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How I Shop: Mindy Kaling

"I do so much of my shopping from Instagram. It makes me mad when people will wear something cute and they don't tag it. I'm like, 'how dare you!'"
Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images

Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images

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."

Mindy Kaling has always been unapologetically herself, which makes her feel like the kind of BFF you want to binge Netflix and order takeout with. We didn't quite do that, but we did sit down to discuss one of our favorite topics: shopping.

But how does such a multi-faceted career woman and single mother even have time to shop? From her days working on "The Office" and "The Mindy Project," to her recent movie, "Late Night," which she wrote, produced and starred in, to developing upcoming series for Hulu and Netflix, Kaling is turning into Hollywood’s modern-day Renaissance woman, wearing multiple hats on several projects.

The actress, writer, director, producer and comedian admits that Instagram fulfills her favorite pastime of going to the mall with her mom. Just like us, she gets starry-eyed at pretty influencer product placements and targeted ads. (She's also done a bit of her own Instagram influencing recently, thanks to a new partnership with Joy razors.)

Kaling confesses that she loves color, sparkle and prints when it comes to being in front of the camera, but while in the writer's room of her new Netflix show, and at home with her daughter Katherine, you'll find her in nothing more than jeans and a great tee. Even her approach to fashion is utterly relatable: She loves a good under-$50 deal, and genuinely appreciates the designer dresses she worked so hard to earn.

"I go from being on camera and loving color and fashion and really wanting to make a statement with my clothing, but when I'm a comedy writer — that's the other side of my job — I will refuse to wear heels. I'll wear sneakers, jeans, t-shirts or sweatshirts. Those are the two sides of my personality and they are extremely different.

When I was in my twenties, I would buy sparkly dresses a lot and things that I could almost never use because my regular work staples were the same basic grey t-shirt and jeans. So about five years ago I switched over to be like, okay, I have enough sparkly dresses. If I have to go to an award show, I'll get dressed by someone, so I don't need to buy that. So now I really invest in basics. And it's a little bit less thrilling to go online and buy, you know, a really well-fitting, flattering t-shirt, but I definitely will use it way more than another sequined dress.

My first shopping experience must have been with my mom. She also loved clothing and shopping and we would, every season, go together to freshen up her wardrobe. We would go to Macy's…and that was fancy for us, so I remember that really well. I would sit in the little area outside the waiting room and she would change, and sometimes she would call me in to finish her zipper for her. Shopping is really something we bonded over.

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J.Crew and Armani Exchange were [also] fancy for us growing up and so when I was probably in seventh or eighth grade, I got an orange J.Crew wool sweater for Christmas and I thought, like, oh my god, I’ve made it. I wore it with a brown corduroy skirt and brown tights and I thought this was a good outfit for the fall and winter. I grew up on the east coast in Boston. I was the girl that would be wearing the platform sandals and platform heels every single day – winter, spring, summer, always.

I almost do no in-person shopping, such that when I get a chance to do it it's like an event. The original Saks Fifth Avenue is one of my favorite stores so when I was in New York, I went there. Other than that, it's mostly boxes arriving at my office, my assistants unpacking them, me trying them on when I work and then sometimes sending them back. I haven't done the whole like go-to-the-mall-shopping, which is too bad because I really did love that when I was younger.

By the way, anything that's advertised to me, whether it's actually on someone’s Instagram page or just an ad, I buy everything! I am so conducive to buy that way, especially since it's on my phone I'm like, okay this great, easy! One of the reasons why I'm really careful about who I partner with is that I feel like a lot of people that follow me really like stylish things but they don't want to spend a ton of money. I am working with a brand I love so much right now, which is Joy and the Joy Razor. It really simplifies my life and it's so cute.

If something is under $50, I'm like, okay sure I'll buy, this won't be a big hit to my budget. I do think my Instagram targeted marketing is very deadly for me. I do so much of my shopping from Instagram. It makes me mad when people will wear something cute and they don't tag it. I'm like, 'how dare you!'

With that said, I try not to spend a ton of money on statement pieces; I really try to spend money on things I'm going to be using a lot. If I'm going to buy something, I have to clear something else out of my closet. It's a little deal I made with myself.

I work with a lot of different stylists, depending on what [the event] is. There is a stylist named Jessica Mulroney. She is well-known in Toronto. We were friends on Instagram and she was like, 'I really want to see you in a suit,' and I had never worn a suit before. I was like, 'No way it doesn't fit my figure,' but she sent me the most gorgeous suit that I Instagrammed. It was indigo. I think it has the most likes of any post on my page. It has like 260,000 likes. I was like, okay maybe I need to start wearing suits. And it's all because of this stylist and her amazing eye. I do think stylists can be really incredible even if you feel like you know your body. They stretch what you feel comfortable with and it can really pay off. [The suit] was by this local Canadian designer, Landscape.

The compliment I receive the most is that I'm relatable. And it's because I didn’t grow up dressed in Chanel and Oscar de la Renta. That all came because I worked really really hard. Everything I own is because I bought it myself with my own money that I earned. I don't have a rich husband or come from money. I really love products that are well-made that don't cost a lot of money — whether it's clothing or Joy razors. But for fashion, it's mixing the really high-end stuff – a Carolina Herrera dress with a beautiful Sam Edelman shoe.

Photo: c/o Joy Shave

Photo: c/o Joy Shave

Shopping for [Mindy's daughter, Katherine] is the best, but it's always a trap. Sometimes I feel guilty online shopping for me, but with her I never feel guilty. I buy something for her online at least a couple times a week. She is very active so pinning her down to change her clothes makes her frustrated because she always wants to be on the go. I can't really do those frilly dresses with a million buttons that I love because she will just kill me. She crawls around and climbs so dresses are hard because I feel like they get caught in things. She wears a ton of pattern jeans and little tee shirts and tanks. She has a pair of white jeans with little bananas on them, I think they are Stella McCartney."

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