Kat Eves | Stylist & Costumer
Kat Eves | 32 | Stylist & Costumer
Kat Eves, an LA-based freelance stylist and costumer, is known to many as someone who wears a lot of hats (literally and figuratively). Editor, publicist, writer, activist, doting dog-mom, and now working in the fashion industry, this lady has does it all, and she does it with impeccable taste and style.
Although born in San Diego, Kat spent the first few years of her life in Panama. A self-described "navy brat," her family moved frequently, and when she was three they'd move again, this time to Bowie, Maryland. Now living in North Hollywood, Kat works as a freelance stylist and costumer, and lives with her husband Rob (a photographer), and their dog Millie.
While planning their wedding (which was later featured in Offbeat Bride), Kat reached out to Clinton Kelly (of What Not to Wear), in hopes he'd be open to officiating the ceremony. Although he initially agreed, scheduling conflicts prevented him from attending (more on that below). I spoke with Kat recently about her take on prevalent issues in the fashion world, her experience meeting Clinton Kelly, and her views on how feminism and fashion go hand-in-hand.
So you spent the first few years of your life in Panama. Do you remember it at all?
Not really. I have tiny little flashes of memories.. and when I first started talking, I spoke baby Spanglish.
That sounds adorable.
It probably was. People aren’t as charmed by it when you’re 32 though.
Yeah, probably not. Do you have any early memories that you think shaped you as a person, and specifically your interest in fashion?
I used to break into my mom’s closet and try on all her clothes. Anything with sequins, or satin, or silk, that was one hundred percent my thing. I would destroy my mom’s nice things, playing dress up. (Laughs). Turns out, a five-year-old isn’t that good at taking care of a satin dress.
Yeah, five-year-olds… they’re not very dexterous, for having such tiny hands.
Totally. And obviously the dresses were big on me, so they were always dragging on the floor. I also remember my neighbor Leah had a dress up trunk, that was just full of stuff. I think it was probably her mom’s old clothes.
God, what a luxury. A whole trunk?
Yeah it was pretty rad. We would get dressed up and walk around the neighborhood. You gotta’ show em’ off, you know? (Laughs). You have to walk the block.
Absolutely. You have to gauge the interest from an audience and get feedback.
For sure. You really only do that to be adored. Anybody that would be like “I don’t know if that’s the best look for you” to a five-year-old, is just an asshole. (Laughs) It's funny how those things don't really change.
What do you mean?
Anybody who’d say that they’re not interested in fashion, and that they don’t care about people’s feedback, they just… I can’t relate to that. I think that fashion is… god I’m so quotable right now.
I love it! Lean into it!
It’s weird when you know you're being interviewed, and it’s your friend. It’s hard.
Lean into it!
I don’t relate to anyone who says that they do fashion entirely for themselves. I think that’s one of the things I like about fashion the most, is that there's something very collaborative about it. It’s not something you do in private.
Can you elaborate on that?
Fashion is something that you take out, you share it. When I wear something that’s really fun, and I take it outside, other people react to it. That reaction, that's part of it. I've felt joy from looking at another woman’s cute skirt... and really, you’re expressing yourself all the time anyway, regardless of whether you’re quote unquote fashionable, or on-trend or whatever. You’re communicating something to the people around you. If you’re wearing something super trendy, you’re communicating that fashion and appearing current is important to you. If you only wear 1950’s pinup-style dresses, you’re communicating something else. There’s so much that gets communicated whether you’re consciously doing it or not. That’s why I treat it like a puzzle, and give it thought, because every day is a new opportunity to express myself, and share my personality with the people I’m coming in contact with.
That’s interesting. If I'm understanding you correctly, you're saying that fashion doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and I really like that idea. That makes me wonder though… 1950’s dresses might say something to you, but something entirely different to someone else. Obviously you can’t control the perception of who's forming the opinion. So when you’re styling someone, whether it’s you or someone else, do you think about how it will be interpreted?
I think the bolder the choice is that day, of course I’m going to think about how it will be received. I might even come up with a little pep talk for myself and say it’s ok if this isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, because I love it and that’s what matters. I think when you have that attitude, if you’re making the choice not to care what people think, that's communicated as well.
