Talking life with stylist and former “The Bachelor” contestant Tracy Shapoff
By Bridget Schneider
The first thing I notice about Tracy Shapoff as she enters Versa, a trendy Garment District restaurant, are her nails. They’re cow print, and unlike anything I’ve seen before. This, I feel, encapsulates what I will come to learn about Shapoff in the coming two hours: That she possesses a unique and fearless approach not just to fashion but to all aspects of life.
As a shameless consumer of reality television, I’m familiar with Shapoff from her time on the 23rd season of “The Bachelor,” where she competed for the heart of all-American Colton Underwood. But as one could surmise, what and who we see on our screens is not always true to reality — ironic, I know.
With Shapoff, her time on the show allowed for viewers to get only the slightest glimpse of who she really is, something that became clear over the course of our conversation.
After falling into a rabbit hole on the Internet, Shapoff decided on a whim to apply to the ultra-popular dating show — albeit one that she wasn’t particularly familiar with.
“I was like, ‘Why not give it a shot?’ I didn’t think that anyone was going to call me back,” Shapoff says. “It could be an awesome opportunity but I expected absolutely nothing to come from it. And then I was on set at a photo shoot and I got this phone call that completely caught me off guard. Next thing I know, I’m on the show.”
This seems to be a trend in Shapoff’s life: the question of “why not?” followed by a leap of faith and life-changing results. This mentality, after all, served as a launch pad for her career as a stylist.
After graduating from Kent State University with a degree in fashion design, Shapoff came to New York without much of an idea as to where it would lead her. For a while, she jumped around to different positions in the industry, before finally landing at Sam Edelman as the fashion director. While the seven years she spent in New York fostered her love of fashion and provided Shapoff with a plethora of experience across the board, the then 29-year-old found herself longing for … Well, she didn’t exactly know what.
“I needed something different and I wanted to get into styling,” Shapoff explains, alluding to another “why not?” whim. “I like taking random opportunities as they present themselves. [That’s] literally what’s led me down every path of my adulthood.”
After uprooting her life in New York for sunnier Los Angeles three and a half years ago, things have fallen into place for Shapoff and her career as a stylist — but not without a heavy dose of persistence and faith in her future. When first starting out, she researched and reached out to those she admired, and as they responded, Shapoff steadily began to build her styling resume.
Through this process, she determined her ideal clientele: those with an eclectic edge.
“They’re risk takers, they’re very open-minded and they’ll give anything a shot,” she says. “[I like that] because that’s how I am with my fashion.”
Shapoff is certainly open-minded when it comes to fashion. To get a better understanding, look no further than the infamous night one of “The Bachelor.”
Woman after woman exit the limo and meet their suitor for the first time — to say it’s crucial to make a memorable impression is an understatement. Fashion-sense is perhaps the very first thing the leading man sees of the contestants. For a stylist like Shapoff, you could imagine the kind of pressure this posed to hit a bulls-eye with her look.
“Obviously it’s been said that I’m a wardrobe stylist; this is what I live for,” she says. “I tried on a million dresses, I went to every store under the sun. I was not finding it, even though I didn’t exactly know what I wanted. I just knew I wasn’t finding it.”
With the impending first night on the horizon, a sense of urgency set in as Shapoff searched Los Angeles, high and low. Fast forward to two days before she’s set to leave for filming, and find her ever empty-handed. That is, until Sherri Hill.
I raise an eyebrow at the company’s mention, myself familiar with the prom dress brand from my high school days.
“I know,” she says, giving me a knowing, just-hear-me-out look. She quickly explains that, though she had never worked with Sherri Hill, a fellow stylist-friend recommended she reach out, suggesting that they might be willing to send Shapoff some pieces to try. They did, and she fell in love — at least, partially.
“One of the items was this two-piece set — a white skirt and a matching top,” she recalls. “I loved the skirt, and I love matching sets normally, but I was just like ‘this doesn’t feel right.’”
But bells go off in my head. I remember it well, watching Shapoff exit the limo and approach Underwood in a white skirt and matching top.
I ask, “Wait, isn’t that what you wore?”
And here’s where Shapoff shows off the extent of her savvy, open-minded, and frankly, bold, approach to fashion.
In need of a second opinion on an admittedly risky idea, she called her best friend to work through her vision.
“I was like, ‘alright, I have an idea. What if I did this skirt with just a white crop top?’” Shapoff recalls, taking a moment to declare her love for the simplicity of plain, white basics.
Now, it’s 24 hours before show time and Shapoff spends her day scouring the city for the perfect white top— again, to no avail. That’s when the simplest solution hits.
“A Hanes tank top,” she reveals. A trip to Target and a pair of scissors later, Shapoff finds her look — with mere hours to spare.
The end result is two layered tank tops, cut to a perfect fit — now unrecognizable from what imagery a “wife beater” evokes.
“I don’t think anyone watching could tell,” Shapoff says. I confirm this, still stunned to discover that Target played a key role in her night one look. “[The other girls] were so shocked. They were like, ‘Where did you get it from?’ and I’m like, ‘Target, Target, it’s from Target.’”
But the outfit achieved what Shapoff had hoped it would; it caused a stir.
“There were definitely people that hated it,” she says, referencing online criticism she doesn’t typically like to read. But the baffled, ‘what is she doing?’ comments didn’t phase her. In fact, she welcomed them.
