Style and substance.

I'm kind of sad that the American What Not to Wear is in its last season. It's one of the three shows I currently watch. The others are Coronation Street and The Hallmark Channel's Cedar Cove. Yes, I realize that makes me sound like an old lady. I used to do Edge. Big time. But I've done a lot of living since then and, trust me, I have seen far too much of man's capacity for cruelty and violence in real life to see it as entertainment anymore.

But back to What Not to Wear. I love the transformative nature of the show. I love how with one week, some tough love, and a $5000 wardrobe, Clinton and Stacy can give people a new lease on life. The hosts have a "get up" mentality that I appreciate. They are all 'that's so sad you lost your job, your spouse and your dog, but for the love of all that is sacred, lose the hammer pants!' When it comes to their subjects, those sporting said hammer pants, mom jeans or Working Girl shoulder pads, my feelings are less clear. Some are depicted as professional martyrs ('Now that I'm a mom, I put myself last'), others are professional victims advertising their pain, and others are sulking that they are no longer a size 2 and able to sport a midriff top. For me it feels self-indulgent that they wander around looking so miserable that co-workers feel compelled to out them on TV.  Perhaps that's why I so love it when Stacy and Clinton take them to task and make them look like functional human beings.

I'm not sure why some people wear their pain and others don't. I'm not sure if it's a personality thing (introvert/extravert) or a sensibility thing (a desire for a public or a private life) or something less noble, like sympathy seeking (for Sloppy Sue) or pride (for the ever-polished.) For me, I feel that it's important to share my story, as a cautionary tale if nothing else. However, I do not want to be pitied ever (it's an ego thing) and learned quickly that people find it hard to pity you when you are sporting a wardrobe worth more than their car.

I had parts of a previous blog excerpted in a documentary on postpartum depression. I'm played by an actress woman wearing a ratty pink bathrobe. I really like this production and was flattered to have had a small part in its creation, but I have never looked like that in my life. Presumably, a polished exterior would not convey my interior pain to the audience, however. If you are messed up, you need to look messed up unless the director is trying to prove a point. In Breakfast at Tiffany's and Belle de Jour, Holly Golightly and Severine's gorgeous Givenchy and YSL wardrobes were meant to serve as contrast to their turbulent inner worlds. The funny thing is that, years later, these characters are remembered primarily as style icons.  I'm as guilty as anyone. When I think of Belle de Jour, I think only of Catherine Deneuve's fabulous Roger Vivier shoes, not her sad state.


The downside of dressing better than how you feel is that you are not treated with the empathy given to the sloppy Sues of the world. Perhaps it's the What Not to Wear factor. If you look together on the outside, people assume you are together on the inside. For me, it's the opposite. The more chaotic I feel on the inside, the better I look on the outside. Many times, I've been asked to volunteer time or donate money to people who were, in that moment at any rate, better off than I was. If it weren't so irritating, it would be funny.

So what's the solution, then? Do we all have to become our own PR agents, modifying our dress to let the world know we need some TLC? Do we simply all wear t-shirts (or send out Facebook status updates) indicating our state? Or should we all just act with kindness, expecting little of people unless they offer it, and giving as much as we can when we are able.

That way, we can all just ditch the hammer pants.