The Chicago- and Nashville-based musician, high-fashion savant and author lives her life with an exclamation point.
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.“
The morning I’m scheduled to meet Julianna Zobrist over breakfast at a hotel right on the Chicago River, I’m deciding between two outfits: one, a more utilitarian, color-less uniform, and other, well, not that. I opt for the former, and as soon as I see Zobrist walk into the restaurant wearing a combination of Gucci and Off-White, her hair piled high into two space buns, I regret it immediately.
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Zobrist — Christian musician, high-fashion savant, public speaker and most recently, author — lives her life with an exclamation point. Up until recently, I was only privy to that joy via her Instagram feed, which I initially discovered via her husband, 2016 World Series MVP Ben Zobrist. (Her family splits their time between Chicago, where Ben plays for the Chicago Cubs, and Nashville.) Her 118,000 followers are regularly treated to feasts of color and couture in photos and candor and encouragement in captions.
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In the course of our interview, the multi-hyphenate Zobrist discusses both the pragmatic and the more emotional sides of personal style, topics she also explores in her forthcoming book, „Pull It Off,“ out on Tuesday. (She’ll be embarking on a multi-city book tour to promote it this fall.) „You can be so inundated with all of these inputs that you can’t really figure out what your own personal style is,“ she says. „There’s a huge difference between being inspired by somebody and dressing for them.“
In a true toast to homegrown Chicago fashion, local photographer Matthew Broderick Adams captured her at Ikram, a dreamily high-end women’s boutique founded by „high-fashion’s ambassador from the Midwest,“ Ikram Goldman, in 2011. You can see Adams’s images and read our conversation below.
Were you always interested in fashion?
I was the girl who saved her allowance money to buy Vogue and lay in bed with it at night. I’ve always been a very visually inspired person. I grew up writing poetry and loving the outdoors, so fashion, to me, was just another outlet of this creative expression.
For my work, that initially took me over into music and into writing — songwriting and then book writing. I love that fashion is just simply an external expression of who you are. You’re literally wearing your heart on your sleeve.
Where do you shop?
Well, I gave up online shopping about four years ago. I realized that so much of what I love about fashion is much like art. You can’t convince yourself to feel something about a piece of art. It took me a while to realize why, when a box shows up on my doorstep, that’s not as much fun.
We travel for eight months out of the year, so I love going anywhere and everywhere. I love meandering into a random store. I love going into a larger Barneys or Nordstrom and seeing the way they style their looks because they’ll carry, as you know, pieces that are unique to their city, and really, what’s reflecting that woman. The Seattle woman is so different from the Florida woman and also different from the New York woman. I love walking in and getting a taste of all of their different styles as a state.
Are you a social shopper or do you prefer the ritual of going through that process by yourself?
I shop by myself most of the time. I enjoy shopping with other people, but I have a very rigid rule that I don’t allow inputs. I don’t allow myself to ask questions, as much as I’d like to sometimes be like, „Does this look good on my skin?“ Or, „How does this color look on me?“ Or, „Should I get a larger or smaller size?“ I’ve learned to trust my eye. I’ve learned that we’re so inundated with inputs that it really is a deliberate decision to strip yourself of them.
And when you’re traveling, do you gravitate toward larger, department-style stores or more toward the smaller boutiques that are unique to a specific place?
It depends on where we are. I love to go into the smaller boutiques, most people do. A small store is like a best friend’s cocktail party where you don’t know anyone. A department store is like a big family gathering, you know? Everyone’s all together and it’s a little bit less threatening, and every now and then you’re able to connect with people who are there.
Do you do any vintage or second-hand shopping?
I really don’t. There’s one store here in Chicago I love called Store. [It’s run by] two women who both actually came from Nordstrom, and they have a great eye. It’s very curated. That, honestly, is my only reason for not shopping vintage. It’s overwhelming for me, and since I’m a visual person, I need things very organized and clean. Because otherwise, I meander around like I’m a little lost child. Someone will ask, „Are you lost?“ And I’m like, „Yes. Please show me where to go because I don’t know where I am.“ [Laughs]
I don’t do as much vintage shopping as I’d like for that reason, which is a shame.
