Women of Style

To say that our newest Woman of Style is an inspiration is an understatement.  Alison Tulio makes being environmentally friendly and using safe, natural products both incredibly chic and fun.  She opened bloom. Salon & Makeup Bar just over one year ago in Voorheesville, NY, and she said her salon was the first in the U.S. to be a Green Circle Salon.   Through that program, extra hair, foils, color tubes and hair color are all recycled.  She also strives to use hair and makeup products in her salon that are as chemical-free as possible.   The makeup line she uses, 100% Pure, is fruit dyed and 100 percent free of harmful toxins.  Allison also repurposed mirrors and chairs from Craigslist and also has several pieces her father-in-law hand-crafted for bloom.  She redesigned her absolutely gorgeous floral chairs in the makeup bar (see the photos below).  Allison's mission is to inspire others to make more environmentally-friendly decisions and it's obvious she does that every day in the most stylish way possible.   Congratulations, Allison!  Thank you for all of the inspiration.  (You can read much more below on Allison's environmentally-friendly style!) 

Photo of Allison & ribbon cutting by Katie Petit

A few of the many women Allison and bloom. have made naturally beautiful!

Photos:  Courtesy of bloom. from Facebook

How would you describe your style?
This is hard because I love so many things about different styles! I would describe my style as vintage, somewhat rustic with a twist of bohemian.  I like clean lines, old rustic looking pieces but also love mismatched accents with pops of color.

Who/what inspires you in terms of style?
I love statement and timeless pieces that you know will work for years to come - pieces that all you have to do is change the accessories or accents around them to make them fit your style for whatever it is you're feeling lately.  It wasn't until I opened bloom. that my love of antiques, thrifting and DIY really presented itself as part of my style. I always loved the way antiques looked, but never really thought or realized how fun and inspiring it could be to find something unique and make it your own. It became a mission to find the perfect projects and pieces to add to the salon. I searched trough pages of Craigslist and aisles of antique stores to really find what spoke to me and my passion for bloom.

The wonderfully chic makeup bar at bloom. Salon & Makeup Bar
(Check out the gorgeous chairs Allison repurposed!)

One of the legs of the table Allison found on Craigslist 
& the ultra chic blush pink rug in the makeup bar!

The top photo is Allison's grandmother.  Allison said 
it's as if she is still with her every day at bloom.

Your business, bloom. Salon & Makeup Bar, has incredible style! How were you able to so effectively use your style to style your salon?

Lots of sanding, cleaning and spray paint! I found all the mirrors for the salon on Craigslist and cleaned them up, spray painted them and now they are custom mirrors for a third of the price! The stations and the crates I actually bought unfinished and finished them with a distressed dark espresso which I think brings a sense of warmth and coziness to the salon. I am also extremely fortunate that a lot of the beautiful pieces in the salon were hand made for me by my father-in-law. We created a vision together.  He told me when my ideas were too crazy to work, and I took his professional opinion on it.  Together we came up with great pieces. I owe a lot of the style to his handy hard work!

What is your favorite part of your salon and makeup bar?
I love it all! It is hard to pinpoint a favorite part because it all flows so well together. I would have to say the color bar and the makeup bar are probably my favorite pieces if I had to choose. I love how clients can actually see us mixing the color, using our brains and creativness to stir up something unique for them.  And the makeup bar is just such a fun, flirty girly area - what is there not to love! Every woman loves to feel extra glammed and girly once in a while, and that's what I envisioned when I designed that room.

The gorgeous salon.  In the center is the color bar!
Photo by:  Katie Petit

                               The fun makeup bar at bloom. with 100% Pure products.

How can we be more environmentally-conscious and natural in the hair care products/practices and makeup we use/do at home?
I know it's a daunting task, but read the labels! Look for sulfate-free, paraben-free shampoos and conditioners.  And also think about the bottle and whether or not it is made with BPA. BPA leaches out into products when it is in warm, humid areas. And that is exactly where our shampoo and conditioners live, in the hot steamy shower. A lot of hidden chemicals can hide in our beauty products, and it can be overwhelming. My biggest suggestion would be just to start where you're comfortable.  Do your own research on it, and I'm sure it will make you think twice about what products you are using.

Hair and makeup are obviously very important parts of a woman's overall style. What advice would you give to women in trying to find their own style?
Find your comfort zone! It also helps finding a great stylist who really listens to your thoughts and one that will help you create what you're looking for in that moment. Being comfortable with your hair and really loving it is the best confidence booster. Look in magazines, mark things that attract your eye.  I am sure when you look back at those pictures that you marked they will all have something in common, but most of all have fun and play! That's the beauty of hair and makeup; it can always be changed and it is ever evolving.

Photo:  Courtesy of bloom.    By:  Katie Petit

Photo:  Courtesy of bloom.

Photo:  Courtesy of bloom.

I love that you are focused on bringing out women's natural beauty while keeping the environment in mind. What are some of the things you do to be environmentally-friendly in your salon? How did you decide to make it such a great part of your salon?
When I first thought about opening a salon, I knew my passion for recycling and the environment in general would play a good part in it. From the very beginning one of the things I wanted to do is find a place to donate the hair that gets swept up from each haircut. Many people are surprised that their hair can be used to make hair mats to help aid in the cleanup of oil spills. After some research on the subject, I came across a program called Green Circle Salon. I noticed they were based out of Canada, but I figured I could just send the extra hair there for good use. Come to find out they were about to launch their North American program and not only did it include recycling hair, but it recycles foils, color tubes and hair color. It was a no brainer! We actually became the first salon in America to be apart of this program, which was a really exciting moment! We also recycle all of our paper and plastics through County Waste.

