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How I Shop: Sabrina Carpenter

"There's no pressure other than to have fun," says the star of Netflix's dance comedy "Work It" about at-home quarantine fashion.
Jordan Fisher (Team John Ambrose!) as Jake Taylor and Sabrina Carpenter as Quinn Ackerman in 'Work It.'

Jordan Fisher (Team John Ambrose!) as Jake Taylor and Sabrina Carpenter as Quinn Ackerman in 'Work It.'

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."

"It definitely was harder than I anticipated it being," says triple-threat Sabrina Carpenter about pretending to not know how to dance in her latest comedy, "Work It." 

In the Netflix movie, she stars as Quinn Ackerman, a college-bound senior who wakes up to a Ted Talk every morning and has dedicated her years to building a "rejection-proof" college application to Duke, "the Harvard of the South." But after a meeting with an unimpressed admissions counselor (played by the inimitable Michelle Buteau), she realizes that a 4.0 GPA, A.P. credits and first chair orchestra designation aren't enough. So, with the help of her best friend Jasmine (Liza Koshy), Quinn decides to assemble a ragtag competitive dance troupe to pad her app.

"Growing up, I had some friends, who were like, 'I can't dance. I'm not a good dancer,'" Carpenter says, on a call. "I'd be like, 'Just move your hips!' and the way they stiffly move their hips is the way I took inspiration to catapult Quinn into being who she is." 

The actor/singer/writer also credits a very non-Quinn "lack in preparing" to help illustrate a believably awkward and tentative dancer, when we all know Carpenter is just the complete opposite: She has recorded four albums, headlined three tours, hit the stage for three Jingle Balls and opened for Ariana Grande on the "Dangerous Woman Tour" in 2017. Carpenter's latest single, "Let Me Move You" is on the "Work It" soundtrack. Plus, we also know the 21-year-old has acting talent, too, from endearing comedy on "Girl Meets World," "Adventures in Babysitting" and "Tall Girl" to drama in "The Hate U Give." 

Liza Koshy as BFF Jasmine teaches awkward Quinn some moves in 'Work It.'

Liza Koshy as BFF Jasmine teaches awkward Quinn some moves in 'Work It.'

Carpenter also makes time for fashion pursuits, whether that's putting her own spin on high-end designer looks from Off-White to Balmain, collaborating with brands on campaigns or sitting front row at runway shows, like Versace and Fendi — all with the help of her stylist Jason Bolden

"I'm very bummed that I can't be doing that at this time," she says, of an August not-filled with anticipation for an in-person fashion month. "At this point, I would be in the middle of working on either a project or music. So a lot of the times, [the shows] will happen on the fly and I'm all of a sudden, out of nowhere, flying to Milan and at a show the next day. They always end up being these really beautiful accidents that I don't expect."

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In pandemic lockdown, Carpenter is still busy with remote shoots for campaigns, but hasn't found much time or interest in actually shopping — unless it's in her sisters' closets. "Sharing' is one word and then 'stealing and finding them and ending up in random places' is probably the better description," she laughs. 

Below, Carpenter shares what fittings with Bolden are really like (the word "trolling" was used), how she's been "playing" with style to stay inspired and why quarantine fashion might be the most freeing of all.

Carpenter performs during her 'The Singular Tour' in March 2019.

Carpenter performs during her 'The Singular Tour' in March 2019.

"I really do think there's something so obvious about the stuff that I gravitate towards as far as my tour and performance stage outfits. It's myself, but it's heightened. It's the little girl who's always liked to dress up her entire life. Like when you look at fashion icons and what they wear on stage, from Cher going to Beyoncé and continuing into Rihanna — so many incredible strong women —  their clothes just really tell a story about who they are and send messages that they are trying to get across and that definitely makes you feel empowered. I like to wear things that also make me feel that way.

