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March 23, 2004

Makeover TV Mania

My preoccupation with makeover shows

by Margaret T. Minnick

During the last few months, I've developed quite an interest in makeover shows, especially What Not to Wear, Style Court, and How Do I Look? These shows combine fashion, makeup, and hair tips with the drama of personal transformation. At the end of every one of these shows, the makeover victim invariably feels its been a transformative experience.

Style Court (on the Style Network) is at the low end in terms of quality, but it's also the most efficient of the shows, plowing through three court cases in one hour. That is, one person brings another to court claiming that she needs a makeover (I did see a man get made over once, but it's almost always women). The defendant is almost always found guilty, which results in one of their expert designers sashaying into the courtroom and taking them on a whirlwind makeover -- at least after the several hours of making-over has been edited -- which the defendant always loves.

Style Court used to be a half hour, with Doug Llewellyn from The People's Court interviewing the participants after each case. That sort of witticism has now been dropped for a more serious feel and an hourlong format. Happily, though, they've also improved the quality of the clothes that they put the victims in, which used to be conspicuously ill-fitting.

How Do I Look? is also on the Style Network, and devotes itself to one person for a full hour -- actually, for a couple days in real life. But on TV it's only an hour. The victim's family and friends have nominated him or her (usually her) to be on the show and get a complete makeover. The twist here is that two friends or family members and one designer choose "collections" of clothes for the victim. The victim can win extra clothes by guessing correctly who has chosen what for them.

The host of How Do I Look? is Finola Hughes, formerly of General Hospital. Listening to her say "collection" repeatedly in her bizarrely abrasive British/Australian/whatever accent is almost enough to make me change the channel. But not quite enough, because I always want to see what the person ends up looking like.

The most recent victim was a thirty-year-old lady who dressed like Tiffany during her legendary tour of malls -- ripped pants, pink tank top, pink headband in permed blonde hair -- who ended up looking really good. Like on all of these shows, her fashion problems came to be tied to some personal problems and insecurities. Unlike Animal Cops, I am not moved to tears when watching makeover shows, but I am sometimes touched. How lame is that?


Clinton and Stacy
(photo by Boston Phoenix)
Finally, What Not to Wear (on TLC) is my favorite. Here, the victim is ambushed by the fashion experts Clinton and Stacy after being secretly taped by friends and relatives. Usually the victim is openly hostile, which is rather hilarious. My favorite recent show was this woman who was a realtor but dressed in lacy, belly-button baring half shirts at work. She was really against covering up her flat tummy.

Despite the initial hostility, every victim turns their attitude around by the second day with Clinton and Stacy. Usually a compromise is reached between the fashion experts and the victim, which of course makes keeping the look up all the more likely (sniff). Here, life-changing fashion epiphanies are also the norm, with the victim in tears.

What Not to Wear is the American version of a British show, which I will be able to watch on BBC America starting on Friday. Oh, am I giddy!

All of these shows, like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, are peppered with tips that pop up on screen in a variety of ways, which gives me a how-to component that I could put to use if I ever went shopping.

I suppose these shows are doing something -- bringing fashion tips to those who won't read fashion magazines, and giving us practical information we can use. Like I said, it's not as touching as Animal Cops, but it's a good time.

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