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Wear thee well
The hosts of TLCís What Not To Wear speak out about style, self-image, and marabou trim
BY TAMARA WIEDER

NEXT TIME YOUíRE late for work and the laundryís piled up and you reach into your closet and pull out that shirt with the hole and stain that you swear ó swear! ó youíll never wear again after this last time because youíve got nothing left thatís clean, beware. If the team from What Not To Wear has been put on your trail, hidden-camera footage of your fashion blunder may soon be making its way to national television.

The TLC reality show, modeled after the British program of the same name, gives viewers the chance to nominate their style-challenged friends, family members, and co-workers for a fashion intervention ó including a makeover and a $5000 shopping spree ó by WNTW hosts Stacy London and Clinton Kelly, former fashion journalists and stylists. Of course, no reality-television program is complete without guts and gore ó in this case in the form of public broadcast of that hideous hidden-camera footage of too-tight pants, stained sweats, garish makeup, and otherwise inappropriate attire.

But London ó one of the original hosts of the show, which debuted last year ó and Kelly, who came aboard this season (he replaced Wayne Lukas, who appeared to have fashion issues of his own), insist their brand of advice and criticism is of the constructive kind. Even the showís trademark 360-degree mirror, before which all participants must stand in their most pitiful clothes as London and Kelly look on in mock horror, is meant to serve as a catalyst for improvement, rather than a chamber of body-image torture.

Q: What were the first few episodes of the first season like?

Stacy London: Oh my God, it was so nerve-racking. It really was. Itís completely different being a stylist whoís used to being behind the camera, and being able to check how everything looks, as opposed to being in front of the camera, and looking down and thinking, " Does that crease work on me? I donít know if that wrinkle is supposed to be there. " And all of a sudden you sort of doubt all the expertise you have. And also, itís one thing to style something on a model and say, " Thatís faaabulous, thatís going to make a faaabulous cover. " Itís another to really try and recreate a wardrobe for someone who has to live with it afterwards. And who doesnít need to walk the red carpet, and has a real life, and has a busy schedule. You wind up really having to take into account somebodyís age, somebodyís body type, somebodyís lifestyle. And also, regardless of how people dress, you do have to respect their opinion.

Clinton Kelly: Whether you want to or not.

SL: Right. I mean, you canít strong-arm them and shove violet down their throat when they donít want to wear the color. You have to find ways to encourage them to push themselves. The idea of the secret footage is very, very helpful because it really does take people outside themselves and really makes them look at the way that theyíre dressing. Itís a great tool ó thatís sort of our best weapon to say, " Hey, maybe you should try something new. " And I think it goes a long way to convince them that we may have a point. Even when we give them the rules, a lot of times theyíre like, " Thatís never going to work on me, thatíll never work, " but when they go and test it out when they go shopping, they really do start to see the difference in the way they look.

CK: Stacy brings up a really good point. There is so much psychology involved in this job, I had no idea. When people see themselves on that secret footage or in the 360 mirror, you just know that theyíre just one breath away from having a mental breakdown.

SL: As I did, when I went in the 360.

CK: As I do, when I watch the show on Friday nights! Itís like, why didnít anyone tell me I had cameltoe? No, Iím just kidding. But itís really tough. We really feel for these people as theyíre sitting there, especially the people whoíve had a change in their body for one reason or another, like having kids or going through menopause or just gaining a lot of weight, letting themselves go, to use that awful expression. Itís really difficult to look at yourself objectively. But then weíre all about, " This is the way your body is now, youíve got really great points, really great features, and letís make the most of them. " Once we get past that point, people are usually excited about the whole process.

SL: Yeah, weíre not big advocates of, like, " Well, if you just firmed up, and if you lost 10 pounds ... " We donít care about that. Because any body type can be dressed well; it really is a question of finding what works for each person.

CK: Yeah. And you never know what the futureís going to bring. I mean, a year from now you might lose 10 pounds, you might gain 10 pounds, you might stay the same. So donít dress for what might happen; dress for the way you are right now.

Q: Why do you think people are so eager essentially to have their friends and family humiliated on national television? Because there is some element of humiliation, right?

CK: Itís very mild humiliation, I think. Everything weíre saying to these people, weíre saying with love. Itís all tongue-in-cheek, weíre joking around with them, weíre smiling. Weíre not, like, making value judgments about them.

Q: But thereís a lot of unflattering footage.

CK: Well, itís nothing the whole world isnít seeing already. I mean, you walk down the street in New York City, letís say, and a million people see you.

SL: Thatís what we always try and remind the participants: theyíre like, " Ooh, I look terrible on camera. " Weíre like, " Itís not the camera. " If youíre walking around that way, thatís the way you look. But I do think what Clinton was saying before about psychology is actually really important. As much as we do joke around and try and be very pointed with the kind of criticism that we have, we are sticking to the clothing. The other thing about that is we do spend a lot of time off camera with these people. We need to gain their trust, to a certain extent, for them to feel that itís okay for us to joke around, and that weíre not attacking them. And that really does come from really explaining the format of the show, and really being supportive, and saying, " You can do this. This is the first step in the right direction. " And what I find is that a lot of people on the show really feel like being nominated and having the makeover is a turning point for them. And if they can do this, they can do other things. They can change jobs. They can reinforce their relationship with their husband. They can go out and meet a new guy. They can have more kids. Whatever it is. It really reinstates a sense of lost confidence.

