We all buy clothes, but no two people shop the same. It can be a social experience, and a deeply personal one; at times, it can be impulsive and entertaining, at others, purpose-driven, a chore. Where do you shop? When do you shop? How do you decide what you need, how much to spend and what’s “you”? These are some of the questions we’re putting to prominent figures in our column “How I Shop.”
Estefanía Vanegas Pessoa, better known as simply “Tefi,” just dyed her hair orange. I know this, one, because I’m one of the 1.4 million minions who follow her every move and Princess Diana diatribe on TikTok, and two, because she told me so.
“I just bought some Tom Ford glasses last night because I saw Dua Lipa wearing them,” she explains, exhibiting perfect logic. “I just dyed my hair orange, and they’re this perfect amber color.” When I respond and tell her — and I quote — “Dua Lipa cannot miss,” Pessoa says: “I feel like she’s my daughter. Mommy loves you, Dua.”
Such is the back-and-forth of our interview, which spans the course of 27 minutes and touches on such crucial cultural milestones as life-sized Barbie heels, palazzo pants, Megan Fox’s then-stepson’s “Star Wars” tee and Gwen Stefani’s “Love. Angel. Music. Baby.” era, the latter of which didn’t make it into the final draft, but lives on in my heart and transcript forever.
Pessoa has built a flourishing creator career on this encyclopedic knowledge of — nay, expertise on — all facets of pop culture. Today, you may have gotten to know her as the host and personality of InStyle’s own TikTok, or the TedX speaker who may have given you the kind of confidence that makes you feel powerful enough to barrel through walls. At heart, though, Pessoa is still the “girly-girl” from Miami who camped out at the mall and pored over the pages of Seventeen, learning how to dress — and speak — for herself in a world where celebrities didn’t often look like her.
“The only people on TV who were Latin were, like, Salma Hayek or Shakira, and I still wasn’t seeing them in beauty ads,” says Pessoa, who is of Colombian and Brazilian descent. “I think the first person I saw get a real beauty ad was Eva Longoria, and that was only in 2009, for Revlon.”
I spoke with Pessoa about when and how she buys her clothes — “the majority of my purchases happen after my morning coffee,” she says — and how she goes about building her outfits with, yes, Princess Diana in mind. (“I do believe in the idea of balance. Is your energy and your outfit going to the same party? You can always tell.”) Read on for the highlights.
“As a kid, changing outfits was like tapping into different personalities that hadn’t yet evolved. And when I say ‘kid,’ I mean, like, 13, 14, 15. Any 13-, 14- or 15-year-old reading this is like, ‘I’m a grown-up!’ No, you’re not, baby.
“My first fashion memory was when I was seven or eight, when my mom’s aunt would send us these little dresses from London. International fashion! My sister’s a total tomboy, so for her to put on those dresses was like Gwen Stefani in the ‘It’s My Life’ video, when she’s kicking and screaming. Not me — I was a girly-girl. I got the life-sized Barbie that had the heels you could wear, and I was strutting. I was strutting all over Coral Gables.
“There are things about fashion in the ’90s and 2000s that some people just don’t understand. Avril Lavigne wearing a tie was major. Gwen Stefani going on the red carpet with full braces was everything. And then in the 2000s, the Von Dutch, trailer-princess era was hyper-experimental. So when people make fun of that time, it’s because the clothes weren’t the fashion — our bodies were. We were just figuring out different ways to express that. Did it lead to a lot of eating disorders? That’s another article for another day. We’re all just mirroring what’s going on around us. Fashion is a response.
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“I have a dance background, so I was faced with wearing a super-tight leotard and tights every day. I also watched myself in the mirror every day, and that can’t be healthy for anybody, so I started to figure out what parts of my body I liked the most. And this was at a time when Cosmopolitan, Seventeen and even Teen Vogue were always telling you how to accentuate your body, so I started playing around with that. At 14, I knew what an empire waist meant.
“As I got older, instead of looking at parts of me that should be accentuated, I started focusing on how I could make fashion my own. Because style and fashion are so different, right? Fashion is given to us, and style is how we absorb it. I’d think about proportion, so I’d pair a crop top with a palazzo pant. I don’t know what my mom thought when at 16, I was like, ‘I want a palazzo pant!’
“I love being from Miami. At that time, we were fixated on the Paris Hiltons, the ‘Laguna Beach’ and ‘The Hills’ girls, the New York art girls. I was experimenting with all those styles all the time, but I still was stuck in this practice of being really, really femme — like, very Nordstrom BP floral dress with a combat boot. But as soon as I started deciding that I was going to prioritize comfort over the male gaze, things started changing. Excuse my French, but men would fuck a chicken nugget, so it really doesn’t matter. That was something I had to get over. The male gaze is a prison. We’re all dealing with it all the time.
“There was a point in my life where nobody ever saw me in a flat and nobody ever saw me in pants, because I was insecure about my legs. I feel like girls my age would just pick one thing to be insecure about and that was it, so I chose my legs. With the way I see my body and the way that I dress, too, I’m like, ‘Why am I letting 15-year-old me call the shots? Why am I letting 15-year-old you tell you, Oh my God, but what if you look fat?’
“My favorite boots of all time are the Prada combat boots. They’re the most comfortable, beautiful shoes in the entire world. Everything I wear has to have a platform on it, not because I want to be taller, but it’s just something I gravitate toward. I love a platform, but — please quote me — never a wedge, and never a cork wedge. Okay? Somebody needs to tell J.Lo. But the combat boot, with a pair of Dickies pants, an oversized blazer and a lacy bra, sports bra or crop top — I’m there. That’s my go-to, actually. That’s what I wear all the freaking time.
“The Prada boot has a platform. If I look at most of my shoes, they’re platforms. I don’t know if it’s a complex, but I think of all the pictures of my mom from the ’70s when she was a teen, and that was a platform time.
“I miss the ’90s mall, with the quirky colors and the quirky food courts. I feel like when I watch Disney Channel Original Movies now, they’re always in a mall. I miss that a lot, where the mall was a moment, not an errand. How many times in our youth did somebody say, ‘I met this guy at the mall.’ You never hear that anymore.
“I’m a big thrifter. That’s where you get the best blazers, the best costume jewelry. I think, unfortunately, pants are very specific, so either you win the lottery while thrifting or you’re going to have to get them tailored. I love buying pants from Urban Outfitters and Asos, and because I know what to look for, I kind of buy the same fit every time. I love wearing kids’ tees, very much like Megan Fox and her [then-stepson]’s ‘Star Wars’ tee — I love that moment.
“I have a cousin from New Canaan, Connecticut who’s eight years older than me and for the majority of my life, she was my cool older cousin. The first time I remember going to do something cool with her, I was, like, seven, and we did something called thrifting. In New Canaan, there’s this one thrift store — and it’s a wealthy community, right? – that has Max Mara coats for $25. Insane. So we found this sweater from a playhouse theater there, and I have pictures in it from just last year. I will not give it up.
“Something that’s exciting me about fashion and clothing right now is that we’re finally in a place where we’re dressing for ourselves and not each other, and I think that’s going to bleed more and more into society. We’re more celebrated for being individuals. I feel like we’re creating our own communities according to us, not because we’re told something is cool. And that, within itself, is rock-and-roll.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.