For my journalism course at school, an assignment of mine was to interview an entrepreneur I admire. I was thrilled to have a chance to talk with stylist and style editor, Whitley Adkins.
Whitley Adkins is not your regular mom. Between being a teacher to her two young boys for online classes in the morning, and stylist to Charlotte’s elite by the afternoon, Adkins continuously has a plethora of things on her (very fashionable) plate.
Whether it’s running at least eight miles a day or dressing in vintage, quirky, and euphoria-inducing outfits, Adkins, 43, strives to stay energetic in all her endeavors. As one of the Queen City’s most prominent wardrobe stylists and style editors for SouthPark Magazine, she is at the pinnacle of all things fashion and has been for quite some time. Almost ten years, to be exact.
In early November over Zoom, Adkins presents herself in the most whimsical of looks: A hot-pink-and-red-patterned Marni dress paired with a vintage pistachio green belt cinched around her svelte, athletic frame. Her wavy hazelnut-colored hair stays atop her head in a loose top-knot. In contrast with a slim face, big, brown, doe-like eyes make Adkins appear child-like and always in a state of wonder— taking everything in. Her thick and charming southern accent is as soothing as a light summer drizzle.
She is delighted to show off her outfit over the video chat and shimmies about displaying the frock in all its grandeur. But behind this busy and bustling entrepreneur is a woman who has known her career aspirations since she was a child, even if she didn’t pursue them until much later in life and even if she is still working to follow them today.
Growing up in Asheville, NC, Adkins was always surrounded by fashion and what she calls “style and taste that rivals anyone’s.” Style and taste were brought to Adkins in the form of her grandmother and great grandmother. “I was exposed at a really young age to high fashion, beautiful fashion,” Adkins remembers.
As a young child, Adkins distinctly recalls when she knew fashion was in her future. “I would go through my dad’s Town & Country subscription and cut out all the images from the runway shows, and I would make my own look-book of outfits I liked,” she says with a hearty laugh.
When it was time to go to college, Adkins was awarded a tennis scholarship to St. Mary’s College in Raleigh with plans to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill after her time at the two-year college was finished. An avid athlete throughout her life, Adkins decided to major in Nutrition with a minor in Exercise Sports Science at UNC: Chapel Hill but was met with a massive hurdle. “I cannot do math. I cannot do science,” Adkins admits with another laugh, this one more self-deprecating than the last. She realized this was the wrong path, and in a sudden change, she decided to major in Communication Studies (she still completed the Exercise Sports Science minor) towards the end of her junior year.
After school, Adkins was determined to take a bite out of “The Big Apple” and lived in New York City for two years. As a personal assistant to seven top supermodels and three prominent fashion stylists, along with always holding a steady nanny job, Adkins was extremely busy.
But it wasn’t always easy— Adkins struggled immensely throughout her time in the city. “Even though I absolutely loved it, I always joke that I loved New York City, but it did not love me back. I had three jobs and was hospitalized twice,” she says.
“The first emergency surgery was close to Thanksgiving, and I was in New York City alone. I got on the crosstown bus and hobbled off to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Santa was passing when I got there, and I was just standing in the rain,” she remembers.
After going through numerous traumatizing experiences like her apartment getting broken into or having heroin addicts vandalize it, Adkins realized New York was not the place for her. “I sat on my bed and cried. I was basically admitting defeat,” she says.
When deciding what her next move would be, Adkins was conflicted about two North Carolina cities but ultimately decided on one she would call home. “I thought Asheville would be too small, so I decided on Charlotte, which was clean and green, and upwardly mobile,” she says. One of her first jobs in Charlotte included working for the American Cancer Society as an Events Manager for the “Relay for Life” race.
But Adkins’ big break occurred when she met “serial entrepreneur” Anne Pipkin. Pipkin, the Gorgeous Glo salon owner in Charlotte, introduced Adkins to her early entrepreneurial endeavor, Private Placement— the first nanny placement service in Charlotte. “She was such a great mentor to me,” Adkins says of Pipkin. Adkins ended up operating Private Placement for eight years until she was pregnant with her second son. Pipkin allowed Adkins to “take a step back and be a mom,” but very soon after the birth of her second boy in 2011, Adkins realized that she “was not being fulfilled personally.”
