppy Leopard was created from my love of classic styles with touches of personality--my father was in the military and my mother is from New Jersey, and I like to think my style reflects both of them.   Lots of nautical pieces with pops of leopard.  I also have an undying affection for bright red lipstick, and my style inspiration would be the love child of Dita Von Teese and Blair Waldorf.

Tell us what motivate you to start blogging. Were you following a lot of personal style/fashion blogs before you started blogging?

While I was at George Mason University, I worked in the Student Media offices.  There, I got to write articles for the campus magazine and website.  I even hosted a talk show, but rewatching myself is kind of embarrassing.  I had really huge dreams of writing full time after college, but I graduated in the middle of a recession and ended up waitressing and working retail until I found my salaried job.  A coworker faithfully read College Fashion and kept telling me I should give it a try.  So, I started reading that, and started my first blog, Ruby Woo Loves You.  (I now blog at The Preppy Leopard.)  It provided a great creative outlet when I really needed one, and I would love to use my blog as a springboard to full-time creative endeavors--specifically writing.

Which blogs do you read every day? 

Besides you, Fran!?!  Obviously, Atlantic-Pacific is pretty much the pinnacle of style blogging.  She's actually from my hometown in Northern Virginia, and I remember when I first "discovered" her a year or so back, I left an enthusiastic comment on her blog--not realizing she was legitimately famous.  She actually returned the comment back on my blog, and I remember being slightly awed that she had taken the time to write back when she gets hundreds of comments on every post.  I really love the way she mixes very classic, almost preppy pieces in these new interesting ways. 

Also, one of my favorite things to do is to go back and re-read some of the more famous bloggers--only starting at the beginning.  It's so cool to see their journeys from random life stories and grainy outfit pictures to the style behemoths you see today.  (My favorite blog journey is Atlantic Pacific, who pretty much wore every trend ever before anyone else.  That freaking bubble necklace everyone wears now?  She wore that in 2010, yo!  Tieka from Selective Potential also has a really cool story.  She's also a legit nice girl.)

When you do take outfit pictures, who takes your pictures? Have you ever been caught in the act of taking these?

 I actually rarely take outfit pictures.  It's something I keep promising myself I'll start doing, but I'm not sure how to actually execute.    

It might be how I was raised, but I really get nervous about imposing on people.  I feel so vain asking "Hey, so I have a style blog, can you take your time to snap some pictures of me?"  It's probably something I just need to get over, but I've always been inwardly disdainful of those girls who used to do those self-portrait sessions on Myspace and Facebook.  Now it's like my life is one, and I'm not sure how to get over feeling awkward.

I actually used a tripod for awhile, but I'm really tall and I have a hard time fitting in the frame.  It's probably a matter of figuring out a new lens, but right now it's a good excuse to not do them.  Another good excuse is time.  I have a normal job, and I'm really active at both my church and volunteering.  Many times I go straight from work to church to hanging out with my friends--sometimes I'm gone from like 7 am to 10 pm, and the thought of freshening up to take pictures is exhausting.  Maybe I should bring a camera to work..but then I would feel awkward asking my coworkers to take pictures.  Ahhh, a vicious circle!  Haha.

Do people in real life know about your blog? What were their reactions when they found out about your blog?

Yes, my friends and family know about the blog.  They're super supportive, and my mom is always emailing me new ideas for the blog.  I do think that some of them think it's a little superficial, but once they find out that I got some awesome product for free or that I negotiated some killer retail discount, they're pretty jealous.  

I do sometimes get embarrassed telling people about it though.  Again, it's the whole insecurity about being perceived as vain.  Sometimes people repeat it back to me like, "Oh, a style blog?  How...interesting."  I think fashion is perceived as a superficial industry, and I sometimes feel the need to defend my interest.  I think being defined by fashion is superficial, but I think enjoying it is the same as anyone else's hobby.

A major theme of your blog is discussing the great sales going on. How do you hold yourself back from not buying all the things?

Ahh.  This is the HARDEST part for me.  I really do find some killer deals, but a huge part is knowing both your closet and your budget.  Since I mostly gravitate to the same kinds of styles over and over, I usually already have a variation of what I want hanging in my closet.  So, it's a matter of saying, "No, you do not need another navy and white striped dress."

Usually, I have a few questions I ask myself before I actually pull the trigger.  Do I already have something like this?  Can I afford it?  Am I buying it just because I'm bored/hungry/discontent?  How many times will I actually wear it?  If I can answer all those questions correctly, even then I'll usually sleep on it.  I used to be a really impulsive shopper, and I know I'm only a few clicks away from reverting.  My parents always taught me about debt and budgeting, and I aim every month to contribute more money to my church, missions in Africa, or other charities I'm involved in than I spend on myself.   I think balance is the key.

Also, becoming a really good window shopper helps.  Sometimes, just the act of filling up my online shopping cart or going to Nordstrom to try on shoes helps take away those sporadic, crazy urges to shop.  

