Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Bye bye posh girls

The media has been rife with rumours that ITV are going to cancel Trinny and Susannah's contract. Now it so happens that I go to the same hairdresser as these two goddesses, and that hairdresser also does the make-overs for the show, when they actually still did makeovers.

A long time ago, these two posh birds used to tell badly-dressed women the truth about how they look. It wasn't nice, it wasn't kind but they did manage to shoehorn them out of their beige sacks. And in my view, it was the conjunction of fast fashion and T&S which really jacked up British style in the past few years.

Now we have this guy Gok Wan, who gets a fat woman to look at an ID parade of other fat women and force them to say that they look fabulous naked. Often I'm sitting there thinking, no, you don't look fabulous. Cover yourselves up! (This is equally a criticism of myself.)

Where it went wrong for T&S was when they turned themselves into agony aunts, to 'refresh the formula', delving into people's personal lives. For godsake, it's just the frocks we're interested in.

The point of What Not To Wear was contained in its title. It told you how to dress for your figure, age, colouring. It's not rocket science yet many of us still aren't very good at it. The pleasure for me was watching someone look and the mirror and realise that, whoa, I've got a waist. Their choices might have been eccentric at times, they were obsessed with bosoms, but they were like two bracing St Trinian's prefects. They took you for a walk on the wild side. I loved them.


ms. jo said...

Damn, I loved them too, and I have been doing without WNTW for years because I can't get ITV where I live. Those two taught me all I know about how to dress well.
I was sceptical about their "No bright colours with black" rule, but have to admit they are right. Wine-red top with dark brown trousers = symphony in fall colours. Same top with black trousers = "Bow to me my minions of Evil."
I hope they'll start making a new program for a channel I can get.

Sue said...

Sad to hear that - as a sewist it is good to have ideas on what suits you before you start cutting out the fabric.

Tee said...

Yep, loved them too. Loved that, in contrast to those hideous US extreme makeovers, T&S encouraged their makeover subjects to work with (and more importantly) to love what they had. They take the approach that any women can be gorgeous regardless of her shape or age and I find that incredibly refreshing.

T&S were a big influence on me when I did the over-40 wardrobe cull. I'd fallen into the bad habit of wearing black all the time, to the point where I'd forgotten how to wear anything else. One of their books with a big section on colour helped me relearn how to wear it.

I also find their dressing-for-your-shape approach invaluable and have incorporated many of their tips into my style files.

Agree that the agony-aunt path was the wrong one, but still sorry to see them dissapear from the teev. Hope they continue to publish.

greying pixie said...

Well I never liked WNTW. I found it patronising, unimaginative and frankly boring. I never understood why it had to be so bitchy and negative.

And I'm interested to know how those two got the job in the first place. I'd never heard of Trinny before, but I remember Susannah from the Vogue gossip columns years (decades) ago purely because she was SO badly dressed.

I don't think I learned anything new from them at all.

Linda Grant said...

The reason you learned nothing new from them is that you're a fashion graduate. The programme was aimed at badly-dressed women who were frightened of fashion and hadn't a clue.

greying pixie said...

I think it was the bitchy presentation of it I didn't like, eg. Trinny finding any excuse to squeeze a woman's boobs or love handles just for the camera.

I think someone like Hilary Alexander would have made a much more watchable programme. In five or ten years we will look back on WNTW and see it as being very much of its time.

Linda Grant said...

I think I prefer the bitchiness to 10 Years Younger, and Gok Wan's syrup.

Debra said...

It's a difficult one. I agree that S&T isn't 'for' fashion graduates, but the problem I have with it is that fashion ends up being reduced to boring homework - there's a kind of reverse elitism at work that is distrustful of the unconvential, suggesting that anything eccentric, dramatic or otherwise fabulous is 'not for the likes of us'. It's such a sausage machine. Some of the victims start out in those beige sacks, but some have very strong, individual looks that happen not to be conventionally feminine: all end up being resolved into a the same limited, bland (and very middle-cass) ideal of 'femininity'.

