26 In Women Now

This laborer is thinking about what it took to grow a career in image consulting

Brenda Kinsel's career

BK’s still stylin’ clients


I went on a walk this morning with Labor Day, laborers and laboring on my mind. I thought about the labor my father put in in his lifetime and that of my mother as well. Mother went to “work” when we were in high school. She had so much fun with the ladies she worked with at L.E. Berger Middle School in West Fargo. She and her working buddies got their hair done every Friday, gathered at each other’s houses over coffee and bars, and became lifelong friends.

My parents demonstrated pride in work, a love of people, and sticktoitiveness.

I thought about my own career that began in the mid-’80s. Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow was a book that came out in 1987. I embraced that title and ran those words around and around in my head: Do what you love and the money will follow. It sounded like a great formula.

But as anyone learns who starts their own business, there’s what you love to do and then there’s what’s necessary to do to really have a successful business. It’s kind of like a great wardrobe: there are your star pieces, flashy and fun, and there are the workhorse pieces that you have to have in order to put together a wardrobe that works for all occasions. You may not love those workhorses as much as you do the flashy pieces, but try getting dressed without them. It’s impossible!


Brenda's tips for women over 60 on BrendaKinsel.com

This Etro jacket is like dressing clients: very fun


Every wardrobe needs workhorses

Black Lafayette 148 pant is behind the scenes taking care of business


In 1989 came Le Divorce, not the book but my own divorce. (The book wouldn’t come out until 1998.) Instead of dabbling in what I loved, I had to make a decision: go for it with the intention of creating a true career or go get a real job? I had a family to raise. I didn’t have a safety net. Could I really build a business helping people manage their clothes? I had a lot of fear.

Luckily, there was help. Susan Jeffers’ book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway came out in 1987. I bet I read it three times…in a row. I was so afraid of becoming a bag lady within twelve months.


Do what you love, but discipline yourself to treat it like a business.


I needed paying clients and much more than one or two every other week like I had during the pre-divorce, jobette period of doing what I loved. Having a business that paid the bills instead of just buying pretty linens would require putting attention to things that weren’t as fun as dressing people, like bookkeeping, budgeting for office supplies, marketing, networking, researching, and scheduling. I had the “do what you love” part down; next I had to “learn as I go.” If I applied sticktoitiveness to the business side, I might get somewhere.


Clients came from different sources

With each step on my walk through Sonoma, I thought about the slow but steady pace of gaining clients. I thought of clients who dialed my number (on landlines) requesting to make an appointment with me. I probably needed them even more than they needed me! I practiced being the kind of consultant I’d want working with me as a client: kind, compassionate, encouraging, safe.

These soon-to-be clients attended a workshop I offered or were referred by a friend. When I started writing fashion articles somewhere in the ’90s for the Pacific Sun newspaper, a few would read my columns and call me. I loved writing about fashion for women. This dream job of being a columnist paid $60 per column when I first started. Later it went up to $75. I wasn’t making money, but I was getting practice being a writer and I was able to use my columns for marketing purposes.

Those columns helped me convince a small publishing company in Berkeley to take me on as an author. They published my first book, 40 Over 40, 40 Things Every Woman Over 40 Needs to Know About Getting Dressed. Readers were able to be the next closest thing to being a client. I loved it! I loved them. Some readers even became actual clients.


Write about real women and fashion and readers will find you.


40 Over 40 on Brenda Kinsel website

40 over 40 went into homes all over the world


I had a secret back then. I hoped that by writing about my profession that more people would get into it, that the industry of image consulting and wardrobe styling would grow. There would be more laborers in the field, more clients being served. I’ve had consultants come up to me at conferences and tell me it worked. They read the books, had no idea that this was a real profession, knew in their heart of hearts that they were meant to do this work, left their jobs, got trained, and started their businesses. Yay!

(In case you want to learn more about becoming an image consultant, here’s some of my best advice to date.


Plant seeds about how fulfilling this industry is and others will follow.


And my lovely career continues

This Labor Day weekend I assisted Russ who has been taking a client’s family Christmas photo these last 2-3 years. It’s funny when I think about it, but last year he did the wedding photos for my client’s daughter whom I was initially hired to work with when she was about twelve-years-old. I remember meeting with her and her mom and “helping” as best I could but what I really did was counsel her mother to let go. I could see there was only so much influence she or I could make on a daughter who wanted to dress like her friends. Familiar story, right?

But the mom became my client, then her sister did, and when the kids got older, two of them became clients too. And that’s how I now have a third-generation client. Yes, that daughter got married, had a baby and now the family Christmas photo needs to make room for more faces. The whole family was going to together in the same state, in the same house, so it was a good time to take the picture that will go out to their big holiday list. We’ve got it down now; Russ does the photography and I do the styling.