I also did lots of research on the type of products we brought into the salon. I wanted companies that had the same values as I do as a business owner. We carry 'Use Me!,' which is sulfate-free, paraben-free and also is a member of 1% for the planet.  Our makeup line called 100% Pure and Is all fruit and vegetable dyed and never tested on animals.  All of their formulas are biodegradable, come in recycled packaging and best of all - their warehouse is run on solar power.  I am constantly looking for new and inspiring products that showcase the power of plants and essential oils versus chemicals.

If you haven't already said this in the above answer :), I read that you are so meticulous about keeping the environment in mind, that many of the pieces of furniture in the salon are re-finished items. That is wonderful! What are some of the items and how did you find them?

As I mentioned before, all of the mirrors in the salon were found on Craigslist - cleaned up and spray painted to my liking, but I also found the amazing chairs and table in the makeup area on Craigslist! The chairs I completely redid. I spray painted them and covered the cushions with a really funky floral print.. They were so old the fabric was nailed in instead of staple gunned it! I kept the original fabric underneath. The table was just perfect I actually didn’t have to do anything to it! It was definitely fun and exhilarating when I found a piece that I knew exactly what to do with. 

Congratulations again, Allison!  

Janine Mitchell, owner of J9 Design, exudes great style.  She always looks pulled together whether she is shining in a cocktail dress or gown or is wearing a pair of jeans and crafting.  I absolutely love that she focuses on being comfortable in her own skin rather than keeping up with the trend of the moment.  And it shows - Janine is confident, stunning and clearly owns and loves her personal style.  I met Janine when she served as Miss New Hampshire's Outstanding Teen, which is part of the Miss America program.  When many people think of pageants, they think of a cliche type of style.  Janine's great style couldn't be further from cliche and cookie-cutter.  Her style is authentic, fun and captivating, as you can see here.  And her personal style translates into great designs for J9 Design.

What's wonderful about what Janine does through J9 Design, is she makes people feel happy with her adorable creations.  She refers to it as nostalgic homemade happiness!  Janine designs and hand-crafts headbands, Christmas ornaments, stockings and even craft beer label coasters.  Her great personal style translates into great style for all of her creations.  Her work graces mantles and coffee tables at homes around the country.

How do you define your style?  
My style definition is ever-changing. Instead of sticking with one style profile, I tend to allow it to change with the way I'm feeling or the stage of life I'm in. For instance, in the past year I've focused more on comfort in my own skin than being sure I have the top trend at the moment. I think women radiate when they're comfortable - with themselves and in their clothes. Oh, and I also love to be barefoot...

What inspires you with regard to style?
I'm a pretty impulsive person, so many things inspire my style. I'm inspired by my feelings on any particular day. I'm a typical Gemini, battling with two sides to my personality. So, in relation to style, I have one side that's super trendy, on-point and intentional. On another hand, I like to wear jeans, a t-shirt and my hair in a ponytail with Chuck-Ts.

What do you usually wear for the holidays?  
For holiday season, I'm mostly in jeans and t-shirts, while spending time with family and friends. Then, if we go out for drinks, I'll just slide some red lipstick on and call it a night. But, for a few select holiday parties, I'll bring some glam with a cocktail dress. I love dresses. In the summer, they're just so easy to throw on a dress. In the winter I carry it over, but with tights and cardigans.

How did you get the idea to start J9 Design and have you always been crafting?  
I've been making things since I was a child. I'm a kinesthetic learner, so doing things with my hands or body not only helps me learn, but it's the way my mind works. I started seriously thinking about bringing my creations to the next level in June of 2013 when I bought my first domain name, j9dsign.com, and again in summer of 2014, when I opened my Etsy store.

What is your favorite item to create?  
It's impossible for me to pick a favorite. Everything I create comes out of a feeling I've had, an urge I needed to fulfill or a challenge I wanted to meet. I love to sew, but it's not my favorite. It just feels good and nostalgic. After my mom passed away, I was given her sewing machine. When the needle beats I can remember hearing it from her room all the way from my bedroom when I was a kid.

What has been your most popular item?  
By far my Cork Angel Ornaments, then my Mock-Bow Headbands for winter. For year-round products, I've found a niche with the craft beer drinkers with my Craft Beer Label Coasters. I get orders from all around the country requesting Boston/New England area craft beers like Smuttynose, Harpoon or Woodstock. 

How do you come up with your ideas?
I don't sell anything that I wouldn't use or wear in my day-to-day life. It's really hard to keep my hands off other people's orders sometimes! I'm like, "Oh I like that!"  

How is your personal style reflected in J9 Design?
My crafts are a lot like my style in that they're always changing. I call it "Craft A.D.D." I don't like doing one thing for too long. Last Christmas I made like 50 stockings, this year I made a lot of hats, infinity scarves and headbands. Last summer I made a lot of clutch bags, this year I made craft beer coasters.  

When can people order until and what is the easiest way to order?  
People can order year-round on my Etsy store, find a link at at j9dsign.com/shop, and expect periodic everyday additions as the holiday season wraps up. The last day to order for Christmas delivery is Dec 17!