Many fashion bloggers hop from one trend to the next but I feel you stay pretty true to "the preppy aesthetic". What trends have you tried out in recent months, and how do you make sure you aren't breaking the bank while staying on trend?

I was cleaning out my closet this past year and rearranged all my clothing by color.  Navy and red dominated about 70% of my wardrobe.  Despite my blog name, a lot of times I define my style as "classic" rather than "preppy".  (The Preppy Leopard was just so much more fun to say than The Classic Leopard!)  

I think I hold true to that classic, preppy aesthetic because it's timeless.  A navy cardigan layered over a white oxford is never going to go out of style.  A nicely cut red shirt-dress will always look appropriate.  I used to be a girl who wouldlove going to Forever 21 between classes and dropping $50 on some cheap, trendy items...only to find myself going back again once those were out of style.  You ended up with a whole closet full of trends that look really dated after a few months.

To me, that's the appeal of preppy dressing.  It's investing in classic pieces that you'll wear forever, rather than succumbing to every single trend that skips by.  One of my favorite blogs is Classy Girls Wear Pearls, and whether or not she is your favorite style aesthetic, Sarah always looks polished and put together.  And, she's not running around in oxblood, sequins, and peplums.  I was at a CapFabb event recently, and there was a fellow blogger who was wearing at least five different trends all at once (oxblood, peplum, lots of sparkly necklaces, mixed media trench, that Rebecca Minkoff bag everyone has, big black booties, fun nails).  When I looked at her, I saw the trends, and not the girl.  There's a quote somewhere that says people should never remember what you wore, but just remember how nice you looked.  I like that philosophy.

I think trends are fun when taken in small doses, but personally, I'd rather save my money and put it towards a gorgeous, well-made coat I'll wear forever rather than scoop up the New Arrivals at H&M every few weeks.

Now, for brands I like?  I think Tommy Hilfiger, Nautica, and Talbots are great retailers who produce good classic pieces.  I also obviously love J.Crew, but I really feel like their quality has gone down while their prices have increased.  I usually will only shop there when they're having a good sale.  When I do want to play around with a new trend, I really like ASOS and H&M.  For great dresses, I like Dorothy Perkins and Oasis.  And finally, my one stop shop is Nordstrom.  I work with a really amazing personal shopper that makes shopping more a relaxing, fun experience than a chore.  I tend to get stuck in navy, navy, navy, and she does a good job of helping me expand my style palate without looking like a fashion victim.  Also, I have really big feet--size 11!--and Nordstrom is one of the few stores where they always have my size.  Finally, some of my more "preppy" guilty pleasures are Lilly Pulitzer, Vineyard Vines, and Brooks Brothers, but all three can get really pricey, so that's more of a save-and-spend scenario.

Putting yourself on the internet comes with the expectation that not everyone will always love what you are wearing and writing. Have you encountered any of these criticisms, and if so, how do you handle it?

I haven't really seen a lot of criticism, which is good because I really don't handle it well.  I still live in the same town I was born in, and I've know the majority of my friends through the private, Christian school we all attended from Kindergarten through Twelfth Grade.  I'd like to think I get along really well with everyone I meet, so when I do encounter someone who isn't as OMIGODILOVEYOUANDYOURNEWDRESS as I am, I get really uncomfortable.  I know that not everyone is full of sunshine and puppies, but I really take things personally.  

I remember while in college, I did an interview with a band that is now all over the Top 20 stations.  The interview was posted on Youtube, and I had asked them about how they travel from gig to gig.  Apparently, it wasn't a tour bus, but instead a van they all squeezed into.  I made an offhand comment like "That's so rockstar of you!" and was totally kidding since obviously it wasn't.  Anyway, some guy on Youtube called me an idiot for thinking that riding around in a van was considered "rockstar", and my feelings were really hurt.  They shouldn't have been, but they were.

So...yeah.  I don't like criticism.  Not at all.  

What has been the best thing to come out of blogging? 

I actually got to film a pilot of a reality show about shopping!  I don't think it ever got picked up, but the experience was really cool.  A producer found a haul video I had made about Jason Wu for Target, and send me an email asking if I wanted to interview for a segment on a show about people who go to crazy sample sales.  At first, I thought it was a creepy scam thing and ignored it, but then I googled the woman's name, and she was actually legit. 

I did a series of Skype interviews and auditions with the production company, and it was a little nerve-wracking.  Finally, earlier this summer, they flew me home early from a vacation to film the episode.  With a producer and small camera crew, we filmed some interviews at my house and seeing the whole process was so interesting.  

I even had to learn how to answer those questions she would ask me for those on-camera interviews that are the staple of reality television.  You couldn't just answer "I like J.Crew" if they asked you your favorite store.  Instead, you had to rephrase their question to sound like part of your answer.  "What is your favorite store, Tier?"  "My favorite store is J.Crew."  There would be very specific questions because you could tell they were trying to create a story.