“I’m like, great, that’s the impression I wanted,” she continues. “I don’t want people to love everything I wear because then I feel like I’m not making as much of a statement.”
With night one out of the way, first impressions had been served — rather successfully, in Shapoff’s case. But, as anyone who’s seen “The Bachelor” knows, each day brings with it a new need for a killer look; cocktail evenings, pool parties and dates abound.
But how does one pack for a one-night to two-month trip that can take you anywhere around the world?
“You don’t know where you’re going, or if you’re even going to be [on the show] long enough to travel,” she explains. “I attempted to pack outfits, but it was kind of impossible because I really had no idea what I was going to be doing. It was more important to make sure I had enough gowns for the amount of rose ceremonies, or enough looks for cocktail parties, and then everything else in between.”
The uncertainty surrounding one’s time on ‘The Bachelor” surely serves as an obstacle — in planning outfits, of course, but also in mentally preparing for the experience.
Shapoff explains that the process from applying to the first night is far more extensive than some might believe. By the time the women arrive at the iconic Bachelor Mansion, they’ve already been involved with the show for quite a while.
“Let’s say you go home night one. People are always like, ‘Why are they crying so much? They barely got to know him.’ I don’t think anyone realizes how much you’ve been mentally preparing for this,” she says. “You’re really invested by that point, and you’re literally walking away from your career, family, friends, everything, for an extended period of time. I assumed I was very prepared, but I don’t think you’re ever actually prepared for that environment. You don’t know what to expect out of it and you don’t really know how your emotions are going to react. I definitely didn’t.”
At face value, this seems overwhelmingly taxing, but Shapoff assures me that although certain aspects of the process were stressful, it was worth it. This is in part due to the friendships she came away with. It may not be the relationship she set out to form when joining “The Bachelor,” but the experience left her with a tight-knit group of girlfriends — some of whom have even served as subjects to her styling in the show’s adjacent programming. Shapoff styled runner-up Tayshia Adams for “After the Final Rose,” and also helped curate looks for some of the other contestants on “The Women Tell All.” But much more lays in Shapoff’s future as a stylist aside from aiding fellow contestants in their fashion endeavors.
“Celebrity styling is what I’m always going to love and want to do,” she says. “But I would eventually like to do something with award shows and things like that. You see a lot of stylists going to award shows like the Oscars, doing the red carpet and critiquing. I think that’s a super cool path to continue down.”
While her life has unsurprisingly changed in the last year, Shapoff expects to continue pursuing her passion — though the avenues for doing so have expanded.
After accruing a fair amount of recognition that comes with appearing on national television, those who have appeared on the dating show often find themselves with a solid following on social media, particularly Instagram. This opens the doors for “influencing” — i.e. turning one’s personal brand into a strategy for marketing.
But as we know, Shapoff is a stylist. The influencer modus operandiis already weaved into the way she works.
“[Influencing] is not my goal — my goal is obviously styling. But I actually think it’s a really great way to work with different companies,” Shapoff explains. “I’ve been able to work with a ton of up-and-coming companies, from a styling standpoint and for fashion purposes. We help each other out, it’s a win-win. It’s really great networking and it’s a great way to build a business.”
Though she’s hesitant to call herself an influencer, Shapoff’s 14,000-plus Instagram following tells me that there are many people who seek her influence, nonetheless.
“It’s really cool to me, what Instagram and social media are able to do,” Shapoff continues. “People look at influencers in a kind of negative way, and I understand where the negative connotation comes in. But honestly, in this day and age, it’s probably the biggest way that companies are able to grow and reach people.”
Shapoff isn’t wrong — there are those who view influencers in a poor light, taking issue with the seemingly genuine endorsement of a product when in actuality, the influencer is getting paid to promote it. But, with the increasing demand for transparency in the murky, distorted waters of social media, most influencers won’t collaborate with a brand unless they truly support its mission.
“For me personally, I want to really love a product or love a company to work with them,” Shapoff explains. “That’s where you can put your passion into it.”
If there’s one underlying current that pulses through everything Shapoff’s told me, it’s the notion of persistently pursuing her passion, even when the thing she seeks isn’t totally clear. Shapoff has a sturdy internal compass, pushing her to follow her gut instincts and take giant leaps with unforeseeable consequences. In the realm of fashion — where a keen sense of self and dauntless approach to expressing it is what sets you apart from the pack — this quality is a salient factor of success.
After a whirlwind year in the reality television spotlight, Shapoff appears to be perfectly content settling back into her life in Los Angeles. But if her history is any indication of what lies ahead, then her next-big-move is waiting just around the corner. And if I had to guess, it will all begin with a “why not?”
Favorite star she’s worked with? “Gillian Jacobs. She’s such an awesome person that I was lucky enough to get to know.”
Stance on outfit repeating? “That’s tricky. I feel like I’m constantly posting my outfits on my timeline, how am I supposed to repeat that now? But usually my repeated outfits are my go-to things: my plain tank tops, t-shirts and Levi’s jeans.”
Skincare product she can’t live without? “Neutrogena face wipes. I’m obsessed.”
Current trend she’s feeling? “I love wearing blazers; I could pair them with anything under the sun.”
Trend she finds overrated? “The oversized sweatshirt and biker shorts look has been really oversaturated, especially in L.A.”