How I Shop: Jessica Szohr

The former "Gossip Girl" star opens up about how playing Vanessa changed her style and why she's going for simpler fashion today.
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Jessica Szohr at an event celebrating her collaboration with Apotheke. Photo: Donato Sardella

Jessica Szohr at an event celebrating her collaboration with Apotheke. Photo: Donato Sardella

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."

While "Gossip Girl" first aired nearly 12 years ago, the show's fashion and its characters remain unforgettable. Take, for example, Vanessa Abrams, played by actress Jessica Szohr: The boho Brooklyn hipster represented an extremely distinct aesthetic from the early 2000s.

Today, though, Szohr has moved on to other things, like her first-of-its-kind collaboration with home fragrance company Apotheke. Szohr went back to her own roots to formulate a candle dubbed Kai Rose. "I always find myself putting candles in my trailers and in hotel rooms to have a familiar scent or to make the room feel a little bit warmer," she explains. "No matter where I lived or what apartment or what home, I always had candles in each room." The floral scent is a nod to her grandfather, who would tell her to always take time and smell the roses, and the packaging is designed to be reusable.

Szohr also plays the role of Talla in "The Orville," a sci-fi comedy series created by, and also starring, Seth MacFarlane. (Another former "Gossip Girl" star Leighton Meester also made an appearance in the second season, which just ended.)

On the sunny day before her Apotheke collaboration drops, actress Jessica Szohr calls us from the beach in Los Angeles, where she spends most of her time these days. Like anyone else, her home base definitely influences her style. "In terms of fashion, I feel like I'm very much 'less is more' and I would say I'm bohemian-chic, but more artsy," she explains.

Here, the actress shares her style inspiration, how playing the role of Vanessa on "Gossip Girl" informed her sense of style all these years later, why her favorite vintage pieces are often found in the most unexpected places and what she wears to early-morning sets.

Jessica Szohr at the grand opening of KAOS Dayclub & Nightclub at Palms Casino Resort. Photo: Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images for Palms Casino Resort

Jessica Szohr at the grand opening of KAOS Dayclub & Nightclub at Palms Casino Resort. Photo: Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images for Palms Casino Resort

"I really like to be comfortable, so if it can be stylish and comfy and feminine without being too girly, that's on the nose for me. I wear more earth tone colors; I love army green or tans.

Right now, working on 'The Orville,' my call times are super early — like five o' clock in the morning — so when I'm going to set in the morning, I'm going to just go comfy. I get there and I'm in hair and makeup for two hours, and no one really sees me because I'm the first one there.

For the candle launch, I had a couple fittings and I wanted very much a vibe of how I'm trying to represent the candle, which is very simple and calm and it is what it is when you see it.

My character Talla on 'The Orville' wears the same uniform every day and I feel like, if she were to go to Earth or change into something, she would be a very jeans-and-a-t-shirt kind of girl. I don't think playing a role that wears the same thing everyday has affected my own wardrobe, it's just that I've never had to do that. On 'Gossip Girl,' the amount of changes we had each day and each episode was insane but awesome, because it totally opened up my eyes to the whole fashion world. Then on 'Shameless,' playing Nessa, she was very much jeans and a t-shirt, tomboyish. 

When I'm dressing for a red-carpet event, it depends on what it's for; if it's supporting a friend and going to their premiere for something, I don't feel like you need to go over the top, because it's not really your moment. But I still think it's nice to go and look fashionable. 

Sometimes, my stylist [Alyssa Greene] says, 'Let's step out of your comfort zone for a minute and take a risk.' And a few times she's had me do that, it's really worked. Because I'm not someone who's like, 'Let's put the craziest outfit on and turn heads and do this.' Sometimes I need someone to be like, 'Let's just try this. Trust me.' At the end of the day, I'm old enough and secure enough in myself that I should be okay with how I feel when I'm walking out of my house. 

Jessica Szohr at the 2019 iHeartRadio Music Awards. Photo: Rich Polk/Getty Images for iHeartMedia

Jessica Szohr at the 2019 iHeartRadio Music Awards. Photo: Rich Polk/Getty Images for iHeartMedia

Last year for the ESPYs, I'd never worn something that showed so much of my body and then it ended up actually being one of my most favorite looks. The iHeart Radio Awards recently was a moment where I'm like, 'Okay, I'm wearing a bodysuit where you definitely see all of my legs, my butt.' But it was also very comfortable! I really enjoyed my Topshop outfit for the Met Ball a few years back; it was short and kind of rock-and-roll, and I was not sure about wearing a short dress to that event, but I ended up liking that look.