Neither S&T nor Gok are as terrifying as Nicky Hambleton-Jones, though.

greying pixie said...

I agree with debra, who is much more articulate than I could ever be. The only time WNTW worked for me was an episode where they worked with the actress Lesley Joseph, a formidable woman at the best of times with a definite style of her own. That was entertaining as Lesley was able to give as good as she got.

I absolutely loathe 10 years younger which should be renamed '10 degrees tartier' in my opinion! I definitely got the impression that the aim of the programme was to pick up men. Sorry, that sounds so prudish, but I'd like to think that there's more to dressing well than just that.

Linda Grant said...

For me, 10 Years Younger is the very worst of the bunch.

I enjoy make-over shows because I like watching transformations that are attainable by following some basic rules about what suits you and doesn't and the importance of good hairdressing and make-up. Trinny and Susannah blazed that particular path. I wouldn't suggest for a second that anyone should observe all their rules, but I will credit them for getting me out of black and into colour. And that is Nobel Prize sized credit.

rb said...

I loved Trinny and Susannah (and think they were so much better than the American version of WNTW.) What I particularly loved about them was the emphasis on wearing what looks good on you, not following trends. That was very empowering for many women, and I think it had a definite influence on what's available in stores today.

Rosaria said...

I found T&S most endearing. And they taught me a thing or two about color. Carola Long of The Independent does have a point with the observation that "their endeavours to move with the times by choosing to get under their subjects' skins psychologically rather than physically haven't been entirely successful". Like it or not, nip and tuck is not only here to stay as a solution, it is gaining relentless momentum. T&S, like the brash/jolly gels of St Trinian, may be seen as outdated.

The ratings for their new show are down, but I'd hate to sound the death knell for a hugely successful concept which has reached many women for whom the plastic fantastic option is out of reach.

However, I'd also kill for an afternoon with greying pixie to get her take on what not to wear.

Anonymous said...

Query: how did women learn to be afraid of colour? I never have, but then I lived in the topics, where you can't wear black, and also had an artist mother. It didn't save me from idiot comments like: blondes shouldn't wear yellow. But I could argue back. Lucy

Anonymous said...

Exactly like prefects; I vaguely admired them but wanted to beat them up.
I understood the show but tired of the conveyor-belt look at the end of each episode. The U.S version was (is?) too mean for me.

lagatta à montréal said...

If they ever grabbed a "love-handle" or boob on me, they would wind up in hospital.

I may be an over-nice Canadian (or Québécoise) - with respect to Brits, Français de France or US-Americans - but public humiliation of human beings is not exactly my cup of tea. And I would never, never stand for it under any circumstances, upon pain of death.

And I've flipped through some of their books, seeing their bizarre aversion to black and love of what in Gallic terms would be vulgar colour schemes and dodgy accessories.

Yes, there are colours other than black, but black is also precious. And so is underdressing.

anonymous in the tropics: a question - what do women do there if they are not young and svelte? Just look like giant begonias?

Anonymous said...

Women in the tropics dress to be cool (in both senses). And this includes ladies neither young nor svelte. The major choice is fibres and colours that don't make you sweat. White and pastel linens, often flowing. Bright floating silks. My late mother had a nice line in long dresses made out of Indonesian batiks.
There is so much colour around, from parrots to foliage, that even dressed as a giant begonia means you wouldn't be out of place.
The amount of heat generated by black cloth under midday sunlight, in summer, is extraordinary.
I also remember overhearing staffers in a clothes shop, who had been sent a consignment of black skirts. Mutters of: they won't sell! Lucy

Robo said...