Thanks, Janine for sharing your style with us and giving us an inside peek at J9 Design!

Our Woman of Style this month is a woman who takes style to whole new level.  She greatly inspires me.   Rather than fighting with losing her hair once again from her 9-year battle with breast cancer, Shanna Clarke-Pinet has found ways to embrace it - and inspire countless other women with her style and fearlessness.   She often rocks fashionable headscarves but recently tried something that truly moved me.  She let go of any fear of others seeing her bald and let an artist paint a beautiful Henna design on her head.  As you will read below, she says, "It's hair.  It doesn't define your femininity."  She also later added, "Cancer doesn't define us.  Our courage, strength and determination do." I love this.  That is why Shanna is not only our Woman of Style but also our Woman of Inspiration!

Shanna is a wife, a mom, a talented photographer and a devoted volunteer. I honestly can't think of a more powerful Woman of Style to share with you right now because Shanna's style also comes with a strong message -- to defeat breast cancer.   October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  I hope you too join this important fight and are inspired by Shanna's story and her style.   To Shanna and to all of the women and men I know fighting breast cancer and other forms of cancer, may you live a healthy, cancer-free life very soon! xoxo

Shanna shares her style here but also opens her heart and shares her thoughts on her journey with cancer and embracing life and beauty.

How would you define your personality?   How do you define your style and how does it reflect your personality? 
I think I have always been outgoing and quick-witted.   I am very thankful for that, because I believe those qualities have kept me sane through the past 9 years of dealing with breast cancer.  I think my style is as outgoing as I am. I try to find pieces that make me feel good and make me smile. I hope in turn my smile and style make others smile.  

Who/what inspires you when it comes to style? Everything inspires me! Bright colors and the change of seasons, my mood and sometimes I hear a song and think, “If I was doing a music video to this song what would I wear?"  If I’m listening to Madonna watch out! LOL!

You have some beautiful, colorful accessories.  Which accessories and items of clothing make you look and feel the most confident and why? Thank you! I love colorful accessories! It can change the look of any outfit. I have an obsession with necklaces (Ask my husband!) I feel accessories describe how I’m feeling on a certain day. If I want to cheer myself up I put on big chunky bright piece jewelry! I will forever feel confidence comes from within but confidence is much easier to find within when you feel beautiful on the outside. I think jewelry always makes a woman feel beautiful. Why do you think diamonds were created?

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and you are very inspiring and strong in your fight against breast cancer.  I absolutely love how you embraced not having hair due to chemotherapy and put Henna on your head.   To me, that was the epitome of amazing style.   How did you come up with the idea to have an artist put Henna on your head?  What response have you gotten? Aww, thank you! I can’t take all the credit for the Henna.  A friend of mine has a friend who is launching a Henna business and was looking for a model. Her idea of wanting to help cancer patients feel beautiful was just amazing to me.  I offered to take pictures to help her out with her portfolio but in turn she asked me to be the first model to try it on.  I jumped at the thought of doing something outside the box. What I didn’t expect was how I was going to feel about it. The day came and I was excited but in a split second realized someone other than my husband and daughter was going to see my bald head. I almost cringed at the thought but realized my bald head isn’t a thing to cringe at; its something to embrace. Fighting cancer is a journey and along this journey comes a bald head. Why not add some beautiful henna - and of course I had to add some bling! 
The response I received was all over the place; most people were so nice with their beautiful comments of encouragement and "WOW that looks great!" But for some people, it was too 'in their face.' It reminds some people that I am fighting cancer and my smile masks only my feelings not the reality of the deadly disease I am fighting. That is scary for not only myself but also anybody who loves me.

What advice do you have for other women fighting breast cancer or other types of cancer about embracing their beauty? Embrace every day! We only have one life and this is the card we were dealt. Cancer doesn’t define us. Our Courage, strength, and determination do. Beauty is being the best possible version of yourself from the inside and out. I’ve never seen a smiling face that wasn’t beautiful. So I say smile and show cancer who is boss!

You also have so many gorgeous headscarves.  You make me want to put a headscarf on too because you make them look so stylish.  Where do you find many of them?  And what is your secret to styling them with your outfits so well?  I haven’t always felt beautiful. I struggle every day with the beauty demons that lie in our minds.  Believe me one of the first things I thought of when I heard the word chemo was, “My hair!” But soon you realize…. It’s hair. It doesn’t define your femininity. But a beautiful scarf sure can make you feel feminine and beautiful. I find scarves everywhere I go from Wal-Mart, to Hallmark to unique boutiques. I love finding new and different patterns and colors. I find myself a lot of times styling my wardrobe for the day around the scarf that I want to wear. I have a beautiful scarf that has amazing fall colors that was given to me by some great friends. Sometimes it's not the colors of the scarf; sometimes it’s the meaning behind it. 

