It was a rainy Saturday in early spring when Nena Boling sat across from her fiance, Eric Smith, as he typed the latest chapter in his next novel. Boling counted down the hours before a blogging conference. She had a big life decision to make: return to social work or try to turn her style blog, Beauty & Britches, into something bigger.
Boling started Beauty & Britches in October 2013 for the creative outlet and to document her evolving style. While serving in the Air Force, Boling didn’t invest much time or energy in what she wore. On her style blog, she writes that she probably owned just two pairs of jeans, a grey sweater and grey slacks in addition to a now-lost collection of band tees. Now she favors dresses from Smak Parlour and is a Wilbur’s Vintage devotee.
Although Boling is proud to say that she does all of the writing for Beauty & Britches, she couldn’t do it without the help of Smith, who shoots her outfit posts. It’s blogger-photographer relationships that often drive the success of style blogs. Boling has Smith. Similarly, Risa Page’s husband Chris photographs for her style blog Really Risa, and Men’s Style Pro Sabir M. Peele can thank his wife Marina for the photography that drives his site.
Beauty & Britches: Nena Boling and Eric Smith
Boling and Smith have a particularly peculiar working relationship because Smith is well-known for his work at Quirk Books and as the editor of Geekadelphia. When she started Beauty & Britches, Boling was careful to avoid connecting the blog to Smith so that she would avoid the perception that this was another of his projects. “I didn’t give him credit originally,” she said.
Smith was fine with that. “I didn’t really care. It’s your project but I get to help, which is pretty cool,” he said.
Smith’s very busy schedule — he spends his days at Quirk Books, nights editing Geekadelphia, and Saturdays working on his fiction writing — does affect when he and Boling can shoot for the blog. The couple, who live near 20th and Pine Streets, tend to shoot Boling’s outfits every other Sunday.
Boling gets dressed and they head onto the streets to take photos in the open air and nearby parks. Smith might give her a little verbal direction while he shoots dozens of photos. During the editing process, Smith selects the shots he likes best and tweaks them before he sends to Nena. From there, she’ll pick her favorites to post. They both apply a lot of scrutiny to the photos and have scrapped entire shoots.
Boling occasionally works with other photographers, including Nathaniel Dodson of Endy Photography and Jackie Sawyer, who handled Boling and Smith’s engagement photos. “Sometimes she has affairs with other photographers,” Smith said with a laugh.
Working on her own blog has helped Boling understand the work her fiance puts into Geekadelphia. “It’s something that we can share as in he likes to go out to coffee houses and I’ve written with him before. We’ll sit together and write,” she said. “That kind of stuff can help me relate more to him trying to get Geekadelphia up by Sunday. I didn’t understand what all went into that. So when it comes to that, I think it helps [our relationship].”
Although her blog may benefit from the collaboration between these two fiances, Boling said she doesn’t think the blog has had much impact on how Smith sees her.
Really Risa: Risa Page and Chris Page
Page and her husband, who welcomed baby Isla Bee four months ago, used to shoot Really Risa’s outfit posts exclusively on weekends because they both worked full-time. She would then spend weeknights and Sundays working on other posts for the blog, which Page started in June 2011 when she and Chris were engaged and planning their June 1, 2012 wedding. A few months into doing the blog, Page liked an outfit she put on and asked Chris to shoot it using his iPhone.
“He thought I was crazy at first, but since I love reading other blogs for everyday style inspiration I thought I’d give it a try,” Page said. “I love clothes and shopping and finding things that fit my 4’11” frame — this is very hard to do! — so while I was nervous about pretending to be a model in public, adding a personal style piece to the blog seemed like a natural next step.”
When they later purchased a DSLR camera for their honeymoon, Page and her husband developed a deeper interest in photography. “Now he loves taking photos when we’re out and about or traveling and he’s gotten so great at taking creative photos of my outfits,” Page said. “It’s always fun for me to see the little details he captures or the way he frames each shot.”
Page said her husband really doesn’t have an interest in fashion, but she loves the way he captures the details of her outfits. And when he doesn’t like something she’s wearing, she’s happy. “Occasionally he’ll tell me I look ridiculous, which I love,” Page said. “It means I’m doing something right and taking risks!”
By convincing her husband to do the blog with her, they’ve found an outlet for their mutual interests and her husband has learned more about the things that interest her. “I wouldn’t say this experience is romantic but it’s definitely brought us closer and been really fun for us. He really understands where I’m coming from,” Page said.
The comfort level Page feels with her husband benefits her blog. “I feel so much more comfortable with him than I think I would with anyone else,” she said. “He’s not gonna hurt my feelings. In that sense, we really work together with the photos. He knows it makes me happy.”
Although recent posts have focused on baby Isla Bee, Page plans to get back to doing a weekly outfit post.
Men’s Style Pro: Sabir M. Peele and Marina Peele
Peele started his site, Men’s Style Pro, in November 2010. His wife, Marina, had taken photos of Peele that they entered in an Esquire magazine style competition. Peele was selected as a finalist and appeared in an issue of Esquire. “My friend pushed me to do the site, which I really didn’t want to do,” Peele said. “It was budget-conscious initially. I wanted to encourage readers to not be afraid to do new things, and the blog followed my style aesthetic.”
For Peele’s wife Marina, who had taken photography classes in high school and college, shooting his outfits became a fun outlet. Yet it remains something that she only does with Peele, though “I’ve had a few people ask me recently to shoot their stuff,” she said. “But I haven’t.”
Peele and his wife both have full-time jobs, so they, like Boling and Smith, shoot on weekends. They usually shoot three looks, or one look three ways, trying to knock out a handful of posts with one shoot. “Our personal time and business and blogging time overlap a lot,” Marina said. “We try to be conscious of that and separate the two when possible. We make an effort to have date nights that are ‘Men’s Style Pro Free.’” Still, she said, it’s not uncommon for them to squeeze a shoot in between grocery shopping and hitting Home Depot for tile.
Peele styles himself, but Marina is comfortable pointing out changes he needs to make when modelling. “I feel comfortable telling him, ‘You’re scrunching your eyebrows,’” Marina said. “But he’ll actually propose the look and sometimes the scene we’re shooting in front of. And he’ll tell me what to focus on, like if we’re shooting sneakers.”
Blogging together has exercised and strengthened their communication skills, Sabir said. He’s learned to be more vocal so that his strong vision for the blog can be realized, and this has carried over into other non-blogging discussions. Recently, Marina wanted to foster a dog. The couple already had one dog and Peele thought a second dog was a bad idea. “After explaining the valid and emotional reasons why I thought that getting another dog was a bad idea, Marina agreed,” Peele said. “That’s just one of many examples” of how they’ve gotten better at communicating.
For Marina, partnering with her husband on his blog has benefitted her photography skills, “He’s also pushed me to grow as a photographer, to continue learning and improving. I can say without a doubt he appreciates me lending my photography skills to the blog. He still thanks me after every shoot, which is unnecessary, but I love it,” Marina said.