Growing up in remote North Bay, Ont., Talia Brown Thall loved heading to the concert hall to listen to the North Bay Symphony perform the upbeat woodwinds of Mozart or the swelling strings of Beethoven. But it wasn’t the music that was the draw for her — it was the clothes.
Brown Thall developed her love of dressing up at an early age. “On my first day of Grade 1, the teacher asked everyone what they wanted to be and I said I was going to play with Barbies,” she says. “I just didn’t know it was going to be with life-size Barbie dolls.” A full-time stylist since 2008, she has dressed such prestigious clients as Idris Elba, Avril Lavigne and a pre-Harry Meghan Markle.
The consummate clothing lover found her true power outfit at the age of 14 when she tried on her first maxi-dress at Club Monaco Kids: a black-and-white long-sleeved polka-dot dress straight out of the Gwen Stefani era. “I remember putting on the dress and being like, ‘This is me; this is how I feel,’” she says. “I get a lot of compliments on my dresses when I go out, and I think it’s because people notice that I’m comfortable. When you’re comfortable, it kind of shows.” Now an accomplished collector, she shares a walk-in closet with husband Nelson B. Thall (whose family once co-owned the Toronto Star) in their three-bedroom Toronto home as well as two mirrored closets in different rooms that are stuffed to the gills with maxi-dresses. “I’m not even sure how many I own,” she says, guessing that the number is at least 200. Despite her small stature — she’s five foot one — Brown Thall is an avid collector of long, lean dresses that brush her ankles. “Technically they’re midi-dresses, but they’re maxis on me,” she laughs.
In the early 2000s, the “dress for your shape” dictums issued by fashion magazines treated maxi-dresses as the exclusive province of tall women, suggesting that the more petite should stick to mini-dresses so as to not overwhelm their Lilliputian frames. However, Brown Thall doesn’t abide by this principle. “I believe that rules are meant to be broken,” she says. “Sometimes I forget I’m short. In a maxi-dress, I feel like a tall short person.”
Brown Thall tends to gravitate toward hyper-feminine silhouettes, like the layer-cake frills of LoveShackFancy, the voluminous pouf of Ganni and the floral fancy of Rotate Birger Christensen (of which she counts a blue puff-sleeved lace dress among her favourites). But as a new mother — her daughter, Arielle, was born in January 2022 — she has begun to embrace cleaner, sleeker silhouettes. Fashion provides the scaffolding upon which we hang the rest of our lives, and now Brown Thall is ready for more structure. All the dresses she acquires have two things in common: They are exquisitely made, and their fabrics feel soft to the touch. “I really like velvet and silk. I’m not a polyester-blend type of person,” she says.
While Brown Thall doesn’t plan on curbing her maxi-dress obsession any time soon, she has been forgoing fast fashion as of late in favour of acquiring items more thoughtfully. After all, a true investment piece is forever. “As long as you buy timeless pieces, you can wear them whenever you want.”
Ahead, some of Brown Thall’s most coveted frocks.
This article first appeared in FASHION’s September 2023 issue. Find out more here.