You are a very talented photographer and owner of "Face it You're Beautiful Photography and Beauty Artistry."  I love the phrase "Face It You're Beautiful."  How did you come up with this and what does it mean to you? Thank you for such a great compliment. I love my work and the name I chose; it has so much meaning. One of the saddest things about cancer is when you are going through it, you tend to lose yourself, lose who you are, or who you thought you were. Through this I have learned so much about myself.  I learned about my strength and character and learned that my face, body, hair…none of it defines me as a person. My hope is those women who are going through cancer will be able to see through the chemo fog and be able to take inventory of how wonderful and powerful they are. Cancer tugs at the deepest parts of you that you didn’t know existed. It makes you doubt, it confuses you, and uproots your beliefs. I created the name of my business to let not only cancer patients but also anyone for that matter know they ARE Beautiful! Beautiful heart, beautiful mind, beautiful spirit! I hope I capture that in every picture I take. 

You have a stunning daughter.  What do you hope she learns about looking and feeling beautiful? Thank you. I think confidence is beauty. I read something one day that changed the way I felt about confidence. It read, “Love yourself. You are a gift. Nothing would be the same if you didn’t exist.” This statement is so true. Not one person is the same. We are all unique and have are own mark to make on this world. That itself should make everyone feel powerful and confident. We are all on the same journey called life. Its what we do with it that leaves a mark. The secret to beauty is confidence in knowing there is only one you, and that is amazing! 
My hope for my daughter, Mackenzie, is that I have given her the tools to know she is one of a kind and amazing. I hope I lead by example so she can see beauty comes from strength and confidence.  

Is there anything else you want to add? My journey with cancer has not been without the support of some amazing people. I have to take this opportunity to thank my parents for always believing in my dreams and me. My dad has always been a source of encouragement and inspiration that anything is possible. I will be forever grateful for those gifts. My husband, my soul mate David, words cannot express how much I love you. Through all of this you have been my rock and my comedian. There is not a day that goes by you do not make me laugh or feel beautiful in some way. My daughter, Mackenzie, you are the reason I fight so hard every day. You are my light and the only person who knows what my hearts sounds like from the inside. My best friend, Jodi, you are a true gift. You always keep it real with me; you never make me feel anything less than amazing and for that you are my angel. My friends and family who support me via text, e-mail, phone calls, messages, and/or currier pigeon, I feel your love every day. Cancer is about hope and hope shines brightest in the darkest moments. Thank you all for making it shine so bright on me every day!

Thank you, Shanna, for opening your heart and sharing so much wisdom with us.  This week, we are doing posts every day in your honor to show how everyone can join the fight against breast cancer!

Ashley Firth is a fabulous fashionista, a talented wedding/professional photographer, a reality star (she was on TLC's I Found the Gown), and a bridal inspiration (she was just featured by Brides Magazine). Ashley is one of those women who makes looking like a million bucks effortless. The former Miss Petite America says she is a savvy sale and consignment-minded shopper. That makes me love her style even more! Her personal style suits her outgoing, fun personality perfectly. The shades of bright pink, orange and purple in her wedding bouquet and accessories are a perfect example. She is someone who isn't afraid to show the world who she is and I love that about her!  

Ashley's stunning wedding was at the Boston Museum of Science in June 2013. I hope you enjoy reading about her wedding style and fashion philosophy as much as I did. You can see her work behind the camera as owner of Ashley Lynn Photography here. Her gorgeous wedding photos are by the talented Todd Ward of Todd Ward Studios.  

Photo by:  Todd Ward Studios

Photo by:  Todd Ward Studios

Photo by:  Todd Ward Studios

Describe your personal style in a few words. Champagne taste on a savvy consignment budget!
What/who inspires you when it comes to fashion? Color, joy, shape, and my work all inspire me. As a professional photographer I see so many people and I always tell them to dress in whatever makes them feel great, and they always come to me with the cutest outfits. I like simple looks, and I don't layer very often, so I guess I really like staple pieces. Skinny jeans/pants, ankle length anything (they fit me best haha!), and I'm not afraid of a great animal print!

You always look so chic. Do you have a philosophy for putting an outfit together? I wish I did! I base my outfits on emotion. On a gray dreary day, I dress bright and happy to influence my mood. On a wonderful day, I do the same! For photographing weddings I wear all black, by choice, to blend in to the background, so it's nice to have fun color pieces in daily life.

You are in my opinion, the ultimate bride. Brides Magazine just featured your wedding and you were on TLC's I Found the Gown! Describe your bridal style. THANK YOU! After shooting weddings for 10 years, and competing in hundreds of really ornate and beautiful pageant gowns, I wanted my bridal style to really feel different for me than anything I had worn. For a girl who loves sparkle I asked for none of it. I wanted a structured classic and sleek look with fabric detailing. I wanted to stand out in more of a matte way. My amazing husband is Japanese and for our wedding we were folding 1,000 paper cranes in tradition. When I tried on my dress at Vows for I Found the Gown, the consultant compared the folds of my bodice to origami. It was fate. I am by no means understated, however, and I knew I wanted my accessories to stand out. I had hot pink and orange (our wedding colors) rhinestoned platform heels, a huge pink and gold necklace, and my grandmother's original head-piece from her wedding 45 years prior. I also asked for a cathedral-length veil because I love to photograph them!

