Mignon McLaughlin said, “Women usually love what they buy, yet hate two-thirds of what is in their closets.” No one in Memphis knows the psychology behind that better than Brooke Levy. Having spent several years as co-owner of Blue Pencil Home, a home organization and consultation service, she invested her time in helping people clear out what they don’t need. Now, as the Director of the Ladies’ Department at Oak Hall, she’s helping them buy wisely and fill their closets with things they love and that will truly work for them. Meet Brooke Levy, an inspiring FACE of Memphis!
You’ve transitioned from working with Blue Pencil Home to becoming the Director of the Ladies’ Department at Oak Hall. You are now helping people fill their closets instead of cleaning them out. How does your background in home organization inform your shopping strategies?
I think I’ve spent so much time in people’s closets that I’ve learned how to figure out what people love, what they wear most, and what they actually need. Everyone needs basics. So now, I really enjoy thinking through what’s the best shirt or sweater a woman can have. What are multiple ways this piece can be used? How can you buy one really great black sweater instead of having the six different black sweaters that are in your closet now? I like helping customers think through what quality pieces really work for them.
Are there a few basic items every woman should own?
We have sold probably a thousand of one specific sweater, and I think everyone should have it in several colors. It’s the Vince cashmere funnel neck sweater. We talked about them at Blue Pencil. You can wear them with a skirt or sweatpants or jeans. You can wear them on a date or to run errands.
What are your favorite accessory pieces?
I love a bunch of necklaces all worn at the same time. Right now, I am wearing a gold chain that has charms on it. I can attach different charms to it depending upon how I’m feeling. We sell little connectors that will enable you to put charms on any necklace. Really, I just love a combo of necklaces or a combo of bracelets.
At Oak Hall, we sell Zap bracelets, which are forever bracelets that are permanently soldered on your wrist. You can make an appointment with our jeweler and have it done in store.
How has the pandemic changed the way people shop?
For a long time, we shifted away from dressy. We sold a ton of athleisure, sweatshirts, and sweatpants. But now, nobody ever wants to own another sweatshirt again for the rest of their lives. So we’ve moved into a new place where people are wanting to dress up again.
One funny story that I love to tell is this one: As a buyer, I work with my team of two assistants to purchase the clothes you see in-store eight months before it shows up on the floor. So we purchased the clothes in-store now before last Christmas. Well, we have this fantastic leather jacket vendor who I really love, so I bought some blue leather jackets from them. When they arrived, they were electric blue and I said, “Oh my! What are we going to do with these?! They are electric blue!” But we put them out and they were gone in three days. It is very surprising what people have to have. We are in a place right now that is a lot like the roaring ’20s after prohibition. People are wanting fun, crazy, and different after a year of pandemic-living.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I don’t get to do it as often as I like, but I really love being down in the fitting room and seeing customers come out having tried on something that feels really great. It’s a really fun atmosphere. A lot of the time there is wine or champagne and people just like hanging out and having a good time trying on clothes. It’s particularly great when someone finds that perfect pair of jeans.
Which leads me to a question I’ve wondered for a long time: Is it possible for every woman to find a perfect pair of jeans?
Yes, it is absolutely possible! You know, after that Gen Z meme about skinny jeans, we had a lot of customers come in saying, “I know I’m not supposed to wear skinny jeans, so what do I wear now?” I say, if you feel good and it looks good on you, wear it!
Companies send us samples of their jeans, and I put every pair of jeans on as many bodies as I possibly can. I have our salespeople try them on so they can feel what the product feels like. We have women on our team of all sizes. So by trying the jeans on, when they see customers that are built like other people on our sales team, they can more easily direct them to the jeans that might work best for that customer. By trying on everything themselves, the salespeople know what works for every body type.
That’s one of the most liberating comments I’ve ever heard someone in the fashion industry make! Women often walk into stores like Oak Hall feeling intimidated for all sorts of reasons. Knowing the salespeople can empathize with the shopper is enormously disarming!
We’ve worked hard to make it a place where families can come in — a mother and daughter, for instance — and everyone can find something. We have items at a higher price point and others at a lower price point. Memphis doesn’t have a true department store anymore, so we are trying to become the place that lets everyone find something.
We are also hosting lots of fun events like ear piercing parties, mimosas in-store, and we are even having a custom hat maker come. You can order your own custom felt hat and have your initials branded into it. Because of COVID, people are now wanting to get out and do something fun. We want Oak Hall to be the place where you can come see something cool and do something cool.
What one thing has really surprised you about the women of Memphis as you’ve engaged in this endeavor?
I think the most surprising thing has been that we are all the same, and we just want to feel good when we are shopping. In the fitting room, you can see it in their face when they feel good. Everyone just wants to feel amazing. When a woman comes out of the fitting room in something that works, you can actually see her face change, and that’s the neatest thing to see someone really love.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
We cannot control what happens to us, but we have a choice in how we respond.
Aside from faith, family, and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Tennis, warm blankets, and true crime podcasts.
Thank you, Brooke! All photography by Erin Mosher.
To meet more inspiring Memphis women, visit our FACES archives.