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."
In the series finale of the dearly departed "Pretty Little Liars," successful fashion designer Hanna Marin embarked on her next life stage with former hacker husband Caleb and a plus-one in the fictional Rosewood, where it's always layering season. Meanwhile, in real life, Ashley Benson — the actress who played my personal favorite "Liar" — left her home in sunny Los Angeles for an extended winter in New York City to tackle the next stage in her career.
Benson has said in interviews that her IRL style aligns more with that of "PLL" character Emily Fields (portrayed by Shay Mitchell) — rugged jeans, t-shirts and black leather moto jackets — as opposed to over-the-top (and oft-overdressed) Hanna. In a sartorial sense, the actress is right at home in NYC, where she just started shooting the indie film "Her Smell" opposite "Handmaid's Tale" star Elisabeth Moss. On her off hours, Benson is making the most of the city's street style, people watching and both designer and fast fashion flagship shopping.
Despite her semi-hiatus from Instagram and Twitter, especially compared to her "PLL" constant social media-mandated days, Benson does engage in #influencer work as an official partner with Privé Revaux. She joins Jamie Foxx and Hailee Steinfeld as fellow partners for the trendy and accessibly priced eyewear brand, plus celebrity stylists Rob Zangardi and Mariel Haenn as creative directors.
"I have every pair of Privés, and I have multiples," Benson says, while casually twirling a classic black oversize pair, which coordinate with her very New York, all-black outfit of ripped skinny jeans, ankle boots and a faux leather moto from Zara. In May, she'll be promoting the brand's summer collection, which introduces a full and "really dope" optical line.
"It feels very vintage to me: very small frames and a cute, kind of grandpa style, which is my favorite," she adds.
This isn't really what we'd expect from Hanna, but Benson is full of surprises, especially when it comes to her thoughts on fashion and shopping. Although, she nonchalantly dismissed her own style all as "not that fun" to talk about, which sounds pretty damn New York, if you think about it.
"I'm very New York. I'm not LA.
When I was in LA, I dressed like I was in New York all the time, so moving here just allowed me to get more into the New York vibe with faux fur and cool jackets. I can always wear my leather jacket, which I wore almost every day in LA — even if it was 90 degrees outside, I'd still be in a leather jacket. Here, I wear cool, heavy jackets, turtlenecks and sneakers because I'm walking around a lot. I like Converse or Nikes. I'm mostly in workout clothes when I'm in LA or jeans and a t-shirt. My style is not that fun to talk about. I wish it was.
I think New York style is so cool and effortless. One of my favorite things is walking around and seeing everybody's style — people are very fashion forward here. Brooklyn surprisingly is super-cool and young and has great fashion. The East Village has great fashion. Everywhere. I feel like everyone is on-point in New York, even if you're getting groceries. Everything looks chicer here. It's just the attitude, too. I feel like New Yorkers are just very cool and calm. Not trying too hard. That's what it is: Just super-effortless, and it just makes everything look that much better.
The Olsen Twins are my inspiration. I'm obsessed with them, and that's who I look up to for fashion. They always wear black. They always wear oversize coats. They have cool sneakers or loafers. Great pants, just everything about them, I'm obsessed with. I just look at their style and I'm like, 'OK, I'll wear that.' They do a lot of basics. They're not over the top. They always look good, like they'll come out of the gym with wet hair and sweatpants on and, 'Oh, you look so gooood." I try. I try to do that. It never looks the same though.
It's so fucking weird, I don't shop [a lot] in New York. Where do I get all my clothes? I'll go into Saint Laurent and Gucci and get a statement piece, but everything else is from Urban Outfitters, Brandy Melville, H&M. I love Zara. I can go into those stores and just buy so much stuff. I love walking into a store and getting a bunch of white t-shirts, if they're good. Sweatpants, sweatsuits: I love all that stuff. Gucci has really cool tracksuits right now and I really want to splurge and get one. They're, like, sick. But Adidas, Nike, anything like that ... anything oversize, I really like.
The Vintage Twin is one of my favorite stores in New York, and I'm friends with Morgan [Elias], who started it. The store is pretty organized, so I just walk in and see what I like. But also Morgan knows exactly what I like, so she shows me what kind of stuff she thinks I'd [be into]. I love Harley Davidson vintage t-shirts. I have a couple of Ren & Stimpy vintage T-shirts, and then I have a ton of oversize camo jackets, really worn-in jean jackets and great vintage Levi's.
My personal style was the same throughout my teen years. Although, I didn't really know how to dress back then. I still don't know, but I would say my style is just a lot of black, a good pair of high-heeled boots, a ton of sneakers and Levi's. I like crop tops and turtlenecks, but just very, very simple.
Being on 'Pretty Little Liars' showed me how to accessorize with different things because I'm also super plain in that area. Just because I am so different than Hanna, it was kind of hard to mix the two. But, yeah, it got me a touch more into my 'girlie' side. But I also feel so weird when I dress like that. I'll save it for red carpets, you know what I mean? But even then I'm like, 'eeeeeeeh.'
Shay [Mitchell] dresses so well. She always has the best stuff. She always looks so cute and is really good at pairing basics with a great piece. She loves fashion and I would, too, but I just don't care that much — I wish I did more. When I'm shopping with her, I'm quick. I take it out of the store and don't try it on. Shay would probably be in there for hours and try everything on. I'd probably just leave, to be honest [laughs].
I am an impulse shopper: 100 percent. Especially with bags. I'll go into places and be like, 'I'm not buying anything' and then I'm the only one out of my friends — when I didn't even want to go shopping — that gets something, which is so typical.
My car got broken into in LA, so one of my favorite Chanel bags — gone, as well as Céline sunglasses, Saint Laurent coats and my black Privé Revaux Benz sunglasses. So it sucks. It was my favorite small, leather, cute Chanel purse that I had for, like, six years. I wore it almost everyday and I'm like, 'Noooo! Now someone has that.'"
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.