Photo by:  Todd Ward Studios

Photo by:  Todd Ward Studios

How did you get the event as well as your gown/bridal style to coordinate so perfectly? Everything was impeccable! (And I absolutely love the necklace!) We based everything on our relationship for the wedding. It was a wedding for a minute, but a marriage for life. My favorite color is pink, and my husbands' is orange. So that was it, there were our theme and detail colors. I made sure that everything had a modern flare to it and that we had straight clean lines-- rosette table runners with sleek square centerpieces, fun and classic. The bridal look was no exception, the clean lines of the rouched dress paired with the absolutely amazing ruffled skirt made me feel like a rockstar. I also kept the same feel of fabrics throughout. I had my best friend-bridesmaids in taffeta to match the formality of the event, but in fun short dresses that they picked out themselves. Everything had a subtle shine  

Photo by:  Todd Ward Studios

Photo by:  Todd Ward Studios

As a savvy bride and also a photographer what mistakes do you think many brides make (with style, make up, the ceremony/after party)? Makeup for me was my biggest thing for photos. I hired a wonderful friend and I went totally glam with big long lashes. I wish that brides would really focus on their makeup and stress that I still want them to look like themselves, and it may seem weird to have more makeup on than they normally wear, but in photos it's how your features stand out! Also, factor in sitting and dancing when picking out and fitting your dress, make sure that you can enjoy the happiest day of your life!

Photo by:  Todd Ward Studios

Photo by:  Todd Ward Studios

I have to ask, what was it like being on I Found the Gown? It was surreal, and such a wonderful documented piece of our relationship and journey to the aisle! One of the reasons they cast me is because I am a savvy sale and consignment-minded shopper, and that is the whole premise to the show. Great gowns at discounted sample pricing. I wanted a dress that didn't necessarily top every pageant dress I have ever worn in sparkle, but in the feeling that it gave me. I wanted to feel like the most beautiful bride, and I wasn't held back by my budget because of the show and the store it brought me to. I so completely recommend Vows because I never would have been able to have that dress without them!

Photo by:  Todd Ward Studios

April's Woman of Style

Samantha Russo
Miss New Hampshire 2013

Photo Courtesy of:  Philbrick Photography

Photo Courtesy of:  Katrina Bernard Photography

 It isn't every day you see someone with such a bold and sunny sense of style.  I love Samantha Russo's style.  Over the past year, she has made New Hampshire beam with pride.  She lit up the famed boardwalk stage in Atlantic City winning a prestigious Preliminary Talent Award at Miss America wearing a brilliant bright yellow gown.  As she nears the end of her year of service as Miss New Hampshire, I asked her to give us some style tips and insight into her gorgeous wardrobe.  Sam is incredibly talented and clearly has big things ahead of her.  I am proud to be one of her Miss New Hampshire sisters.  I know you will find her to be an inspiration too!

Note:  A huge thank you to Katrina Bernard Photography and Philbrick Photography for allowing me to use the beautiful photos you see here.   I love how they each captured Sam's personality and sense of style with such stunning and sharp photos.  

Photo Courtesy of:  Katrina Bernard Photography

Photo Courtesy of:  Philbrick Photography

How would you define your personal style in a few words? Sassy and comfortable.

                                               Photo Courtesy of:  Katrina Bernard Photography

Photo Courtesy of:  Katrina Bernard PhotographyDress by:  The Crowning Touch / Designer: Single 

How has your style evolved over the years? My style has certainly changed from high school to college and from college to Miss New Hampshire. It's gone from only wanting to wear popular name brands to wanting to wear something that makes me stand out from the crowd.

Performing her award-winning preliminary talent at Miss America.

Dress by:  Togatae Designs

How did you go about selecting items to wear at Miss America?  What attracted you to these pieces? I found my Miss America evening gown at the first shop I went to and it was the first gown I tried on. I didn't really have a plan; I just knew that when it was right, I would know it. Most of my stage wardrobe was something eye catching. I wanted to "WOW" the judges when I walked out on stage.

                                               Photo Courtesy of:  Philbrick Photography
Dress by:  Tony Bowls

What was your favorite piece of clothing/gown you wore at Miss America and why? My favorite gown is definitely my evening gown. It is a royal blue Tony Bowls gown. It is fully beaded with gorgeous lace work. Like I said it was the first gown I tried on and I knew that it was THE gown. It might be the only piece of pageant wardrobe that I save forever. I'd love to try to incorporate pieces of the dress in my future wedding dress ("something old, something new, something borrowed, something BLUE").

What have you learned about style through working with many designers/businesses and generous sponsors and going to Miss America that each of us could apply in our own lives? I've learned that it's not as much about the piece of clothing rather how you feel in it that makes something something stand out. 

                                           Photo Courtesy of:  Philbrick Photography

With Co-Executive Director and State Traveling  Companion (and one of the most amazing women I've ever met) Claudette Jolin.

What key items do you think every woman should possess in her wardrobe? A black pencil skirt, a statement necklace, and a comfortable cardigan. They can all go with just about any outfit!

You always look incredibly professional and polished.  Do you think you have to spend a lot to look professional and polished?  Any tips on looking so polished? Thank you! You definitely don't have to spend a lot to get a professional look. There are so many stores that are catering to the everyday professional woman. I love H&M's blazers and Marshalls and TJ Maxx have great deals on Calvin Klein dresses and shoes. I like to keep my clothes fairly simple but like to add to the outfit by using unique jewelry or shoes. Accessories and shoes can completely change an outfit!

