Kiss & makeover: the case against the case against tube tops.Flip through any consumer magazine today, and you'll find numerous "makeover" ads. These typically juxtapose jux·ta·pose
tr.v. jux·ta·posed, jux·ta·pos·ing, jux·ta·pos·es
To place side by side, especially for comparison or contrast. the before and after pictures of, say, a head-to-toe shot of a woman whose belly is bulging over her bikini bottom and another shot of her new svelte and toned physique, promising you the same transformation if only you buy the cellulite cel·lu·lite
A fatty deposit causing a dimpled or uneven appearance, as around the thighs.
Cellulite is dimply skin caused by uneven fat deposits beneath the surface. cream or diet pills being hawked. This form of sales pitch isn't new. Corset corset, article of dress designed to support or modify the figure. Greek and Roman women sometimes wrapped broad bands about the body. In the Middle Ages a short, close-fitting, laced outer bodice or waist was worn. By the 16th cent. ads from a hundred years ago also advertised their products with unseemly before and appealing after images--engravings, not photos, in that day. Since the middle of the last century, the concept of the before and after has spread throughout popular culture to movie plots and daytime TV, from the heroine of the 1954 Audrey Hepburn vehicle, Sabrina, who goes away to Paris a poor girl and comes back so fashionable she wins the rich boy to Nia Vardalos's transformation in 2002's My Big Fat Greek Wedding from a frumpy frump
1. A girl or woman regarded as dull, plain, or unfashionable.
2. A person regarded as colorless and primly sedate. diner hostess into a sharp-dressing travel agent to the makeover specials that are a staple of talk shows like "Oprah" and "Ricki Lake." The concept is now even applied to homes on "Trading Spaces," a popular show in which a drab living room or bedroom is transformed into a splendid interior through the elbow grease of its owners' neighbors, a carpenter, a designer, and $1,000.
As with the cosmetic ads of last century, the appeal of these new shows is aspirational. The promise of the makeover story is that no one has to stay stuck in his or place, that we don't have to settle for how we look today--we can change it all tomorrow. People can move up the ladder of life with a little determination and effort (and some cash to purchase whatever product is being sold).
The latest spin on the fashion makeover is "What Not to Wear" on The Learning Channel, the same station that gave us "Trading Spaces." What makes this show different is that the person being made over hasn't volunteered for the transformation--the subject is virtually forced into it, presumably pre·sum·a·ble
That can be presumed or taken for granted; reasonable as a supposition: presumable causes of the disaster. for his or her own good. Each episode begins like this: A badly-dressed person, usually a woman, is recommended by friends, family, or co-workers to the network. With the help of hidden cameras, the unsuspecting naif is then surreptiously videotaped for two weeks as she runs around in flannel shirts and frumpy jeans, after which the show's hosts watch the videos, murmur their horror and plan an intervention. Together, the hosts descend upon their "victim" (as they call her) in some public place. When the cameras find this person, invariably in·var·i·a·ble
Not changing or subject to change; constant.
in·vari·a·bil sitting with the so-called friends who set her up, the hosts tell her that friends and family have selected her for a makeover on "What Not to Wear." When the victim hears the title of the show, she usually drops her head in shame and humiliation, until she hears that she will be given $5,000 to remake her wardrobe in New York City New York City: see New York, city.
New York City
City (pop., 2000: 8,008,278), southeastern New York, at the mouth of the Hudson River. The largest city in the U.S. .
The hosts set strict rules for their victims: No pants that taper at the ankle, cashmere cashmere cashmere, think of brown as a neutral color, etc. For each person there is the tailored snide comment: The slut, for example, will be told not to show "it all," to keep some of "it" hidden, and not to go so tight, while the opposite rules usually apply for the housewife. Humiliated, the ill-dressed one then makes her or his way into the city for one day of shopping alone and one day of shopping with the hosts, armed with a fist full of cash. The camera pans up to big name stores--Barneys, Saks, Searle--as the victim is escorted in and out of fancy shops and the hosts coo in her ear about how much better she's looking already, just holding a $500 leather jacket. Following her shopping spree, the victim gets a cut-n-color and professional makeup application, after which she travels back to home for the traditional "reveal" moment before friends and family. In a video diary, the originally feisty fashion victim relays how she has come to realize the error of her old ways.
