I, Carly

By / Cover stories / May 24, 2018

YouTube star Carly Cristman brings her channel home to Chicago

Photos by Maria Ponce

Armed with a political science degree she wasn’t sure what to do with and a healthy amount of skepticism, Carly Cristman turned on the camera and filmed her first YouTube video: “How to do a perfect sock bun.”

That was 2010; eight years later, her weekly videos have evolved into a channel, offering a sophisticated peek into her life to nearly 800,000 subscribers. While followers love her authenticity — her uncut flubs are a refreshing reprieve in a sea of perfectly posed, highly unattainable blog feeds — her most popular clips, by far, are more actionable: “How to always be stylish” and “How to look good in every picture” racked up 3 million and 2.8 million views respectively. She’s taught viewers hacks for organizing their kitchens and bathrooms, ways to part with old clothes and embrace new styles, and how to travel lightly.

For Cristman, consistency is key. She applies it both in her aesthetic — whites, grays and neutrals only; you won’t often see her wearing color — and her timing: “For the last couple of years, I’ve been telling my viewers every single week that my videos go up on Thursday,” she says. “That way, no matter where they’ve seen my videos before, they know they can expect a new video from me on Thursdays and I don’t have to rely on an algorithm.”

The “algorithm” she speaks of is the much-disputed formula that pushes certain content to the top of social media feeds, regardless of when it was posted, and buries other content. Bloggers, vloggers and other social media experts have been battling it since its inception a few years ago — it substantially lowers their reach — but Cristman isn’t ruffled. She can be confident her fans will find her, as they’ve done regularly for the past near-decade. “I’ll get comments” — more than 200 per video, that is — “that say things like, ‘I’ve been watching you since you started,’ and it’s just so shocking to me. … My audience has grown up with me.”

She’s not exaggerating. In 2010, Cristman had just graduated college and moved into a Gold Coast apartment (the video tour of which got 385,000 views). Shortly after that, “I moved to LA to be surrounded by more people in the [vlogging] community.” Fans, virtually, went with her, supporting her as she filmed style segments for E! News and Extra and worked the red carpet at awards shows. They saw her candidly battle anxiety and depression and go through a difficult breakup. More recently, they were introduced to a new boyfriend, Cody Carson, and saw him propose in LA. Since the couple’s Oct. 7, 2017, wedding at the Wyndham Grand hotel on Wacker, Cristman’s followers have seen her make the move back to Chicago, settle into an apartment and quickly start the hunt for a more permanent home and, in April, announce her pregnancy. 

Her popularity has garnered lucrative partnerships with brands like L’Óreal and Tacori (the jewelry label even helped Carson design Cristman’s engagement ring), and her videos have gotten increasingly more personal along the way. Earlier this month, she opened up about having a lump in her breast removed (both she and baby are fine), but at times, she’s had to dial back the personal information due to safety concerns: Last year, after sharing details of her upcoming wedding, the wedding website was hacked. Now she takes extra precautions. “Every video I’ve shown [driving in the car after looking at] houses, I’ve actually filmed in a completely different area, in case someone recognizes the area. … I hate having to do that because I obviously want to be authentic, but it’s true that you have to watch out. Anyone can [see] these videos.”

Newly settled back in the Midwest — she announced via Instagram last week that she and Carson are building a home — and with a baby coming in November, Cristman is looking forward to connecting with a new community of creators off screen, and reaching a new demographic on. “What’s really cool about creating content on the internet is you can transition your audience,” she says. “As I’ve gone through different life stages, new people have started to follow me. Now I’m getting more women who either might be getting married or already have a family — that’s been really cool.”

Carly’s favorites

If you talk with your hands, and plan to be filmed while doing it, an impeccable mani is key. Cristman gets her tips done at Old Town salon Polish and Pour (1244 N. Wells). “You can actually drink wine and watch ‘Sex and the City’ while you get your nails done,” she says. “Even though I can’t do the wine right now, it’s basically the best experience ever.”

It’s her first summer in the city since moving away in 2014, but Cristman is looking forward to soaking up the sun. “I love walking to Luxbar [18 E. Bellevue],
one of my favorite restaurants,” she says. “But pretty much any [place] with a patio, you can expect to find me there.”

Cristman’s followers know from her time in LA that she had a go-to esthetician for eyelash extensions on the West Coast. Back in Chicago, she’s turned to Amazing Lash Studio (334 E. Ohio). “My husband’s sister-in-law runs a franchise in Indiana, so that’s how I heard about it.”

At the shoot

It was still a bit chilly when we shot YouTube sensation Carly Cristman for our Guide to Summer issue at Novelty Golf & Games in Lincolnwood, but the blooming magnolia tree over the miniature golf course could have fooled anyone.

Photographer: Maria Ponce

Styling: Tahler Johnson, 10 Management

Hair & makeup: Lynee Ruiz, Ford Artists

Shot on location at: Novelty Golf & Games, 3650 W. Devon

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