Saturday, December 13, 2008
above: image of Tim Gunn from TIME magazine website
This morning, my friend, Melissa, an accomplished investment banker and seriously stylish shopping buddy of mine, sent an urgent email to me from her BlackBerry: "QUICK! Can you tell me something? Is champagne satin a pastel or jewel tone?"
After careful consideration, I shot back my reply: "I think the answer is neither. Pastels are generally light pink or yellow or blue, whereas jewel tones are deeper, rich colors like sapphire or emerald... May I ask why you want to know?"
Melissa was evidently in the dressing room at Miu Miu, trying on a strapless champagne colored dress. "On sale!" She wrote back triumphantly. "But..." (and this is where I could almost here the hesitation in her typing) "Tim Gunn says petite women shouldn't wear pastel."
"Ah well you're lucky it isn't! And if that dress is on sale, do buy!" (What can I say-- I'm trying to stimulate the economy in my own roundabout way even if it's through vicarious shopping!)
After the quick round of emails with Melissa, I started thinking about Tim Gunn and people like him, who host popular television shows about fashion and style (in his case, Tim Gunn's Guide to Style, as well as Project Runway, both on the Bravo television network), and started resenting the fact that well-educated, stylishly confident people like Melissa fall over themselves to abide by certain "fashion rules." As if the "fashion gods" would shake their heads in heavy judgment over a "misproportioned" jacket or an unflattering hemline.
I've watched a few episodes of Tim Gunn's Guide to Style, which consists of an hour-long journey into a guest's closet, where Tim Gunn and his female sidekick, once played with faux gusto by supermodel Veronica Webb and recently replaced by a petite stylist and entrepreneur, Gretta Monahan, who brings more real world warmth to the show. Who wouldn't feel a little insecure about getting dressed next to a supermodel, anyway?
After Gunn scouts out a guest's threads and gently teases them about their messy ensembles, he proceeds to point out the woman's body type by developing a computer image of her shape and then coolly highlights her best features, assessing the best way for the woman to dress, essentially, for her shape. There is nothing wrong with breaking down an outfit according to fit, proportion and silhouette. But adhering to such strict "fashion rules" can be stifling to a person's playfulness and creativity when getting dressed.
I love Tim Gunn. He seems like a really nice guy. And don't get me wrong-- I would love to spend the afternoon drinking champagne with him and visiting ateliers of fashion designers such as Yigal Azrouel to get a custom-made dress (as he did with a guest on a recent episode). Sorry, Tim, but rules are meant to be broken! If we all stood in the same place, with the same level of taste and strict rules about what we wore, fashion, too, would stand still, and we would be stuck in that same silhouette forever. Luckily, fashion does not listen to its own "rules" and wears white after Labor Day, and paints skinny jeans on women, yes, even petite women with pear-shaped curves.
The show itself isn't a terrible affair. I even found myself a little damp around the eyes at the end of one episode, where a harried doctor, who had no time nor the inclination to spend time on her wardrobe and styling, learned to fall in love with clothes and wear them with confidence. That part of the Eliza Doolittle transformation was pure magic. I only wish Tim would turn to the lucky woman at the end of the episode and decree "First learn all the rules, then, break them."