Picture this: You're in an Uber, stuck in traffic, and watching your estimated arrival time bump closer and closer to when you're supposed to be somewhere. It's enough to stress anyone out, but there's extra pressure since this isn't just any appointment I'm heading to. It's a personal styling session with Lance Bass from *NSYNC — my all-time favorite boy-bander and first-ever celebrity crush.
Of course, it's not the least bit romantic of a meet-up, and purely for work purposes, but the nerves are there nevertheless, especially since the idea of clothes shopping fills me with instant dread. Are the outfits going to fit? Will I even find anything I like? Or will I leave embarrassed and disappointed? Luckily, that last answer winds up being a big "no." Still, the feels are real — my '90s nostalgia is bubbling up, along with pesky childhood insecurities of having *no idea* how to dress.
To quickly rewind and explain: Bass teamed up with TJ Maxx's The Changing Room Experience, a country-wide tour where women can enter between now and Sept. 13 to win an hour-long session — half personal styling, half life-coaching — in cities including Chicago, Nashville, and San Francisco. (More details are on The Maxx You Project's website). While the singer hosts the NYC event in late August, model and wellness entrepreneur Danika Brysha and beauty expert-slash-author Africa Miranda are taking over the rest of the tour.
While I enter the Manhattan TJ Maxx a little anxious, I quickly feel at ease when Bass and I sit down to chat. "Styling is all about confidence," he explains. "You want to feel great in what you are wearing and I like to put people out of their comfort zone a little bit." Throughout our mini style sesh, that's exactly what he does.
Sure, Bass may exude confidence now, but he admits, "I was the most insecure during the *NSYNC days. I look back at all the interviews of me... and I'm like, who is that person? I would talk real shy, like down here," he says with his voice dropping, "Because I was afraid of people figuring out who I was. I was hiding this huge secret." That fear hindered his dancing, singing, and overall presence.
As fans now know, Bass came out as gay in 2006. After that, everything changed — including his style. "When I was finally able to be myself, I got to wear more form-fitted things and have fun with the bright colors, and I didn't really have to care anymore," he says. Although, he didn't fully feel secure in his own skin until appearing on Dancing With The Stars two years later. "That show really gave me the confidence I needed and I felt like I just became a different person... It's funny how just that little life moment changes your whole trajectory."
For anyone else still working through their own insecurities (*raises hand*), Bass believes chatting things out is key — whether with a friend, family member, or therapist. "I mean, I'm all about therapy," he adds. "I think everyone needs someone to talk to and someone that's impartial."
Bass brings impartialness into his style advice. He isn't afraid to make judgment calls — no to houndstooth, it doesn't quite fit my vibe; nah to leopard print, since it'd probably sit in my closet forever unworn; and yes to blue, flowy pants, despite my typically anti-pants stance (leggings forever!). I also try on a lime-green vest that he deems Hunger Games-esque, which is fun, but ultimately too out there for me.
As we look through the clothing rack, I realize trying new things is nowhere near as scary as I thought — whether that's meeting a childhood idol or experimenting with new outfits. And yes, sometimes it takes a push to find the perfect fall jacket. Bass pulls out a plaid coat I typically wouldn't grab, but now can't wait to wear when the weather gets chillier. As for the pants, they'll definitely become a comfy weekend staple. These may seem like simple additions, but they're a stretch beyond what I'd normally gravitate toward and that's the best kind of change — where you still feel like you, just slightly elevated.
Not only do I expand my wardrobe, but I also walk away with some self-care tips. Part of the Changing Room Experience is life-coaching, and Bass shares three ways to jumpstart my day. "Pretend you're a cat," Bass advises, "I know it's sort of weird, but in bed, before you get up, stretch like you're a cat... And drink a big, old glass of water." The latter gives him a burst of energy. He also suggests doing "the simplest thing" — making your bed. "In the morning when you have certain wins, it just starts your day so much better."
When we first walk into the TJ Maxx fitting room, Bass jokes, "I hope you're ready for your life to completely change," and while maybe that's not 100% true, I now have a great fall jacket and improved morning routine — and that's good enough for me.