Shahad AlQaysi has always favored flair over function when it comes to fashion, but she never thought her bold, colorful sartorial choices would capture the attention of strangers. Some 370 posts and 321,000 Instagram followers later, AlQaysi is verifiable style star, albeit by accident: born in Iraq, the 28-year-old earned a degree in dentistry in Dubai before moving to Atlanta to join her family in 2015. Now an office manager for a flooring company, AlQaysi spends her free time documenting her style, which stands out for its surprising mix of high and low (Fendi, Charlotte Russe, Dubai-based designer Nabaa Dhiya Brich, among others). Here, she tells us about her rebellious fashion beginnings, favorite Atlanta shops, and why “real fashionistas break the rules—every time.”
You went to school to become a dentist. When did you first start liking fashion?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love fashion. When I was 5, my mother and I were invited to lunch at an aunt’s house. I wanted to wear a fancy dress you’d normally wear to a wedding—it was green, poufy, and had this beautiful bow at the waist. My mom gave me two options: wear the dress and stay home, or wear what she wanted me to wear and go. So I wore the dress and stayed home. Later, I was playing in the street in the dress with some kids, and I got hit by a car. I still have scars from the accident, but I’ve never regretted staying home in that dress.
Who inspires your style? Whose fashion do you like to follow on Instagram?
Olivia Palermo is my idol. I love the way she breaks the rules: most people tell you to stick to gold or silver, but she’ll wear them at the same time, and it looks nice on her. I like that she’s not afraid to mix color—and it’s not just white and beige, either. She’ll mix red and blue, or green and yellow, and she always looks amazing. I also like Deema Al Asadi. Her looks are very decent, classy and unique.
Where do you like to shop in Atlanta?
Oh, I love to shop—I’ll go two or three times a week. My favorite stores in town are Zara, Abercrombie, and H&M. If I’m shopping online, I like Mango. I recently started designing my own clothes, too, under the name The Shaha, which means “The Queen” in Persian. It’s going to be classic pieces—my first outfit was inspired by Princess Diana. I’m just designing clothes for me right now, but I’d like to have a store one day.
What’s your favorite piece of clothing in your closet?
A good pair of jeans—
I literally never see you in jeans on Instagram.
[Laughs.] That’s because I’m shooting! But for every day, I like to be comfortable. My favorite jeans are skinny jeans from Zara. I have, like, 12 pairs of jeans, but I wear the same Zara ones over and over.
Your outfits are always accented by a turban, and you’ve created several YouTube tutorials on how to wear them. Has recent legislation against predominantly Muslim countries—and hostility toward immigrants—ever made you not want to wear one?
No, I feel myself when I wear a turban. And in Atlanta, where there’s lot of bloggers, it makes me different from the crowd. I’ve always feel loved and supported in my turban. Sometimes I’ll ask my friends—99 percent of them are American and not Muslim—whether I should wear it or not, and they tell me it makes me look special, like no one else.
What’s your beauty routine?
For every day, I wear sunblock from Shiseido, Hourglass blush, and Vaseline lip balm. If I’m doing my makeup for a shoot or going out for the night, I like to wear fake lashes. They always give you a dramatic look, no matter how soft the rest of your makeup is.
Where do you head for a night out?
I like hookah places. Sufi’s is great—they make hookahs out of actual pineapple or watermelon.
What’s your favorite place to shoot in Atlanta?
Anywhere downtown. I live in Gwinnett. It’s calm and there’s lots of cars. I like how busy downtown feels—there’s always people walking around and the energy is high.