One can't watch the show without thinking that the "victims" really do benefit from a fashion makeover overall, and it's fun to watch it happen. Yet there's something fundamentally mean about the show, which is no surprise given its origins. Like so many other shows with a caustic attitude, from "The Weakest Link" to "Big Brother" and "American Idol," "What Not To Wear" is a British import. And like these other programs, it seems to be catching fire with the American public. "What Not To Wear" drew an average of 2.7 million viewers for each of its first 10 episodes, despite being tucked away at 10 p.m. on Saturday nights. The success of the show has prompted TLC TLC total lung capacity; thin-layer chromatography.
1. thin-layer chromatography
2. to pick up the program for a second season, filming 45 new episodes and bumping it into a better time slot. Don't blame the producers for its brand of acerbic humor. The success of "What Not To Wear" indicates it is effectively tapping into changes in American culture. One is the spread of snobbery--once a characteristic relatively confined to the upper middle classes--down the income scale. Apparently, it is no longer enough to aspire to style; one must now look down on those without it. The other trend on which the show draws is the prevalent notion that any mild personality quirk can be deemed a condition requiring professional treatment. No longer a matter of personality or personal choice, idiosyncrasies from mild social phobia social phobia
A psychiatric disorder characterized by anxiety about being in public or social gatherings. Also called social anxiety disorder. to excessive pessimism are now seen as abnormal tendencies, requiring quasi-medical intervention.
adj. spark·li·er, spark·li·est
a. Giving off tiny flashes of light; glittery: a dress with sparkly sequins.
b. White Lipstick
The signature conceit of "What Not To Wear" is that the "victims," because they haven't volunteered for this ordeal, must be shocked into realizing that they do, in fact, require a radical change. Before she can spend her money, the victim is taken to the New York City studio, and forced to revisit her mistakes in a session inside a "360-degree mirror" that "doesn't lie." This is the moment where the unstylish victim is forced to try on all the awful clothes she brought to New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of , while the hosts exclaim ex·claim
v. ex·claimed, ex·claim·ing, ex·claims
To cry out suddenly or vehemently, as from surprise or emotion: The children exclaimed with excitement.
v. that they can't imagine why anyone would buy such schlock schlock also shlock Slang
Something, such as merchandise or literature, that is inferior or shoddy.
Of inferior quality; cheap or shoddy. . Outfits are tried on and made fun of until it's time for their ritual burning. The approach is styled rather like a drug intervention.
Take, for example, the story of Ann, a 42 year-old stay-at-home mom and volunteer worker who, the Web site tells us, is living the "American dream." Save one important thing: She hasn't bought clothes in years. She wears hand-me-down cords and big shapeless shape·less
1. Lacking a definite shape.
2. Lacking symmetrical or attractive form; not shapely.
shape sweaters, one of which is adorned with large stars of David across the back. On her video diary, a voiceover intones, "Before Ann's transition can take place, she's got to be shocked into submission." Ann's shock is that she can't imagine spending good money--the $5K--on herself. "Can't I just take people out to eat with it," she asks, plaintively, "or on vacation?" By the end of Ann's episode, the formerly dowdy dow·dy
adj. dow·di·er, dow·di·est
1. Lacking stylishness or neatness; shabby: a dowdy gray outfit.
2. Old-fashioned; antiquated.
n. pl. Jersey girl is certainly more stylish. Now she has sleek, fitted trench coats, miniskirts, knee-high boots, and Cosabella thong underwear to hide any panty-lines. Her hair is coiffed and gelled, rather than bushy and unmanageable. In her video diary Ann tells us, "I've come so far in just a few days. I realize I'd been shortchanging myself." And one of the giddy hosts exclaims, "See, soccer moms can be sexy!"
