Port Jefferson Station native Clinton Kelly reaches over to adjust my earring, which has twisted without my knowing. I’ve carefully selected my outfit. My hair is freshly cut and dyed and I didn’t forget lipstick.
“I was like, ‘Is she going for the asymmetrical thing?’” he laughs.
After 10 years of making over women in the show he hosted with Stacy London on TLC’s What Not to Wear, adjusting women’s appearances is a habit that might prove impossible for Kelly to break.
“The truth of the matter is I’m not as judgy as people might assume,” he smiles. “I notice everything, but I really don’t attach judgment to it unless it’s like horrifically bad.”
“I can’t help myself sometimes,” he adds. “If I like someone, I’ll tell them.”
Kelly’s laugh colors everything in the room and has followed him through the finale of WNTW to the upcoming fourth season of ABC’s daytime cooking/talk show The Chew. His office in Tribeca, located just next door to the famed NOBU restaurant, is a brightly colored chic display of clean lines, hidden storage, and classic beauty, both in the décor and in his staff, Julia and Monique.
Julia, his 24-year-old marketing communications manager, has known him since she was just 15, when she nominated her mother Belinda as a candidate for WNTW. It was on the second season of the show—and the first with Kelly as co-host. As he worked with Belinda in California, helping to convince her to take back control of her appearance (and to cut her long, blonde hair) after she’d focused all of her energy on her three daughters, Kelly chatted with Julia. She told him about her interest in fashion and he urged her to stay in touch after the episode wrapped.
They did, with sporadic phone calls and text messages throughout the years. When she graduated fashion school, he offered her a job in New York. Julia now lives in Brooklyn, and still considers herself a fan of the friend she now calls “boss.” It’s one of the countless, quiet ways Kelly, 45, goes about his life, seizing upon opportunities that have made him a household fixture, known for his gregarious personality and acute sense of style, but also for his giving nature.
Besides starring on The Chew, Kelly has designed for his fashion line Clinton Kelly sold on QVC, hosted style seminars for real women at Macy’s stores throughout the country, giving fashion advice to grateful shoppers, and written numerous bestselling advice books, including Freakin’ Fabulous on a Budget and Oh No She Didn’t: The Top 100 Style Mistakes Women Make and How to Avoid Them, as well as writing a line of Papryus greeting cards that are at once wiseass and heartwarming in a way that only Clinton Kelly can. His latest venture brings him to the tableware collection that he launches September 2nd at Macy’s, where he is honored to be their wedding spokesman, “Wedding’s Best Man.”
“I love weddings,“ he gushes. “Totally, because I had an amazing one. Weddings are everything I like to do—getting dressed up, eating great food, great drink, having a great time.”
The fact that Clinton Kelly, an out-and-proud gay man, is the face of Macy’s weddings while marriage equality is legal in only 19 states is an affirming statement, though Kelly doesn’t believe it was an expressly political one.
“I think I’m very lucky that I come from a family where it’s really not a big deal,” he says of being gay, something he said he was not able to reveal in his days at Comeswogue High School. “I live in a city where it’s really not a big deal. I worked in the fashion industry and the magazine publishing industry and now in television, where it’s really not a big deal. Maybe if I lived in the middle of Iowa it would be a much bigger deal, but because of people who’ve come before me, and also because of the work my generation has done, I don’t have to prove that I’m worthy of the same level of respect that everyone else gets due to their sexuality. I know the higher-ups at Macy’s and they’re kind of awesome people. I’m guessing that my sexuality never came into play in their decision.”
His love of weddings, no doubt, played a much larger role. Long Island has a unique wedding culture that Kelly adores. His experiences at Long Island weddings are something we can all relate to.
“Long Island weddings are big and flashy. They’re all about lots of food and an open bar. The Viennese table!” his laughter echoes off the painted brick walls of his office. “For both of my sisters’ weddings, I know that my dad paid cash so they would get a couple of extra things thrown in. The Viennese table for free!
“I’m from Long Island,” he continues. “Weddings there seem normal to me. That’s the way we do it. I’ve been to weddings outside of Long Island and they’re much more subdued. Or there’s a cash bar! And you’re like, ‘What’!? My parents would literally fall down dead.”
Part of his duties as Wedding’s Best Man are to write a blog for Macy’s and host appearances where he gives wedding advice—the most common inquiries of which seem to be about how to dress the bridesmaids.
“I feel like every woman who comes up to me asks the question: ‘What should my bridesmaids wear?’” he says. “I think women are nervous about that and I get why. You might be comfortable dressing your own body, but not five other bodies. I tell them to go shopping with the one who has the trickiest body. Don’t tell her this. Maybe she’s got hips or big boobs or curvy. If you find a bridesmaid’s dress that looks good on her body, then chances are the dress will look okay on the rest of the girls.”
The bottom line is that he knows that if someone looks good, she will feel more comfortable.
“I find it so unfortunate,” he says. “I feel uncomfortable at a wedding when I see a plus-size bridesmaid in a dress that’s backless and strapless. She looks uncomfortable in it. She’s not having fun.”
It’s fashion advice, definitely. But it’s more than that. Kelly seeks out the human quality that binds us all. He might be a fabulous and famous television star, but he empathizes with the girl who feels insecure in her outfit. That’s the quality that has earned him fans that number in the millions and a social media following in the hundreds of thousands. They watch his show, converse with him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and now Macy’s is counting on them to purchase his Effortless Table dinnerware line, which came from a Carrie Bradshaw-like shift from fashion to décor—and is available exclusively at Macys.com and not in stores. He’s in his nesting stage, he says.
The tableware is made up of gorgeous coordinating plates in four designs that can be easily mixed and matched. He attributes their inspiration to classic China designs with a modern twist. They’re bright, playful, intricately designed, but completely accessible.
Just like a guy I know from Port Jefferson Station.