Sherri Preston, Mom, Stylish PTA President, Writer, Painter, And Inventor of The Beltless Belt
I met Sherri when she joined our Facebook Group, and I was immediately struck by her statuesque figure and her confidence. We started communicating about my Style Resource Team and its mission. Eventually, Sherri joined the Style Resource Team and completed my virtual color program, Love My Colors! We’ve been getting to know each other, and I’ve been impressed by Sherri’s focus, determination, integrity, creativity and positive attitude. You’ll see what I mean when you read this interview…
Let’s begin by having you tell us a little about yourself, how old you are (if you wish to share), where you live, where you were born, and your family.
Well, I’ll be fifty-seven next week [Note: the interview was a couple weeks ago, so Sherri is now 57!] I like when somebody says, “Oh, it’s a special birthday!,” or it’s not, and my thinking is all birthdays are special. It doesn’t matter how old you are, all birthdays are special. I don’t separate them that way [laughter].
We live in what most people would call the suburbs. It’s about 35 minutes outside of Manhattan, so we call this area Upstate. My husband, Michael, is English. I met him accident. He has two sons from a previous marriage, and they have children, so we have three grandchildren. We have two children together, sixteen and eighteen.
Wait, I need to go back to something you just said. How did you meet your husband ‘by accident?’
This is how it happened. I sold real estate back then. I’m still a real estate broker. I hold onto my license, though it’s not something I do anymore except on a consulting basis. Early on I did business with a real estate attorney. That same real estate attorney did business with my husband, Michael. When Michael went through a divorce, he wanted to be in New York when he wanted to be, and not relocate permanently. That attorney set me up with him to find him an apartment to live in. If I’m completely honest, I spoke to him the first time on the phone, and I was not used to speaking with anyone with an accent, and I said, “You know what? You’re a bit pompous for me, and this isn’t what I really want to do, I’m doing this as a favor, so I really don’t think this will work.”
And that was the end of that conversation until the attorney called me and said I really need you to do me a favor — this guy is not as bad as you think he is. And that’s actually how I met him.
Sounds like a movie!
Yes, it was a strange beginning…
I don’t think my husband meant to live here permanently, but he does go back and forth. He still has business there. We go back and forth, and fortunately we all get along. All the kids get along with each other. My grandchildren are young — nine, twelve, and thirteen — and they have very heavy English accents, and I find that really cute.
When we wound up getting together, I was looking for a house for us, and my husband wanted something with an English garden. In New York, there aren’t a lot of English gardens! So I put the word out, and one woman whom I had done business with told me she had a house with an English garden, but the house was awful. She said you’re going to have to see past the house because the property’s really pretty. So, I brought Michael to the property, and warned him to put blinders on to everything except the gardens. And that was it! We were both able to see past the older home and saw the possibilities. And we’ve been here ever since, surrounded by English gardens in New York.
So, who takes care of the English garden?
Well, that’s the thing. I do have a landscaper, but, it’s never quite English enough for my husband. So he goes out and works on the garden — that’s his down time, the thing he enjoys doing.
What makes it an English garden, I’m just curious…?
I think it has to do with having loads of colors and wide open spaces. Some of my husband’s favorite plants are the Acer tree [pictured above] as well as the Juniper (spreading), and the Red Maple tree which blooms in the fall and lasts about ten days. We happened to look at this property when the Red Maple was in bloom, and we couldn’t resist! Bea Rigsby Kunz’s gardens look very English. I’ve actually shown my husband pictures of her gardens.
What’s the quirkiest, most interesting, thing about you?
That’s a hard question for me to answer. I asked me daughter if I was quirky, and she told me I was quirky about a lot of different things! [Note from Linda: I’m wondering if all our children find us quirky??? Ask your kids next time you talk to them…you’ll probably be amazed at their answers.]
The only thing I can say is quirky about me is I always tell people my husband made me a tea snob. I used to be a coffee drinker, until I went to England and experienced drinking high tea. I love the whole ceremony of drinking real tea leaves, and learning about the different teas, one tea is good for one mood or another. I educated myself about tea, to the point of when I go to my friend’s house I bring my own tea now. I think that could be considered quirky.
