Makeovers: Real help or movie make-believe?

Though a very infrequent Oprah watcher (occasional distraction on a treadmill), I caught her recent "Look Great at Every Age Makeovers" show, co-hosted with Rita Wilson.

The women did look better in their "after", all sleek trends and updated hair. But isn't it shooting fish in a barrel to start from the prison matron "before" depths of Stacy, 35?

All you have to do is find a subject who's hoarded her nunnish suits for fifteen years, and help her to reveal her svelte figure in a pencil skirt with stilettos, add ample bling, then finish with tumbling waves (three hair products).

They took Cindy from schoolmarm to siren after a 100 lb. weight loss. "I'm 42 but dress like I'm 62" she said.

I was shocked to hear the impression my age group made; no one I know in their 60s dresses like the "before" Cindy. FLDS wives maybe, but not women in my circle.

That morose mauve tent is not hard to trump with a leopard-print Michael by Michael Kors skirt, is it now?

In one segment, Wilson presented four women of different age ranges–30s through 60s– styled to "look fantastic for their age".

All wore black, tight bottoms– leggings or black narrow jeans–with various tops and accessories.

The 40 year old in leggings with a barely crotch-covering top looked inelegant. Maybe the leggings are
de rigeur for Hollywood, but to my taste they're crude. You sit in that top: instant skank.

The 50 and 60 year olds were transitioned into tight jeans, which "still look young".
Just don't think about sitting down for long.

The eldest makeover was the vibrant 67 year old Laurali, who puts in long days at her catering company, hence her sweats and practical braid.

In describing the makeover, Wilson said that she "dressed her for work" in skinny Levis jeans, white shirt and fitted Max Mara jacket.

"We gave her a white shirt that she can roll up at the sleeves", Wilson said proudly. The only white Laurali ought to wear in a professional kitchen is a chef's coat, institutional garb built to withstand the grind.

This makeover shows Wilson's showbiz sensibility: only in a movie could Laurali escape splashes or spills by rolling her white sleeves, or spend 14 hour days in ballet flats without arch support.

Wilson's own style is similar to Charla Krupp's: long flowing hair, suspiciously broomlike lashes, short skirt showing off toned legs, studded leather jacket. She's an unfurrowed fifty three; maybe being married to Tom Hanks keeps you looking young.

"I know my style, I've been helped by experts", she said. She provided three adjectives that summarized her style (I recall only "natural" and "sexy"), an approach I've described in a previous post. None of her three adjectives matched mine, which may explain why I didn't connect to her look.

What makes an hour of TV diverting fluff is not what makes sense in the real world. However, each woman was touched by her transformation and deeply grateful for the attention.

Releasing each woman's beauty and confidence is a worthwhile endeavour; I'd like to see the looks realistically reflect the continual attention required to keep ones' self "madeover" in the real world.


mette said…
As an European, I´d say ( judging by the pictures ), so typically American. The first grey outfit made me smile, so did the make-overs. I would never want someone else to choose clothes for me. I like to decide how I want my hair cut. I´d hate the idea of someone painting my lips and choosing my make-up. I hear the bells ringing if a salesgirl/woman starts her compliments. But I´m eager to seek for new ideas, browse through magazines, surf in the internet. But please, don´t touch me!
Rebecca said…
I love your "take" on these make-overs. No, I didn't see it myself, but I think I would have had the same responses as you. I enjoy your sense of humor, too. It covers a multitude of sins!
Metscan, there are image consultants in Europe too. An example of a prominent woman who has obviously benefited from a (thoughtful) makeover is Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. Merkel has a scientific background (as does her husband) and was utterly indifferent to fashion and style. But image does count for the leader of a major European power. I thought the Merkel makeover was very thoughtful and didn't try to make her look like, say, Cristina Kirchner of Argentina (who has the Latina equivalent of the LA style on this Oprah episode - the two national leaders are about the same age (and I'm about the same age they are).

These makeovers are of the "transformative", very US media kind. Even to neighbouring Canadians they seem a tad ludicrous.

I suspect the Oprah staff do watch too many cooking shows. In those shows very few of the celebrity chefs (perhaps Emeril was an exception?) never wear the uniforms required in professional kitchens for reasons of occupational safety and food hygiene. Nigella in her beautiful cachmere pullovers and long dark hair!

