Thousands of women in America probably wish they could star in TLC’s What Not to Wear.
Stuck in a fashion rut, standing in a crowded closet with “nothing to wear,” wouldn’t we love to have Stacy and Clinton tell us what to do and give us $5,000 to do it? But only the luckiest of the fashion-challenged will ever get the chance.
On the North Shore, however, there’s Suzanne Newman and her one-woman business: Find Fashion Happiness. No, you don’t get the free shopping spree, but for $50 an hour and a kinder, gentler approach (not to mention more privacy), the Deerfield resident can take you from drab to dazzling, from overwhelmed to organized, from blah to blissful.
I know. She’s done it for me.
Newman, 47, whose 3-year-old business is growing quickly, has become a real friend to many women—and some men as well. Her talent is transitions: she helps stay-at-home moms who are re-entering the work world move from sweats to suits; she boosts cancer patients’ spirits by showing them how to look good despite the side effects of; she advises divorced men and women who are ready to date again; and she shows women who are overwhelmed with kids, carpools and careers how to look and feel better.
Because, you see, Newman knows all about transitions.
She was born in New York and grew up in Florida and Georgia with an abusive mother. But at 15, through a teacher’s intervention, she got early admission to college. With this lucky break, but all alone, Newman found her own way to the University of Georgia.
Eventually, Newman moved to Chicago and got married. For 18 years, she lived a contented life as a doting mom and wife, creating a family in stark contrast to the one she grew up with. That continued until 2004 when she and her husband started a difficult and painful divorce.
Her life unraveled, and she found herself in transition again.
Shattered, she did what she now helps others do: she made herself over. She attended a divorce workshop at the Women’s Exchange in Winnetka. She took the Myers-Briggs personality test. She took a life-planning class. And it was through this group that learned about her talents, and where she was encouraged to start a business. Her first client was from the class.
I first heard about Newman when I commented on a friend’s glow at a party. My friend told me her secret: She’d heard about Newman, set up an appointment, and her new look was the result. Before I knew it, she’d called Newman and sent her my way, paying for the first hour as a birthday gift. Since then, she and I have gifted a number of other friends, who in turn have sent Newman to their friends (and even their husbands).
And that’s another side of this story: How a group of friends feels compelled to help Newman succeed because they want her to—and because she makes them feel so good, they can’t wait to share her with their friends.
Newman has never dressed a star for the red carpet, been on TV or written for a fashion magazine. She’s comfortable and friendly, empathetic and helpful. She’s as happy recommending a dress she saw at Old Navy as she is suggesting one from Nordstrom’s.
She pulls clothes off hangers and throws them into piles: for alterations, for charity, for the cleaners, for the trash can. She explains why the jacket you love doesn’t “do it.” And she’s been known to tell some clients that their underwear just doesn’t fit right.
If you want, she’ll take you shopping, or she’ll swing by your place to see what you found. She’ll sit on your bed, have a laugh and share life stories. When she leaves, you feel lighter, more organized, energized and excited.
And, you know, I think she does too.