Tampa Bay's fashion scene doesn't have universally celebrated haute couture and A-list celebrities flocking to sit in the front rows of its fashion shows. But that doesn't mean it's short on style. Dozens of fashion and lifestyle bloggers from around the bay carry the style torch year-round, displaying discerning eyes and what's available to local fashionistas who are willing to hunt for something one-of-a-kind. These women eat and sleep fashion — just as familiar with major labels as they are with thrifting. Some use their platforms to promote and elevate local boutiques. Others have partnered with national discount retailers to show high-end is still possible on a low budget. Fashion Week Tampa Bay offers bloggers the chance to get together and exchange ideas at the Blogger Brilliance conference on Saturday. Some of these style mavens will be panelists; others are just names you should know if you're serious about your look. Together with tbt* they talk Florida's look, hot fall trends and wardrobe staples they can't live without. — Robbyn Mitchell firstname.lastname@example.org
'The state as a whole needs to focus more on fashion'
Kristin Swenson, 34, of Tampa, started blogging on BonBonRoseGirls.com with her best friend, who lives in D.C., as a way to bridge the gap. Now three years in, the mom and wife is a full-time blogger posting regularly at momtrends.com and covering Project Runway for Lifetime Moms along with her duties at BonBon. Her main blog, which gets 15,000 to 20,000 unique visitors a month, covers fashion, food, decor and travel.
"It's like a little one-stop shop," she said. "When we decided to get into it we wanted it not to be too heavy, so we keep it light, like a little vacation."
How would you define Tampa Bay-area style?
I don't really know that the area has a style. The last several years, Tampa's fashion scene is a bit more up-and-coming and harder to pin down. I would say it's more of a laid-back look, not all covered up. Laid-back chic, maybe, is what I see in Tampa, like Urban Outfitters, a boho chic (store) with vintage pieces; also like MISRED Outfitters in St. Pete.
What does Fashion Week Tampa Bay need to do to jump onto the national stage?
I think the state as a whole needs to focus more on fashion. We don't have any big labels headquartered here, not really. We need to know how to take notice and support Florida as a whole. Not just Tampa-area designers at Fashion Week but talented designers from all over the state. If we all worked together, that would help.
Are there any fall trends you think can work in the Florida heat?
Camouflage is a huge fall trend. The easy ones are camo skinnys, jewel tones, over-the-knee boots. H&M has a budget version of those. Animal prints are not even a trend anymore, they just work in every season. Full skirts are in and flattering for most people. Leather is big, you can wear it on a moto jacket. They are not really difficult pieces to work into your wardrobe.
What advice would you give someone still searching for their look?
Try to become more in touch with yourself and do some research. I'm inspired by my fellow bloggers. You don't have to wear a look on the runway. You can draw inspiration from color, the silhouette, the patterns. Figure out what works for you. And fit is king. You don't have to be on trend; if something you wear doesn't fit you, it won't work. Everyone can look fab.
'Bringing in talent would help grow us'
Jennifer Rand, 28, of Clearwater, is a government contractor who spends her free time putting together fab looks on belledecouture.com. Wanting to share her love of vintage clothing, Rand started her blog in late 2009. It's a fashion diary of sorts, filled with photos of Rand in various ensembles with the aim that high style doesn't have to be high-priced. She's inspired by major label designers Tory Burch, Mara Hoffman and Dries Van Noten.
"[The blog is a] fashionable diary of my daily looks and how I could inspire the people through vintage and thrift," she said.
How would you describe Tampa Bay's style?
The one style that resonates the most is the Southern prep style: Sperry Top-Siders, polos, button-down shirts, rainbow flip-flops … tan skin. To be honest, our area doesn't really have a defined look or anything like that.
How can Fashion Week Tampa Bay become a state or nationwide event?
I really think that comes with collaborating with people outside our area like Miami, which has been really big in fashion world. Bringing in that talent would help grow us.
What's the one item from your wardrobe you can't live without right now?
A vintage, real leopard clutch from my grandmother. Leopard is an animal print you can wear that never goes out of style. This clutch is so special, so stylish … It's also a vintage piece. It's a piece I hold very dear to my heart.
What fall trends are you embracing this year?
Right now, black and white is a huge trend into the wintertime. Prints have also come back around, so seeing them I'm excited about mixing prints and mixing textures. I think there is always a way to transcend runway into every day. … Most of the ankle boot styles, you can rock. Some cool colors are also hot for fall like rich burgundy, emerald and camel.
