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End of the Makeover: Farewell to 'What Not To Wear'
October 17, 2013  | By Monique Nazareth  | 16 comments

Breaking Bad it isn’t, but some of us will be sad to see a favorite reality show end this week.  

After ten years and roughly 350 makeovers, TLC’s What Not To Wear is coming to an end on Friday.  The show’s hosts, Clinton Kelly and Stacy London, have already moved on to other projects, but they’ll be together on the screen for a final tribute to the show that made us question our sense of style.

Stephanie Eno, senior director of production for TLC and WNTW executive producer, described the show this way, “The WNTW team has always had one mission – to make a woman feel like her beautiful, true self. Their popular mantras have included:  ‘dress for the body you have, not the body you want’, ‘fit is everything’, and for the past 10 years for any great outfit – ‘color, pattern, texture and shine.’ ” 

What Not to Wear is based on a popular British show of the same name, long gone.  The U.S. WNTW premiered in 2003, a year before Project Runway, with a different cast.

The basic WNTW  format is simple.  Women (and a few men) are nominated by their friends, family and/or coworkers. They are secretly filmed wearing awful clothing. Producers-- pretending to be market researchers-- quiz a nominee about her particular style.

The fashion victim is typically “ambushed” by the two hosts, as well as family, friends and/or coworkers.

Then the nominee is offered a $5,000 debit card for handing over her wardrobe-- and pride-- and agreeing to learn the “rules” of successful clothes shopping in New York.  She’s subjected to a 360-degree mirror, as Kelly and London point out the problems with the clothing and then suggest more stylish alternatives. Eventually her entire wardrobe inevitably ends up in the bin and the dejected woman is be sent off to shop, first alone and then with help from the hosts.

The next step: Hair and make-up.  And then, voila, a whole new person.  

It sounds simple and formulaic, perhaps even somewhat materialistic and superficial.  

But the show tapped into how someone can bring out their best self and even gain confidence through style. Inevitably the fashion victim bares her soul as to why she dressed the way she did. 

And that, co-host London, (left) has argued, makes the show a little bit more than a fashion program. She told NPR last year, “I think it would be naive to say that not caring about your appearance doesn't matter. It does matter. It matters, also, in terms of your self-esteem. And more importantly, I really think that it's a great way to reconnect with yourself.

“You know, I think it's very dangerous to say that style - as opposed to, let's say, the fashion industry - is superficial. I think this really goes to the heart of how we feel about ourselves, and showing ourselves self-respect.”

WNTW ultimately was respectful of their protégés. Never was a woman made to feel bad for her body or who she was under those wretched clothes.   Yet questioning and changing her style often elicited very real emotional responses from women, who were then returned to their lives with a new sense of confidence.

That confidence even extended to a few stars, including Mayim Bialik who was under the spotlight in 2009, a year before she was cast as Amy on The Big Bang Theory.

“When we first started the show I didn’t realize what an impact the show would have on the [people we featured]. It was just about making some snarky comments and funny television and giving women some advice on how to dress better,” Kelly told the Washington Post.  “After doing it for a while, I realized this is not just a makeover show and this is not just comedy, either. These are people’s lives we are dealing with. Back then it was 95% snark and 5% psychology. Now I think it is a little more balanced. I go into it with, I think, 75% psychology and 25% fashion.”

When TLC decided to end the show after season ten, Kelly and London admitted they were relieved.  

Though proud of their work, Kelly told Today.com, "I'm not sure I could do that show for another year if I had to… It gets to a certain point where it's monotonous. You know, don't get me wrong, everybody's story is a personal one and every week is different. But I just sort of found myself rolling my own eyes at my own words as they're coming out of my mouth, like, 'How 'bout you try a structured jacket?' 'How 'bout dark-washed jeans?' 'How 'bout a ballet flat?'"

Kelly certainly showed he’d hit his limit on the penultimate show, with Megumi, a 39-year-old realtor who dressed like a Japanese schoolgirl, with animal hats, knee-highs, and tiny miniskirts. 

In her insistence on keeping youthful she even suggested botox for the WNTW host.   That hit a button. “I’m getting too old for this s#$t!,” he told London.

Perhaps it’s WNTW that’s gotten too old.  Eno admitted its time has passed, (though  not in daytime where it will live on in reruns):  “The personal makeover genre certainly had its heyday and WNTW has always been gold standard, but I think the on-air presence of the traditionally formatted  ‘before and after’ fashion show has sort of gone to the wayside.”  

For their final season, WNTW has tried gimmicks.  That included working with three friends who had the three common problems; a behind the scenes look with the camo-wearing nominee who almost didn’t make it to the end; and a Barbie-wanna-be who left the show vowing to return to her old self.

Eno says the producers were finally taking the opportunity to do the things they always talked about doing: “As producers, we know this is a completely authentic experience for our contributors and we always thought it would be fun to pull that curtain back and show the avid WNTW fans exactly what it takes to bring this experience to life.  It just so happened that the person we had scheduled for that week was an example of someone truly struggling with even the notion of the process.”

The final episode takes the show over the top, and out. Kelly and London take a road trip from New York to Las Vegas for a WNTW farewell party.   Along the way, they visit with protégés-- about 100 will show up again at the event.  And they meet one last fashion victim, which the show claims, “could be one for the books.”

London’s happy WNTW is obliging its adventurous in the final season. She tells People magazine, "I do love that we are going out with a bang."

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