Growing up in Indiana, stylist and journalist Michelle Li had an ideal upbringing — the kind you see in coming-of-age movies like Breaking Away. She frequented ice cream shops and swam in water-filled quarries with her friends. She describes her early life as “wholesome,” but adds that it could get boring: “Everyone was kind of the same,” she says, “which made me want to stand out more.” Now 24, Michelle stands out with her hot-pink hair and colorful clothes (often from Sandy Liang, Holiday The Label or Paloma Wool), which she pairs with playful accessories such as key-lime-colored sunglasses or chunky pink sneakers. Previously the associate fashion market editor at Refinery29, Michelle is now the fashion and beauty market editor at Teen Vogue, and in the following Q&A, we speak to her about how she got her start, what she wears and more.
When She Fell in Love with Fashion:
I can’t exactly pinpoint the moment I fell in love with fashion. Perhaps it was a lot of TV and movies I had been watching, I absolutely loved 13 Going On 30 and the women I admired (Leandra Medine, Susie Bubble) were all in the fashion industry. I also just loved coming up with crazy outfits and taking pictures of them. How I dressed myself was my way of being creative.
On Becoming a Stylist:
It’s really hard! Don’t underestimate the amount of physical labor that goes into styling — you’re responsible for trunks and trunks of clothing and getting it from the PR companies to your office to set and all back. I love it, but feel that I still have a lot to learn. There are some really good stylists out there and it comes from having a good sense of style, being deliberate about every pull and edit, and practice.
On Becoming a Journalist:
Also really hard!I’m trying to push myself to do more stories outside of my comfort zone, but it’s tough to know what to do and what the next steps are. I think I very quickly can shut off from a project if I think I won’t be able to do a good job. But finding journalists you admire and can observe is always an important step. Connie Wang at Refinery29 is incredible and seeing her in action has taught me so much.
On Working at Refinery29:
I loved working at Refinery29 because of the people and connections I made. I met my best friend, Mi Anne Chan, while working there and some of my mentors that I will always be able to go to for advice. I also grew up at Refinery29 — I started as an intern and bounced around doing styling, writing and social! It was my first job out of college and I’ll always be grateful for that.
What She’s Most Proud Of:
Following through with my goals whether it be small or big things. I’m proud that I get things done — eventually.
On Diversity in Fashion:
More! More! More! I find it so frustrating when brands and designers only use one plus-size model or model of color (and usually the same model as last season) and expect to be recognized for being diverse. There are so many beautiful models out there that it is lazy to not do your research and cast models who may not be super popular just yet.
On Her Personal Style & Where She Shops:
I’m a little bit all over the place with my shopping, but I love Sandy Liang, Holiday The Label, Paloma Wool. I also shop on Need Supply. Being in the fashion industry has made me take a break from shopping and really look at the clothing I have in my closet. We also receive so much free clothing sometimes that I try to challenge myself to use what I already have and receive instead of buying more.
On Her Pink Hair:
I first dyed my hair two years ago when I was starting my new job and I love the way it makes me look. I think about dyeing it another color and can’t imagine doing it. I think I will eventually, and once it’s unhealthy I plan to shave my head for a new start.
The Summer Trend She Can’t Wait to Wear:
Her Summer Reading List:
Travels by Michael Crichton and My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante! I’m a really slow reader.
Her Dream Summer Destination: