Kelly Hurliman

Kelly Hurliman

by Melissa Magsaysay

The stylist-turned-interior designer discusses dressing Oprah and why tailoring is a girl’s best friend.

We’re all familiar with the “Oprah Effect." It’s undeniable and truly ubiquitous in everything from selecting a must-have scented candle to helping us fully realize our own spirituality. So it’s no surprise that Oprah Winfrey has also been a force and inspiration for many of us sartorially, exuding strength, confidence and sometimes her own personal struggle, through her clothing and appearance.

The woman responsible for Winfrey’s style for over a decade is Chicago-based fashion expert Kelly Hurliman, who dressed the media mogul for two talk shows a day, plus premiers and personal appearances.

Plus Size Designer Fashion Kelly Hurliman

“I am so thrilled 11 Honoré is happening.” Hurliman says of the new direction in which fashion and e-commerce are heading. “I felt that there was a component of this industry that was missing where women of all sizes weren’t being looked upon. Everyone deserves this high level of quality fashion.”

In Hurliman’s role as Winfrey’s stylist, she had front row access to every major designer; often collaborating with them to create gowns and dresses for special events as well as daytime looks for television.

The stylist has experienced first hand the dearth of high-end clothing in larger sizes when dressing her star client, often times having to re-work garments that lacked proper grading in order to deliver designer pieces made in luxury fabric that fit someone beyond a size 2 (or 8 for that matter).

Plus Size Designer Fashion Kelly Hurliman
Kelly and one of her two children. Photographed by Erin Konrath.

“We did a lot of custom clothing with designers,” says Hurliman, who was named one of The Hollywood Reporter’s top 25 stylists in 2014. “We did a lot with Carolina Herrera. She really got Oprah’s body down. Most designers are not used to dressing for anything over a size 2, so it was a lot of collaboration and I found that they were super open to it. At the end of the day I have a specific look in mind of what I want her to wear and it’s fun to see it come together and make something work. But it can be very nerve wracking too, because for red carpet dressing other (sample size) celebrities get two full racks of dresses and we get one, maybe two, dresses. Oprah is so gracious and knows the designers are busy themselves, so we would get the dress a couple of days before or maybe the week before an event. One year, there was an Oscars where I was going out to Neiman’s in case the dress didn’t come in time.”

Plus Size Designer Fashion Kelly Hurliman
Oprah Winfrey arrives at the 87th Annual Academy Awards wearing a custom Vera Wang gown, co-designed and styled by Kelly Hurliman.

Hurliman’s down to earth nature, patience and thoroughness with finding pieces that fit well and felt luxurious always resulted in gorgeous looks that came to create Winfrey’s signature elegant style.

Here, the stylist, who has now turned her talents to interior design, shares her expert advice and insights on dressing well and why confidence eclipses the number on a tag any day (trust us, she knows.)

Plus Size Designer Fashion Kelly Hurliman
Oprah Winfrey arrives at the 19th Annual Critic's Choice Movie Awards wearing custom Azzedine Alaïa, co-designed and styled by Kelly Hurliman.

Q & A With Kelly

Who are some of your favorite designers for dressing women of all sizes?

Donna Karan always knew how to dress a woman. We miss her. We wore a lot of her pieces when I was dressing Oprah. She understood draping and the curves of a woman’s body and that gave Oprah that confidence. I’m so glad she didn’t leave her collection before I left Oprah because she was a real go-to. Also, Oscar de la Renta and Michael Kors for that clean, classic, polished look. With every other designer, you do need to be a little creative. There were pieces in everyone’s line we could try, but as far as go-to designers, it was those three.

What are some challenges/advantages when dressing women who are not sample size?

The challenges for me were a lot of times just fabric. If I found something that had it going on trend wise, chances are the fabric wasn’t quality. It was hard to find nice fabric and bad fabric was something Oprah was just NOT interested in. She wanted to wear quality and luxury, especially with the fabric. Stretch was always our friend because it would give a little bit. Tailoring is also your friend if you’re not sample size, even if to add a little fabric to the sleeve and make it what it needs to be. My biggest frustration with clothing over size 12 was that proportions were never what they needed to be to make the fit great. Find a great tailor and make it perfect for you. You need to take it to a tailor so that it nips in the waist and falls where it needs to or doesn’t have extra fabric at the sleeve. It’s the little things like this that make a really big difference.

What is your best sartorial advice for women whose weight fluctuates?

I feel that it’s so important to focus on what’s going on inside. You’re not going to magically change by fitting in those skinny jeans. I tend not to focus on size, that’s one of the reasons Oprah and I got along so well, because I’m not a crazy fashion person. I love it and keep it in its place, but I also come from a very practical place. I don’t care about what that number says on a tag, I care about how it looks. Sometimes when you’re not a standard size you tend to get caught up in that number and you just cannot get caught up in that tag number. Think more about how it looks and how you feel, because that number does not determine your worth, so focus on what’s going on inside and what’s making you happy. Right now more than ever it feels better to accept yourself where you are. We’re seeing more images in magazines and on the runway, of women in all sizes and it finally feels like there’s freedom, appreciation and gratitude. There’s a real liberty when you see shapes and sizes that don’t look like every runway that’s come before it. The other thing I feel about navigating the fashion world that is that there’s no substitute for confidence. Confidence really can do so much for your presence and appearance and the connection that you’re making with the world.


Featured Products

Good American

Good '90s Duster Natural Fray

Baja East

Tunic Top

Baja East

Wide Leg Pant

Baja East


Good American

Good '90s Icon Bermuda

Tanya Taylor

Emma Top

Tanya Taylor

Flora Short

Apiece Apart

Eugenia Mini Dress

Minnie Rose

Wide Collar Ribbed Top


Violette Kaftan

Share This: