I used to love the TV make-over shows. A team of stylists transform a country bumpkin into a sexy sister unrecognizable by her own family whose jaws are dropped open in glee with the rest of the audience. Often the admiration the new look brings is wholly new for the woman and she’s grateful for the transformation. That’s what I love about these events, the sweet self-approval that blossoms when others recognize you as gorgeous.
The problem arose for me when people were asked to stop expressing their own uniqueness and give up their own style just because some TV personality had decided that it was totally unacceptable for adult women to wear hi-tops…
In this case, the offender is the host of Style Network’s How Do I Look?, Finola Hughes. Hughes scolded a cute-as-a-button young woman, saying it was long past the time she should rid her wardrobe of those awful Converse Hi-Top sneakers. That was the moment I started doubting the value of a make-over if it forces the make-ee to give up all her own thoughts and ideas about fashion.
In How do I Look? (the title itself denoting helplessness and insecurity) Hughes spends the first half of the show setting up the guest as a fashion misfit, rummaging through their closet berating and humiliating them based on their fashion aesthetic. Ironically, they are being asked to submit to someone else’s rules of fashion which, though they are portrayed as steadfast, change every season, with every designer, from year to year.
Not once in the dozen or so times I’ve seen the show has the target of the make-over been ever allowed to keep even a single tank or tee shirt, if the garment is not in line with the fashion-ista’s arbitrary standards.
Most of the participants are in agony when they realize they must give up their favorite shoes or sweaters. One woman, when asked how she felt after Hughes literally tossed into large cans every favorite blouse or boot she owned, answered, “Violated!” (Yeah, I even felt like that and it wasn’t my closet!)
Fashion snobbery can be subtle. It slipped unimpeded past normally strong and intelligent women on the Oprah Winfrey show earlier this year. I had been looking forward to the upcoming show entitled, Fabulous at Fifty, a promised celebration of the beauty that is possible in women over 50 years old. It was an uplifting show until a so-called fashion expert (the guy from the runway model reality show) was asked to proclaim the style Do’s and Don’ts for all women over 50.
I’m no fashion expert — far from it. But certainly Oprah should have challenged his unconditional assertion that no women over 50 should be wearing capri pants! I was dumbstruck as Oprah’s head simply continued to nod like a bobble-headed doll as he advanced his edict. Women over 50 should banish all double-breasted suits, pleated pants and jackets falling below the hip. His judgments were sweeping regardless of body type. Another of his bans, no more “low-rider jeans” for older women, seemed to hang in the air with a peculiar harshness. I have seen plenty of skinny women who looked awesome in hip-hugger pants, no matter their age. In fact, last month Diane Keaton, one of my personal faves, strutted her stuff on Ellen with hip-hugging jeans and a crisp white shirt.
Someone, unfortunately it wasn’t the former journalist, Oprah, should have told this smug silver-haired chap that his fashion declarations are full of holes. One of my neighbors is an active, lively 89 year-old senior who looks absolutely plucky in lavender capri pants and she certainly would have told this guy where to take his advice. She lives part time in Florida and wears what is comfortable — and cute — throughout the summer.
Many women do benefit from make-overs and style advice, especially when it relates to their body type. Advice that says it is complimentary to wear a certain length or look if you’re short, another when you’re wide at the hips, and still another when you have short legs.
The objectionable advice is that which arrives to squelch personal style and enforce a rigid set of rules based not on body type but on someone’s media-inflated arrogance.
A lot of women, especially stay-at-home moms tend to let themselves go. Their personal style sinks to new lows of baggy and unattractive clothing, which may only be fit for a gardener. These are times when a make-over show like “How Do I Look?” can rescue a marriage, but we don’t have to throw the baggy out with the bath water.
Everybody needs clothes for getting dirty in the garden or splattering with a paint brush. While these moms are updating their wardrobe, they should surely keep some of the baggy overalls and favorite too tight tee shirts for these other occasions.
Fashion snobbery misses the whole picture and stomps out personal expression, which makes the world a colorful and fun place for people-watching. For instance, Oprah’s April issue of O magazine featured a series of profiles on Authentic Women and looked at what makes these women authentic. The photo that most stood out was a woman, who looked around age 50, showing her style by wearing her Converse Hi-Top sneakers.
Forget about asking Finola Hughes or any other TV ‘style guru’, “How Do I Look?” Make your driveway your own runway and show off your flare for fashion with pride. Yours is unique to you, and fresh in the universe.