For alumna Megan Collins, life and success don’t adhere to strict blueprints.
The Madison, Wisconsin, native describes herself as the “black sheep” that left town after high school. Though her entire family, tracing back to her grandparents, had attended the nearby University of Wisconsin, she sought out new adventure. At 18, Collins moved to New York City, longing to know it beyond its shiny exterior.
“I had always really wanted to live in New York,” she said. “I’d only ever been on a weekend trip with my dad when I was 13 and I had a sense that living in New York was a little different than staying in Times Square for the weekend and seeing Broadway shows.”
Collins knew her gap year wouldn’t go without a few struggles. She got a minimum-wage job managing the front desk at a hair salon, scraping by just enough to pay rent each month. Despite her newfound independence as a working woman, her time in New York only strengthened her determination to go to college.
“I’d been a good student in school and I’d always had the intention of going on to school after that, but being out in the working world without much of an education — that really reinforced for me how important education really is,” Collins said.
From there, her story took a turn that most Nittany Lions are familiar with. Collins applied to Penn State backed by logical reasoning — having lived a life filled with Badger football, she easily recognized Penn State from the Big Ten. She knew it was a good distance from home without being in a big city. Collins sent in her application, mixed among the company of several others for schools along the East Coast.
Like plenty before her, she didn’t expect to love it as much as she did. It wasn’t until Collins took a real trip to Happy Valley that she knew it was the place for her. After visiting campus on “the perfect spring weekend,” she chose Penn State even after mailing in a check to another school.
Collins attended Penn State for three years before transferring to the University of Wisconsin for her junior year for a study abroad program in Aix-en-provence, France. She graduated in 2006 with degrees in advertising/public relations and political science. But after working in public relations for a few years, she began to understand that obtaining her dream career would require a shift in direction.
“What I really wanted to do was write. I got into the corporate world and it just didn’t feel like the right fit for me,” Collins said. “I really wanted to communicate and create community.”
Collins left her corporate job and became a freelance writer. Amidst various projects, she was offered an assignment writing a column for a friend who started a suiting business in Los Angeles. The topic? Men’s style and fashion — and with “visions of Carrie Bradshaw” dancing in her head, she accepted. Despite her lack of knowledge on the subject, she began to write her weekly column, focused on styling tips and what women like to see men wear.
“For better or for worse, women…really understand the connection between appearance and impression,” she said. “I was able to take all this wisdom that I had accrued over the years and just applied it to guys.”
Collins entitled the column Style Girlfriend. Her weekly style report gained popularity quickly and was eventually picked up by a wire service, which distributed her column to newspapers across the country, from the Los Angeles Times to The Miami Herald. In 2013, she decided to buy the domain stylegirlfriend.com and give up all of her other freelance work, solely devoting herself to her new website.
Collins had a new job but continued to focus on the same mission — helping men shop smarter, as well as dress with confidence despite budget or age, all from the perspective of a woman.
“There’s a lot of guys out there who have GQ at home on their coffee table but they’re shopping at the mall. They don’t know how to make that jump from an actor or an athlete wearing a $7,000 suit on the cover to going to J. Crew and buying a $700 suit,” she said. “The way I grew up was having to shop at the mall, too, and I was on a budget…it’s just more of saying to them, ‘Let’s start where you’re at. Fashion is not off-limits to you just because you live in a small town or you’re working on a budget.’ It was just sort of a sensibility that wasn’t out there at the time. I feel lucky that I sort of stumbled on that.”
Now editor-in-chief, Collins has a team of one full-time editor and five contributors working alongside her as Style Girlfriend continues to grow. This year, Collins will expand the brand’s business model to include one-on-one styling services with clients.
In retrospect, Collins knows her journey to Style Girlfriend was unconventional, but it was the uncertainty that guided her to make the best decisions for herself. Developing the ability to take the experience day-by-day was a major part of the learning process.
“A recurring theme in my life is really loving habit and loving certainty, and yet doing things that act as the opposite to that…taking a gap year and spending it in New York, it all felt like it made sense, but it’s not really what everyone does,” she said. “But I think that’s just something that Penn State was really good for. It was three years of being independent but also being in an environment that I felt safe and secure in. I think Penn State was one of a very long line of decisions that felt scary, but I really trusted my instincts that it was the right move for me, and it worked out that way.”
For Collins, the road to success was often a terrifying one, but she doesn’t think there’s any better way to get there. In fact, she knows it’s often these types of decisions that propel us to reach our goals in the end.
“Do the thing that scares you. I had to fully commit myself to Style Girlfriend before I really felt ready to do it. As an entrepreneur, and really in life, you can’t really wait for everything to be totally figured out before you do it,” she said. “Sometimes you just have to take the information that’s available to you and mix that with whatever your gut or your heart is telling you and make the educated guess that doing that thing is good for you…do the thing that scares you and you probably won’t regret it.”