It’s a personality thing because my best friend is a phenomenal vintage shopper and she’ll spend hours navigating through racks.
What are some of your favorite stores here in Chicago?
Definitely Ikram, on East Huron. They’re amazing and have the most lovely café upstairs, as well, and a small art gallery. So, to me, it hits all of my itch points.
I love VMR, on Oak Street. I love Blake. It’s in an old post office. Those three places have been my favorites so far.
When you’re in a store combing through pieces, how do you know when something is right for your style?
I just know. It takes no convincing. It’s honestly just that. I was in Nordstrom Rack the other day with my best friend and I was walking down aisles and aisles and I look over at one and I’m like, „Oh! That’s the one!“ I pulled it out and it was a yellow Shrimps dress. My friend was like, „Don’t you want to try it on?“ I’m like, „Nope, I don’t need to. I can tell.“
To me, it’s that strong pull. You have to have that immediate feeling or some sort of response, an emotional response, like confusion or happiness — something you can emote visually onto a piece of clothing.
Do you have a daily uniform?
No! I really, honestly do not have one. If you were to go into my closet, which may have been a more appropriate meeting place, it looks like a massive Crayola box. It has tutus coming out from everywhere, sparkles, denim, graphic tees… If I were to say one thing that I always come back to, it’s a dress and boots. I so easily come back to that, or a tutu skirt, or a Molly Goddard dress with bomber boots. If that can be a uniform, that’s my uniform.
Is the dress on your book cover Molly Goddard?
No, that’s actually not a dress. Can you believe that? It was eight tutus stacked on top of one another.
It’s very aspirational to sit in a pile of tulle.
It was incredibly aspirational. You’ll see this on the back of the book — they initially had me in a floor-length, tight pink dress. It was beautiful, but it was somewhat expected. The whole book is on courage and confidence, and I’m in a tight pink dress? It felt almost ironic — this skinny, tall girl in a tight pink dress. [Laughs]
How did „Pull It Off“ come about?
When I first released my record, „Shatterproof,“ a year and a half ago, it addressed feelings of doubt from fear, guilt and shame. I began speaking on that, and I would never have considered myself a speaker, but people were resonating so deeply with this message of exposing the way we use fear and guilt to manipulate ourselves. After every show, I was noticing the 80-year-old woman say the same thing to me as the 12-year-old little girl, wanting liberation and freedom to really start becoming who they’re meant to become. When you have all these people speaking into who that should be, it’s a really difficult process.
That goes for fashion, too, you know? You can be so inundated with all of these inputs that you can’t really figure out what your own personal style is. There’s a huge difference between being inspired by somebody and dressing for them. Inspiration is different than doing something on their behalf.
Or dressing for a street-style photographer.
Without a doubt. And it’s unfortunate that we neglect ourselves for the approval of other people. Oftentimes, we look for approval from people we don’t even know — the street-style photographer you’ll never meet again.
I call them the „shoulds.“ We travel all over and we see the way every city has its own culture, and then every culture within that city has its own trend and mold or whatever you want to call it. It’s like a Russian doll that looks smaller and smaller and smaller inside of itself. All of these boxes are stacked within one another and then pretty soon, you’re just squeezing yourself into somebody that you were never created to be, to begin with.
So, while I love talking about fashion, it really is a much more intimate process because before you can even express yourself honestly, visually, in what you’re wearing, you’ve got to be able to own who you are first, and that’s a process. That was the really long-winded way of telling you that. [Laughs]
Did you have any other realizations about fashion and beauty that the book-writing process helped bring to light?
Yes. I was shocked that so many of my examples came back to fashion. It’s such a tangible way of seeing who somebody is. It’s not about judgment. It’s just about perception. You can perceive something about another person by the way they carry themselves, and by how they’re dressing.