I definitely agree with that. Your physical presentation, no matter how simple, says a lot about you... unless you’re a baby and someone else is dressing you. In that scenario, choices are being made on your behalf.
It's funny, I remember being a kid and thinking that everything should match. I grew up in a community where it was definitely a thing where if you wore blue socks and a blue shirt, your blue socks have to match your blue shirt. And they need to be the same shade of blue... And now, something I love about fashion is that there isn't any one rule that says we will always wear this one thing. It's almost like there aren't even trends anymore, because things are here and then gone within two weeks. The blessing of that is that there’s never been a better time to find your own personal style. There are so many options, that it’s almost more important not to follow those two-week, always-changing trends, and just stick to what you know makes you feel good.
I was just talking to someone the other day about how I generally try not to purchase clothes that would be considered "trendy." For instance, when peplum came back a few years ago, I remember thinking that it seemed like a fleeting trend. I don’t want things that I can’t see myself wearing in five years, ten years, etc.
Well, I think there’s always going to be this idea that scarcity equals a higher-class value. For instance something like peplum, that reappeared a few years ago. At first it was kind of a high class thing, we saw them pop up on designer clothes. After that it trickled down to Anthropologie, and down from there to places like Forever 21... That’s another thing that’s making things really tough on designers and artists. Those people who are creating the designs are getting ripped off faster than anyone can get word out about who the original designer was. Forever 21 is watching New York fashion week and figuring out how to get trends out before those original designers can. It’s so unfortunate, because… how do I want to word this… there are definitely benefits to the consumer. Art has never been more accessible, at a better price point. The downside though, is that a lot of people have to be exploited for that to happen. And we can parallel all of this with the latest rise of the feminist movement. I am obviously a card carrying feminist, I have no qualms against saying that. I don’t really understand why anyone would… at the root of it, the thing most people get hung up on is the word feminist.
Oh for sure. It’s definitely a branding issue. People get stuck on it, and it’s so frustrating. The word “feminist” has been so co-opted and twisted that the majority of people don’t understand the true definition. Which is crazy because it’s so simple.
Something we have to recognize is that feminism and fashion go hand in hand, because the majority of clothing that’s produced in the world is created by women working in garment factories. It’s a feminist issue, as well as an intersectional feminist issue, because most of those women are women of color. It’s a difficult situation; on the one hand, fast fashion has made fashion more accessible to everyone… And on the other hand, it has done so by exploiting the livelihood and the lives of people whose faces we’ll never see, names we’ll never know, and languages we’ll never speak. It’s quite literally in many ways, the poor living off the poor.
And the poor living off the poorer. It feels like a never-ending cycle. Even when we donate clothing, so much of that ends up in landfills in other countries.
We take so much about the lifecycle of our clothing for granted. I can’t say that I don’t have a shopping problem. But I’ve gotten so good at thrifting that there’s really no difference between my closet now and what it looked like before I started changing my habits. It’s still filled with clothing, and with all kinds of brands that I love. It’s the same as it ever was, it’s just a more ethical closet. I think the next step for me is figuring out how to do more with less, which is hard for me, because I’m not the kind of person who likes just one style. I’m the kind of person who is 80’s today, 50’s tomorrow, and 70’s the day after that. That makes it harder, because I’m never going to have a uniform, that’s just not who I am. Blame it on public school! (Laughs). It’s important to me to have that flexibility and freedom. Some people thrive off having personal fashion rules, but I don’t. I thrive off having the flexibility to express myself however I’m feeling on a day to day basis, because it changes all the time.
Can you talk a little more about the lifespan of clothing?
Sure. I think most people take for granted not only what goes into making a single garment, but also what happens to it once it’s made. There are so many hands along the way that touch that shirt before it makes it onto the hanger. Then it goes to a fast fashion spot, like Forever 21 or H&M, or wherever, you buy it and take it home. It has 100 or so washes in its lifetime, until it makes its way to the back of your closet, or into the Goodwill bag. We take for granted how much water is used in cleaning that garment, and what the lives and wages are like for the people who work in the store, who ship it there, and for the people who make it. And the thing is, all of those people matter. One of the things that drives me crazy in labeling, is when things will say “designed in,” rather than “made in.” For the most part, clothing will say “made in China,” or wherever, but sometimes labels will say “designed in California.” Apple products all say that, and it’s supposed to make you feel something. It’s a very deliberate, strategic move. It’s a distraction to make people think less about what life is like for the person who is putting it together in the factory, day in and day out, hours on end. And their stories matter.
