Industry Insiders: Meet Celebrity Stylist Trish Townsend

Meet the stylist behind Blake Shelton's fashion... 

Industry Insiders: Meet Celebrity Stylist Trish Townsend
Photo courtesy of Trish Townsend

If you’ve ever wondered why Blake Shelton looks impeccably dressed or how Amy Grant always manages to wear such beautiful gowns year after year during her annual Christmas tour, well, the answer to both questions is Trish Townsend.

As one of the Nashville community’s most successful stylists, Townsend has dressed Carrie Underwood, The Oak Ridge Boys, Travis Tritt, Vince Gill and many others for nearly three decades. Her great taste, creativity and warm personality have made her a valuable part of the glam squad for many of the top artists.

“I met Trish through Vince because she’s been working with him for years and he always looked great,” Grant says. “She just has such a great vibe about her, really easy going, flip-flops and casual, but she has such a great eye for style. I had worked with several stylists who honestly were great, but once I worked with her, I saw her ability to take the best parts of a person and maximize those. I just love working with her. She’s easy going and relaxed and takes all the stress out of it.”

Grant is one of Townsend’s favorites and the two have become good friends. “Amy is the greatest,” Townsend enthuses. “She’s worked with a lot of great stylists over the year, but she and I just sort of clicked pretty well. I do her shopping for her. I know her body. I know her taste and how far she’ll let me go.”

Amy Grant and Trish Townsend; Photo courtesy of Trish Townsend

Townsend is a native Nashvillian, who has always had a passion for clothing and design. “I loved Barbies and dressing them up. I always made my own Barbie clothes,” Townsend says of her childhood. “My grandmother sewed and I would take napkins and make patterns and then sew those into Barbie clothes. I still have my sewing machine. It was a little tiny Singer about the size of my foot.”

She left Nashville to attend college at Ole Miss, but ended up having a change in direction when the curriculum changed. “Ole Miss ended up closing the home economics department where the fashion department was, and as opposed to changing schools and going through all that again, I just changed majors and focused on arts, literature and business,” she recalls. “When I got out of college my dad wanted me to stay home [in Nashville] so he got me a job at First American Bank.”

Making the switch from fashion to finance might seem like a major shift, but Townsend says her time at the bank actually helped prepare her for her current profession. “We all take a journey and I needed that. I needed to learn good financial stability because being a stylist you are banking a lot of projects and I learned a lot about good credit, a lot about paying your bills and developing a good cash flow because credit cards come in, but the record labels might not pay you for a while,” says Townsend, who buys clothes for artists and then get reimbursed from the record company or the artist’s team. “You have to be able to not absorb a lot of interest. I just developed a really great cash flow so that I could hold onto some projects until I got paid and still move on to the next project.”

Alan Jackson and Trish Townsend; Photo courtesy of Trish Townsend

Trish made the move from banking to styling because her unique sense of style always caught the attention of her clients at the bank. “I fell into it because when I was at the bank, I dressed kind of weird,” she admits with a laugh. “I ended up being a credit analyst and then they moved me over to the Music Row branch. I started meeting a lot of musicians and really just loaning them money and helping them out with their credit cards and getting them set up. Then when I left the bank a lot of these people came searching me down going, ‘Hey how do you dress like that? What’s your trick?’”

Lisa Foster, who was a TV personality at the time on the Nashville Network, hired Townsend to do her wardrobe, which led to other work. “[TNN] did a cooking show with the Forester Sisters and I did them, and then Warner Brothers came knocking because of they were on Warner Brothers so I did their videos and album covers,” she says. “That was a good training ground because when I worked with the Forester Sisters, they were doing six shows a day. I had to come up with six outfits for four women, so that’s 24 outfits every day. I went to work, shot all day, left there went to the malls, shopped, and I didn’t have an assistant. I hardly have worked a lot with assistants. I just like to do it all myself and that was some kind of a boot camp there.”

Her work with the Forester Sisters prompted Warner to hire her to work with another artist on their roster. “That led to Travis Tritt and it just started to snowball. There weren’t very many people doing it back then,” she says of being a celebrity stylist. “It wasn’t a real career so-to-speak.”

The times have changed and being a stylist is one of the most sought after careers in the music industry. “There were probably four or five of us who tried to work with everyone and there was plenty of work back then,” she says.  “Now everybody wants to do it and it’s a little harder.”

Trish Townsend and Vince Gill; Photo courtesy of Trish Townsend

For nearly three decades, Townsend has remained one of the most in demand stylists and her work has helped propel many artists’ careers. Townsend is humble about the role she plays, but enjoys having a hand in shaping an artist’s image and boosting their career.

Townsend has worked with Blake Shelton for 15 years. “I had him when he had long hair and the hat,” she says. “We’ve taken him to this new place, which works really well for him. That’s the truth about imaging. It can change your world. Like in Carrie’s case, when we started getting her on best dressed lists for mainstream events, it was like, ‘What’s this country girl doing taking over a spot that a LA celebrity should have?’ It’s because she looks good. It opened up a whole new world for her.”

