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Pretty Little Liars star Shay Mitchell is the consummate PEOPLE StyleWatch girl: Well-dressed for any occasion, stylish without trying too hard and a pro at mixing high and low finds. And we’re well-documented fans of her style.
So when she accompanied our editor-in-chief Susan Kaufman to New York Fashion Week back in February, she and Kaufman seized that quality time to have a wide-ranging conversation on everything from where to buy the best jewelry in N.Y.C. to how to make inexpensive clothes look pricey with just a little ingenuity.
Below, check out the full Q & A, and stay tuned for more info on Mitchell and our upcoming PEOPLE StyleWatch Style Council — all the details will be revealed in our September issue, which hits stands August 16. Now, take it away, Shay and Susan!
Susan: You are so sexy in that European way. Is there someone from the past whose style you love?
Shay: Sophia Loren. Done. She is my favorite. She exudes sexiness in a tasteful way. There is a fine line where it can be too much, but I think she still kept it classy and feminine and embraced her curves.
Susan: Well, that was my next question, because there is sexy and then there is over-the-top. How do you keep from crossing that fine line?
Shay: I always show off one part of my body. I’m not going to wear a supershort skirt and have my cleavage out or a low back. I always choose one or the other, if it’s going to be legs, then I cover up on top. Just don’t go all out.
Susan: Are you always in heels?
Shay: I love being in heels.
Susan: Or can you go to the flat place?
Shay: I can go to the flat place too! I have a lot of sneakers for when I work out! I do prefer to be in heels. If I could have a closet of heels or sneakers, it would definitely be heels.
Susan: I was looking at your Pinterest board, which I found so fascinating because as an editor I look for what’s the “eye,” and for fashion what I noticed was a lot of color. Have you always loved lots of color, or do you think L.A. has sort of given you that?
Shay: I think I’ve always loved that. When I was modeling, I got to try out a lot of different styles and a lot of different colors and I got to see what worked. I’ve always loved color, I feel like you stand out a lot more. When I look at a photo, my eye is always drawn to color. It makes me feel happy.
Susan: And I saw ruffles…
Shay: Yes, I love the ruffles.
Susan: I thought “She’s really feminine, she’s a girlie girl.”
Shay: (laughing) You got me, I am!
Susan: Which blogs, which Pinterest pages, who are you sort of … looking at?
Shay: I follow a lot of bloggers: There are a bunch that live in L.A., a lot that live in Italy. I look at Lookbook.nu a lot to kind of see what’s going on, obviously I go to People StyleWatch a lot, because that is my go-to. I’ll see an awesome piece and cut it out. So I actually have a scrapbook, if you will, of pictures I’ve cut out of next-season things I want to try or looks I want to do. I’ll rip them out of magazines.
Susan: So but when you are planning to go out, do you map your outfits out ahead of time or do you go in the closet and throw it on?
Shay: It really depends on how I feel, every single day it varies.
Susan: But do you have your one go-to thing that you always put on and you’re like, “Alright, I feel good!”?
Shay: I think it’d be my black leather leggings and a pretty blouse and my Chanel bag, and then I’m good to go. With a statement necklace. I love jewelry. Even on this trip, I brought more jewelry than ever — I don’t even need it! But I brought so many different necklace and rings.
Susan: You’re in a crowd of tastemakers, are you looking around and getting inspiration?
Shay: It’s always interesting to see how people dress for different [fashion] shows, so I love to see the crowd outside as well.
Susan: Are there styling or makeup tricks you’ve learned from being a model or being on the show?
Shay: Yeah, I would say when I get things altered, pieces fit so much better and they look so much better. I mean, even white shirts that I buy at the Gap, I get them altered a little bit. It doesn’t cost a lot, and now these shirts look completely different and so expensive!
Susan: Part of StyleWatch’s whole thing is finding great buys and mixing the high and low, and investing in certain things and then finding the other things you can just have fun with. So when you are in your “just have fun” mode, do you have the places you love to shop for inexpensive pieces?
Shay: I do! I have a lot of fun with printed denim, so American Eagle is a great place to go. I also love Zara. It’s great to go in there, because for me, it’s about having those few pieces that are really nice and investments like my bag or some nice shoes, but then my outfit won’t be too crazy expensive. I can jazz it up with accessories. So I don’t spend so much money on clothes because I feel like you can get away with [saving on them], but not as much with shoes or bags. I love going to vintage stores to get clothes, or smaller boutiques or a place like Zara.