Everything that you’re talking about, those problems are affecting every level of income and every state, and so many countries. It’s overwhelming. What do you see as something people can do to help work against it?
Well, I guess I like to think of myself as… god I hate myself for saying this… (laughs), if you do include this, please write “I hate myself for saying this.”
I will quote you accurately, I promise. (laughs)
Ok. So I hate myself for saying this, but I subscribe more to the idea of a conscious capitalist.
That wasn’t as gross as I was expecting.
Oh good. I think. I think conscious capitalism is the best shot we have in the current market, given where society is, right now. I think it would very difficult to convince people to become socialists tomorrow. But what people can do right now is be more conscious of how we shop, and what we shop for… and frankly, how often we shop. If I could put anyone on a shopping diet right now, I would say immediately stop shopping at Ross, Marshall's, TJ Maxx, and any fast fashion store.
Can you talk more about how someone can identify a fast fashion store?
The telltale sign of fast fashion is the price tag. If you see something that looks like something you’d see a celebrity wear, and it’s under $100, it’s probably fast fashion. That includes H&M, Forever 21, Charlotte Russe… it’s called fast fashion the same way that fast food is called fast food. You wouldn’t look at a McDonalds hamburger and think, this is the best burger I’ve ever had.
Well… someone might. I mean, I wouldn’t. You wouldn’t. But…
Ok, well you might. (Laughs) Most people wouldn’t look at a hamburger from McDonald’s and think, this is the best made hamburger I’ve ever seen. And the same thing happens when you look at fashion in those stores. Those stores are the McDonald’s of clothing.
Yeah, if you reorient yourself around that idea, you won’t want to shop there. (Laughs). Even though, I do like a McDonald’s sundae every so often. Something else important to know as well, is that stores like Ross, TJ Maxx, and Marshall's, they’re all the same company. And much of the clothing that ends up there, is made specifically for those stores. They push the perception that what they have comes from close-outs, or last season’s leftovers. And while some of that is true, the majority of it is made specifically for those stores. A Calvin Klein dress on the rack at Ross, was probably made for Ross. The same goes for all those major brands you see there, and that’s why the quality is different. I have a used Tahari dress that I got at a Crossroads, and the lining is the most delicious satin. Every time I put it on, it feels so good. I’ve also owned a Tahari dress that I got at Marshall's, and there’s just no comparison between the two. The fabrics are different, the care that goes into making them is different, the longevity is different… it’s impossible to ignore.
So the only reason this is happening and those clothes are created is to dupe the consumer?
They’re created because those businesses get a lot of money from doing it. It’s a sneaky way for designers to reach a wider customer base.
And selling the clothes without having to lower the brand perception at all.
That’s fucked up.
It is! Another thing, think about the racks at a store like that. Typically they're really full.
Oh yeah, Ross especially.
Yep. It's because everything about those stores is designed to make you feel like you’re getting a great bargain. And it’s not that that’s not true, it’s just that the story of the item you’re buying isn’t what you think it is, and that is 100% by design.
That’s so sneaky.
In general, people should be skeptical of things that carry low prices. There’s really no such thing as something being made ethically. If a business is making something cheaper than everyone else, they’re either doing it at a loss, or they’re sacrificing something. And usually the corners that they cut are quality, and labor ethics.
That’s really depressing.
Yeah, and that’s my big soapbox.
Let’s switch gears a bit. You mentioned you go thrifting a lot, and I’m wondering if you have tips for people who might feel daunted by that.
I mean… what a time to be alive, in 2017, where you can thrift shop without even leaving your apartment! The internet provides, if you don’t like shopping in thrift stores, which is totally understandable. There are so many websites where you can find clothing that fits your style, size, and budget. There’s Thredup, The Real Real, Poshmark, everyone’s favorite old classic eBay… You don’t have to go scouring the racks to find something. The fun part of thrifting of course is when you find that crazy item that fits you so perfectly, you can't believe someone gave it up. Most of the time I’m not finding things like that, but when I do, those are some of my most prized items. It’s like an adventure when you find those, and those pieces have so much more of a story than anything you’d get at H&M.
