Asheville therapist and social worker Marisol Tomás decided to commit her life to helping others a long time ago. She's got the experience--and the string of letters behind her name (LCSW, SEP, OICC)--to prove it. She has a private practice in town, and she travels studying and teaching with Organic Intelligence
, training others in how to do effective trauma work. But along the way, Tomás realized she had another gift--one that works in tandem with her skilled, empathic approach to therapy and healing: fashion consulting
. On the surface, fashion may not seem related to healing trauma and accessing your best self, but Tomás believes exactly the opposite. "So many people overdress," she says, "but the outfits can seem like they don't have a lot of depth or feeling, and so
many people underdress. There's a dissonance between what's going on on the inside and the outside."
So Tomás added a new branch to her therapy and business consulting brand, SolReflection
: therapeutic image consulting. It's a side project that has taken on its own life, evolving from helping friends pick out outfits and clear their closets to building personal relationships with clients to create curated shopping experiences
. "It is the most fun thing in the world for me," she says. "I love it so much."
This is a generational gift for Tomás. "It was passed down from my grandmother to my mother and to me." We're having this conversation outside of a local coffee shop, and Tomás looks totally fashionable and completely at ease in a gorgeous
, unique yellow print dress that is smartly accessorized, right down to the shoes and sunglasses. (I, on the other hand, am slumming it in my sweatshirt and jeans, the result of another hurried morning in which no time was taken for myself. Lesson.) She traces the trajectory of her business model for me:
"My friends would say, 'You've got to teach me how to get dressed. They wanted to know basic concepts, like how to get dressed in the morning, how to fit things together, how to see the subtle ways in which things coordinate, how to dress for different seasons. Those are basic fashion things that I've done all my life and that I have a knack for."
Tomás started going to people's houses to help them clear their closets. She would help them get rid of clothing they no longer wore, but she would also find treasures
. "I'd find these gems," she says, "and they'd say, 'Oh I've had that since high school,' and I'd say, 'Yeah, it's amazing, and timeless, and it fits you perfectly.'"
Eventually Tomás noticed that many of her friends, even the ones that hadn't asked her for help with their wardrobes, "slowly, little by little, just started looking awesome, looking more like themselves, feeling like themselves. Like themselves on the inside."
Tomás, who moved back to Asheville after receiving her MSW from Columbia University, saw a niche for herself in these mountains, both in her private practice and in her role as an image consultant. Her attitude about it all is decidedly Ashevillian
: "The last thing I want is to come across as vain, or to have my clients think that I believe people should look a certain way," she says. "Because that's not what it's about. The way clothes feel on us resonates at a cellular level. It's a real thing."
If you've ever been a victim of panic shopping, only to get home and discover that what you bought doesn't feel good on you, then you know what she's talking about. "Sometimes people show up in a store and freeze," she says. "They don't know where to go, or maybe they go into the wrong store. People will often go into discount stores and buy 10 things they hate or that don't go together. They can't maximize those purchases."
There are so many shopping habits, so many fears and beliefs about spending money on clothes, like 'I could never wear that,' or, 'I could never spend that on myself.' The list of things we think about when we shop goes on and on. I saw so many people throwing the baby out with the bath water. An example is that people who didn't like their arms would wear entire outfits that looked like a potato sack from head to toe. Some parts of your body might be incredible. They might be an asset you'd love to show, but you forgot that because you were so preoccupied with your arms, or with your ankles not showing, or whatever.
So Tomás began shopping with people. But her work with clients is a lot more than just a date to the store. "I realized that this is an iteration of what I'm already doing. It's all about trauma in the body, self-esteem, self-worth, self-expression. How do we want to be seen and known in the world? It's the same work.
"Now I'm very intentional about bringing body-based awareness and the language of sensation
into fashion consulting," she says. Signing up for consulting with Tomás might include an office visit, for example. Before going shopping, "We meet, we discuss," she says. "I can't just show up in a store without doing an assessment first. What if you're ready to spend $600 on new clothes, which happens, but then I find out you're already an impulsive buyer and you don't have $600 to spend? Or what if you haven't been shopping since high school and have just been picking through your friends' closets, and it's about time for you to spend, and you have the money? Either way, I want to support you fully."Marisol's eye for fashion goes beyond just the clothes on your back. Not only has she broadened my style choices, she has taught me the importance of recognizing how I feel in what I'm wearing!" - Morgan
"I want people to feel comfortable, and I want them to know that there will be so much containment and curation in their experience," she says. "So even if you hated going to the store or didn't know how to shop, you'd feel so well taken care of. With some of my favorite clients, we go to the store and they sit in the dressing room and they just wait. They don't even want to look at clothes. They trust and they wait and try things on and leave thinking, 'I never would have ever picked this out and I love it.'"
