It took a while for Lillian Charles to settle on a career, but in the end, she decided to do “what I’ve been doing for years,” she said — helping people.
The former Myrtle Beach resident established a personal styling service for women, Wardrobes by Lillian, and not only helps women dress for their personality, but also helps them attain a positive self-image by focusing on heart, health and mind.
“I styled a blind woman once,” said Charles, 26, who lives in Atlanta. “It was the most rewarding experience ever.”
Charles’ goal is to “reach any and every woman who wishes to find her true sense of personal style,” she said. She starts by tackling the tough dilemmas women face when they open their closets — the right outfit to wear and the wrong clothes that lurk there — and has worked with clients from a double zero to plus sizes and ages 11 through 91.
Charles believes that by focusing on the present and finding the positive, she can help women discover their beauty based on her firm beliefs.
“You are uniquely you, and that is beautiful,” she said.
Charles — who also teaches a cycling class, speaks to groups and blogs — is quick to size up a fashion situation. Her services include wardrobe editing, accessorizing and styling bridal parties, coordinating photo shoot ensembles, packing for trips and providing businesses with Stylish Empowerment Seminars.
“Lillian doesn’t dawdle,” said Myrtle Beach client Lineta Pritchard. “She gets it right away.”
Pritchard said there was no quibbling when Charles caught sight of her excessive scarf collection and was promptly told to say good-bye to more than a few.
“I love bright scarves,” Pritchard said. “I probably had enough to bring in close to $150 at a consignment shop.”
Charles began the session with Pritchard as she does with all her clients, by asking a short series of questions, such as how Pritchard sees herself. Her closet was then emptied and organized by color.
After the gleaning, which left Pritchard with “a lot of space in my closet,” Charles put together a few ensembles and told her client to try on “something I never, ever dreamed of wearing together,” Pritchard said. Anything Pritchard liked and found flattering, Charles took photos for her to use as reminders. She also made a list of accessories to add and tips on what Pritchard should not wear together.
“We spent about three hours together,” Pritchard said. “We had fun, it was a good time, she immediately knew what I liked and knew exactly what I should be wearing. And she always lets me know when she’s back in town.”
Even when Charles isn’t in Myrtle Beach or Atlanta, there are virtual styling services for those who need her when she can’t be there in person.
“This [business] fits her perfectly,” said Tamara Mack, a client and French teacher, who taught Charles when she attended Socastee High School. “She’s always a fashion statement.”
But the idea to create Wardrobes by Lillian wasn’t born overnight.
Growing up, Charles’ parents, John and Harriet Charles, encouraged her to do what she wanted to do and supported her decisions because, “ultimately, they just wanted me to be happy,” she said. “[Now] they couldn’t be more supportive.”
Charles had a brief stint at Wofford College, but after what she describes as a “series of bad events,” she dropped out. Later, she attended Agnes Scott College, but choosing the right career wasn’t so easy. She considered public health, then nursing, before she stumbled across an Oprah quiz and decided she “might as well” take it.
She discovered something she’d known all along: Lillian Charles should be helping people.
“I said, ‘Wait, I’ve been doing this for years. I love talking to women, love to help, and I’m pretty good at it,’” Charles said, “and this is where I landed.”
For her clients, Charles’ way of wreaking havoc on a closet means transforming habits and rituals into style, delight and surprise.
“Oh my, I needed her,” said Teddi Sweeney, who lives in Denver and became a client after meeting Charles at an Atlanta charity event. “By the time I turned 40, I’d developed habits and rituals, but not style.”
Sweeney credits Charles with finding her problem and the solution at their first meeting.
“I can’t believe what just happened,” Sweeney said. “Lillian blew up in a graceful way — without offending anyone or hurting my feelings. … She has created a business that provides value to her clients.”