Some artists know exactly what they want and others have no idea and are a blank canvas for Townsend to work her magic. “There’s some people who come with a real strong idea of what they want to be ‘I just want to wear black’ or ‘I’m not going to wear a certain color.’ It’s kind of interesting,” she says. “I like to listen to their music first. ‘It’s really hard for me to style without it because to me it’s all about the music. I listen to their music and get to know them a little bit, know their background and talk to them about people whose images they think are really cool, get to know how far they are willing to go because you can tell a lot about that just from conversation. There are some who say GaGa or Beyoncé. There are some who really get the stage stuff and then there’s some people who are more comfortable being a little more demure and not so out there. They just want you to listen to their music and they want to look more appropriate.”

Townsend’s kind personality is also a big plus in how she handles artists and their insecurities. “A lot of the styles are determined by somebody’s body structure,” she says. “There are certain things that girls can’t wear if they have a certain body structure. They might want to, but it’s just best they don’t do that,” she says. “You have to be polite and that’s why I think it helps me being from the south. There’s a nicer way to say it and encourage somebody to move in a different direction without going, ‘Girl, your butt is too big!’ You just lead them to the better option and try to make them understand the conclusion. Hopefully, they come to it on their own and when they look in the mirror they can see, ‘Oh, okay I get that.’ You’ve got to be patient with them and you’re not always going to nail it with them the first time. It takes a while to get used to somebody’s body.”

Townsend says that just because someone is a successful artist doesn’t mean they are confident about the way they look. “There are girls who are size 2 and 4’s who think they are always so fat,” she says. “I see them naked in a physical sense and I also see them naked in the emotional sense. I see where there are things that bother them about their body emotionally and it has nothing to do with their body. They are seeing something that I’m not. I try to get in their head without trying to sound like a shrink, but it’s like, ‘I wonder why you are so obsessed with your boobs or why are you so uncomfortable with this part of you?’ A lot of times it has something to do with them being younger and teased about something. There’s always something in somebody’s head.”

Trish Townsend and Blake Shelton; Photo courtesy of Trish Townsend

Dressing men has it’s own unique challenges. “It’s so hard. Guys are so limited,” she says of their different clothing options. “With guys, it’s in details is where they get excited. In doing Blake, he’s not real daring when it comes to fashion. He would wear the same thing over and over if it were okay and he practically does, but a pocket square really changes the whole dynamic of the blazer. It could be any little thing with a guy that changes the dynamic, a cool pin or a cool tie. . . and it’s a whole new game. For Blake, he’s going to wear the same type of jeans but different washes, so you pull different washes.  He wears the same boots, but lots of shirts and jackets whether it be denim cut or blazers. There’s probably 40 or 50 choices.”

Stylists are hired to dress artists for a variety of different events from TV shows to album covers to awards shows, and they often travel with artists to handle their clothing needs on tour or in different locations. “I love photo shoots. Videos are long and tedious, but photo shoots is where you can get really creative. If you don’t like it, you see it right before you. Change it,” she says. “If you have a lot of outfits, it just becomes interesting. You can says, ‘Let’s try this necklace,’ and you look at the monitor and then you go, ‘No, let’s go bigger.’ You can really start having fun with it. Award shows are the thing that make me the most nervous just because of the potential of things that could go wrong. And it’s live so there’s not a lot of do overs. So, for me as far as aging quickly, it’s an award show. As far as being creative and feeling good at what I’m doing, it’s the photo shoot.”

Townsend says shopping for celebrities in Nashville is challenging because Music City doesn’t have a Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue or Neiman Marcus and there aren’t as many boutiques, so she leans toward online shopping. “There’s some really great websites out there. Revolve is one I love so much,” she says. “ASOS is fun and trendy. If you’re going to do a trend and you’re not sure about it, keep it cheap. If you get on ASOS, you can get the trends but you don’t have to spend the high price. See how it feels and then you can follow it a little bit. I’m not a trend person. I just like to look for what will work for the project. I think Zara is wonderful for women. It’s one of my go-to’s for Amy. It’s very fashionable, but affordable, super cool stuff. And I like Freebird.”

She says artists are more concerned with how clothes look than where they come from or what they cost. “I’ll be honest, I don’t look at price tags. I look for what is right,” she says. “If its $10 and it looks right, I don’t care. If it’s $1000 and it looks right, I don’t care. As long as it fits in the budget and it works for my purpose, I go for it. My clients don’t care. There’s not one person who I’ve ever worked with that was adamant that I use only certain designers. They just want to look good.”

In talking to Townsend during this phone interview, her vivacious personality and love of people is readily apparent. She even offered this writer tips for looking good on Zoom calls. She suggests getting a ring light for better lighting and also let me know the yellow walls in my home office were not making my skin tone look good. Trish is also the reason I’ve stopped worrying as much about showing my arms and have ceased wearing sweaters as often to cover up. She’s a fountain of wisdom and encouragement.

Amy Grant is among those who love being able to tap that fountain. She has even enlisted Townsend to help her daughters. “I have never been a shopper, ever. Jeans and a t-shirt would suit me fine. Work has required that I shop, but I didn’t bring my children up shopping, so I feel I’ve failed as a mother, but I’ve called Trish,” she says of Townsend helping her daughters.

“Anything cool in my wardrobe is a Trish thing,” Grant continues. “Every woman should have the feeling of feeling as beautiful on the outside as her best moment on the inside and clothes help. I’ve had that feeling many times when Trish puts something on and go, ‘I kind of felt like a frog when I woke up this morning and now I feel like a princess.’ It was the clothes.”