The other little soapbox I have, is that as convenient as those donation boxes are, the ones that look like nice dumpsters, they're not always sending those clothing to the best places. So unless you’re going to take the time to research the organization whose box you’re donating to, I’d stick with the traditional thrift stores.
I’ve definitely used those. I call them the “feel good dumpsters,” because it’s like throwing things away but guilt-free.
Those are for sure the feel good dumpsters. They’re not great, there are studies on what happens when you donate to those, and the clothing usually doesn’t go where you think it will.
Let's talk about something a little less depressing for minute. Regarding trends, are there any that you're excited about seeing come back? Or any you're looking forward to seeing disappear?
Yes! I never thought that I would be so happy to see the 90’s come back.
Exactly. And you know, going back to your question about the most influential thing in my early life when it came to fashion, it is one hundred thirty thousand percent the day I picked up a Delia’s catalog. Seriously. (Laughs)
I definitely remember those. I never actually ordered anything, but I would longingly go through every catalog and think about how much I wanted everything. Especially the inflatable furniture. Delia’s was the coolest.
If I had all the money in the world, I would buy archives of Delia’s catalogs and reproduce everything that came out from 1995 to 2000.
That’s not a bad idea.
If someone else wants to do it, it would make me happy. Just as long as they carry everything in plus sizes.
Any trends that you'd like to see go away?
That’s a harder one. There definitely was a time in my life where I thought things like the Fashion Police were hilarious, but the more time I spend working in this industry, and really focusing on helping people feel good, the less energy I want to put towards telling anyone how they should or shouldn’t dress. I’m answering your question by not answering it. Sorry (Laughs).
It’s ok. I remember watching What Not To Wear, and thinking a lot of what they were saying just seemed cruel. When they’d throw stuff away, it made me feel sorry for those people. Like, let them wear those fake fur pink pants, what do you care?
Yeah, and that’s the thing. I think that at that time, we were still at a point when being a judgmental person and creating fashion rules was weirdly on trend.
So you think that’s a trend thing, and not an age-dependent behavior?
I think it’s a little bit of both, but I definitely see something different happening now. There have been real movements that have been focused around wearing whatever you want. Wearing what makes you happiest, and expressing yourself through dress, rather than focusing on fitting someone else’s guidelines.
I can see that.
What Not To Wear was really influential for me though. As a stylist I still use things I learned from watching that show growing up.
Like if I’m with a personal style client, and I'm going into their closet, the first thing I do is make them try everything on.
And we have a keep, toss, and maybe pile. That’s basically where we start. Most people have things in their closet that they don’t wear anymore. Or it doesn’t bring them joy, or it doesn’t fit them anymore, and they haven’t been willing to part with it. It’s such a great thing that came out of that show that I use… Speaking of which, can we talk about Clinton Kelly?
Yes! I’m glad you brought it up, that was on my list of things I wanted to ask you about.
The most influential moment in my career as a stylist was having dinner with Clinton Kelly. And he footed the bill. Which was amazing.
Please tell me all of the things.
It was one of those magical evenings in New York that makes you feel a little like you’re in a movie. We had just gotten off the plane in New York, and we got in a cab and just barely made it on time to meet Clinton at a restaurant that he chose….
Wait, backup for a second. How did this happen?
Rob and I made a video, asking Clinton to officiate our wedding, and he said yes. But it turned out he had a new show that was premiering the night before the wedding, and he couldn’t make it in time. So he said, “I’m so sorry, but if you find yourselves in New York, I will take you both out for a drink.” When someone says something like that and they’re that famous, you have two options. One is that you don’t take it seriously. You just count yourself lucky that they even acknowledged your presence at all. The other is to say, well the worst thing that he can say is no, or not reply… I know I’m going to be in New York, I might as well see what happens. I knew I was going to ask him long before I went there, but I waited until a few days before I was getting there to ask him, because I was so nervous. But of course he responded right away, and was so gracious.
That’s amazing. So you went to dinner? More details please. Set the scene.
