Style Guru Jeannie Mai Gets Real About MS

Ditching zippers, rethinking earrings and other style tips inspired by her aunt's diagnosis.

By Glissette Santana November 22, 2016

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Jeannie Mai at the American Music Awards on Nov. 20.

As a television style guru and co-host of The Real, Jeannie Mai has doled out outfit advice to everyone from A-list celebrities to everyday working women. But when her Aunt Linh was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, she teamed up with biotechnology company Biogen to dish out a different kind of advice at reimaginemyself.com, a website with food and style tips to help people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and their family members. Mai talked to Houstonia about her journey, her new website and her top three style tips for the fall.

Houstonia: I know you’re in Houston for a reason. Tell me about your experience with multiple sclerosis.

Jeannie Mai: My mom actually lives in Houston, and I’m very close to my Aunt Linh; I grew up with her. A couple years ago, she was diagnosed with RMS (relapsing multiple sclerosis). When she was diagnosed, our family had no idea what hit us. Especially in the Vietnamese community, MS doesn’t really have a definitive definition. It affects every body differently. For my aunt, every day was different for her.

My favorite thing about this time is that I’ve partnered with Biogen to create reimaginemyself.com, a website that is chock-full of information for people like myself or people who are living with MS. It's full of lifestyle tips and recipes, as well as style tips from me because what I realized is that what I know so well actually became a great hobby and confidence builder for my Aunt Linh.

Houstonia: How did you come up with your style tips for the site?

JM: When she was losing a bit of her identity, and I started to excite her about how to reinvent her style using simple swaps like zipping up zippers and changing the clasps on necklaces. You get frustrated when you can’t even get yourself dressed in the morning. You feel like you’re a burden to other people. Through [the website], you’ll get practical tips to reimagine life with MS.

Houstonia: How did you get involved with Biogen?

JM: I’ve always been very vocal about my tips and about celebrating women’s potential through style, so when Biogen found me, I hadn’t been vocal about MS because...people don’t really talk about it and they shy away from it. But it gave me a platform to be able to celebrate that there is no reason that you can’t reimagine life with your family members or loved ones with MS. MS isn’t something that we should shy away from. In fact, I feel that this world would be so much better if we empathized with each other, communicated better with each other. 2.3 million people in the world are affected by MS, so we need to understand this chronic disease better.

Houstonia: What was the trigger to make you go public with speaking out about MS?

JM: Personally, the tips that I did with my Aunt Linh saved our relationship. I had a close relationship with her, but when she got diagnosed, she got distant because I didn’t know how to touch her and she didn’t know how to reach out to me. It separated us. Just naturally, I started giving her some styling tips that helped her get ready by herself every day and it just took our minds off it. It drew us together as women that just wanted to look bomb.

Houstonia: What are your three favorite tips that are featured on the website?

JM: My favorite one right now are the style swaps. My aunt had difficulty zipping her zippers and closing the clasps of her earrings, so I have some tips on there that are just efficient ways to still accessorize and still look fabulous without having to fiddle with those small tedious details.

Another is giving your jeans a distressed finish with a pattern like polka dots or giving them cool fashionable cuffs. And the best part that that in addition to the styling tips, there are food planning tips. Chef Ben has these amazing recipes from party planning and on… I love that the website just allows people to have family skills together and just be more connected to everyday life.

Houstonia: And to round things out, what are your top three fall tips?

JM: Velvet is everything right now. I know you have to wait for this temperature to drop, but when the time comes, midnight blue velvet is the sickest material that’s hitting the runway. It just makes everybody’s skin look really luminous and rich.

Number two, the constellation print is really in right now. It’s huge across the runways.

The third tip I have is a practical one. A lot of women I hear complain about them always looking the same … The reason why it’s the same is because we all have a vanity area. If you have the same color sitting there every day, guess what? You’re going to have the same look 365 days a year.

So take the brown liner and swap it out for a teal liner or a plum liner. Take that brown lipstick and swap it out with a pink lipstick. The little swaps will get you effectively switching it up, because it’s right there. When you’re putting on your makeup at 7:15 and you have to be out of the house at 7:20, you’re going to reach for that liner because it’s already there.

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