As soon as we pulled up into my client’s driveway one of her grandkids came running out. “Brenda, Brenda, we have an emergency! What should Owen wear for the photos?”


Photographing Baby Owen

Baby Owen gets ready for a photo shoot


Owen is almost seven months old. His uncle said, “Here’s your third generation client, Brenda.” I’m happy to serve, just look at that face!

As with all my clients, I did insist he try on two of the three outfits they’d assembled. The white onesie with navy blue trim would stay tucked inside his blue jeans and not look as rumpled as the khaki colored button up shirt would. I insisted on a deep roll in his jeans. He was all set for the cameras.

After the shoot was over we sat around the dining room table with all the generations of clients sipping on wine and nibbling on hors d’oeuvres (except for Owen).


Do what you love with people you love and they become family


My wardrobe coach hat goes to work

I put my Wardrobe Coach hat on when I work with clients



Could I be this lucky?


I used to think of Labor Day as a three-day weekend. It’s much more than that. Tell me about your laboring experiences. What have you enjoyed the most? Let’s not forget about homemaking either. Talk about laboring! Tell us more, please?



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  • Reply
    September 4, 2018 at 4:09 am

    Oh Brenda….I did not want to be a nurse. My mother did so as a dutiful daughter that’s exactly what I became. I cried everyday st school for the first 6 weeks. A classmate suggested I just tell my mother the truth and quit! That scared me more than finishing school! So I pulled up my big girl pants and worked diligently. I graduated with honors and have done very well. When I decided to go back for my Masters I thought about what area I wanted to specialize in and I always wanted to teach! So this time that’s what I did! My masters is in nursing education. Along the way I realized that as a nurse I’ve always been a teacher…educating others about their health working with not doing to my patients. That shift in my mind set has made me happy about my career….I’m a great teacher! I’m not in the wrong profession…it’s oh so right for me…I just needed to “shift” gears so to speak. 42 years later and definitely thinking about retiring soon, I realize how blessed I am. Best…Kathy

  • Reply
    jodie filogomo
    September 4, 2018 at 5:51 am

    Your way with words is truly a gift, Brenda. Just like I bet your way with clients is. It’s always scary to have your own business. We always say that everyone should own their own business for a year just to know what it’s like. But with your personality, you have succeeded beyond measure!!

    • Reply
      September 4, 2018 at 11:04 am

      Boy, that’s a great suggestion! It reminds me of people who come up to me and say, I want to write a book. I tell them, “Do it!” It was only the hardest thing I ever did. I wanted to be a writer long before I ever actually put pen to paper. So many lessons learned!!! Thanks, Jodie! xo

  • Reply
    September 4, 2018 at 6:06 am

    My work as the director of the City of Sanibel Center 4 Life was my passion. And my heart swells when I go back for a visit and the members that joined when I directed the program are as happy to see me as I am to see them. The membership grew from 300 to 700 during my ten years and I never considered it a job. But then….I can honestly say…I’ve pretty much loved all the places I’ve worked. Guess you could say it’s always been a labor of love for me and for you also, Brenda.

    • Reply
      September 4, 2018 at 11:01 am

      I ALWAYS love hearing you talk about your work at Sanibel. And to have met one of the ladies you served there this August was a real treat. Of course, you’d be good at anything you do, I’m sure of it. It’s great to have our labors be ones we love!

  • Reply
    Cindy Berge
    September 4, 2018 at 7:06 am

    Why to you always wear. “old lady shoes”? Although you boast about your design consultant expertise, I think your shoes are always terrible. You should know that there are more attractive shoes that are still comfortable. Those black oxfords remind me of the shoes the nuns wore in my Catholic parish in the 60’s.

    • Reply
      September 4, 2018 at 8:59 am

      Cindy, black oxfords may not be to your particular taste, but I think Brenda styles them perfectly, and they are currently on trend! Brenda, one of the things I love about your blog is that you always give us practical advice as well as creative ways to work with the wardrobes that we have. Unlike many other bloggers who are competing to show new outfits, shoes, and accessories that would break anyone’s bank account, I turn to you to inspire me to be a more polished version of myself!

      You are gifted in what you do!

      • Reply
        September 4, 2018 at 10:57 am

        Thanks, Inez. I really love the words you used, “a more polished version of myself.” I think that’s what those of us who love fashion and style are aiming for. Thanks for the great word selection!

    • Reply
      September 4, 2018 at 11:00 am

      I never went to Catholic school but it sounds like the nuns didn’t leave a great impression. I always tell my clients that if they have a bad association with something (in one case it was the color red because her aunt wore it and she disliked her aunt) I tell them to choose something else. That’s the great thing about fashion-there are always other choices!