Another "What Not To Wear" "victim" is Jen, a college student from Miami, Fla. with platinum blond waist-length hair and a body she isn't afraid to flaunt flaunt
v. flaunt·ed, flaunt·ing, flaunts
1. To exhibit ostentatiously or shamelessly: flaunts his knowledge. See Synonyms at show.
2. . The hosts ambushed Jen in a restaurant, embarrassing her with cries of "Jennifer! Jennifer in a tube top!" as they rushed past the other diners. At first resisting the hosts' attempts to remake her according to the tastes of upscale New Yorkers, Jen was ornery or·ner·y
adj. or·ner·i·er, or·ner·i·est
Mean-spirited, disagreeable, and contrary in disposition; cantankerous.
[Alteration of ordinary. on her trips to some of the city's fanciest boutiques, complaining to her cameraman and flaunting the clothes she bought that missed the mark. But Jen eventually fell into line, finally consenting to give up her sparkly white lipstick, hot pants, and leopard-print halter dresses, but she balked balk
v. balked, balk·ing, balks
1. To stop short and refuse to go on: The horse balked at the jump.
2. at cutting back her mane. From the standpoint of the hosts and producers of "What Not To Wear," the only correct way for a woman to dress is in sleek lines that demurely de·mure
adj. de·mur·er, de·mur·est
1. Modest and reserved in manner or behavior.
2. Affectedly shy, modest, or reserved. See Synonyms at shy1. hint at sexuality, a sensibility which unites an upscale, upper-class New York aesthetic with a middle-class sense of propriety mad decency--both of which are viciously scornful of low-class "trailer trash" or "slutty" apparel.
The show's hosts reserve their cruelest mockery for bourgeois "victims" who don't dress their class. Larry, the only man who's been ambushed thus far, is a successful businessman who dresses in awful clothes from "thrift stores." In another episode Lilli, a law student is told she dresses "like a homeless person An individual who lacks housing, including one whose primary residence during the night is a supervised public or private facility that provides temporary living accommodations; an individual who is a resident in transitional housing; or an individual who has as a primary residence a ." Both are remade re·made
Past tense and past participle of remake. to reflect their careers. Christine, whom one host pronounces a "Hobbit A microprocessor from AT&T that was used in a variety of portable devices. It is no longer made.
1. Hobbit - A Scheme to C compiler by Tanel Tammet <firstname.lastname@example.org>. " in her before videos, complains that she's a back-room secretary whom no one sees--so why bother with a makeover? The hosts are horrified hor·ri·fy
tr.v. hor·ri·fied, hor·ri·fy·ing, hor·ri·fies
1. To cause to feel horror. See Synonyms at dismay.
2. To cause unpleasant surprise to; shock. . Obviously, if only she dressed better, Christine could advance her career. Again and again victims are chided for going straight to the sale racks.
Somehow I don't always find it uplifting to see the formerly resistant fashion victim submit to the hosts' dictates in the end. In her video diary, the voiceover tells us that, before, Ann was a "frumpy suburban mom" (ouch!) who just needed someone to tell her that she is beautiful. Though she's convincingly remade to look glamorous and sophisticated, I wonder just what was so terribly wrong with the frumpy original Ann, whose identity was more defined by her incredible philanthropic gestures--she trains seeing-eye dogs, among other things, it's hard to go more heart-of-gold than that--than by her wardrobe. What exactly was misguided about her quirky choices and baggy sweaters, besides being out of sync with the dictates of Madison Avenue fashionistas--especially when Ann is not even a Manhattanite herself? The old Ann's preference for spending money on charity instead of fashion is at least as noble a choice as any. Even her husband seems a bit disconcerted dis·con·cert
tr.v. dis·con·cert·ed, dis·con·cert·ing, dis·con·certs
1. To upset the self-possession of; ruffle. See Synonyms at embarrass.
2. by the new style-conscious Ann. Though he set her up, he admits to being somewhat concerned that she's become someone he can't compete with. "I'm going to have to upgrade my lifestyle," he says, with a worried laugh, upon her return.
Given the high price of her new winter wardrobe, it's not clear whether she'll keep up her new image come summer season. She and her husband seem like a sweet couple; for their sake, I'm rooting for Ann to keep some of her old baggy T-shirts and save her spare cash for a much-needed vacation.
Sarah Wildman is a Washington, D.C., writer.