Making clients comfortable is Tomás's primary goal. After that, the fun comes in. "I'm busting up societal norms," she says. "People think they can't wear something because they're over a certain age, or because they're not comfortable yet exposing a certain part of their body. And we work with that. "Marisol recently suggested that I change my baggy, looser jeans to a sleeker fitting jean or even leggings! So I have incorporated leggings into my wardrobe and it gives my look a more put together vibe teaching me that you can rock a look no matter what your age, figure or size." - Mary
"It's all energy flow," she says. "What makes you feel your best in the world? Of course issues of weight gain and weight loss, changing bodies after babies, and changing professions come into play. I had a woman once say, 'I'm getting ready to work with the big guys.' And there's so much good work
right there in that statement. And it's true, if you're moving into a profession where you'll be sitting around a table with a bunch of men, let's navigate that. What social norms are we going to bust up, which will we gently comply with if necessary? Where are the thresholds? And how much do you want out of this experience?"
Tomás also recognizes the importance of staying true to self rather than on trend. One store she frequents with clients, Minx
, has pieces that are both trendy and classic. "The buyers there are incredible," she says. "They're up to date with the trends, but my job isn't' to make people trendy. It's not about getting people up to snuff with fashion, because that would be a bunch of lost integrity.
"My job is to be curious and open and help them, because what they wear is a creative expression
of what's on the inside--and how on earth would I know what that is by just looking at trends? Minx has things on trend but so much is classic. I've bought things 10 years ago from Minx that I still wear today."
She also chooses stores with a variety of price points. Minx is one, as is Old North
, a men's clothing store she frequents as well. Both stores have also extended offers to open early or close late to give anxious clients a more private shopping experience. She is also a fan of shopping at used clothing stores, like Goodwill
. "I would tailor an experience to anyone," she says. "I was recently talking with a woman about what she would and wouldn't spend on clothes, and Goodwill came up. And if you go to the right area of town, the people who live there give away their clothes to that particular Goodwill. So with stores like that, it's just about knowing the brands and knowing what fits and not settling. Even though their selection is based on what's there on that day, you don't have to settle and waste $5 on something that just ok. [Readers, this is me.]
"It's about abundance
," she adds. "About knowing what you're looking for is there. Sometimes that requires patience."
The other part of her consulting is the closet clearing. "It has to be trauma-informed
," Tomás says of this part of the process. "In the work I do with trauma, it's really important to recognize that less is more. So if I help create a situation that is too much, too fast, too soon, in my therapy or in this work, essentially I have recapitulated trauma. I've created that exact same theme that has been the experience to begin with. And if someone's never been traumatized in an area, I've officially traumatized them for the first time."
So closet clearing is a process. "It's little sips and pieces," she says. "For some people, cleaning out an entire closet in one go might be horrifying, even if it might be the very best thing for that person in the sense that he or she is never going to wear something, it needs to go, it would help clear the mind and the space. But it would never serve a client if it felt overwhelming. She'd dissociate
, go into flight or fight. She'd want to argue or run away and I'd never get to see her again because she'd think, 'Well, that sucked.'
"So with trauma it's about thresholds. Tiny bits, little sips. I might say, "'What would it be like if you considered me joining you in your closet today? What is that like?' We'd track sensation in the body and move through a cycle of activation into settling, because that's where safety exists; that's the container."
Even if someone is ready to get rid of everything in the closet, "it's still a subtle, gentle process," she says. "I'd never schedule someone for three hours, for example. That's prolonged exposure. It's too much time to focus on an emotional process, There's a strong shepherding
process. And of course I'd never guilt anybody for getting rid of--or not getting rid of--something. If guilt and shame show up in a session we stop, we talk about it and work through it."
She's also a huge fan of clothing swaps. "Swaps are easier for some people. It's easier sometimes to let things go when they go to someone you know or love. There's a feeling of usefulness in passing it on to someone else.""One profound realization that came out of my session with Marisol was recognizing that I had awesome outfits all along; I just didn't know how to put it all together. It felt great to know that I didn't need an entire new wardrobe in order to feel good about my style. I just needed some support in learning how to pair my jewelry with my pants and my shoes...and everything else for that matter! Marisol is incredibly skilled at this." - Nancy
Clearings and swaps are obviously cheaper than going to the store. "Budget is an issue," says Tomás. "So sometimes it's about making things work and finding the love in your closest. I've worked with so many people who say, 'I can't spend a dime, and I need to reorganize my closet and make it work.' But of course, again, it's about abundance. It's about making sure we don't forget there is more. Let's see what there is to work with in there."
As I considered the idea of "less is more" when it comes to clothing, I realized that I had to ask about underwear
. "My god, I love underwear," Tomás says, laughing. "Because it's so personal, it's so about comfort and sensuality. It's juicy! No pun intended, but it is! It's so good.
"So many of my friends take off these amazing outfits and I'm like, 'What is this?!' [laughs] It's a territory that some people haven't explored. And then there's an assumption that to get fancy you have to get uncomfortable
, and that's just not true. There are options, and there's a little feminism coming through in these departments. There's a growing sense that we want women to feel awesome, to have choices, and to be comfortable."
"Nothing's excluded," she says. "If you need it we can do it, and I know about it."
To book a consultation with Marisol Tomas and check rates for therapeutic image consulting, check out her website