    • Reply
      September 4, 2018 at 12:32 pm

      Those are black booties, not oxfords, and booties are very much on trend. I hope they stick around for a lot longer as I find them to be very comfortable and stylish.

    • Reply
      September 5, 2018 at 12:05 am

      Cindy, there’s always a kind way of saying something. I read Brenda’s beautiful piece of writing and then your comment below it. Brenda writes thoughtfully, perhaps it would be good for you to read over the way you wrote that comment and consider the impact it made. Was it written in a loving way? Did it leave the reader feeling enthused and encouraged? There are ways to express things, choose the kind way.

  • Reply
    Lesley Randles
    September 4, 2018 at 8:43 am

    Great article Brenda. I wish I lived in Sonoma!
    I think I would be a client
    Lesley Randles, South Africa

    • Reply
      September 4, 2018 at 10:57 am

      How fun to hear from you in South Africa! Thanks for your comments! Would love to learn more about where you live and the fashion there.

  • Reply
    September 4, 2018 at 9:38 am

    Love this story. It takes a lot of guts to start your own business as a single mom. I had a pretty low paying job with three kids when I got divorced, but it does focus your mind. 🙂 I was able to advance in my marketing job and eventually got into sales, learning a lot along the way. Not sure I would have had the courage to do what you did, and I really admire your tenacity!

    LOL at the previous comment. I love your shoes…and often look at them wondering where I can find them. Perhaps the commenter should check out current trends. Comfort is in…even with my young daughters.

    • Reply
      September 4, 2018 at 10:55 am

      And I admire your tenacity too! When I was thinking about starting my business my other fantasy was to start in something and work myself up a ladder. What pushed me toward the decision was a dream I had. In it my High School Principle told me about a class I’d love to take. He really encouraged me. The next day in real life this guy friend told me about a class he was taking called Career Exploration. I knew that was related to my dream. I said, “I have to join that class!” It was at the San Francisco City College for 16 weeks. I learned that everything I was good at was everything I was doing in image consulting. That was it. I knew I had to apply myself and make it work. The rest is history!

      • Reply
        September 5, 2018 at 7:10 pm

        That’s a great story! You were meant for this career. 🙂

  • Reply
    Marcia Miller
    September 4, 2018 at 10:07 am

    I too took the plunge and began my business in 1999. It grew from what I loved and from the situation. My husband does not travel and it is my PASSION. So I began forming world-wide tours for women. You Go Girls! Travel has grown and grown. Now I am fulfilling my dreams of travel and helping other women do it too. Every day I wake up ready to tackle the world. Win, win! Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life.

    • Reply
      September 4, 2018 at 10:51 am

      Wow, Marcia, what a great way to do what you love! I’ve known about your business for a long time but didn’t realize how it came about. Thanks for sharing your business beginnings! And hey, everyone, check out Marcia’s website yougogirlstravel.com. She’s got fabulous tips!

  • Reply
    Sandra Sallin - Apart from my Art
    September 4, 2018 at 12:11 pm

    Oh, how fascinating learning your story. Goodness I’ve had a number of careers and thinking of more. The other night i was sitting in bed reading one of your posts. My husband looked over and commented that you looked like a really nice person. I told him was right on. You’ve got the down to earthiness of the midwest, great writer and all and all good person. As a director he could tell at a glance that you were all those things. I got a kick out of it. See you shine through these pages. I don’t know what it has to do with Labor Day. I just wanted you to know you are appreciated out there by many more than you know.

  • Reply
    September 4, 2018 at 12:58 pm

    I was appalled by Cindy Berge’s thoroughly nasty comment! Ignore her. Personally, I don’t think yours are “old lady shoes” at all. On the contrary, I think they’re modern looking. They make you look confident and stylish, and they absolutely compliment the clothes you wear. I would trust you as my fashion consultant any day!

  • Reply
    September 4, 2018 at 2:05 pm

    Brenda, this has nothing to do with actual labor day, but your labors are truly appreciated. After the first book (40…) I was constantly looking for more works by you and each time I found the next one it was Christmas all over again. I tried to think of how to come to you but realized that my closet would still be here. I keep hoping for a seminar or something like that in Ontario Canada that I could go to that you are giving. The posts do help me think you are talking to me and giving ideas though. As for the comment above, it made me more than a little ticked. If something is not exactly to my taste, why do I have to put that person down. We certainly can’t all have the same taste. And I do really like most of the items you feature. So glad for all of us that you took the plunge and risks.