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"When I'm not performing, it's the constant struggle of dressing like a 12-year-old child in oversized clothing or dressing in a very form-fitted, feminine stylistic kind of an outfit. That's something my stylist knows. I'm constantly going back between the two because who I am, on a regular-day basis, typically depends on my mood. That's the beautiful thing about fashion: You don't have to be one thing. I love the evolution in fashion over time, taking inspiration from different decades. I can just play. 

Carpenter, styled by Jason Bolden, for an event for Netflix's 'Tall Girl' in August 2019. 

Carpenter, styled by Jason Bolden, for an event for Netflix's 'Tall Girl' in August 2019. 

"But definitely, my personal style is a lot more effortless. It just feels like whatever I feel the most comfortable and confident in, whether that's a basic white tank top and jeans, dressing it up with my hair and makeup, or an outfit that's a little bit more complex, dressing it down with my hair and makeup. It's just dress-up. It's so much fun and it allows me to use my imagination in a completely different way than I get to do with acting and singing and writing.

"[Working with Jason Bolden is] the best. Too much fun. From the moment I met him, and ever since I've had the pleasure of working with him, it's never felt forced. Sometimes I would have relationships with stylists where I didn't feel like I could be completely open and honest about how I felt. I felt like it would be met with a little bit of a pushback. But with him, we are 99% of the time on the same page and if we're not on the same page, it's either a moment of like, 'You know what? I trust you that this might not be something that I would necessarily do, but I'm gonna go outside my comfort zone because you are incredible.' Or, if there's ever something that I am really envisioning, he's the first person to be like, 'Got it, got it, got it. Let's try this' and throw something new my way in the shortest period of time. That's really beautiful when you can have any sort of open honest relationship with someone, especially when it's creative. 

Carpenter in a look from the Céline Spring 2017 collection at the Billboard Women In Music in November 2017.

Carpenter in a look from the Céline Spring 2017 collection at the Billboard Women In Music in November 2017.

"Our relationship in our fittings is just us trolling each other and having the most fun on shoots and different things. It really just is a friendship. That also makes it really feel easy at the end of the day. That comes across in the clothes. We're just playing. Like if something doesn't feel right, or if a shirt is supposed to be worn a certain way and I don't want to wear it that way, then we don't wear it that way. We change it up, we add things and we take things away. He's really, really great about doing things with ease which has taught me a lot about fashion and style in general.

"One of the looks I'll always remember is this pink Céline dress [above]. When I saw it on the hanger, I never would have picked something out like that for myself. And then once I tried it on, it really just made me like a completely different version of myself, in a good way. Not in a way that makes me feel out of my body. I felt like, 'I'm in my body in a way that I've never felt before.' It's so beautiful when someone can read you in a way that you might not be able to read in yourself yet.

"I stalk his Instagram Stories because he's always posting inspiration. But also, for the shoots I've had to do from home, we've been sending clothes back and forth, and sending inspiration. There has been something so fun [about] going into my closet and literally not dressing up for any occasion other than for myself. Some days, I'm not gonna lie, sweatpants are all I know. Then other days, I go down to the kitchen and it's a fashion show. It's nice right now to be able to play without the pressure of being like, 'Oh, a lot of people are going to see what I'm wearing and have opinions on it.' It's nice to be able to experiment at home and have it go well with the family members. Or not.

"I've been having a lot of Fendi fashion shows because I've been working with Fendi on a few projects and they've been sending me their new collection. I will just be strutting around the house in a full Fendi look and I'm not going anywhere, other than having a lot of fun shooting content at home and finding creative ways to do that. 

"I do love taking inspiration from films, old films from different decades before. There was a day I felt like I wanted to do a full '70s throwback, just a flare jean and more of like a form-fitted Penny Lane tee. I used to wear those outfits more when I was younger, but it's nice to be able to play with it now, as I'm a little bit older and I feel a little bit more in my own skin. 

"No one's going to the ball right now. No one's going out to any clubs. There's no pressure other than to have fun, and if you feel like you love it, then you can capture it and you can share it. If you don't, no one ever has to know that you wore it."

'Work It' premieres on Netflix on Friday, April 7.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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