Don't get me wrong, there have been looks where, after the fact, I'm like, 'What was I thinking?!' Sometimes you look back and you're like, 'Why would I wear my hair that way?' and at the time you thought it was the cutest thing you could do. There was a Teen Choice Awards and I wore this fully printed bodysuit — long sleeved, and it was all one print. I thought it was the thing and a year later I'm like, 'You should've never even thought about trying that on.' You have to be okay with that, because everyone's style is so different, and that's also what makes it so fun and cool and exciting.

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"Gossip Girl" opened me up to so many more avenues and designers than I had ever known about, or would have without that show. I think it did for all of us. Vanessa was definitely a bit more like funkified than I was; she loved a ton of layers, and mismatching all patterns and stuff. But I thought it was a really cool vibe. I liked it. There would be times where you wouldn't know that Vanessa was wearing Diane von Furstenberg, and I'm like, 'This fits. Can I afford it or not?' But we wouldn't talk about it. I'd be like, 'Yeah. This sweater is too expensive for her, but it's cute.'

Today, I'm a big fan of Diane von Furstenberg. I like Zac Posen. I've just recently been wearing a couple things from Ronny Kobo, and I've really liked it. Marc Jacobs I also love. I’m based in L.A. and one of my favorite stores is Reformation. Confederacy is not there anymore and it still bothers me. I've been wearing a lot of Nanushka. I'm loving them. I also love Dylanlex. I love wearing her jewelry. A bunch of the vintage places, like American Rag I love. This shirt I have on now is Cotton Citizen. Recently I've been wearing them a lot. 

What I look for in shopping vintage is the texture and the feeling of the shirt. I like a real thin fabric where it almost feels like it's going to rip, but it's so old and so great that it won't. I love an old, smaller sweatshirt that's probably meant to be for a 13-year-old. I love old flannels, and I like big sweaters that are probably meant for a very large man. So I'm either a 12-year-old child or a big man in a sweater.

Jessica Szohr at "The IMDb Show." Photo: Rich Polk/Getty Images for IMDb

Jessica Szohr at "The IMDb Show." Photo: Rich Polk/Getty Images for IMDb

One of my favorite vintage pieces of all time is this mustard yellow zip-up sweatshirt-slash-sweater and is literally from my mom; she had it when she was pregnant with me. I also have an old vintage Dior sweater that's a very simple cream sweater. It was at a vintage place in Brooklyn and I remember being like, 'This is a mistake.' I feel like someone might've went to go get their wallet and hid it, because I couldn't believe I found it.

Topshop and Urban Outfitters, when it comes to jeans, fit me to a tee. The BDG line from Urban Outfitters, I also love. Rag and Bone, I have a couple great pairs by them. But if it was literally a go-to where I couldn't try it on and someone was like, 'We need to get you jeans for set,' I'd be like, 'Go to Urban or Topshop. They fit me.'

Jessica Szohr at the Pomellato store opening with Chiara Ferragni. Photo: Donato Sardella/Getty Images for Pomellato

Jessica Szohr at the Pomellato store opening with Chiara Ferragni. Photo: Donato Sardella/Getty Images for Pomellato

I have this old pair of Chloé little boots that have all those studs on them, which I actually haven't worn in a while, but they're very rock and roll and very special to me. I remember buying them, and it was a real statement. But you can dress them up, dress them down, and I was very proud of myself that I could get those. I really got a lot of use out of them. I have a lot of shoes: a bunch of high-top Nikes that I have that are from the '80s, I really love some old Doc Martens.

I think with age in general, you feel more comfortable with certain things. I feel like there was a couple years where I dressed up more than I did other years, and that was probably, again, in New York. But, that was also because I went from a small-town girl going to garage sales and wearing vintage stuff, to learning about all these designers and opening up my world to the fashion world. It was such a part of "Gossip Girl," and then became such a part of our life, that I remember I was wearing heels a couple times a week, and I had never done that in my life. There's been times where my style shifted or changed, but I think, for the most part, my style is pretty simple.

I actually don't shop online at all. I just got an Amazon account recently. I get Young Living oils, and I might buy some oils that I like, but that's like literally the only thing that comes monthly. 

One of my style icons is Dylan, who does Dylanex; I think her vibe and style is so awesome, just the way she puts all those necklaces and jewelry on. Jessica Stam, who is one of my closest friends, I love her style. I think Kate Moss has a great style. I think Michelle Williams has a great style.

The most important thing about fashion to me is that you feel good rocking it, and that you're doing it for you, because it's not about anyone else.”

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