'Tampa has evolved a lot'
Mina Brinkey, 34, of Tampa, has been plugging away at her fashion and lifestyle blog Bohemian Vintage (minasdecorandfashion.blogspot.com) for five years, growing her foothold in the fashion community. When she's not blogging, mothering and sleeping, she teaches high school advanced placement government — a fertile testing ground for her fashion IQ.
"The kids will tell me when they like something I've put together," Brinkey said. "Their opinions, I take highly — maybe not politics — but on fashion I do."
How would you define Tampa Bay-area style?
I think Tampa has evolved a lot over the last five years and is more current now with the resources we have. A Tampa girl or guy has a casual, easygoing, sophisticated look. The casual maxi dresses, hand-dyed hand bags, the Coconut Grove, Miami/South Beach look.
What's the one item in your wardrobe you can't live without?
I recently bought a Cole Haan leather bag. I love it. It's leather, international and it goes with me wherever I go. There's a clasp in the purse and it folds to look like a work bag. Also, I'm into leather penny loafers right now ... I got into penny loafers because of the retro look of the ones in soft leather. I'm really feeling them for fall.
How would you describe your personal style?
My personal style is evolved, classy and edgy at the same time. And bohemian at times too. Lately, I've become obsessed with lines that are simple and elegant. People you might know, think Michelle Obama, that style — more J. Crew and very nautical.
What are the fall trends you're looking forward to?
I'll take the color palette black and white, plum, deep purples, and use them in looks that are weather-friendly. You can bring in those fall looks and still have them be breathable … You can definitely incorporate the looks, just don't go out in a fur coat. (Laughs.)
'The '80s can stay away'
Katie Compton, 28, of Dunedin, parlayed her food and fashion diary Ruffles & Truffles (rufflesandtruffles.com) into an opportunity to be one of Marshall's Project Fab bloggers, who will create looks and blog about items from the store.
"My go-tos have always been Marshall's and TJ Maxx," said the private school technology teacher. "I like the adventure. I would find these great things that would normally cost a lot more. You never know what you're going to find."
She's styled looks for Marshall's in the 31/2 years she's run her blog, even though she considers her passion for fashion a hobby. "I'm not trying to sell my readers stuff," she said. "I'm just sharing what I'm excited about."
What's the item in your wardrobe that you can't live without right now?
A pair of animal-print heels; they are leopard/zebra mixed. I wear them two times or more a week. Leopard is a neutral to me that goes with everything. I can't live without them.
What's a fashion pet peeve you wish would go away?
I don't really love the neon. Not a fan. The '80s can stay away. Maybe for the gym.
What's a fall trend that you'll be bringing into your closet?
I really love studded details. This season there's a lot of leather detailing and you can translate into Florida with maybe trim around the sleeve. Think short-sleeve shirts with leather details around the sleeve. Those are my two faves so far.
How would you describe your personal style?
I'm not necessarily high fashion. I try to incorporate what's trendy and in style with things that are practical, things that are going to have legs. It's practically-trendy, a kind of fusion. I absolutely don't subscribe to the wear-it and trash-it idea.
'Different parts of Tampa have different styles'
Hanh Nguyen, 24, of Tampa, splits her time between studying for her law degree, working for her father's cabinetry business and maintaining her blog, The Hahn Solo (thehanhsolo.com). Spurred on by blog heroes like Amy Song (songofstyle.com), Nguyen started The Hanh Solo in February and has since been gaining eyeballs with her sharp photography (by her mother) and eye for mixing styles.
"I just had free time and I've loved fashion since I was little," Nguyen said. "When I was 3 we moved to America from Vietnam and as I was learning English from picture book, I learned all the clothes words first."
How would you describe Tampa's style?
I think honestly, most of the women I see in different parts of Tampa have different styles. I'm biased because I live in South Tampa; I see the preppy chic, J. Crew and Ann Taylor style. Younger areas like Ybor City or around the University of South Florida are more modern, a little more edgy than those areas like South Tampa. Your typical Tampa girl has on a very classic button-down shirt, you know, Tory Burch-ish, with ballet flats and a standout hand bag.
Where do you shop?
I shop everywhere. I like going to thrift and consignment stores. Fashion bloggers don't usually recycle their clothes, but I do quite often. I find amazing vintage or one-of-a-kind pieces. If you buy everything from H&M and Zara, it will be the stuff that everyone has. I don't think that distinguishes your style.
Could you see yourself turning blogging into a career?
I can't now. But people have started contacting me and sending me stuff to review. … I don't want my blog to be bigger than who I am as a person; I'm still conscious of that. People I meet don't know I'm a fashion blogger because they associate a personality with it. They think you're super materialistic and some of my friends have become very self-conscious around me. They say 'When I'm with you, I feel like I have to be really well-dressed.' That's not what I want.