Aw I loved Trinny and Susannah. Granted, we didn't get much of the British version over here, but they did a good job of getting women into stuff that did look good on them. I think the reason their attitudes came off as "bitchy" is because they were blunt and straightforward in saying, "No that looks hideous on you." Not many people besides your mother would do that in all honesty. The US version is equally good, in my opinion, and they have dealt with sentimentally valued clothes well, too.

Back to T&S, though, I still consult their What You Wear Can Change Your Life book regularly, especially for colour. Colour can make such a huge difference in how you look, and it seems that women of colour (South Asian ones are what I have experience with) have a hard time finding the right colours for their skin tone. Or they'll just wear whatever colours are "in" without paying attention to what it does for them. That's what I'm most grateful to T&S for.

greying pixie said...

With regard to colour, I do think it depends on the light of the country you are in and that the local women have usually got it right. Hence in Italy where the general colour of the landscape is terracottas, browns, soft reds and oranges and the light is really soft and warm, women of all ages tend to wear those colours and look good in them. In Northern Europe where the light is cold and fresh, cooler colours look good.

That is why bright colours in the tropics do not look out of place. That is also why all those beautiful Indian textiles that I bought in Dehli twenty years ago are still folded up in a trunk in England.

I would never underestimate the power of monochrome, but I do associate black with work clothes and feel quite uncomfortable wearing it at home. I certainly can't relax in black.

lagatta à montréal said...

greying, I bought a beautiful terra-cotta orange silk sweater when studying in Italy and never, but never, wore it in Montréal. It only got worn again when I returned to Italy. The orange (the colour of many buildings in Rome) looked garish here.

But we do wear a lot of black here, whether at work or not.

greying pixie said...

lagatta, I agree the colours of Rome are so unique. I took a German pastel pink silk dress with me on my recent trip there and it looked completely out of place. It stayed in the suitcase for the whole holiday! Yet in the UK it's one of my summer basics.

rosaria, I know I'm opinionated but I love a good debate about clothes! Perhaps I was a bit pompous about Trinny and Susannah yesterday - it's only entertainment after all.

Tee said...

Lucy, about women being afraid to wear colour--in my case it wasn't that as much as being on a tight budget for a long period. Knowing that I'd be stuck with any mistakes for a long period, I'd tend to buy black with the idea that it would 'go with everything' and thus be a safe choice. Soon I had nothing but.

While black-on-black can look sophisticated and elegant, it can also look a little dull if not carefully chosen. I was buying fairly inocuous items and it was all a bit too plain. I'm also very pale so it can make me look washed out.

Agree that the light of a country can determine colour choices. I live in Australia, so really shouldn't have been wearing black all the time, especially in summer. I think there is certainly a middle ground between wearing all-black and looking like a giant begonia and hopefully I'm standing on it.

Back to T&S; I do agree their style solutions are simple and a little formulaic. However I think they're trying to give their makeover subjects looks they can sustain and simple rules for easy dressing.

We don't get 'Ten years younger' over here (nor did we get the American version of WNTW) but it sounds quite unnverving.

Claire said...

WTW - 10 Years Younger is on Foxtel. I read recently that Channel 7 has commissioned a local version to be hosted by Sonia Kruger. I am terrified.

I also enjoyed the early T&S seasons but I found the pop psychology of the more recent series really difficult to bear. As for Gok, are you really accepting your shape if you are wearing Spanx under everything?

Tee said...

Thanks Claire, I didn't realise. I'll check it out.

A local version might be interesting, although the Australian versions of WNTW and Queer Eye didn't work out too well.

rosaria said...

Greying pixie: I adore a good debate about clothes too.

I absolutely agree about colors reflecting the destination. While I lived in Greece, I wore a lot of white during the summer, as did many people. White is the typical color (is white a color?) of Greek island homes.

When I moved countries, white looked positively gauche.

On a recent trip to Tahiti, I wore hues of shocking pink and orange that never get an airing at home. I felt quite daring.

I remember going to an Afghan wedding, a kaleidoscope of color, where I wore, um, beige. What was I thinking?