What is your best "find" of all time?  Where did you find it and how much did you pay for it (if you don't mind me asking)? When I was looking for an interview dress for the Miss New Hampshire competition I had a vision of what I wanted but couldn't seem to find it anywhere for the price I wanted. I ended up finding a gorgeous white Calvin Klein dress at my local Burlington Coat Factory. It was so simple but elegant and exactly what I wanted! I ended up paying only $40 for it. I got it tailored a bit for a more fitted look for an extra $10! (Exact dress is below. What an incredible find!)

 Photo Courtesy of:  Katrina Bernard Photography

Dress by:  Calvin Klein / Burlington Coat Factory

You always look like you have fun with what you're wearing.  I love that you wear lots of bright colors and beautiful accessories!  How do you continue having fun with style? I am of Colombian decent so I am very fortunate to have a nice tan glow all year long. I love complementing my skin with bright and tropical colors to make me feel sunny even when it's snowing out. Accessories are a girls best friend and can really make an old outfit look brand new.

Photo Courtesy of:  Katrina Bernard Photography

Photo Courtesy of:  Katrina Bernard Photography

You had a quote on your Facebook page a while back, which I still remember and think of, "She believed she could so she did."   What does this mean to you?  Any messages for other women about confidence and achieving our dreams? I love this quote! I made it my laptop background so I would look at it every day. I truly believe that we all have the ability to make our own success. If you don't believe in yourself then why should anyone else? Positivity is the key to success and happiness. While competing for Miss NH and Miss America I looked at quotes like these all the time. It's easy to get down on yourself in such a competitive environment, but taking a moment to remember why you're doing something or that you believe in yourself is so important.

Photo Courtesy of:  Katrina Bernard Photography

I am also fortunate to have one of these gorgeous gold cuffs given to Miss New Hampshire by Teeney Treasures.  I will treasure it forever because it is created by two of the classiest women I've ever had the honor to call friends.  It's a piece of jewelry that will never go out of style; it's timeless. When I look at this cuff, it reminds me to believe in myself and never ever give up.  That's exactly what the Miss New Hampshire Scholarship Program, Inc. taught me as Miss New Hampshire 2002.  I honestly wouldn't be who I am today or have had the courage to become a news anchor or even start this blog had it not been for this program.   The people in this program are my family.   They love and support the women in this program and help them become strong, confident leaders who aren't afraid to be themselves and live their dreams.  I think we need much, much more of that today - women who build each other up instead of tear each other apart.

Thank you to Samantha Russo for taking the time to share her personal style with each of us.   You may wonder how every year, each Miss New Hampshire is able to fill her wardrobe with so many gorgeous dresses and gowns for the entire year.  This program has dozens of very generous sponsors.  Miss New Hampshire volunteers also raise money through a Miss New Hampshire Ball.  You can learn more about the Miss New Hampshire Scholarship Program, Inc., Samantha Russo, and the program's sponsors here.  

Photo Courtesy of:  Katrina Bernard Photography

March's Woman of Style:

Anne Morin

Thought of Our New "Your Style: Enhanced" Segment and is Fearless in Challenging her Style

Challenging your style is fun, but it can also be a little bit scary because you are challenging your habits.  So, I was impressed that Anne wanted to challenge her style here on Sweet on Style!  I think this hard working , deserving teacher (and my "little" sister) looks even more like a true professional now.  I think she is even more ready to take the world by storm.  Like I originally said, my goal was never to change Anne's style; it was to enhance it.  Anne's always had an eclectic sense of style far different than my own.  She's always pushed me to push my sense of style and live outside my comfort zone!  

How would you describe your style?   I would describe my style as comfortable, funky, and eclectic.  

What do you feel most confident wearing? I feel most confident wearing a dress or skirt with tights because it shows off my legs (but not too much).  

What was your best deal? My best deal was when I bought the black and white striped dress in Macys. I don't remember how much it was, just that I would never typically even think about buying INC dresses, and this one was reasonable.  

How was your "Your Style: Enhanced" experience? (The experience you thought of!) My "Style enhancing experience" made me think differently about the clothes in my closet. When I think about needing to be fashionable or finding something for a party, I think about going out to buy a whole new outfit or new shirt. This showed me that I do have things in my closet that are fashionable;I just need to spruce them up with some accessories. Also, the items can be worn in new and different ways. The pictures were a whole new experience too. It made me feel confident and pretty to be part of a photo shoot and put up on the blog. Mary also introduced it in a way that was complimentary and picked out my strengths and my own unique style instead of just doing a makeover and saying I have no style.  

Which outfit was your favorite? My favorite outfit was the black dress with the leather jacket. It's sexy! I already wore the black jacket and necklace out, but it's too cold for the leather jacket. I called my boyfriend right after the shoot and said, "You need to take me out so I can wear this!"  

What did you learn about yourself, your style or anything else?  I learned that I can wear things a little outside my comfort zone and weave it into my own style. For example, the big yellow necklace was out of my comfort zone, but I've already worn it to work and gotten compliments. I think it adds some pizzazz to a plain shirt.  

How do you feel after the experience? I feel like I want more accessories and to keep playing with the clothes I already own.  

Do you think we should all try to challenge our style and try something new like this?  Yes, definitely!! I think they (women) would see their wardrobes in a new light and be able to spark up an old piece of clothing (the black dress was 10 years old) and make it feel new.

February's Woman of Style:

Michelle Johnston

Going Red with a Powerful Purpose

Michelle Johnston wears red almost every day.  It's not just because she looks radiant in the color red or loves the way it looks.  Michelle lives red.  She believes in the power of red.  