  • Reply
    September 4, 2018 at 2:49 pm

    So brave of you to become a style coach when there weren’t that many of them, and you needed the income! I admire you, tremendously for that. And now you’re going on your third generation of clients!!! Brava!!

  • Reply
    September 4, 2018 at 3:52 pm

    Hi, Brenda! I’m doing what I love, but now I have to find a way to do whatever it takes to make it a business. So I was interested in hearing what you had to say about this. It seems that the turning point may have been when you wrote a book. Am I right? Anyway, as always your story keeps us interested!
    Thanks, Angie

  • Reply
    September 5, 2018 at 2:34 pm

    Hi Brenda
    I began my first labour of love at the age of 8 (we spell labour with a ‘u’ here in Australia, from the English spelling). I was a tea and tidy girl at the hair and beauty salon that my mother managed for a large department store in Adelaide. I would go to work with Mum on Saturdays and during school holidays. I would go around and ask the ladies would they like tea or coffee, empty their ashtrays (!), sweep up the hair and fold towels. I would get a tip here and there – 50 cents was a big one. But mostly I loved being in the salon, it was better than being at home alone. I loved hearing the hairdressers chat, I loved chatting to the clients, I loved that a lady would walk in flat and old, and walk out coiffed, reconstructed and head held high. The magic of these things was not lost on me and I developed a deep love for the transformative power of hair and makeup. I then became a beautician when I left school, and worked for one of the large French cosmetic companies full time in a large department store. I did weekend work as a make up artist for weddings. Often the bridal party would be getting dressed in a hotel room in the city, so I would go in with my kit and make them look amazing. Even the mother of the bride and flower girls. That stash of cash inside my pocket as I left, feeling good about my work was the best feeling. After I had my 2 babies, I didn’t want to go back to the cosmetic industry, it is great for young women but the cosmetic houses expected too much and it was bitchy at times. So I went back and worked in the fashion department. I loved it. I have always loved the feel of new clothes, the smell of them, the new energy they carry as they have never been worn before. I look at pieces and see possibilities of places to wear them. During that time, I used my staff discount to garner some beautiful designer handbags, clothes, makeup, jewellery and SHOES omg. In fact, I don’t think I actually brought any money into the household, it was ‘reinvested’ in the store I worked in. Then I entered the world of homewares, working for a large boutique homewares company in a flagship store in a huge shopping mall. Let me tell you that shop assistants are some of the hardest working people in the world. The girls and I took pride in the way we presented the store. We dusted it, vacuumed it after closing, accounted for every cent in the till and always put our customers first. Retail is a tough game, especially now with on line shopping. But the things I take with me are the memories, coming in fresh to start a new day, hot coffee in hand, touching up the lippy, turning on the store lights, putting on the music and opening the doors. Over the Christmas period, we have extended trading hours here in Australia, so the shops are basically open late for 10 days in a row. We used to get a bit ragged around the edges by the time Christmas Eve arrived. I would inevitably finish late that day, but my darling daughter would have the turkey ready for our dinner and the family would be all there just waiting for me to arrive home around 6pm with Bing Crosby crooning on the stereo. I’d have a day off for Christmas and head back on Boxing Day to work in the sales, and to do it all over again. I have worked many many retail Christmases. I don’t regret it for a minute. I am pleased to say that I left my retail life behind 4 years ago and bought my own business – something entirely different – property management. I studied and got my real estate license. I now have a thriving business that I can work around so no more early starts, and the hours ebb and flow according to the work that’s there. I get paid very well for what I do and I appreciate that. My philosophy to my business is a very simple one and it’s based on the Gold Rule: Treat others how you would like to be treated. It makes for a successful business but it also makes for happy clients. I have received thank you cards from ex-tenants who were just so grateful to be treated with care and compassion. I thank my background in retail because it was the perfect training for what I do now. I have dealt with difficult people and come out on top. I have had nasty customers in retail, but one tenant I have had to go to court over. That was another big steep learning lesson. I won my case. The whole lot was awarded. These have all been baby steps. 15 years ago I had such bad deep depression that I started my way back into the world by working on a Friday at my children’s school canteen. When I started back, I was so ill, I could hardly even count the coins the in the lunch order bags. But slowly, I came back. Now, 15 years later, I am running my own business and helping to build a nest egg for our retirement and support our kids through university. It has all been a Labour of Love. Xxxxxx

  • Reply
    Trinnie q
    September 8, 2018 at 4:01 am

    What heart warming stories! Loved yours TJ, also from Oz like myself. Wow, so much richness here. I agree, let’s be gracious to each other, love and kindness are always more fruitful ways to be. Sending much love from Oz, belatedly x

    • Reply
      September 12, 2018 at 7:43 pm

      Such loving words, Trinnie! Sending love from Sonoma. xo

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