It’s a warm day in June in New York, and we’re at this amazing Italian restaurant in Soho that Clinton chose. The sun's setting, we’re on the sidewalk, it’s warm out and we’re drinking wine. He walks up from the side and Rob spots him first, and of course I just get up because I was so excited. I give him this big hug, and he’s just incredibly lovely. He’s so down-to-earth, easy to talk to, and so very genuine. The really fun part about that dinner, was when we talked a little about fashion and styling. Something that really stood out to me, was when he said something to the effect of “I don’t go to New York fashion week. I’m not interested in trends. I’m interested in what makes people feel good and look good, and feel empowered for themselves.”
Yeah! It was amazing. And it was so important to me, because I was just getting ready to move to LA to try to make it for the first time completely 100% as a stylist. No other work. And taking the things that’d been my full-time job, and turning those into side gigs. I'd been so nervous about it, because I’ve never been the kind of person who thought… the latest trend is this, and you must live and die by it. I find that sort of thinking… well frankly, I find it annoying, but I also find it to be the opposite of art.
If everything you do is just because it’s trendy, then who are you?
That’s a fair question.
I think that’s what really spoke to me about him. Here’s this person that has, in so many ways, “made it.” He’s a style icon. He’s an influential voice in fashion and style, and here he is saying, “I don’t follow trends. That’s not what’s important.” That was huge for me. Fashion has always been something that I did to feel good, to feel more like myself. I feel way more like myself when I’m wearing a green and white striped jumpsuit than I do if I’m wearing sweatpants... Unless the sweatpants have sequins on them or something.
Are you still in contact with him?
I’m not, but I think about it a lot. He’s been so influential for me. I loved What Not to Wear and even though we’ve moved past some of the more rigid rules and guidelines, there were some really good things that came out of that show. It pushed the idea of people finding their more authentic selves, and using fashion as a form of self-care.
Anything else about your Clinton Kelly experience you want to share?
Umm…. That he and John Waters are the only people that I’ve ever stuttered in front of out of nerves.
I mean, that’s fair though.
Yeah. John Waters was the other person that I wanted to ask to officiate my wedding.
Solid choice. Can you talk about what it’s like to freelance as a stylist?
My first year in LA has been really interesting. I’ve had the opportunity to work on a music video, commercials, short films, a web series, a feature length film, a pilot, and on fashion shoots. So I've been able to try a lot of different kinds of styling, and the bug that bit me the hardest was television and film.
I don’t know why but that’s surprising.
I came into this thinking that I wanted to be a fashion stylist, and I after this year I’ve realized that what I really want to do is wardrobe and costumes on television and film sets.
Why is that?
When I moved to LA, I gave myself a year to see if I could make a career out of being a stylist. If I couldn’t, I would go back to having a full-time day job. Anytime I’m not working, I’m questioning whether or not I want to keep going, which is a very normal feeling, for anyone who works freelance…. At least so I’m told, by other people in this field. Most people will have that constant feeling of please don’t let this fifteen minutes be up. And the fifteen minutes could literally be fifteen minutes, it could be a day job, it could be a month-long film, or four-day film, but you're just hoping It never ends. And I think that was how I knew film and TV was right for me. It’s long days, it’s hard work, it’s not that glamorous, but it is so much fun. I can’t explain why being on a set makes me so happy, but I just know that as long as it makes me this happy, there’s no other job out there that I’m going to love as much, so I know I have to stay with it. There have been lots of jobs that I’ve been good at. I was a good publicist. People believed in me. I still get calls from people who want me to come back and work for them, but nothing has satisfied me as much as doing costume work. It’s not something I’m willing to say I’m an expert at yet, but I’ll get there…. And it’s a good sign when nothing makes you happier than being an assistant to someone, when formally you were a director.
This question is a two-parter. Best day on the job, worst day on the job? When is a time you’ve laughed the hardest as a stylist, and cried the hardest?
Man… I have both of those stories. I laughed the hardest when I worked on a pilot that hasn’t come out yet, where I had to make it look like one of the actresses had peed her pants. (Laughs). There’s continuity with something like that, because the water stain had to be the same on each take. I had to make her pee her pants multiple times.
What did you use?
Just water, but there are different ways we could have done it. There are two things that will determine what tactic you use. One is budget. How many multiples of this item can you buy to take it through the lifecycle of that scene? The other is whether or not the director is going to make script changes on the spot. That happens a lot. We could’ve easily made a pee pants that just looked wet, but there’s always the possibility that the scene is going to change. Given that, it made more sense to put water on the pants right before we shot the scene. The first time we did it, we discovered the pants that she was wearing had too much polyester in them, and didn’t soak the water in very well. I had to essentially pat down her crotch. It’s all on video by the way. (Laughs) We did it a bunch of times.
