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How I Shop: Paloma Elsesser

The model shares her “traumatic” early shopping memories, love of Opening Ceremony and tips for fellow “big girls.”

In H&M Studio.

In H&M Studio.

We all buy clothes, but no two people shop the same. It can be a social experience, and a deeply personal one; at times, it can be impulsive and entertaining, at others, purpose-driven, a chore. Where do you shop? When do you shop? How do you decide what you need, how much to spend and what’s “you”? These are some of the questions we’re putting to prominent figures in our column “How I Shop.”

You might know Paloma Elsesser from the runways of Savage X Fenty, Eckhaus Latta, Ganni or Prabal Gurung, or from campaigns for Glossier, Nike or Fenty Beauty, or perhaps from glossies like Puss Puss, Teen Vogue and i-D. Or maybe you caught her cameo in this year’s “Uncut Gems,” or are simply one of her 243K Instagram followers.

In addition to her rapidly growing resumé, head-turning beauty and inimitably cool personal style, Elsesser has also become known for her passion for representation and size inclusivity in the industry. And as easy as she makes getting dressed look online, she admits it’s always been a bit of a struggle, calling her earliest shopping memories “a little traumatic.”

We caught up with Elsesser in Los Angeles, where she was invited by H&M — a brand she appreciates for its dedication to inclusivity — to help celebrate the fast-fashion retailer’s Spring 2020 collection. We chatted about how her style’s evolved as she’s risen up the ranks in the industry (and started making more money), how she finds clothing that fits, why she misses Opening Ceremony and the common shopping mistake she warns fellow “big girls” to never make.

Outside the Fall 2020 Sies Marjan show.

Outside the Fall 2020 Sies Marjan show.

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“I just felt like I didn’t have full access to clothes that I felt like were reflective of my style, even at a young age, not fitting in them. I’ve never been a small girl, so those were kind of my early shopping memories, but a lot of my shopping memories were just in my own home in my mom’s stuff, in my sister’s clothes. 

I [like] style more than fashion — which I think is cool about H&M in that I think fashion can be very exclusive and style is more of an inclusive range and more expressive and I think that H&M does a good job at including everyone in that narrative. I think I’ve always been interested in style and expression. When I was in the fourth grade I was like, ‘I’m punk,’ and the next year I was a tomboy and the next year I was wearing Juicy Couture tracksuits.

My personal style now is pretty uniform, but I always want to put something different on it — uniform, but nuanced if that makes any sense. I’ll do similar silhouettes, I’ll always do a baggier pant with a more fitted top and a structured, more tailored jacket. I find myself wearing a men’s trouser, a small boys-size tank top and then a trench coat and then a funky, weird makeup look like I’m doing now.

At the Proenza Schouler Fall 2020 show.

At the Proenza Schouler Fall 2020 show.

Working in fashion both allowed me to line my pockets differently so I could buy things that I always dreamt of buying, which I didn’t have access to, but also being able to see and interact with and move in clothes that I’ve never had before, being able to work and wear $50,000 dresses and jewelry and all these crazy things. It’s a new appreciation and also respect for craftsmanship and tailoring.

I do enjoy shopping online as a meditative sport. I think it’s better to scroll on The RealReal than to scroll on Instagram when you’re going to sleep personally, for my own mental health. But I also do believe in boutique shopping. I love the relationships, I love the idea of being able to go into a beautiful dressing room and stripping down and having that relationship with that shop person that you can text as soon as something comes in, I think those relationships are really valuable and should remain and it does make me a little bit sad that some of those things are kind of being erased from the fashion space because I find them really valuable and important.

R.I.P. — I loved Opening Ceremony, I really did, it was so family. I could walk into the L.A. or the New York store and be like, ‘I have 30 minutes,’ and the people in that store knew my sizes, knew what I wanted, I could walk around [in a] bra and underwear. It was so beautiful, I really appreciated that vibe. They didn’t have that so much at Barneys but that was still special. Some of my favorite luxury [sales] people were at [Phoebe Philo-era] Celine who have all scattered off now; one of my favorite girls works at Bottega so I go there with her. It’s still very intimate, she’ll still text like, ‘babe, there’s a new bag coming in.’ I have relationships with people at Chanel and stuff like that so I value that, it’s important.

I love Net-a-Porter, I love Matches. I think Net-a-Porter does an amazing job at buying into size ranges. I think Matches does an incredible job of buying [for] a younger demo. The British online e-commerce is just killing it, Browns is amazing. The RealReal I love, I love to sell stuff there and then instead of getting money just get credit. I think that’s a more sustainable, circular way of shopping today.

I get a lot of things sent to me and given to me, and it’s so nice. I feel so lucky, but to my boyfriend’s dismay, I only live in a two-bedroom apartment in New York City, so there does always need to be some kind of movement. I do believe in buying into things I want to have for a long time.

Generally, because of my size range, I’m largely excluded from buying full-range ready-to-wear clothes, so it’s not like I can buy every pair of pants or jacket, so I generally buy accessories, so bags and shoes. I also think those are amazing to buy into because they’re not so trend-driven. I personally don’t like to buy trend-driven shoes and bags. I was a very big Phoebe [Philo] shoes and bags buyer, I have some good Chanels — the classics.

At the Helmut Lang Spring 2020 show.

At the Helmut Lang Spring 2020 show.

There’s more brands that you would think [making larger sizes], like Marni: People don’t know Marni goes up to an Italian 50. It’s maybe just not as visible. I can still get into some things if it’s oversized, so it’s all about making it work. I think there’s still a lot of work [to be done] to integrate it in a way that seems seamless. There are brands that are coming up that are doing it well, it’s a learning curve.

This is something I want to tell all my big girls: Don’t just buy it because it fits. It’s hard, I’m like, ‘Oh my god, this fits it’s so exciting’ and then I’m like… why’d I buy this?”

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