SEATTLE — For the record: Stacy London, longtime co-host of TV’s “What Not to Wear,” is wearing a glittery Christmas-tree-green pencil skirt, a black crew neck sweater with a cat’s face on the front, chunky green jewelry and a pair of textured stilettos with thick ankle straps. (Jean-Michel Cazabat, she says, of the shoes.) It’s a bold and unusual mix, and she wears it happily, describing it as an outfit full of “joy and whimsy.”
In town recently, London’s dressed up to promote her new book, “The Truth About Style” (Viking; $35). In it, she discusses her own journey: a devastating bout of psoriasis as a child during which she felt like “a monster”; a long struggle with eating disorders and weight fluctuation as a young adult (she’s been every size from 00 to 16); a lifelong fascination with fashion and its relationship to self-acceptance and confidence. The book also profiles nine other women, found by London after putting out a call on Twitter and Facebook, who are facing their own obstacles to style — and whom London, after getting to know them, helps to find their best looks.
London, who in person is friendly, informal and bubbly as Champagne, said that she was originally approached by her publisher to write a memoir.
“I said, ‘I’m 43. I have more to do — I’m going to date some more people,’ ” she said, laughing. “It seemed a little early in life for that. But I really did want the opportunity to dimensionalize myself more than the persona that you know from ‘What Not to Wear.’ ” (The show, on TLC since 2003, features “contributors” nominated by their friends and families for their awful personal style. London and co-host Clinton Kelly, displaying an impressive balance of snark and empathy, trash the guests’ wardrobes — literally; the clothes end up in a trash bin — then work with them to effect an often dramatic transformation.) But London didn’t just want to share her own story.
“I don’t feel I’m interesting enough for 10 whole chapters on me,” she said. “I wanted (readers) to see a range of women, to feel like you could see yourself in all of them or some of them, to make it feel more universal than just my personal experience.”
The nine women, whose ages range from 19 to 60, discuss challenges that will sound familiar to many: facing middle age with style and appropriateness; dressing a body changed after breast-cancer surgeries; finding plus- (or petite-) sized clothes with flair; convincing a busy working mother that time and attention on herself is OK; facing the fear that “people might look at me” after a lifetime of clothing that just blends in. All of the women beam happily in their “after” photos; they’ve clearly found, through a colorful and well-fitted new outfit, some joy.
That’s essentially the message London wants to spread: that we should find joy in clothes that celebrate us as we are, rather than succumbing to negative messages from glossy magazines. (That’s long been a tenet of “What Not to Wear,” whose participants are never told that they should lose a few pounds.) Though London says she loves the creativity and innovation of the fashion industry, she’s disturbed by “the idea that this industry is now dictating to the individual how she should feel about herself. That’s weird to me. It’s not like, say, the automotive industry makes us feel badly about ourselves.” It’s crucial, she says, to draw the line between fashion (the industry) and style (the individual) — “it’s an important distinction to make, and ultimately a very freeing one.”
Hers is a life spent surrounded by style: a career that began at the magazines Vogue and Mademoiselle; a fateful audition that led to “What Not to Wear” (its 13th season will begin airing in January); a previous book, “Dress Your Best,” written with “WNTW” co-host Kelly (it’s more of a how-to book on dressing different body shapes, said London — “like Colorforms”); co-founding the personal styling company Style for Hire; currently in development for several new TV shows, the details of which she can’t yet discuss, as well as a jewelry line. And you sense that, through it all, she’s having a marvelous time: having fun with fashion, and helping others find that fun for themselves.
“I wrote the book because I wanted women to feel less alone,” she told an enthusiastic crowd at Third Place Books in Seattle, speaking about why she decided to share her personal story. “What happened is that I feel less alone.”