By Laura McAlister
Fashion doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive, according to Darlene Real Higginbotham. It just has to be practical, yet polished, she said.
As owner and founder of Appearance Matters Inc., Darlene does everything from hosting fashion shows and seminars to coaching stay-at-home moms and business professionals on how to look their best. As the name of her business clearly states, to Darlene, appearance does matter.
“It really is important,” she said. “Presentation is everything. Really, it’s about self-esteem and self-image.”
For some 20 years, Darlene has been giving wardrobe advice to those she likes to call the “real stars” — everyday people who want to look their best.
Though the North Shelby County resident has always had a passion for fashion, it’s not the field she started out in. She actually was a trained dental hygienist.
What does that have to do with fashion? Not much, Darlene admitted, but it does go hand in hand with appearance and working with people, she said.
“The only reason I think it’s important that people know that is being a dental hygienist does have everything to do with appearance,” she said. “It was also a natural thing for me, because I love working with people.”
Darlene would later go to modeling school, where she learned what has come to define her philosophy on dressing her clients to look their best.
“You’ve got to find the best traits in people,” she said. “I’m not going to leave the presence of somebody without finding the best in them.
“When I’m working with somebody, they reveal a lot to me. It makes me know what they do and why they do what they do.”
When it comes to helping clients improve their appearance Darlene said she needs to learn three things.
“You dress for your personality, lifestyle and body type,” she said. “If you do that, you’ll improve your appearance and build self-esteem.”
Once she’s learned these things, she then moves on to help clients achieve three things – preparation, polish and presentation.
The preparation starts with what the client already owns, and the polish comes by combining pieces and accessories to create outfits for different occasions. Darlene said the overall improved appearance is the presentation.
Though many assume high fashion is going to be high priced, Darlene said that’s often not the case. Her motto, as stated on her business card is: “Make every $1 look like $2, and wear what you have first.”
Often, she said, people already have great pieces in their closets. They just need help polishing off their looks with the right accessories and shoes.
“When we get the outfits together, we always take pictures,” she said. “That’s one thing I always tell people to do. Take a picture. Then you’ll have it all there for you.
“Lay out the outfit on the bed or something with a jacket, the shoes, accessories, everything. Then take a picture.”
When it comes to buying new clothes, Darlene said, purchases don’t have to be the top of the line. They just have to look good and fit the individual’s lifestyle.
“Anywhere from Gus Mayer to Wal-Mart, I like to say,” she said.
She said every closet needs good staple pieces, like that perfect little black dress or pair of slacks. Then just top them off with some trends of the season.
This spring, Darlene said to expect color — and lots of it. She said there will be lots of oranges and reds as well as coral and turquoise. Geometric patterns and lace are also popular.
“And always, always black and white,” she added. “Everybody always has a different take on trends. Some say it’s the ’20s. Others say the ’50s. Personally, I think we’re on the verge of going back to the ’80s.”
Whether you prefer to dress in the latest styles or stick to a more traditional route, Darlene said there’s no reason people can’t look their best for any occasion.
“If all you can do is put on some mascara and a little gloss or lipstick,” she said, “that’s something. It looks like you tried. It looks like you care.”