Mary Houlihan, an out fashion stylist with Trunk Club, turns clothes shopping for the well-dressed gentleman into a hands-on experience

Fashion

BORN IN A TRUNK | Stylist Mary Houlihan and her client Jeff Spangler — who both moved to North Texas with their partners recently — work in concert to create Spangler’s look. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

J. DENTON BRICKER  
Contributing Writer

Mary Houlihan’s love for fashion really began to flourish during her early teens. She would wait for her older sister to go out, sneak into her room, crank up Hole’s “Dollparts” and try on every article of clothing in Sis’ closet. She would then carefully return everything so her sister wouldn’t learn about her private fashion shows.

Houlihan still gets to play dress-up on a daily basis — in a closet with far greater resources than her sister’s. She’s now a stylist for Trunk Club, a burgeoning Chicago-based company that is reimaging men’s fashions … especially how to shop for them.

“I love dressing other people over myself now,” she says. “ I guarantee you will say, ‘I don’t think I would have picked this out on my own,’ and I love hearing that.”

At Trunk Club, new clients are assigned to a stylist (like Houlihan or one of her colleagues), who then assists them with their clothing purchases from a variety of different brands and designs. Off-the-rack garments range from suits to sweatpants to even socks or flip-flops — all custom-selected by trained professionals. It’s like having a personal shopper.

Houlihan was totally gung-ho about the move to Dallas from her native Chicago after receiving inspiration through the motivational speaking of Trunk Club CEO Brian Spaly. “I would have gone absolutely anywhere, not only because I love this place but because I knew it would give me the opportunity to be an entrepreneur, which really excites me,” she says. “I got to put in really long hours and it feels like my own blood, sweat and tears are involved in it.”

The Dallas move proved vitally important not only for Houlihan but for Trunk Club, too: It was the company’s first expansion outside of Chicago, and launched them into the national spotlight. “It took Dallas to prove to Nordstrom [who recently bought the company] that we could expand and be just as successful in [other] cities,” Houlihan says. Soon after Dallas, they opened stores in D.C., L.A and New York City.

It was a successful move personally, as well. Houlihan’s partner, Kristen, eventually relocated with her and is supportive of her girlfriend’s career, working as a nanny while also studying to be a health coach. Houlihan is cultivating her own education and is currently in custom-certification training. But the hands-on experience in the trenches has taught her a lot.

“I am working with guys in-house all day, so I’m seeing these products on guys that could be of a similar height, weight or maybe they share a common fit issue with you, like shirts are really baggy around the waist or they can’t find a trim pant that fits them well,” Houlihan says. “The team of people buying for our company are looking out for that really stellar fit.” After a recommended initial site visit to the clubhouse (store) so Houlihan can get to know you and see how the products wear, she follows up with a trunk (hence the name) that arrives free of charge. Clients get to keep their trunks for 10 days to try on any or all of the items. Anything not wanted can be shipped back (again at no cost) and clients are only billed for what they keep.

So how does a personal consultant work for you?

“I pull things that I think are going to fit really well, first and foremost. With a new guy, I almost always start with dark denim, a white button down shirt and a brown leather shoe. If someone wants something for work and play, I normally start there. Sometimes guys say they have a ton of these in their closet but discover the difference after trying it on,” Houlihan says.

The client’s feedback and the relationship affect future trunk shipments. Stylists reach out around birthdays, anniversaries, during the holidays and other important lifetime events to make sure you have what is needed in your wardrobe to celebrate in style. Communication happens via phone, email, text; it’s really left up to the preference of the client. Unlike other fashion/lifestyle boxes (Birchbox, etc.), the frequency of the service is driven by individual needs, whether you need four outfits for the holiday party season or are just looking to refresh some clothing items.

Beyond off the rack, Trunk Club also offers custom clothing from tuxedoes to suits, to a staple navy sports coat (good to know with the upcoming social season).

“I love that Trunk Club offers continuing education for their employees and the training allows me to understand men’s bodies in another way, another level of information,” Houlihan says.

Dallas’ clubhouse has grown from its initial seven stylists to nearly 50 in just a year. Indeed, it’s already outgrown its original space, and just moved from its original location on Henderson Avenue to new digs in Deep Ellum. Both spaces were impressive, from the bank of modern workstations to a half dozen lounges to comfy chairs and chic couches as well as styling rooms. It’s all very man-cave, attuned to appeal to the male customer.

“I think that’s the magic of this place. The [space] is rustic but we sell nice clothing, which I think guys appreciate,” Houlihan says. And customer service is integral.

“Whether you spend $100 or $1,000 at Trunk Club, everything is a rich, unique experience,” says Houlihan. “That’s why we exist — and that is why guys come back.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 6, 2015.