Several days ago, What Not to Wear aired its series finale, ending what had become one of TLC's most beloved shows and a pioneer in the realm of reality television (remember my play-by-play?) And while my mourning period is still active (I've been dressing in black and watching reruns... I kid), I thought I'd share some of the lessons that What Not to Wear has taught me and the other viewers who were fortunate enough to get in on a decade of free style advice. We've heard it all a million times... dark wash denim is more flattering, accentuate your waist, white after Labor Day is acceptable, every outfit needs a completer piece, and, of course, COLOR, PATTERN, TEXTURE, SHINE. But, to me, the best of the wisdom I've taken away from the show is more psychological than sartorial in nature. (I've talked about some of the more practical advice before.)
I remember a web post from a few years ago that listed reality shows that were actually beneficial for kids and teens to watch in terms of the values they taught. I was a little surprised to see that WNTW had made the list, but looking back it makes perfect sense. If you've really watched and listened for long, you know that some really positive things were encouraged on every episode, especially the longer the series went on. Actually, the most valuable lessons from this show, at least to me, have very little to do with fashion or style at all. As Stacy and Clinton said countless times, "It's really not about the clothes." The overarching purpose of their 350+ makeovers (and there were some doozies, am I right?) was to make women feel better about themselves and prepare them to become better people, not just better-dressed people. (For some of the wackier contributors, that was a lost cause, but still.)
1. You're not doing yourself any favors by putting off dressing well. How many times did Stacy or Clinton (or both) tell a contributor (sometimes nearly shaking them in frustration!), "Dress for the job you want, not for the job you have!" OR "Dress the body you have, not the body you want." Opposite statements that really say the same thing... you can't wait for a job or a dress size to start dressing well. Just do it and see what opportunities come your way in the meantime! Fashion isn't just for skinny-minnies, and a professional wardrobe isn't just for someone with their dream career. Focus on where you are now and what size you are now. You deserve (and owe it to yourself) to look good now and later. Your confidence may just push you over to the motivation you need to lose that extra weight, and looking good at your so-called "day job" may lead to an opportunity for the one you've been waiting for. Who knows?
2. It's okay to take time (and money!) to make yourself look and feel good. It's harder when you have a crazy schedule, kids to take care of, and a number of other responsibilities, but those things will take a hit when you look bad and consequently feel bad about yourself. (This is so true- every time I neglect the time I really need to take to get ready, I just feel grumpy all day. On the other hand, when I am put-together, I feel put-together and that's really nice, especially if it's one of those days when the only thing I can control is my outfit.) Yes, we're all busy- but as we've heard from S and C so often, it takes the same amount of time to dress well as it does to NOT dress well. SO, take the extra time. It's not silly or shallow in moderation. And while you certainly don't need $5,000 to buy some great wardrobe builders, you do need some money, and it's okay. It's worth it.
3. Like it or not, people judge you based on your clothes. You may be a fantastic mom, a great housewife, the best at your job, or someone who really "has it all together," but if you dress like a mess, you're conveying that you ARE a mess, whether it's true or not! Bummer, right? But it's the truth, and people form all kinds of opinions, positive and negative, based on your appearance. Why not confirm that you're awesome and dress like it? It may be unfair, but it's reality, so deal with it and use it to your advantage. Want to come across in control, organized, artsy, etc.? Let your clothes portray exactly what you want to say to others before ever speaking a word. They can do as much good as they do bad when it comes to first impressions.
4. There is a happy medium between skank and frump. Let's all find it! Dressing like a frump can be just as unflattering and (to me) immodest as dressing provocatively, but neither one is okay! You can be appropriate and pretty without looking like you are trying to relive your glory days by shopping in the juniors department OR aging yourself with the dreaded "mom jeans" or shapeless, baggy sweats. One is slutty, one is sloppy, but both are inappropriate and you can do better. Find the balance and stick to it. (This isn't a post about modesty, but there are plenty of good ones out there.)
5. You deserve the way dressing well makes you look and feel. So many women feel like they're on the back burner after their families, jobs, or whatever when it comes to looking nice. You owe it to those around you to dress yourself decently, sure, whether that means covering up or loosening up, but what I love about Stacy and Clinton's makeovers (and what contributor after contributor has told them) is that regardless of the clothes they end up in (or trash!), they feel really awesome about themselves post-makeover. And, like I said, that has far less to do with the actual clothes or shopping or style advice than it does the fact that many women's entire perception of themselves changes. An inward change accompanies the outward change and they are able to see that just because they are busy, overworked, heavier than they'd like to be, or even financially limited, they deserve to look the best they can look. That may mean different things to different people, but Stacy and Clinton have helped hundreds of women (and men, remember?) figure out the style that speaks to them and represents the best version of themselves. And, to me, that's pretty awesome.
So, while I wish desperately that the show wasn't over yet (look around, S and C! Clearly your work is not done!), I am thankful for the style principles it's helped to make a little more mainstream over the past ten years. And even though we'll all picture that dreaded 360-degree mirror when we're shopping or getting dressed, I hope it's the lessons of self-worth and, yes- appropriateness- that we take away as much as the fashion tips and witty banter of our beloved co-hosts.
Because, again... it's really not about the clothes. It's because you're worth it. (If this were a heart-warming Oprah special, I'd drop balloons and give you all a car right now. It's not, but consider it done in spirit.) Now, let's all remember "the rules" and show Stacy and Clinton that the last ten years were not in vain!