It was a particularly splashy spring break trip—to Houston, of all places—that inspired Travis Cal to drop out of college in his native Kansas City and move here in 2000. “I came, and everyone was swinging from the chandeliers. The party was popping. I’d been other places, but it was different here. There was an energy,” says the stylist, who works with everyone from Tiffany Smith (wife of Texans GM Rick Smith) to Mathew Knowles’s new girl group, Blushhh Music.
After arriving here, Cal, who’d been studying to be a fashion designer, started walking in local shows, fine-tuning his fellow models’ outfits backstage before he realized what he was doing was a real job. “Fifteen years ago when I started getting into it, no one knew what a stylist was,” he says. “When you said stylist, they assumed you were talking about hair.”
What sets Houston women’s style apart:
“In Houston, if you see a woman in a million-dollar dress or in $1 million worth of jewelry, she owns it. They’re unapologetically glamorous, but they kind of do their own thing.”
The hardest part of his job:
“Getting people to accept where they are now and then build. It’s part therapy.
Most of my clients are women, and I see them in their most vulnerable state; with their hair off, their makeup off, and there’s no judgment. … Either it fits or it doesn’t. Either the color is flattering or it’s not. It’s not right or wrong, it just is. It becomes ‘My body’s not right,’ or ‘If I could just lose five pounds, I’d be happy.’ Well, why can’t we be happy now? ‘I want to wear bright colors but I can’t until I get this weight off.’ Well, who said that?”
What to spend money on:
“I always encourage clients to invest in the accessories; things you can wear a lot: your shoes, your bag, your belt, scarves, hats, blazers. … I would say every woman needs to have a great handbag that she saved for and that she invested some money in, because you’ll have it forever. I’m flexible on size, shape and style—whatever your personal best budget is. I encourage that because even if you lose weight or gain weight you can always wear your handbag.”
What never belongs in your closet:
“No wire hangers, ever. No wire hangers. No wire hangers. You don’t need them. They damage your clothes. They don’t hold their shape. I wish I could tell everyone to go out and get wood hangers and the good hangers for your blazers, but they won’t. Just go get the black space-saver hangers. I’m cool with that.”
How to pull off an outfit:
“I can be very colorful and a little eccentric in my styling and personal taste. But even if it’s wrong—and it can be so wrong—I’m going to get so many compliments off of it because I commit to the look. Hell or high water, this is the look. … I’m going to be so confident in it that everyone’s going to be like, ‘I couldn’t do that, but it looks good on you.’ And I think that’s the ultimate compliment.”
Most memorable fashion purchase:
“My first designer purchase was a YSL belt with a huge, big gold buckle. It was on sale for $360—on sale. And no one else in my peer group could understand why I’d spend that kind of money on a belt. Now I tell people, once you do it one time, it’s nothing. Once you break $1,000 on a pair of shoes, pssh, nothing."