We filmed over two days, and unfortunately, the sale we picked ended up not being crowded.  (I had actually told them I didn't think it would be a really busy sale before they came, but they came anyway.)  It was still such a fun experience to shop with a secret camera person, since we weren't sure the store would let us.

I had been really afraid of being portrayed a certain way because of my religion or that they would spin me as a crazy shopping person, but the producer I worked with was really amazing and honest.  We ended up actually hanging out after we finished taping, and I took her to Georgetown in DC to walk around.  She had some really cool stories about the business, and later admitted that she never actually cared to hang out with people after they taped.  I felt special.  :)   

Later, when she talked about the possibility that this show would even air, she admitted that she had shown her CEO ten-twelve different prospects for this episode.  Each person had a rough five minute interview that had been cut together from the Skype interviews.  She said he watched all of each one, and would pass judgement after they finished.  Then, when he got to mine, he watched thirty seconds and said, "I'm sold.  She's great.  Her, for sure."  She explained that some people just have IT, and you can tell.  Apparently, I was one of those people.

Anyway, I still keep in touch with her through FB, and that was my coolest blogging experience by far.

When it comes to promotion of your blog, what methods do you use? Do you spend a lot of time commenting on other blogs, pinning your looks, doing link ups?

I know I should probably do more promotion, but I just don't have the time to really pour into it.  I do comment on other blogs sporadically, but usually only those with whom I have actual friendships.  I really don't like those comment-for-comment bloggers.  

I do have a Pinterest and an Instagram, and I get some traffic from sites like Style Buzz.  I also recently joined the Lucky Collective, so hopefully I can start posting there as well.

What tips or suggestions do you have for your fellow bloggers? 

I think my best advice for blogging is similar to my advice for style.  Don't get caught up on doing what's trendy or what you see bigger bloggers do.  Figure out what works for you--what your classic staples are--and stick to it.  

If you insist you are a REAL GIRL WITH REAL STYLE but then mimic what you see everyone else doing, then your readers won't trust you.  I get really tired of seeing variations of the exact same outfit on the majority of blogs that I read--it's always the sock bun/sunnies/bright lipstick/IT bag/skinny pants/J.crew cardigan coupled with the knock-kneed pose.  What works for Blair isn't going to work for everyone else, and it comes across as inauthentic.  

In hand with authenticity is being able to relate to your readers.  Sure, I have one or two blogs on my reader that are full of impractical outfits and high photo-shopped outfit pictures, but I really love the ones that talk about what to wear in a semi-professional work environment.  Or how to get more use out of that leather peplum you were so excited to buy but then felt like a biker girl.  (Oh wait.  That's me.  Haha.)   It's kind of like the difference between Vogue and Lucky.  I read Vogue to swoon over the photo shoots of gazillion dollar dresses, but I get my real style advice from Lucky when they lay out how many different ways I can rock a leopard print pencil skirt.

How would you create the perfect "preppy" wardrobe?

Ooh...great question!  Okay, here's a basic shopping list to get you started:

1.  Navy or Dark Gray wool blazer with gold buttons
2.  Navy, red, and gray cardigans and sweaters. I also love Fair Isle and Woolrich sweaters!
3.  Oxfords!  Gingham, plaid, polka dots, critter print.  Have fun with these and show off your personality!
4.  Dark dark denim.  A skinny cut or a nice bootcut.
5.  White pants--I like a slim white jean.
6.  One or two fun colored pants.  Nantucket red or kelly green.  
7.  I love a pleated skirt because of my body type, but you can go for pencil too.  Keep the color scheme simple.  Navy...plaid...gray.
8.  You don't need a lot of jewelry.  Maybe a nice strand of pearls and some delicate gold studs.  I don't like a bunch of jewelry clanking around all the time.
9.  Invest in a nice handbag.  I love the old-school Coach bags that are all leather and have the long strap.  Or Longchamp is nice too.  Pick something that will go with everyone you own.
10.  Shoes!  Sperry Topsiders are my favorite, but Jack Rogers makes really cute sandals.  I also love Tory Burch Revas--I wear mine at least four times a week!

Take all of the above and mix together as desired.  If you stick to a complimentary color palate, you'll be able to create dozens of outfits from only a few pieces.  Worry about what fits well--not the brand name.  I also love little touches like getting your cardigans monogrammed, or adding a bow in your hair.  

Really perfect your preppy look by figuring out how to layer effectively.  When I worked for J.Crew, we had to follow the 3-Piece Rule.  Always wear at least three pieces of clothing at all times.  I rarely go out with just a t-shirt and jeans.  I have so many cardigans for just that reason--light weight is great for summer when it's chilly in the AC, and heavy weights are lovely for winter.  I also love flipping through the lookbooks for J.Crew, Brooks Brothers, and Ralph Lauren for inspiration.

Thanks so much for allowing us into your world Tier! Next week we have Audrey from Putting Me Together!