In the book-writing process, I was so surprised at how many times my examples would go back to that — to being this girl in Los Angeles wearing every color of the rainbow and realizing everyone’s dressed monochromatically and going, „Holy cow. What am I doing here?“ And being forced to come face-to-face with my insecurity, like, „Okay Jules, are you going to start dressing for these people or are you going to be comfortable in the fact that you’re Rainbow Brite?“
Do the looks you wear for performing or speaking engagements differ from what you might wear on a day-to-day basis?
It really doesn’t differ too much, except that I have to take dancing and movement into consideration — being able to fully express my arms and my body — and then the microphone I have to wear. Comfort actually becomes a little bit more keen when I’m performing than it does on a day-to-day basis. I could normally not care at all if I’m comfortable.
Do you have a go-to outfit for when you’re speaking or performing or is it, as with everything, based on how you’re feeling?
It’s how I’m feeling. It truly is. This tour that’s coming up in September, though — I’ve never done this before. I’ve never planned out and styled my outfits this far in advance, but because of what’s going on, production-wise, and because of how colorful and vibrant the book already is, I’m going monochromatic, so various tones and shades of yellow, for example.
Fashion as a whole is really coming around to yellow right now.
Off-White has such a beautiful tone of yellow. I’m rediscovering my love of yellow, too.
Speaking of Off-White: Are there any brands you’re particularly into right now?
I’m such a Gucci girl. I love Alessandro [Michele]. He’s so subversive, but in the very best of ways. I think he’s given a lot of freedom to all of the misfits, all of the people that want to fit out more than fit in. He’s just flung those doors wide open for all of us to go, „Oh my gosh, yes! Finally, I can wear socks with my heels.“ Or, „Yes, sweatpants with a dress over the top!“ I love how he’s embracing everyone’s own version of what he’s created.
Then, in a larger sense, they run Chime for Change, which educates women on a global scale. That’s where my heart is. I got to spend four days with them in New York. It was really exciting to talk to the people who have such a passion not just for the clothes, but for the deeper meaning behind what they’re doing and how they’re giving back. They’re pulling the rug out from underneath what we’ve all thought is fashionable. Anything goes now.
And for them to be cohesive in that way and to speak to all those people? It’s so unifying. I have not felt a brand that unifying in years. I don’t think there’s anything else our nation needs more right now than that feeling of togetherness and camaraderie with one another.
I also love Comme des Garçons. I love that I can wear something that feels so avant-garde to the grocery store. You know what I mean?
I got to go to my first Comme show last season in Paris, and it was unbelievable.
Did you cry?
It was a really emotional experience! Everyone in the audience was teary.
It’s like the best first kiss of your life.
What’s the last thing you bought?
I bought the Marine Serre bodysuit! And it’s footed. I have the same cream-colored Molly Goddard dress. It’s very poofy and very short, so I wear the whole bodysuit underneath.
What item have you had the longest that you still actively wear?
I have a Betsey Johnson tutu that I still wear all the time for shows. I layer it, I wear it over jeans, I wear it by itself with little lace biker shorts poking out underneath.
She was very key for me. She was so eccentric in her own personal style that I felt safe, I think, because her line was so far out that I was okay to judge nudge mine a little bit more. There was so much room for her to be who she is. And I also adore the fact that she basically considers champagne to be sparkling water.
For our last topic of conversation, I’d love to ask you about your amazing Cubs jacket.
I made that for the Cubs when we were in the playoffs in 2016. I actually hired some seamstresses to come over to my house, and I invited all the wives. Over a period of a couple months, we’d all been collecting patches from around the city and ordering them online. Everyone brought their own jean jacket; I went to the Army Surplus store on Belmont to get mine. It was so fun because everyone had such a different way they wanted to style it. Most of the women went really clean, with numbers on the back and three patches on the chest and that was it. I went all out, completely covering my arms.
It’s become this jacket for the City of Chicago in general. I’ve gotten a lot of patches from first responders, or certain boutiques have sent me pins and patches from their stores. I’ve loved implementing all of those.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Homepage photo: Matthew Broderick Adams/Fashionista
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