Susan: Where do you usually buy your jewelry?
Shay: I go on Etsy a lot. I like to buy from local designers — kind of anywhere. I buy jewelry when I travel a lot because you find really interesting pieces that you wouldn’t normally see in a store here. I have a few secret places in New York as well that I go to to stock up.
Susan: Are you keeping them a secret?
Shay: (laughing) I don’t even know what they’re called! I just know where they are, so when I walk in I don’t pay attention to the name of the store. One is a Tibetan store and has the most amazing silver.
Susan: Oh, Dö Kham? On Prince Street?
Shay: Yes, that’s it! My friend lives right on Prince. I love it!
Susan: Are there any other jean brands that are sort of your go-to because they fit incredibly or because you love what they do?
Shay: Honestly, a whole bunch. I just got some really cute Paige denim, I feel like they fit me really well. J Brand, their boyfriend jeans, I just picked up those too because I love that look.
Susan: How would you style a boyfriend jean?
Shay: I usually do it with loafers or cute little kitten heels. And then a chunky sweater or a t-shirt with a statement necklace. That’s more me. If I do boyfriend jeans, guaranteed you’re getting crystal necklace, a t-shirt and some little heels, let’s be honest.
Susan: So whatever you do, you’re going to add that little feminine touch?
Shay: I love adding a little sparkle to it! That’s the first thing my eye is drawn to!
Susan: I think you are our reader. I feel like our reader just goes to that “sparkle place.”
Shay: You know, a little sparkle never hurt anybody! I just think it adds a little something.
Susan: Are there any trends that you are super excited about?
Shay: I think it’s just always those deep colors, I’m such a bright color person for spring and summer that when it comes to fall I also love that deep color look. I also love the pastels for fall. I love the structured jackets and the graphic prints.
Susan: Do you have a favorite celebrity whose style you admire?
Shay: I think that Eva Mendes is always beautifully dressed. She always looks very classy. There are a lot of people I love and I think I take bits and pieces from all of them.
Susan: Who are some of your fave designers or designers you tend to gravitate towards?
Shay: Obviously, Diane von Furstenberg and Donna Karan have been around for so long; all of their pieces are so amazing, I also really like Dolce & Gabbana. it’s that whole romantic Italian feel.
Susan: (laughing) And it’s Italian and Sophia Loren-ish!
Shay: (laughing) Exactly! Yes! And Prabal Gurung.
Susan: So do you style yourself for just “out and about?”
Shay: Oh yeah.
Susan: Is it just for red carpet stuff that you call in your stylist, because she can call in clothes?
Shay: Exactly. And when I’m shooting on set, I don’t have the luxury of going around to showrooms, I don’t have a lot of time. Right now, I’m on hiatus, so I could go around to the showrooms and look at different designers. But if I have three events and we are shooting, I just don’t have the time.
Susan: But you feel like she knows what your style is and picks stuff specifically for you?
Susan: Did it take a while to build that relationship?
Shay: You want to trust them to know your body type and what they think will work. I think also think, though, you have to get out of your comfort zone every once in a while.
Susan: So what would you say your biggest fashion risk has been?
Shay: My biggest fashion risk was probably this interesting dress I wore to the Golden Globes. Some people liked it and some people didn’t. But I thought it was really pretty.
Susan: So what would you say is your favorite fashion moment?
Shay: I would say probably Georgio Armani, his Black Label collection dress and it was plunging and I wore it to the Avengers premiere. It fit so well and I just I really felt like myself that day. I also wore — I think it was Donna Karan — for the Teen Choice Awards and it was a lime green color, but it was superbright on the carpet. I loved that as well.
Susan: Do you have a photo from your childhood to any stage your most horrendous, embarrassing, “Can’t believe I wore that” moment?
Shay: All the time. (laughing) I would wear those massive sweaters that fell off the shoulders, flip my hair to the side and I just look back and think, “Why was I wearing an extra extra large sweater?” I just don’t understand what I was doing. Or just mixing too many prints all together. That I was always getting in trouble for.
For more on our style council and Shay’s style, check out the September issue of PEOPLE StyleWatch, on stands August 16!