“I was in my basement, and that’s when I threw myself into all things creative like painting furniture, sewing curtains, playing dress-up in my grandmother’s clothes, redecorating my house every week. And I was writing– That’s when Lucky Magazine happened,” Adkins says.
Lucky Magazine, the now-folded Condé Nast publication, was a purveyor of fun, fresh, and funky fashion— the perfect match to Adkins’ aesthetics. “They had a column on the back page called ‘My Mom the Style Icon.’ Diana Ross and Naomi Campbell’s mothers were featured, as well. I thought I’m going to send them a photo of my grandmother and great grandmother,” Adkins says.
The photo submission was very successful, to say the least. Lucky decided to publish the image in 2011, making Adkins one of the only non-celebrity contributors to the magazine’s back page. “It was like a major endorsement, and it gave me a lot of confidence,” Adkins says of the experience.
Soon after, Adkins was hearing from friends that “blogs” were the next “big thing,” but Adkins was more “confused” than anything about the notion. One day, Adkins received an email from Who What Wear, a prominent fashion blog, inviting her to a conference in New York City that the blog was hosting with, sure enough, Lucky Magazine on the future of fashion.
After attending that pivotal conference, Adkins took action to continue having her voice be heard— She created a blog entitled The Queen City Style— a name encompassing her current location and forever passion. “I think I had the first fashion blog in Charlotte,” she says.
The blog exploded, and as a result, Charlotte Parent Magazine took notice. The magazine asked Adkins to write a monthly column on “Mommy-and-me” style. “I was really advocating to look your best,” Adkins says of the column.
“Someone saw the column and contacted me and said, ‘I saw your post; can I pay you to dress me?’” Adkins says of her first professional styling experiences. Almost immediately after, Adkins accumulated clients and friends flocking to her sense of self and style.
Friend and client, Pam Stowe, sees Adkins “as part of my family now” after first meeting her at a trunk show six years ago. “She is one of the kindest people. She’s fun to be with, and she’s really honest,” Stowe says. “When my mother passed away, Whitley had a painting made of one of my favorite pictures I took of my mother’s hands,” Stowe recalls of her friend.
Vintage clothing dealer and House of Landor owner Mary Beth Paulsen feels a similar way. “She’s helped me grow my business tremendously. She did an entire vintage photoshoot for SouthPark Magazine with my stuff. It was amazing,” Paulsen exclaims.
Speaking of SouthPark Magazine, years before becoming the Style Editor for the publication, just a dream of Adkins’ was to be featured in the “Scene and Heard” column of it.
At the time, Adkins had sent SouthPark eight images from a photoshoot she had done in her home. While SouthPark had agreed to run four images initially, the magazine decided to print all eight images after being so impressed with Adkins’ vision and style. In 2019, Adkins assumed the role of Style Editor for SouthPark Magazine.
As her styling and magazine work picked up, The Queen City Style was neglected. “My styling business grew, and I did not have time to focus on the blog,” she admits. Adkins rebranded in 2020 to WhitleyAdkins.com as her website title but still keeps a section of the website dedicated to The Queen City Style. Looking back, Adkins says, “The Queen City Style was basically my own little fashion editorial since there is no Vogue in Charlotte.”
One of Adkins’ favorite concepts she’s been able to create for SouthPark Magazine was the conception of the “It List.” “There is so much art and fashion and style in Charlotte, so I pitched this idea to SouthPark,” she says. The “It List” has been a staple of the magazine for several years now, with the most recent list having all Black subjects in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. The all-Black list was entirely Adkins’ idea, as well.
Another proud moment for Adkins includes when her alma mater UNC: Chapel Hill, asked her to speak for three days at the school’s interdisciplinary design program, FashionMash. When talking to the students, Adkins maintained that she’s never been “glamorized by fame or fortune,” mentioning that “if anything, I’m more drawn to people in the trenches.” But Adkins was also quick to note that everything usually comes at a price. “The first year I was on my own with my business, I also went through a divorce,” she admits.
Her advice to anyone feeling lost after school as she did all those years ago? “Please know that this is normal. The people that have it all figured out are not normal,” she emphasizes.
Though Adkins’ southern drawl is intoxicatingly calming, a shift in her voice occurs at the end of the conversation. Her passion and determination are evident when she concludes with saying, “If something excites you, do it. If you don’t get the support you deserve, just keep walking towards the light.”