Q: Does any one outfit from the secret footage youíve seen really stand out as the worst?

CK: I donít know about you, Stacy, but I think Ginaís ridiculous, sort of psychedelic ó

SL: Oh right, the bunny-in-the-plant outfit, yeah.

CK: Gina was our first episode that aired [this season], and she wore this sort of green, psychedelic print ó

SL: It was turquoise-and-green flower-power print with marabou trim.

CK: Marabou trim.

Q: Whatís the most common fashion blunder you encounter?

CK: Clothes that do not fit.

SL: Too big or too small.

CK: By far, by far. Women not knowing their bra size, not wearing a bra when they need to be wearing a bra, thatís a big thing. And every guy thinks heís a large.

SL: Or an extra-large!

CK: Or an extra-large. " Iím big, Iím a big man. " No. Youíre small.

SL: Youíre five-seven and you weigh less than I do, so that doesnít qualify as an extra-large.

CK: And then also, I think being too casual is another blunder people make, like wearing sweatpants to the office. Just giving up, not even trying anymore. Wearing things with no shape.

Q: Whatís your biggest fashion pet peeve?

SL: Tapered pants for plus-size women. Iím not mad at the plus-size women, Iím mad at the people making those pants!

CK: I cannot stand those chunky platform heels. Why do you want to look like Frankenstein foot? I just donít get it. Nobody is ever going to look taller, slimmer ó

SL: Sophisticated, glamorous ó

CK: Sophisticated, sexy, with a big club foot going on. Itís just not working.

Q: What fashion trend will never come back?

SL: I donít believe thereís any fashion trend that wonít come back. Unfortunately I do believe there is a finite number of trends available in any designerís mind, and eventually theyíre going to reach back and choose something that is ugly and try and update it. The thing is, there are cycles. I can guarantee you military will come back. It used to be every five years; now itís every two. And the more weíre at war, the easier it is to just throw a pair of camouflage pants on a model. Honestly, I donít know of a trend that may never make an appearance again.

Q: Do you guys feel a lot of pressure to always look good, since people know you as the pair who tell other people how bad they look?

SL: I definitely feel the pressure, but thereís nothing I can do about not looking good all the time. I have to be honest, I really do believe that Clinton was really made to be on television, whereas I need a lot of work to be on TV. It was not the natural state of affairs. I donít think my parents were really planning on it. So genetically speaking, it does take quite a bit of work to get me there.

CK: It takes a lot of flat-ironing, thatís all it is. Itís the flat iron. On the show, yeah, thereís a lot of pressure, because God forbid you wear something that doesnít quite work. I mean, [viewers] go crazy on the Web site.

SL: Oh yeah ó they attack us. Itís unbelievable.

Q: What was the deal with former co-host Wayne? People seemed to think he was as unfashionable as anyone you ever had on the show.

SL: Yes, that was an issue, definitely. There was a lot of questioning about that. But the fact is, Wayne is an incredibly, incredibly talented stylist. And to his credit ó I mean, I have to say, that is one of the issues in becoming an on-camera talent as opposed to somebody whoís behind the camera ó he always dressed for comfort, and he always dressed in a way that he felt was appropriate to his job, and didnít change his identity just because he was doing it on TV. In a lot of cases, I really did feel that it wasnít so much of an issue, because we were mostly doing women on the show; we did one guy for the first season. Theyíll take advice from Wayne because Wayneís sort of like the best friend standing with you in front of the mirror. Itís a lot harder I think on a lot of levels for women to take advice from other women if they donít feel thereís something that they want to emulate about that person. So I really felt like I needed to dress up more in order to win a certain amount of confidence with the people that we were dressing, because I wanted them to feel like I wasnít going to lead them astray, whereas I didnít feel that was so much an issue for Wayne. Obviously I think audiences felt a little differently.

Q: What do you say to people who say, " People should be allowed to wear whatever they want as long as theyíre happy and comfortable " ?

SL: I donít know anybody whoís like, " Iím so happy in a sweat suit. " Iíve heard " Iím comfortable, " but I donít know about happy.

CK: I personally feel that people can wear whatever the hell they want. I mean, I really donít care what the average person on the street is wearing. But if youíre coming to me for a job, if youíre coming to me to do my plumbing, to redecorate my house, Iím going to take into account what youíre wearing. Go ahead and be comfortable all day long; I really donít care. Your friends and family are the ones who nominated you for this show, so they obviously think thereís a problem. If youíve got all the money in the world, go right ahead and dress however you want. If youíve got all the friends youíll ever need, all the sex youíll ever want to get, dress however you want ó thatís great. But if you want more money, more sex, I think it makes sense to dress up a little bit.

SL: First impressions make a difference. And itís as easy to put on a good pair of pants as an ugly pair of pants. So once you know what actually fits your body, if itís going to take the same amount of effort, why not look polished? Why not look impressive?

What Not To Wear airs Fridays at 10 p.m. on TLC. Tamara Wieder can be reached at twieder@phx.com


Issue Date: November 21 - 27, 2003
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