How I Shop: Busy Philipps

"I'm like a mall rat from the '90s."
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Busy Philipps stars in Old Navy's fall campaign. Photo: Courtesy of Old Navy

Busy Philipps stars in Old Navy's fall campaign. Photo: Courtesy of Old Navy

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."

We cherish Busy Philipps thanks in large part to her portrayal of the most definitive characters from the past almost two decades: ski jacket-wearing Kim Kelly on "Freaks and Geeks," Joey's L.A. girl roomie Audrey Liddell on "Dawson's Creek," super-sized wine-swilling Floridian Laurie Keller on "Cougartown" and many, many more. 

But we're equally — if not more — obsessed with Philipps's IRL self, too. Whether she's interviewing her bold-name friends on her recently canceled talk show "Busy Tonight" (RIP), giving us the warm and fuzzies with BFF Michelle Williams or being brutally honest about her experiences with motherhood, anxiety and other important issues via Instagram and her bestselling book, "This Will Only Hurt A Little." 

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We also love how Philipps openly expresses herself through personal style. Sometimes she's feeling Ren Faire-ish, as she'll explain below, and most of the time she's having fun playing with vibrant prints, bold colors and dramatic silhouettes. Philipps is also up for anything — like jumping into a pool fully clothed in a dreamy a white Zimmermann dress during her 40th birthday trip to Mexico, or showing off her comedic talents while twinning with a former high school nemesis in Old Navy's latest denim commercial.

Although, Philipps can't recall any outfit doppelgänger moments in real life. "That must have happened to me at some point, but I can't remember actually twinning with someone," she says over the phone. (But perhaps this moment with Williams kinda counts?)

We caught the actress, host and activist right after she filmed her commercial and just before another milestone birthday celebration to discuss working with über-stylist Karla Welch, shopping at the mall and refusing to buy into Kondo-mania.

Philipps in an Ulla Johnson dress at the Los Angeles "Booksmart" premiere. Photo: by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Philipps in an Ulla Johnson dress at the Los Angeles "Booksmart" premiere. Photo: by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

"Working with Karla Welch has been incredible. I've worked with her for about 10 years now, and because she works with so many amazing women — and a few men — she really understands who each person that she's dressing is. I know that the racks that she pulls for me are not going to be the same stuff she pulls for Sarah Paulson, Tracee Ellis Ross or Amy Poehler. She just knows who we are, what we feel comfortable in and what we want to wear, and she really has such an amazing ability to be able to pull that off.

I've always had a very strong sense of my own personal style and the things that I want to wear and what feels good on me. She's such an amazing partner in that because she's able to elevate it with — let's be honest — clothes I couldn't afford at times, or translate my every day personal day-to-day style to the red carpet.

I wouldn't say that I necessarily subscribe to one kind of style. But I've always been very into a lot of color and experimenting with different kinds of styles and trends. I've always been very open, and as I've gotten older, I get creative in terms of mixing high and low.

For a little bit a month or two ago, I had been very inspired by renaissance festival vibes. I really liked that wide, flared neckline on tops and dresses with a cute little puffy sleeve. I wear a lot of dresses and T-shirts with skirts, but then with jeans I like to wear something a little bit nicer than a T-shirt.

Instagram has changed everything — the way that we think about clothes and outfits and I find a lot of inspiration from just even the Explore page, like scrolling through and looking at what people are wearing and shooting. Obviously, the term 'influencer' works for a reason. The fashion influencers have such a huge impact on how we're all dressing and what we want to wear.

I will do online shopping for my everyday, but I'm kind of old school. I guess I'm like a mall rat from the '90s. There's something really comforting to me about going into brick-and-mortar stores and trying clothes on. I find the return process online — even though they've tried to make the return process as easy as possible — I still find it arduous. So I prefer to just go to a store if I have the time or the inclination and shop in person.

When I was working on the HBO show 'Vice Principals,' which shot in Charleston, South Carolina, there's an amazing boutique called Hampden Clothing. I made friends with the woman who owns the store, Stacy Smallwood — and P.S., she was just at my birthday in Mexico. She'll send me pictures of stuff that comes into her store and she'll be like, 'Do you want this?' She'll make a box for me and send it off and then I try on the clothes. It's so rare when I send stuff back. She knows exactly what I want.

I will go to a mall with my girls, so I'll hit whatever's at the mall. I love Isabel Marant's store [in Los Angeles] because it's so beautiful and I love the clothes, obviously. I love Rachel Comey's store, too. There's a good dressing room, great lights, nice mirrors. But I like Dôen, so I buy that stuff online. 

It feels like I always have new clothes but I can't even think of where I get them. [I'm] maybe a little bit of an impulse shopper. It's when the mood strikes me. I have a lot of clothes. Fundamentally, I disagree [with cleaning out your closet]. That's my philosophy. I don't really subscribe to it. 

I like stuff. I think stuff is great. I think stuff gives you good memories. It ties you in a way to who you are and reminds you of where you come from. My parents are the same way. I still have dresses of my mom's from the '50s that she saved and I stole from her.

I have boxes of clothes saved for my kids if they want to dig through them — like all the way from when I was in high school and I have crazy '90s raver clothes. It's all come back in fashion. There's this little jumpsuit that just recently found. Oh my god, I'm so glad I saved that. I wore that at my 30th birthday and I was so excited I found it because here we are and I'm turning 40."

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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