Indeed the middle woman looks like she is wearing "modest" religious garb, whether LDS, ultraorthodox Jewish or many other groups that insist on modesty. If she was indeed a modest dresser for such reasons, it is still possible to improve her image according to her beliefs.

A middle-age woman who has lost 100 lb would be likely to have quite a bit of extra skin and bumps here and there (in real life), while she certainly wants to show off her accomplishment and her vastly improved health, I doubt she would want to wear skin-tight clothing.

I can't abide the Charla Krupp look. Think it is very, very ageing, and very expensively cheap.
Duchesse said…
metscan: Well, it's a certain type of American, and prevalent enough to form a stereotype. Wish I had counted the number of times Wilson used the phrase "looking young" as if that were the ultimate prize. This ageism rankles.

I would *adore* a makeover- fascinating to see what someone else could do with me. I could just revert to my old look for whatever I didn't like (as I suspect these women will do.)

Rebecca: Was also annoyed by how cut off Oprah and Rita are from real working life.

lagatta: Doubt that modesty was at play in the second example or she would never have gone for that leopard skirt :)

The Krupp/Kirchner chromeé look (not so hard to see in Montreal, either) fascinates me in a weird way. Very few women look better in it and not one looks younger.
Yes, alas that "chromée" look certainly does exist here. C'est très quétaine. And very ageing. It is of course found in Italy and Spain as well. My friends in Italy hate it. Being Italian, they do love beautiful clothes (the men even more than the women) but not that look.

(Quétaine is Québécois slang for tacky, kitschy).
mette said…
To `soften´my comment a bit; I am open to suggestions concerning outfits, etc. What a coincidence, maybe I already told this, but a week ago I just happened to see a great mid-grayish stole in the window of a fairly new shop here. It was 30% off, by Dior, the only one they ever got, and...I bought it! I´m so into gray. I just had to mention this, since you told me about the gray mink jacket.
debbiew said…
Well,I'm an unfurroughed 53 year old,too. That's the side benefit of being a size 10/12 american. My hair is short and layered and spikey. I cringe when I see makeovers for women my age-so many end up with hard to maintain hair and really tarty clothes. I love to wear make-up-but keep it subtle-none of that high gloss pink lip stuff for me! I would love to do some mini makeovers for some in my circle-too many have fluffy bangs,lank hair,bad denim and the black high platform flip-flops! (I live in SoCal) If only the makeovers on TV would show like for like substitutions-"not those flip-flops-wear these great snadals instead,not that streched out sweater,wear that cashmere cardi,etc"
Frugal Scholar said…
Love the post and comments. The ad for GLAM something is pretty incongruous though!
M said…
If these women feel better about how they look then hooray for them. I didn't see the show but in the photos, at least, they look happy.
Duchesse said…
debbiew: Could you please connect size with unwrinkled skin? In my experience it's the voluptuous women who have fewer wrinkles. Have you noticed all the hairstylists swear she can maintain the look herself? I think most of us would appreciate mini-makeovers, as you call it. One saw a "makeunder"- can't recall where- when the woman was actually toned down.

Frugal: GLAM? AM I not seeing something?

metscan: Often wish you could post photos, that sounds beautiful.
elegancemaison said…
Thank you for this really funny post. There are lots of make-over items and programmes on British television and the 'after' results are often just as dire as those you have shown. The best thing about them is that they give the participants, and presumably those viewers who lack a sense of style, the confidence to try some new ideas. Personally I find these programmes supremely patronising, ageist, and worse still, subtly mocking of those who are not commonly 'beautiful' but in many senses are uncommonly beautiful. After an almost 'Madwoman' career where style in speech, clothes, and lifestyle was all, I now work in vintage fashion where I have a lovely relaxed and appreciative clientele, in London.
Valerie said…
Here is a link to an Oprah makeover story where the "lucky" woman went from being happy with her grey hair to being made a high maintenance blonde for the makeover and is now on the path to greydom once again and feeling confident she is doing the right thing. More power to her...
Duchesse said…
Lisa: Happy in the moment, yes! And I only hope this is sustained- see Valerie's comment.

elegancemaison: Thank you for your comment, that nails it! I'm following your blog.

