For more than a decade, Stacy London, Clinton Kelly, and a whole slew of makeover artists helped regular people who were a little lacking in fashion sense (okay, a lot lacking in fashion sense) get some style advice and a full makeover. Based on a British TV show, What Not to Wear, the gold standard and longest lasting of all makeover shows, aired more than 345 episodes and handed out a fortune in free clothes to the stylistically challenged. Here’s a look at what was really going on behind the scenes.
The format of the show was accurate, for the most part
Like most reality shows, What Not to Wear followed a standard, reliable, and comforting formula: a participant is nominated by a loved one or coworker, Stacy and Clinton sweep in with a $5,000 gift card with which to buy a new wardrobe, and the contestant’s old clothes are disposed of. This is all true. Participants really did get five grand (and two days) to amass a new wardrobe. (They didn’t get cash, however — makeover recipients went shopping with a production assistant who used corporate credit cards to pay the tabs at the stores and boutiques.) And the show’s staff really did dump all of the subject’s clothes, donating them to charity. One thing not usually seen: while their homes were being raided for ugly clothes, the subject got put up in a fancy hotel.
Stacy London and Clinton Kelly weren’t around much
While some participants of the show have confirmed that London and Kelly were around for the two-day shooting schedule and were generally kind and supportive, others say that the actual shopping for clothes was conducted by the show’s personal shoppers and stylists. One What Not to Wear contestant said the only time she saw the hosts were when they saw her try on her new clothes. It seems it was done that way to ensure genuine reactions.
It forced participants to address deep-seated psychological issues
There are a lot of reasons why people dress badly — everything from economics to not caring about clothes to body issues plays a role. According to one participant nominated for What Not to Wear by her boss, she dressed badly because of body dysmorphia. She says she hid out in body-obscuring, oversized sweaters for years because she was deeply unhappy with the way she looked. Being forced to see herself on camera was hard enough, as was looking at herself in 360-degree mirrors, trying on clothes in public, and attempting to break free of psychological trauma in front of strangers.
The clothes are off the rack, but not necessarily
What Not to Wear contestants bought real clothes from real stores, and they always magically seemed to fit in the big reveal. If it were that easy, a lot of participants wouldn’t have needed to go on the show in the first place. As it stands, a lot of the clothes were tailored and mended to perfectly fit the episode’s subject — the cutting and sewing just isn’t shown on camera. (If you want to watch people messing with sewing machines, watch Project Runway.)