I met Michelle through the American Heart Association in Vermont and New York.  She is a gorgeous, glowing woman who has made me laugh and cry with her amazing philosophy on life.  She has a huge smile, infectious laugh and warm soul.  She is someone whom I will never forget.  I hope her story will also inspire you to live a little more, have more fun and never take one day for granted.  

Photo By:  Leading Edge Design
(Ty and Amy Krester)

Michelle's Story

It seemed like an average day in Michelle Johnston's life.  She was carrying groceries inside her Shelburne, Vt., home in October 2009.  Her husband and 6-year-old daughter had also just arrived home.  The well loved mom and wife doesn't remember much after that.  Within about 10 seconds, she collapsed and her heart stopped beating.  Her husband performed CPR until the paramedics arrived, which is exactly why Michelle believes she is alive today.  She had suffered sudden cardiac arrest.  "When I died, it took 25 minutes to get me back.  Then, I died again and came back on the way to the hospital,"  she told my interviewing class at SUNY Plattsburgh in the Spring of 2012. 

Michelle woke up after being in a coma not knowing where she was or that the man sitting by the side of her hospital bed was her husband. She persevered through a long recovery, routinely seeing trauma and speech therapists.  She now has an ICD (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator) in her chest, which is a secondary pacemaker.  It's essentially a box she compares to a phone jack that wires into the heart valve.  

The mom and wife still has no idea why she went into sudden cardiac arrest and died.  There is no heart disease in her family.  However, she says, "Dying was probably the best thing that happened to me other than my husband and child."  "I feel like I am 20 years ahead of the game in that knowledge of just life in general.  And I live my days like that."  Her philosophy is "Everything happens for a reason."

Volunteering with the American Heart Association

Photo By:  Karen Pike Photography

Michelle started volunteering with the American Heart Association about a year after she technically died.  She said her platform is this:  1) Take care of yourself  2) There is no reason you shouldn't know CPR and 3) If you smoke, try to stop.  She also encourages healthy eating and exercise.  "One of the things they said to me was, 'If you weren't as healthy as you were when you died, you probably wouldn't have come out of it as well.'"  

As you'll read below, Michelle believes counteracting stress is very important.  "As a woman in general, a mother, daughter, you could be going to school, have a job, it's just constant stress."  Her advice to counter the constant pressure?  Take a second.  She says she is much happier now that she's had a second chance.  She can walk out of the house without having every dish washed and every carpet vacuumed.  She can let go!

Go Red for Women

This Friday, she encourages you to wear red to raise awareness about heart disease, which is the number one killer of women. "I always wore red prior to that and I wear it now.  I don't know; it's one of those colors.  I think it was meant for me," Michelle told my students.  I believe it was meant for this phenomenal survivor too!  Here is a link for even more information on why and how to Go Red for Women this Friday.

Photos:  Courtesy of Michelle Johnston

Q&A:  Michelle's Life & Personal Style

You are definitely a "get up and go" person with a LOT of energy and passion for life. How do you keep it up day after day?

The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is take a moment to breathe and tell myself “It’s a beautiful day.” I am so blessed to be alive and have all that I have. I feel it’s important to let those around me know I am here for them and that life is good to us. I have been given a second chance, and it's so important to make the most of it day after day. We only have: One Heart. One Life. Live It!

You obviously have fun with style, which is not always true for everyone. How do you keep it fun and not overwhelming?

I like to be myself and go with what makes me feel comfortable. I love to wear red; it radiates energy, love and life. When I wear red, it makes me feel happy and I have fun with it in all sorts of styles. There are so many shades of it, and to accessorize with a pair of earrings is easy to do.

How would you describe your style in a few words?

Everyday, easy going, vibrant, figure fitting, and with some attitude. I “walk with a purpose” and have a “pep in my step” when I dress this way.

What is your "go-to" look?

On the go or whether to work, I always grab a v-neck. I always have chosen to wear a v-neck dress, blouse, shirt or sweater most of the time, sometimes scoop. I like to wear and show my heart necklace my daughter gave me years ago and this style helps me do that. It’s important she is with me. And I always wear red 90 percent of the time. I love that it keeps me alive and energized, makes me feel happy.

I know you have a bucket list (Michelle calls it a "Life List") and have been steadily accomplishing things on it. What have you been up to?
Recently, I quietly took golf lessons with a pro and am happy to say I crossed off “learning golf” on my “Life-List." In return, I went to Florida and played my first game ever on a golf course in Orlando. I also crossed off “zip lining," which I did high above alligators at Gatorland in Orlando. Previous to that, I received my motorcycle license and purchased a sports bike which were both on my “Life List” and also went to Disney World for the first time with the family.

I am honored Michelle chose to share her personal story and words to live by with us. She inspires me constantly. Share her story on Facebook and Twitter if you love it too. The more people who hear it, the better! And don't forget to Go Red for Women on Friday!

Our First Woman of Style:

Elizabeth Malvasia

Spokesmodel / Planet Ballroom International

All Photos:  Courtesy of Elizabeth Malvasia

I am honored to introduce you to our first Woman of Style!  She is fabulous inside and out. I met Elizabeth nearly 15 years ago and we've remained in touch through the years.  I love that she has a clear vision of her style and isn't afraid to be true to it.  She inspires me with her style, energy and hard work.  I hope she will inspire you too!

