Why We're Watching Harrowstyle

August 24, 2023
Why We're Watching Harrowstyle

White short sleeve Muji blouse with a red bandana tied around the neck. Target trousers. Everlane fisherman sandals. I knew what Karen Harrow would be wearing even before she appeared on the screen; she’d already posted her outfit of the day on @harrowstyle, which is fast becoming a must follow on Instagram and TikTok among women over 50 who appreciate her accessible wardrobe and approachable style.

It’s a Tuesday in August and Harrow has just returned home from her son’s weekend wedding in Miami. If you followed along this summer as she shopped for a mother of the groom dress, then you know: she wore the Rickie Freeman for Teri Jon pleated patchwork print maxi. It was Option 12 in the parade of dresses she tried on for her followers from her spacious, white suburban Florida bathroom. The Teri Jon was definitely the loudest of the contenders, which included another long sleeve, berry-hued pleated maxi by Mac Duggal, a Ted Baker coral satin midi dress, and a Zimmerman wrap dress.

Lest her followers think her mother of the groom dress decision was preordained and the drawn-out shopping experience merely a social content grab, Harrow says she didn’t decide which dress to wear until the Thursday before the wedding. Of course, some of the dresses she posted early in the process had already been returned: “I wanted to get them off my credit card,” she says. A few of the dresses were gifts from the brands, including the Teri Jon that she ended up wearing to her son’s daytime wedding. But that’s not why she chose it—in fact, she didn’t make the choice. “I deferred to the hosts—the bride and her mom. I’m playing the long game as mother in law,” says Harrow, the mother of three sons and a daughter. “I want to be invited into their lives.”

Harrow says she gladly would have worn the same navy Rebecca Taylor dress she wore to her first son’s wedding last year—she even brought it as an option. “Men use a uniform to go to weddings; why can’t women repeat?” But the bride wasn’t having it. “She was emphatic,” Harrow says, and so she wore the patterned Teri Jon, which garnered more than 1,500 opinions from her followers on Instagram alone.

For every woman who loved the colorful dress, another hated it. “This is my favorite by far,” one wrote. “Horrible for photos,” said another. “That was my MOB dress for a garden wedding in April last year,” one said. “Overwhelming,” said the next, and, “Too busy.” Harrow gave each comment a “like” all the same.

“I wasn’t crowd-sourcing and wearing the winner,” she explains. “I was creating a forum for women to see the options. Isn’t that why we all shop?”

Given her large following among women at the “mother of” stage of life, Harrow says the wedding felt like an opportunity to boost the confidence of other women and take the dread out of dress shopping.

“People think of ‘matronly’ as a dirty word. But we can reclaim it. If your child has grown up to be happy, you’re winning! You need to acquaint yourself with your needs, understand your priorities, and you will be on the road to knowing what dresses to look for.”

Launching a Fashion Career After 50

Harrow, who is 58, started her career in retail and then moved into fashion public relations. But between getting married, moving to Florida and raising four kids, fashion got relegated to personal expression rather than profession. She became a Realtor. As menopause loomed and she hit that mind-bending 5-0, she found herself unsure what to wear and eager to recapture her love of getting dressed. So in 2015, she started taking daily photos of her outfits—”just as an account of my clothes” and because, she says, you can’t get the full picture of how you look from a mirror. When she felt like she had recaptured her wardrobe mojo, Harrow decided to start a blog to share her fashion tips and inspire other women over 50 to wear what they love. That led to a personal styling business, offering image consulting, personal shopping, and closet overhauls—in person or virtual.

It wasn’t until Covid-19, when she and her daughter found themselves on the sofa, wandering down the TikTok rabbit hole, that Harrow decided to try her hand at social media. She would bring her daily outfit blog posts to life on video. TikTok came first—“It was my mom, my daughter and three random people watching,” she jokes. “I didn’t expect anything.” But her following began to build. She added Instagram, and that took off even quicker.

Harrow describes her style as modern classic. She wears a lot of white blouses and wide leg jeans; blazers and loafers. She shops at TJ Maxx, just like the rest of us. She’s also got the sort of enviably slender frame that looks good in just about anything and can pull off a fitted dress without a hint of ruching. But she believes women are responding to her authenticity. “I’m not dressing performatively. My outfits every day are authentic. We don’t have to be the same size to wear similar looks.”

She recalls a recent encounter on the street in New York. “A girl ran up to me on Lafayette and said, ‘Do you see what I’m wearing? It’s the silver Gap pants. This is your outfit!" the girl declared. "We were not the same size; we didn’t have the same body type. But most of what we wear is not exclusive to us.”

Getting recognized is something that’s starting to happen with greater frequency, now that Harrow’s audience on both platforms has crossed 100,000. “Some people don’t believe I’m human,” she says with a laugh. “But I’m reading every comment, and responding to most of them.”

The opportunities that come with a large social following—sponsored posts, paid appearances, affiliate earnings—have now surpassed Harrow’s one-on-one image and wardrobe consulting business. But Harrow still gets the brands that think she’ll work for them in exchange for clothes, and she’s not afraid to tell them: you can’t pay your mortgage with a denim jacket. “You’ve got to know your value,” she says. “This is a startup.”

This Karen Harrow, the person, and Harrowstyle, the business. At the moment, there is no team. No publicist. No wardrobe assistant. She books her own wardrobe consulting appointments. She shoots and edits her own TikToks and Reels. She takes the time to respond to harsh comments with a polite request for her critics: “Say more?”

“My name is Karen. I’m trying to change the face of a Karen,” she says. “I love people. I love helping women. The work I do with clients is very vulnerable. They’re always apologizing for their closets—it hurts my heart. You deserve to look good, and serve yourself—without worrying about the audience. I think about that scene in the Barbie movie at the bus stop where the older woman says, ‘I’m beautiful.’ That sort of confidence has been a scarcity for so many women. We need less judgment, more joy.”

Harrowstyle’s Dress Shopping Tips:

  • Start browsing at the high end—it’s a great way to see what’s showing.
  • Put items you like in your cart online—you’ll start to see the silhouettes you’ve saved.
  • Try on dresses to know how each brand fits you. Once you know your size from a particular designer, you can shop resale. I’m really big on high-end resale.
  • Think about your priorities. Are you dressing for a photograph, or because you’re celebrating and being present?
  • Don’t say no until you try it.
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