When Shelby Scudder lost her job she found her career.
“I always loved fashion. When I was little, I would draw fashion illustrations without knowing that was even a thing you could do for a living.” Like so many people who land their dream job, celebrity stylist Shelby Scudder fell into her profession by chance. She recalls going through the motions teachers and parents told us throughout our formative years: get good grades, take a ton of AP classes and grind until you get into a top college – or else you’ll amount to nothing.
When I ask her to try and pinpoint the moment she knew she wanted to be a stylist she searches for the words. “I used to lay my clothes out when I was little – I loved clothes and would sew my own creations in high school. I guess it never crossed my mind that it was a career path, but once I started looking at schools that offered fashion design I told myself that if I don’t pursue this as my life I’ll always wonder ‘what if?’”
It was shortly after graduating from Wash U in 2007 that Shelby moved to New York. She began working as an assistant designer for Norma Kamali. It seemed like the usual nine-to-five – punch in, punch out, go to the office, go home. It was an event Americans know all too well that set Shelby on her current career path – the stock market crash of 2008. The line she was working on with Kamali went defunct and in the blink of an eye, Shelby’s livelihood was gone. That is until a random text message from designer, costumer and stylist Zaldy changed her life.
“I met [him] through work stuff and one day he texted me saying he needed some help on a project if I had the time. It turned out to be Michael Jackson’s tour. I was like ‘yeah, I think I have time for that.’”
While under Zaldy’s tutelage Shelby figured she was on her way to becoming a designer. After working on tours for Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga and Britney Spears, Shelby stumbled upon her place in the industry. “When we did the Britney tour there was so much styling required and I just sort of took that on. It was very exciting. Instead of designing clothes to be displayed on a lifeless mannequin, Shelby was pairing, mixing and matching looks for actual people. Assisting such high profile clients established Shelby as a stylist who understood musicians – namely how to showcase their personality through fashion.
Shelby is now the personal stylist for a name that’s been making headlines this year, Kesha. When I bring it up I can tell it’s a delicate subject – there’s a hint of hesitation when I ask her how her styles are helping support the artist enveloped in a legal quagmire. “It’s hard because she’s not able to express herself through her music right now, which is her identity.”
I’m hesitant to ask about negative publicity and whether or not it’s something that concerns Shelby. Her answer surprises me, “I think going through hard times and pressure makes you come out of it with a stronger sense of self-identity. I want her to be feeling good and happy so there’s a little more pressure to make her feel like she’s giving her best self visually since she can’t vocally right now.
It actually makes my job easier,” She continues, “There are such select opportunities to show who she really is and what she’s feeling that I think each look becomes even more important.”
Acceptance seems to be at the heart of Shelby’s work – her newest client Gigi Gorgeous is a welcome change of pace for the stylist. If Kesha is her profession, Gigi is her passion project, “She’s basically like a walking Barbie doll. She’s insanely gorgeous and such a happy, sweet person. So with her I want to elevate her style. I don’t want to take away her sexy Barbie-doll style, but I want to do it in a more elevated, sophisticated, stylish way. It’s the little things like not putting her in a platform heel that’s an extra two inches or a tacky sequin. I’m not going to, all of a sudden put her in something artsy or body covering. I can make just as much of a statement with her in what she’s not wearing as with what she is wearing.”
When I ask Shelby how she styles an outfit I was surprised by her answer, “I was never a shoes person, I still don’t think of myself as a shoes person. In my own life, I wear sneakers, like I’m just pretty much in sneakers all the time. And I remember when I was first working with Zaldy we were dressing a client and he was telling me how important the shoes were. I was kind of like, ‘whatever the dress and jewelry are great.’ Then he said to me, ‘Shelby, a good shoe can make an outfit.’ It always stuck with me. And now when I style things when I’m working with a photographer, they always want to zoom in and get a pretty angle and I’m always yelling at the photographer to get the shoes! Now when I see a look without shoes, it is not complete.” Shelby continues, “On a shoot with Terry Richardson it was basically this naked shot where shoes weren’t even in the shot, but he insisted the model wear these six inch stilettos because it gives so much attitude for the hips. There’s something about being in them and the way you hold yourself.”
Working for a nutrition company I’m interested to know stylist Shelby’s take on “athleisure” apparel – as yoga pants are all over the place these days and gym selfies are quickly becoming fashion statements. Shelby is almost excited to talk about it, “I love athleisure. Yoga pants and a sports bra is my jam. If I’m not working and I’m not going to see anyone, I’m 100% of the time in yoga pants.” She doesn’t agree that you have to spend a fortune on athleisure wear – in fact, she’s even styled some looks on her blog titled “health goth” which is exactly what it sounds like – athletic wear for goth-lovers. And when it comes to the types of workout clothes Shelby recommends she’s got some very sensible advice, “I have Lululemon yoga pants and Nike yoga pants that are amazing. But I’ve also gotten some at Forever 21 and Gap Fit that are great too. You can totally nail the look on every budget.”
As our time comes to a close I’m dying to ask a professional what fashion means to her on a personal level. On her blog Shelby states that “Fashion can be used as an honest voice” so I ask her to elaborate on that, and honesty is what I got, “I don’t want to talk negatively about any specific type of person, but I think there’s a way women can choose to present themselves. I’m all about women feeling sexy and confident and embracing their body, how they look per their sexuality and all that, but I also think women can play into what men want. I went through this phase in New York where I didn’t wear skirts or dresses because it felt like I was this pretty little package dressed for a man. To this day, I still don’t really wear many dresses or skirts. I’m more of a tomboy. I think what you wear can say a lot about you and how you’re feeling and what you value. On the other hand, clothes can also be a superficial thing — but you have to wear them every day. So whether you like it or not, you’re going to have to present something to people. So you might as well present something that you can stand by and feel good about and say ‘this is an honest reflection of who I am and what I value.’”
(Editor’s Note: Kesha’s new single with Zedd, “True Colors” was announced after this interview — you can listen to the full track below)