How about your worst day as a stylist?
There was a gig I got through another stylist, and the job was to create tapestries last minute for a network that is… very, very well known. I got sick in the middle of trying to do it. It’s actually something I could have done with better tools, but I didn’t have the right resources available. That was hard. I knew I’d disappointed the person who’d hired me, and the person who’d recommended me. The thing is though, as bad as I felt for how it turned out, I know I did the best I could with the resources and time that I had. That’s important. As much as that experience stung, and it definitely knocked me down for a while, I knew immediately that I needed to figure out what lessons I could take from it, rather than sit and dwell. I don’t regret taking the job, but I do regret not having that moment where I could stop and be honest with myself, and admit I was in over my head. I should have called the client and told him the truth. Sometimes you have to know when to give up.
Who are your style influences? Who is doing work in the industry that you’re really excited about?
Well obviously Clinton Kelly and Stacy London will always be huge for me. I also work with a photographer named Teren Oddo, who Rob and I met the first week we moved to LA. He took us under his wing, and I’d say that he’s probably the single most influential person to me in terms of pushing me, and challenging me to try new things.
Anyone or anything else?
Hmm… well you know I love Palm Springs. The day I first went there I felt like, finally! I’ve found the place that was made just for me! I just love the general vibe there. Midcentury modern architecture, the vintage fashion, the celebration of bright colors against desert backgrounds, it all plays a big role.
Where do you see yourself in ten years? What’s the dream?
I'd like to be doing wardrobe for a popular TV show, and have racks and racks that only feature ethical fashion.
What’s a problem you see within the industry that isn’t discussed as much as it should be?
We’ve seen a ton of growth in the plus size sector, where there’s a huge market of people who want to find more in their size, and are willing to spend the money. What we’ve learned in this, is that the plus size market is an extremely vocal and impactful market. We have the loudest voice and we’re the hardest to ignore. I wish we would use that voice though, to push ethical fashion. Because people who are plus size, like myself, have been oppressed and left out of the conversation. And it seems wrong to me, to then tell another group of people, just because they’re from some other country, and don’t speak the same language as us, and we’ll never meet them, that their lives don’t matter as much as our need to dress fashionably.
What do you think should be done about that?
I would like to see the plus size industry use that voice to talk more about the need to shop small, or about the need for brands to not only deliver more in our size, but deliver it in a humane manner. We should be having more conversations about the people who are making our clothes. I also want to use that voice to remind others that shopping small is almost always a more ethical option. We should be supporting those independent brands who are trying to do the right thing, by investing in their people, and in sustainability.
Anything else you wish people to knew about the industry?
I wish people knew how much coveting an item is directly related to how much they’ll enjoy it. And that the accessibility of buying something at a place like Ross contributes to the general degradation of the quality of clothing, your attitude towards it, and frankly your bank account. We are all better off having things that we covet, that we have to work towards getting, rather than the instant gratification that comes from buying a cheap knock-off from Forever 21.
Ok. Lastly, let’s do a lightning round. Overall, are you optimistic about the direction that the fashion industry is heading?
I have two answers to that. I’m really excited about continuing to see fashion designers who realize that plus size women have style too, and that we spend money. Or plus size bodies, I should say. I’m thrilled to see the extension of that. However, I’m not happy to see the continued junkification that happens through fast fashion.
Who’s your dream client?
These are hard! (Laughs). Beth Ditto. Or Nicole Byer. Nicole is a comedian, who’s amazing and hilarious. She wrote an article recently for Lenny Letter, explaining how makeup and hair artists don’t know how to work with black talent. In the article she also mentioned that stylists never know how to dress her body, and she’d already come to accept that, which broke my heart. As a stylist your job is to dress bodies, and there shouldn’t be a size equation on that.
What three words sum up your personal style?
Weird. Ever-changing. Feminine.
Man alive, what a brilliant powerhouse this woman is! Thanks again to Kat Eves for taking time out of her busy schedule to talk to me. You can see Kat's work and get in touch with her through her website, Style Ethic.