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The Transformative Heart of 'What Not To Wear'Courtesy of TLC

The Transformative Heart of 'What Not To Wear'


Aug 24 2013
The long-running TLC series is much more than a makeover show.

I hear voices in my head if I'm tempted to run to the grocery store to pick up a couple of things dressed in my work-at-home uniform of an oversized T-shirt, sweats and well-worn Birkenstocks. Those voices say things like, "Why are you going out in public in that schlumpy, sad sack of an outfit? Have you learned nothing at all from a decade of watching our TV show?"

Beyond a mere makeover show, TLC long-running What Not To Wearexplores the emotion and esteem issues behind our clothing choices. The show's hosts, style mavens Clinton Kelly and Stacy London, have demonstrated how pleated mom jeans, hippie-era resale store ponchos, or sparkly spandex club-wear alike can be ersatz versions of fig leaves in which we hide our best selves.

The show, which just launched its tenth and final season, highlights the duckling-to-swan transformations that can be accomplished with a New York City shopping trip, an appointment with a top hair stylist and makeup artist, and a heavy dose of barely filtered truth. Clinton and Stacey's efforts have illustrated Coco Chanel's maxim: "Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman."

The show's ambush-style interventions strip away the artifice of those fig leaves so the person hiding inside can shine. On What Not To Wear, the person getting the makeover is usually last to get the memo that she is beautiful.

The format for What Not To Wear hasn't changed much over the years. Friends or family nominate a woman they love who is sporting a sense of style they don't love – for good reason. These fashion disasters tend to fall into three categories: dreary, skanky, or kooky.

The show's subjects may use adjectives like "comfortable" or "sexy" or "creative" to explain their pre-makeover looks, but their fashion choices are almost always camouflaging a broken sense of self. In fact, some of the women who've been the most immodest dressers are the ones expressing a great deal of shame or confusion about who they were as people underneath it all.

"It's not about the clothes, " Clinton told one of the women featured in the first episode of the final season. "It's about being the best version of you that you could possibly be."

After viewing secret footage and trashing of the person's current wardrobe—verbally and literally—Clinton and Stacy lay out the rules ("No more trashy spandex club wear in the office, or anywhere else, for that matter") before sending the subject out to shop with $5,000. Some rules, like the command to purchase of a well-tailored jacket or a tasteful dress for special occasions, appear to be near-universal. Other rules customized to the makeover subject's preferences, lifestyle, aspirations, and age.

Related Topics:Body Image; Clothing; Television
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The Transformative Heart of 'What Not To Wear'