Want to engage readers? Check out their closets

Doreen Hughes’ closet features boutique clothing and accessories. Photo by Stuart Villanueva
Doreen Hughes’ closet features boutique clothing and accessories. Photo by Stuart Villanueva

Normally, the only legitimate reason for peeking into someone's closet is if the house is for sale and the potential buyer is checking out the space.

But who hasn't wondered about his or her favorite well-dressed person? How many pairs of shoes does she have? Where does she shop? Why does she have 25 handbags?

You know you want to look. In "Closet Confidential," a feature in the Coast Monthly lifestyle magazine published by The Galveston County Daily News, you can. View the latest Closet Confidential, on the magazine's website.

It's not an original idea, not even the name. Coast Monthly Editor Laura Elder said she had seen similar features in high-end magazines, but didn't realize the name had been used elsewhere when she was named editor about 4½ years ago. These, however, are local closets, owned not by New York fashionistas but by Texas Gulf Coast people known to many readers.

Tasked with putting more fashion coverage in the Galveston magazine, Elder soon learned how time-consuming the traditional fashion photo shoot can be. "I was spending hours on the street picking up clothes and promising stores I would bring them back," she said.

Closet Confidential instead features one person and her closet each month. A few times, that person has been a man, and the feature changes in those months to "Sharp-dressed Man." Readers see photos of the subject's main clothes closet and pieces of the wardrobe. They also get juicy details such as how many dresses, ties or even Rolex watches she or he owns. (In the case of the watches, it was a man and the answer was 20.)

Initially, Elder said, "I really did think people were going to say, 'There's no way we're going to let you in there.' But they did."

Elder began the feature by calling the Junior League for suggestions. "The first person I called actually said, 'What about me?'" Elder recalled.

Since then, finding a subject hasn't been a problem. Elder has two correspondents who bring her suggestions, or she makes an assignment to one of them. She ensures diversity among income levels and fashion statements, in part by creating a co-feature called Fashion Flash. In Fashion Flash, someone hits the street looking for eye-catching individuals who are interviewed and photographed on the spot.

People often come to Elder, asking to be featured. "One guy picked up the magazine in Starbucks and called me right away, while he was in Starbucks, and said, 'I just saw this and you've got to feature my wife. I've invested so much money in that closet.'"

Now, about those closets. They probably aren't like yours. They're perfect. Nothing on the floor. No piles of sweatshirts or jeans. No overflowing laundry baskets. No children's Christmas gifts hidden among stuffed clothes racks until Santa comes.

The truth is, when subjects learn the magazine wants to feature their closets and fashion philosophies, it's cleanup time.

They have been known to purge their closets and donate outdated clothes. They buy matching hangers. Hire professional closet organizers. Take the day off from work. Elder has learned to give them plenty of advance notice.

"Some of them redecorate their walk-in closets," she said. "They go get their hair and make-up done. It's a whole production.

"If a photographer calls me and says, 'I'm having trouble with the schedule,' I say, 'You cannot cancel Closet.'"

Sometimes there's a theme. A subject might want to show off shoes or jewelry. One woman in an upcoming issue has a closet full of vintage clothing.

Closet Confidential continues to evolve. Some of the other newspapers in the Southern Newspapers group have adopted the same idea for their own magazines. The Galveston version is being revamped; the entire magazine was reformatted recently and renamed Coast Monthly.

Closet Confidential itself is now limited to two pages, down from what often turned into three or four pages. The question-and-answer format is more pithy, though Elder always makes sure to ask where a person buys her clothes and if she shops locally. More cutouts will be used in the design, which goes into full effect in January.

For publishers or editors who might want to try out their own Closet Confidential, Elder suggests lining up at least four commitments before launching the feature, just in case something falls through.

"I'd also heavily promote it on social media," she said. "Ask people, 'Hey, do you know someone's who's dressed well?' And blog it. Do something to promote it. Get reader feedback. People usually have really good ideas."

Readers now come up to Elder and ask, "Who's the next closet?" Closet Confidential has become a fixture they expect in the magazine.

"The majority of people love to peek inside other people's closets," she said.

For more information, contact Laura Elder at laura.elder@galvnews.com.

Jane Nicholes

Jane Nicholes is a regular contributor to the SNPA eBulletin.  She is a freelance writer and editor based in Daphne, Ala., and a former editorial writer for the Press-Register in Mobile. Email her at jbnicholes@att.net.

Galveston, Closet Confidential
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