Valerie: Thanks for the followup, she seemed ecstatic with her colour on the show, but I wondered what would happen once she got 4 weeks worth of roots. I admired the grey.
Duchesse said…
Everyone: Anyone wishing to drop a little Quebec slang- "quétaine" is pronounced more or less like "Kay-TEN" and means ultra sexy-tacky.
Duchesse said…
Valerie: They are two different women, but interesting article just the same. As I suspected the first subject was requested to "dress frumpy". It's time for a makeover exposé.
Carol said…
Love your posts! My personal pet peeve with makeovers? When the woman wears glasses, but they've mysteriously disappeared in the "after" version. Not everyone wants, or can wear, contacts. What's wrong with glasses? Why not makeover the glasses, too, if they need it?
Duchesse said…
Carol: That's right! And there are so many terrific glasses to choose from.
debbiew said…
In response to size of body/lack of wrinkles- yes, being a little plump "plumps' up my facial skin-no wrinkles compared to my skinny friends. Someone said this once-"it's my face or my ass"!
DebbieW, you seriously see yourself as "plump" at size 10 and age 53?

I thought I was horribly plump at that size too - at 18.

I'm not surprised about the fake frumpery. Makeover no. 1 is obviously a very hot babe indeed...

But I looked at the grey hair worship site, and while Goldie looks at least as good with her own hair colour, that is not true for a lot of us. The pics feature the type of grey-haired women with fine features and swannish necks that won't be too gallantly offered seats on buses and patronisingly called "dear".

Goldie has the figure and hair colour that she might even get away with the grey in a job search, but it is also worth pointing out that she doesn't seem to have a paid job - she spent all her life raising a large family full-time from what I can make out.

I find that site is about as fakey in the opposite direction from the Oprah makeovers. At least they don't seem to be selling anything.
materfamilias said…
Again, I'm coming in too late to the discussion, but that ends up being a good thing. I feel as if I'm getting to listen in on a lively roomfull of interesting women -- you keep hosting such great get-togethers, Duchesse!
mette said…
Duchesse: I do have a blog of my own now, I´m just in the very beginning. If you wish, I could post some pictures during the weekend.
It's so easy to makeover a 'dire case', much harder to make a big impression with someone who was OK/average and improve them and then have the WOW factor that TV shows require.

I did see that makeunder show - they were OTT with too much makeup and big hair and slutty clothes. Also an easy job, just make them look a bit elegant and bob's your uncle!
Anonymous said…
Fascinating. As a non-American who has many dear, elegant American friends, I don't think these "AFTER" looks are American per se but rather a very particular LA sort of stle. It's not my cup of tea but I do think the show made for fun, dramatic tv rather that encourage watchers and participants to make a bit more of an effort with their looks. C'est tout!
CompassRose said…
lagatta, "might even get away with the grey in a job search"?

I just find it so strange that someone would say that. Maybe I am living in a little bubble here in Southwestern Ontario... but quite a few women I know - I can think of half a dozen - rock their natural grey/white, are otherwise well groomed and elegant (and not necessarily thin) and seem to have no trouble interviewing for, and scoring, management-level jobs.
Duchesse said…
lagatta: Call my suspicious but I think they select beauties, frump them up, then give them a makeover; the real 'before' woman is probably somewhere in the middle. But they are after thebig contrast, makes better TV.

re the grey, the woman on the site is not the woman on *this* makeover show.

Right now my hair is a red that does not exist in nature, on anyone. Though a bit odd, I like it.

metscan: Wonderful, I will follow, and look forward to getting to know you more via your blog.

Imogen: Think you would host a terrific makeover show!

materfamilias: Better late than never.

Anonymous @ 4:05: To me the LA looking one is Rita Wilson. Though I do sometimes see that look here in Toronto, I think of it as very LA.

debbiew: The New York Times Style section today has a piece on plus size models (12) and women's reaction. What amazed me is that several thought that showing a 12 is "promoting obesity"!
Duchesse said…
CompassRose: Though your comment was intended for lagatta, I have worked in many towns and cities in Ontario, so am jumping in. There is a difference in overall formality from one community to the other and of course within occupations.

