Mary Lou Andre, founder of Organization by Design
by Susan Flynn
It’s hard to imagine that Mary Lou Andre has ever rolled out of bed and headed to the supermarket in sweatpants and a baseball cap on a weekend morning. As a professional fashion consultant, she’s the type whose “grubby” still looks good. In other words, a scarf would be involved somewhere.
This year, Andre, founder and owner of Needham-based Organization by Design, celebrates her company’s 20th anniversary. She is, she says, a living example of the motto, “Do what you love and the money will follow.”
Back in high school, Andre served for two years on the teen fashion advisory board for Jordan Marsh and later studied fashion marketing at the University of Massachusetts. After a layoff in 1982, she decided to turn her hobby of pulling together outfits for friends and co-workers into a full-time business. She started with no capital and no clients and sold her wedding dress to cover the cost of printing business cards.
Today, her company provides fashion advice to everyone from Fortune 500 executives and media personalities to young women just starting their careers and stay-at-home moms.
“How you dress is such a big part of your story,” says Andre. “It’s how you present yourself to the world.”
We recently asked Andre, the mother of twin 12-year-old boys, for some advice on looking good – even at the bus stop.
1 How do you help moms stuck in the same old fashion routines?
A: We are always helping clients get out of mommy ruts. First, to be well dressed, you should get rid of half of your clothes. What you have in your closet has to fit your lifestyle and it has to fit your body – today. I always tell women to dress for the weight you are now. Every woman thinks she’s fat. Women are very hard on themselves. Men can have a big beer belly and try something on and say, ‘Doesn’t it make my shoulders look great?’ I always ask women, ‘What is it that you do like about yourself? And let’s play that up.’ If you are post-baby and struggling with weight, then shoes and jewelry are happier purchases. I always recommend those.
2 What five staples should every woman have in her closet?
A: A go-to pair of black pants that fit you perfectly right now. A modern trench coat in a cut that is flattering to your figure. A scarf in a color you love. A simple black dress you can dress up or down. And a signature handbag that speaks to you and others about your style.
3 Is wearing yoga pants out in public a fashion mistake?
A: It’s OK to be in yoga pants. I wear them all the time on errands after I have left a yoga class. What you have to invest in is really great outerwear. Too many times, outwear is an afterthought. A cute hooded raincoat with fun weather boots can add a ton of style – same thing for a chic cape with a chic scarf. You can look like a million bucks and no one knows what you have on underneath.
4 What styles are you seeing for spring?
A: Coral is probably the biggest color out there right now. There’s a lot of yellow and a lot of neon colors. Dresses are everywhere. It’s like being a baby again and wearing a onesie. They are so easy.
5 Is it ever OK for a mother to dress in the same Hollister sweatshirt as her daughter?
A: I think people should be happy and do whatever they want. We are not judgmental. For me, personally, I want to look classy at the age I am. One thing we know is that fashion always repeats itself. If you wore it the first time, you are probably too old to wear it the second time.
Susan Flynn is the associate editor of the Boston Parents Paper.