Elizabeth is incredibly busy as a spokesmodel, ballroom dancer and dance teacher based in Charlotte, N.C.  If you follow her on Twitter, you'll realize just how packed her days are.  (And, again, how passionate she is about what she does!)  It's inspiring!  Elizabeth is married to the founder and CEO of Planet Ballroom International.  They are both working hard to develop franchise locations to help others achieve their dreams too. Among many of her roles, she delights in giving pro dancers makeovers.  She has a heart as big as her style!  She is very involved in her community and Planet Ballroom International recently donated more than $5,000 to the Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte. And again, I am honored and thrilled to let you step inside her personal style story.

How would you describe your personal style?   I would say it is glamorous with a touch of sweet simplicity. Also extremely feminine. I love dresses and big jewels! Dresses of some kind account for more than 90 percent of my wardrobe. I believe a real woman has a "signature" and my signatures are the color pink, my scent, and big hair. I wear something pink every single day and always ALWAYS wear perfume. It's the first thing I put on when I wake up and the last thing I do before I hop into bed is give myself a delicate spritz.

Who/what are your greatest style influences?  I thought Elle Woods (Legally Blonde) look was flawless! I actually went out and bought her exact pink coat and hat after that movie! And my engagement ring is pink :) I also love the look of  Fox News' girls, especially Elisabeth Hasselbeck. Sexy, glam, feminine, and smart. The best compliment I ever got was walking into one of Planet Ballroom's training classes and a trainee saying "You look like you are ready to walk on the set of Fox and Friends."

You lead an incredibly busy life.  How do you always seem to look so put together despite the traveling and constant dance rehearsals?
All of my clothing works together. I have found my look (something I think every woman must invest the time and energy to do!) and I only own pieces that fit it. I can literally get through a 12-hour day that requires 3 to 4 different looks with nothing but an oversize shoulder bag of different pieces to mix and match.

What is your one "go to" outfit or "uniform" that always works for you?
I have two uniforms that I always seem to default to. I feel amazing and am comfortable walking into any room in one or the other. The first is a girly sundress, big feminine necklace, cowboy boots, scarf, and a cropped denim jacket. The second is black leggings, form-fitting black dress (sweater dress in winter), and black leather boots with big sparkly earrings.

What is your morning style routine? I believe beauty comes from the inside out, so every day starts with a shot of apple cider vinegar, 1l of water, my vitamins, a workout, and my post-workout greens smoothie. No matter where I am or what hour I have to do it at, that routine is my constant. From there, it really varies so much from day to day because there are so many different looks I have to present and hats I wear. Whether I am filming, in the office, etc.

What are some of your favorite stores?  Are you a bargain hunter or do you like to purchase an item as it hits the shelves?  If you're a bargain hunter, what was your best deal? I am a mixer. I LOVE a good deal, but will also spend a fortune on that "perfect" piece. When I am dressing for an event, I don't even look at price tags, whatever makes me feel like a princess is what I buy. Because I know there will be hundreds of eyes on me and feeling confident is the most important thing to me.  But for everyday clothes, one of my favorite things to do is scour the really high-end stores, take pictures of the mannequins and pieces, and then recreate the look from stores like Body Central, TJ Maxx, Target, and Ross. I do the same with magazines. I screen-shot looks on my phone, then recreate! My best score was a St. John knit suit for $23!!! It was at a consignment store with the tags on it.

What is your best "find" - the one item you couldn't live without?  When/where did you get it?  I couldn't live without my extra long black tanks from Old Navy. I am constantly layering them with everything from my workout wear to dressier outfits. They go with me from look to look. Last count there were seven in my closet!

What do you think the most versatile pieces are in your closet?
My fitted black knit dresses. I can crazy glam them up in a pinch and make them cocktail attire, or throw a cute scarf, some hoop earrings, and boots on and grab lunch with a girlfriend.

How do you organize your clothing and accessories?
My husband turned an extra bedroom into a princess dressing room for me. So each wall is a different "personality." For examples, gowns and event wear are one wall. Workout and practice wear is another. One whole wall is my accessories and jewelry closet. So I just walk to whatever section I need to get ready and everything is there!

What is your best accessory - the one perhaps every woman should have?   My smile. It sounds cheesy, but it's so true. You can see the most beautiful woman - perfect hair, flawless make-up, designer pieces from head to toe- and if her expression is blank, or worse, scowling....it's just not pretty!! I've always had a big smile. And for so many years (really, my entire teens through my twenties), I desperately tried to master that "uninterested half smile" that all the other girls were doing and seemed so sexy to me. But I couldn't! When I smile, my WHOLE face smiles. Now, I love it and consider it my best accessory.

Anything else you want to share about your life and style?
I think people confuse the terms "style" and "fashion." I am rarely in-fashion. But I have developed a style that is perfect for me. Style, to me, is a perfect presentation of yourself and who you are through clothing, accessories, and grooming. Every woman should invest some time and energy discovering her signature style!

Elizabeth Malvasia

Spokesmodel / Planet Ballroom International

Every month, I will feature a Woman of Style to give you some style inspiration.  My first Woman of Style will be revealed in January.  I can't wait for you to meet her.  She is beautiful on the inside and out.  She works as the spokesmodel for a growing and very successful company.  I'm excited to share her style philosophy with you soon!