Here (Toronto) gray hair in itself would not disqualify an applicant. But overall appearance is a factor to an extent that still surprises me. It is hard to describe the disappointment I felt when a very qualified woman, interviewing at a major Canadian retailer for a management job was disparaged by the interviewers for "not even wearing lipstick" and "drab hair". Her hair was that in-betweeny gray-brown. And this for a "head office" job- she was not going to be on TV! The woman was wearing textbook perfect clothing, too, for the occasion.

I asked the interviewers (only partly in jest) how I got my job.
Mardel said…
Love your take on the makeovers, and the marvelous discussion here. I know the extreme contrast makes better TV, but I continue to think something less extreme would be more useful. I think a minor makeover would be fun especially if it went along the lines of why one thing worked better than another and no so much "formula" dressing.

Regardless, you always start the best discussions.
CompassRose said…
@Duchesse - well, that is a point. And all the women I'm thinking of have true grey or silver hair, not salt and pepper - they keep it with very fresh (in two cases edgy) cuts and I know two of them went white very young, before they were even thirty.

Really, nothing looks better, more stylish and confident, to my mind, than a woman who obviously takes great care of herself AND has her natural grey or silver hair. (But I have a great dislike of the ashy-blonde streaks so many older women affect to "hide" their grey. Almost as much of a dislike as I do for that still - unfortunately - present trend of having two very different colours - you know, blonde on top with a dark or red underneath - it looks like the Bride of Frankenstein, and I've never seen anything more aging on anybody.)

I'm going grey at the temples with great speed, and I can already tell I'm going to end up like my mother, who even at 75 is still not completely grey, and whose hair has a colour best described as "old dishwater". Haven't quite decided what I'm going to do about it yet; at the moment, I'm leaving it be.
Anonymous said…
Duchesse, these women have simply been paperdolled, and therein lies the fodder for your comments. I'd like to know how much time
Rita Wilson spent with each of these women interviewing them on their lifestyles, roles, needs, desires etc. If a professional is going to do ANYTHING for you, they must know you almost better than you know yourself. I really don't trust "celebrity" stylists as experts for real women with real lives. Case in point, the caterer that Rita put in a Max Mara jacket for work! How out of touch can you get?? Rita looks like someone who's been paper-dolled to me. Is that really her authentic self showing through? I highly doubt it. Someone who's had years of having it all thrown at them can't possibly be in touch with what noncelebs need.
Granted, it's nice to play dress up once in awhile and maybe get a thrill from that, but in my work I really aim for realistic, maintainable style for my clients. I work very hard to understand their comfort levels and personal preferences, I think they appreciate that, because they keep comin' back for more.
Duchesse said…
CompassRose: That's the problem, the in-between, which so often looks dull if there isn;t much contrast.

Karen: Well said. Am curious whether Rita Wilson, who has produced some big wins at the boxoffice (My Big Fat Greek Wedding)is actually spending her time dressing at home mums and caterers. Love your term, paperdolled.
ClaireOKC said…
Love what you do/post is so needed. I design for more mature clients and every one of them is either in a trap of everyone else before me or I'm my daughter's best friend. Please - we are not that young and we are not that old. I love bringing the fruppy ones out and the zippy ones are relieved to know they don't have to be eternally young to be OK!
Duchesse said…
Claire: Your blog is beautiful, worthwhile reading and inspiration for all designers, sewers and those of us flummoxed by what to wear for occasions. I've subscribed, thank you!
Everyone: www.clairekennedydesignDOTtypepad
Duchesse said…
mardel: I've only seen Stacey London's show once but she did a great job of explaining "why" when I watched. She sent the woman shopping by herself, so she applied what she was taught. She then critiqued the shop and the woman went out a few more times. By the end of the show she was able to make much better choices. A kind of "teach a woman to fish" approach!
lady jicky said…
Don't you just love how they have the woman sour and miserable in the before photo and the after photo she is smiling like a Cheshire cat!!! LOL
Duchesse said…
ladyjicky: Same with before/after cosmetic surgery shows- the women alweys look morose before!
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