The other quirk is something my eighteen-year-old daughter came up with. I love Disney. We recently bought a timeshare there — and I’m the one who pushed for it. [laughter] To me, it’s a fun vacation. I had my kids a bit later in life, so I love being a kid with my kids. It’s not about the park. There is a whole other dimension to it. It is handicap friendly, as my husband has mobility issues. And, it’s just a happy place!!
I have to ask, is your house filled with Mickey and Minnie Mouse paraphernalia?
No, I don’t go the stuffed animal route in my house, but I do have appointments in my kitchen, such as Disney salad tossers. All of a sudden during a dinner party my friends will ask, “Is that a mouse?” And I tell them yes it is actually — I enjoy that part of sharing Disney with my friends! My Disney things are sort of hidden throughout the house…they’re the adult Disney toys.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
Nobody believes I’m a PTA President. I have been president for five years from one school to the other. The reason I got involved in PTA was that I had my kids at 38 and 40. So when my kids were in elementary school, I was dealing with women much younger than me, and my patience wasn’t what it used to be. I was at a meeting, and in a hurry to get home one day, so I volunteered for something just to get the meeting ended. I had no idea what I was volunteering for, but I said okay I’ll do it. That’s how I got involved, and I’ve been a volunteer ever since. I believe in being a presence behind your kids. And the only way I could learn and get to know people was to be very involved.
I also love to paint — I started painting about four years ago. I find it so relaxing. I added my paintings to a page on my website — mostly to show my friends what I’m doing. The whole thing is about color. When you sent me my color cards I realized it’s all about color, and being able to step out of your comfort zone when it comes to wearing colors, or painting with color. It’s amazing how it all works together — painting and style.
What are some of the issues you’ve faced that may have affected your confidence in the past, and how did you overcome those issues?
When I was 46 I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. That was something I had to overcome. I was very lucky because there are many different types of stages you can get, and mine was the best stage. But it really makes you think and reevaluate your life. I had very young children so it was all about prioritizing at that point. And, having it not be all about me — I put my focus on my children. I was very lucky. I did a lot of reading – it was at that point that I started to take my medical history into my own hands. I learned you need to interview doctors, take it upon yourself. That’s when I started putting my medical history on a piece of paper – because if you’re down somebody has to advocate for you. I’m a little bit of a control freak and knowledge is information. The word, “cancer,” it took me weeks before I could even say it. I realized if you can’t even say the word, how are you going to deal with the issue?
I think you can take that lesson through your entire life. Whatever you’re dealing with in life — your health, or whatever it is — you face it and deal with it. I think it was because of my kids and thinking to myself you don’t have time to wallow in your own thoughts right now, you really need to step up and just move on with everything. I would say the turnaround time, for me, was 4-6 weeks, from when the diagnosis hit me and feeling I could deal with it. I’m fine now, and I follow up every couple years. I consider myself very lucky.
How would you describe your personal style?
When I’m working from home, my style is comfortable and elegant. When I go out, I’m soho flair with bohemian elegance. I’ll wear a flare jean with a kimono wrap with a twist somewhere. I’m not into a lot of structure now — I wore matching suits for work, but I’m over it. I prefer more unstructured, flowing clothes now. [I suggested that Sherri add the style word “fierce” to her signature style description, and she smiled. I think it fits her personality.]
Do you wear cowl necklines? I think you’d look really good in that style.
That’s interesting. I used to wear cowl necks and turtlenecks all the time, and after I had thyroid surgery I mentally didn’t want anything touching my neck. I never felt the need to hide my scar, because to me I’d rather see it every day as a reminder. It was just a mental thing. That’s when I started wearing soft scarves and it might think a mental thing. Scarves are very easy to wear, and it really works because you can style a scarf any way you want to, and take it off when you want to. I’m post-menopausal so sometimes I need to remove my scarf!
I have started wearing cowl necks again…
How has your personal style changed after fifty?
Comfort has become much more important. Not that you want out the door in sweats, but you want to pick comfortable, stylish clothes. Clothes that don’t hurt.
Jeans, which I used to wear a lot, I don’t love now. I don’t find them very comfortable. It took years for me to admit that! And when I wrote that in your Facebook Group a few months back, I think several women jumped in on that sentiment and said they agreed with me.
