Last week, Vidal Sassoon announced the charitable initiative Hairdressers Unlocking Hope, which, through Habitat for Humanity, will raise money for thousands of hairdressers to build a community of 18 new homes in St. Tammany Parish, La., this November. So far, they’ve raised $895,593 for the project — to be sure, a mere drop in the $81.2 billion bucket of damage there, but still, 18 families will have new homes, and that is not nothing.
To follow Kate’s earlier admission about “The Hills”, I must confess that I’m completely and delightfully addicted to “What Not to Wear,” and I think it is fantastically progressive and feminist. Now, don’t you want to know what I mean?
For those who haven’t seen it, each episode follows stylists Stacy and Clinton as they overhaul one person’s wardrobe to better suit them. The participants are nominated by their family, friends, and coworkers for having terrible fashion sense.* After the participants buy a whole new wardrobe, they’re helped out by hairstylist Nick Arrojo and make-up artist Carmindy. And at the end, the participants show off their new look to their community, always to uproarious cheering and joy.
Here’s why I love the show — ultimately, it’s not about fashion trends or clothes. It’s about women learning how to take up space in the world. So many of the makeovers are on women who’ve been wearing huge clothes that hide their bodies, or tight clothes that show everything, or wild clothes that draw more attention to the outfits than the woman herself. There’s a lot of simmering self-hatred or, at least, self-disdain in these women when they first appear.
It’s a fascinating look at how closely and narrowly women self-identify with their clothes and styles — you often hear women saying, “I can’t wear that,” or “that’s not me,” or “I never wear dresses/suits/heels/etc.” The footage illuminates how much courage it takes to redefine your self-image of what will flatter you.
Stacy and Clinton make their points subtly. They never come out and say, “Why don’t you love your body? Why do you think you’re not worthy of fabulous clothes?” Instead, they play the roles of “harsh fashion critic” when they’re clearing out the woman’s initial closet, but as soon as the woman starts shopping and trying on clothes that suit her, they encourage her and compliment her very genuinely.
“Do not marry yourself to your size — that’s psychological torture. Size does not matter; only fit matters,” said Stacy on today’s lunchtime re-run. How refreshing to hear a fashion stylist say something like that!
I used to hate shopping, and I used to demonize fashion designers. I still don’t love the marketing push that tells women they should always buy the newest expensive trends Just Because — but I do love the feeling that I get when I wear something that flatters my body and makes me look stunning.
I also think that dressing well leads to less clothing waste — instead of buying cheap, made-in-sweatshops trendy clothing (probably made of synthetic fabrics) that’ll fall apart after five outings, investing in one or two well-made, adaptable, and timeless pieces (probably made of more natural fabrics) makes sense in the long run, economically and environmentally.
At the end of the show, the women almost always feel more comfortable in their bodies, more confident, and they look fantastic. And it ain’t just about the clothes. In my mind, a woman who feels good about taking up physical space in this world is more likely to insist on taking up space in all areas of her life — in her career, in her relationships, in society, in politics.
Obviously, most of us don’t have $5,000 to spend on new wardrobes. Nor can everyone afford the finely-tailored high-fashion brands that will always look stunning. But it’s a great reminder that appearance and image do matter in this world — and you don’t necessarily have to spend a million dollars to show that you care about how you’re coming off to the rest of the world.
*I’ve only ever seen women on the show, which brings up some fascinating gender issues for me. (Though I’d love to see men on the show, as I know that there are fellows out there making poor fashion choices, too.)