I also have learned that sexy doesn’t have to be revealing. That has become clearer as I’ve gotten older. Sexy is a state of mind, and it’s all in how you present yourself.
What is your favorite style trick or tip you’d like to share?
If I’m feeling that my stomach looks a little bigger one day, I’ll choose clothes that elongate my body. For example, I might wear leggings and a long tunic, which will give my body a different appearance than the way I’m actually feeling.
I’m 5’6 1/2″ and for some reason people seem to think I’m taller. Wearing things like leggings and tunic tops, adding a heel, or a long scarf to camouflage your midsection, tricks like that can make you feel better that day. Sometimes people say to me, oh you’ve lost weight, and if anything, I’ve gained five pounds! It’s all about the using style tricks.
I call what you just described “The Art of Distraction”
No, I didn’t know that. I like that! Honestly, one day an outfit may look great on me and the next day it may not. I think you need to be able to be honest with yourself.
How and why did you start your own company? And how did you come up with The Beltless Belt?
The belt was personal. My husband had an event in Washington about seven years ago. I had bought a specific outfit and I couldn’t get the slacks waist to lay as flat as I would have liked it to. I really liked the slacks. This is ridiculous someone should make what I need. So, I went on Google, ordered some belts, and they weren’t working. One belt was plastic and sticking to my skin [I know, that’s quirky!]. So, I ended up at a craft store, and I needed some elastic and something to cinch it, and I bought velcro in a package. I put velcro on each side, and nobody was going to see it under my top, and was going to flatten out my waist. And it worked!
So, I wore it to the Washington event.
Then, I was at a Cabi party trying on some clothes, and I forgot I had the elastic belt on, and someone made a comment about it. I was sort of embarrassed that she saw my handmade belt, but she said, “No, that’s a really good idea — I could use something like that.” And that is literally how it started.
I then looked into the different types of fabrics I could use to make the belts. I focused on neoprene because I wanted something that wouldn’t cause any bulk. I’m trying one more fabric right now, in fact. I then researched manufacturers where I have them made. I brought the belt to a business associate of my husband’s, who thought I needed a different fabric, and that’s how it started and how it progressed.
I still size the belts for my customers, package and ship the belts. I get the completed belt, I put it in the container, decorate the package, and ship it to the customer. It’s a control thing.
I got it on Amazon first, and then on to Etsy. Now customers can purchase The Beltless Belt on my own website [see below].
I’m working on some exciting new products, such as shirts, scarves, more belts, and custom jewelry pieces featuring crystals. I’m still working out the marketing strategy on these things. I’m taking things one days at a time — I don’t like to rush.
What lessons have you learned about life and happiness after fifty?
You create your own happiness. That’s what I’ve learned. I don’t think it’s up to someone else to make you happy. I don’t think you should look to a husband or partner to make you happy. It’s up to you.
Only then, if you’re content within yourself, can you actually give enough to the people who need you and the people who love you. I don’t rely on anyone for my happiness, which I guess comes across a little cold sometimes…but I just think you need to be your own person. It’s no one else’s responsibility to make you happy.
What makes you happy?
I’d have to say my children first. Family makes me happy. Positive attitudes. I’ve learned gratitude. You know, I always said I wanted children, and didn’t know I’d have any children. I was told after the first one that I wouldn’t be able to have a second one. But I did! I think you learn gratitude, and I don’t take anything for granted.
As long as the people I love are happy, healthy and moving in the right direction, I’m fine, I really am. Good friends. You have a lot of friends, but only a handful of good friends.
I’m in a very good place, but it took a while to get here.
What is the best way for members to connect with you?
Public Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/awomanthing/
The Beltless Belt & Jewelry Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/spreston.awt/
Etsy Store: https://www.awomanthing.etsy.com
Sherri’s Phone Number: 845-494-5047 I think we’ve lost the art of talking…if you want to call I’d love to talk to you!
Lastly, can you share a favorite inspirational quote or brief story to leave us with?
My favorite quote is one I have inside my closet that I look at now and then:
If not now, when?
If not me, then who?
Every once in a while I reference a favorite book I keep on my desk, “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz. In it, he says:
Be impeccable with your word,
Don’t take anything personally,
Don’t make assumptions,
Always do your best.
Thanks so much, Sherri, I’ve really enjoyed talking to you!