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Tim Gunn on Changing Your Look
Tim Gunn knows what it takes to change your look. He is widely known for asking designers to “make it work” on Bravo’s hit series “Project Runway.” He also hosts his own show on the network, “Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style,” based on the book Tim Gunn: A Guide to Quality, Taste & Style. Gunn is currently the chief creative officer at Liz Claiborne. For 23 years, Gunn was on the staff at Parsons The New School for Design, serving as associate dean and later chair of the department of fashion design. The Advocate magazine labeled Gunn, "the sanest man in reality television," and Entertainment Weekly called him "a major arbiter of style.” In this interview, he shares his thoughts on what it means to make a style change, and how you can do it.
Why is it so difficult for some people to change their looks?
People get stuck in a fashion rut. Clothes are a kind of vocabulary, and just as there are words that we each favor, there are clothes that we favor, too. Many people become comfortable wearing the same limited number of items day in and day out. It’s very difficult to step out of that comfort zone, unless you’re feeling seriously at risk or threatened.
Why are the first 30 days of this change so challenging?
Whenever we leave our comfort zone, we become full of anxiety and self-doubts. It’s so easy to have a fashion relapse and go back to our old ways. Presumably, your new look will be a GREAT look, so relish the compliments and kudos.
What’s the quickest way out of a style rut?
Find a fashion mentor, that is, someone—this is often a celebrity—whose style you relate to and whose look you’d like to emulate. Your mentor should be someone whose age and body type approximate your own. It’s so easy to think about embracing Sarah Jessica Parker or Angelina Jolie, but Oprah and Martha Stewart offer just as many, if not more, style lessons. Study the look and style of your mentor and bring critical analysis to what it is about their decision making that works. Learn from it.
What are your top three tips for creating a new image?
1. You can’t create a new image unless you know who you are, and that’s literal and metaphorical. Plus, it’s not easy. Who are you? What do you do? With whom do you interact? How do you want to present yourself to the world and, consequently, have the world perceive you?
2. Analyze your closet. Are these the clothes and accessories that are appropriate for who you are, what you do, the people with whom you interact and how you want the world to perceive you? Assess your wardrobe and [try to] understand what you’re doing right and wrong.
3. Understand what looks good on you and why. [Look at] silhouettes, proportions, colors, prints and fit.
Do you have any specific advice for men when it comes to style and grooming?
My advice for men is the same for women. Find a fashion mentor. Personally, I have several: Cary Grant, George Clooney and Patrick Dempsey. When presented with a fashion conundrum, I ask myself, “what would they do?”
How can people better understand what fits and flatters their bodies?
Most of us have a warped perception about our looks. We look in a mirror and think we see who we are, but most of us don’t. Here’s a case in point: I never fail to be disarmed when I unexpectedly see myself in a mirror across the floor of a department store. Startled, I ask myself, “what’s my father doing here?” But, no, that’s me.
Examine your body’s silhouette and proportions, and [think about] age appropriateness. Too many women—and men—dress to look far younger than they are. In the summer months, Madison Avenue is littered with grandma Jezebels in miniskirts and halter-tops. Preposterous. I’m proud of my 54 years and I wouldn’t go backwards for anything. I know better than to wear muscle shirts and gym shorts and dress like a teenager. At the same time, I don’t want to look dowdy or frumpy. I dress for my age and my role in life. Last year, I covered red-carpet fashion at the Oscars for the “Today Show.” Who was the most stylish and sexiest? Helen Mirren, that’s who.
"Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style" uses an “essential shopping list” to help women find a signature style. How did you arrive at this list, and if you had to pare it down, what are the three things every woman must have in her closet?
A dress pant, a classic white shirt and a blazer. You can dress these items up or down and they can take you anywhere. Witness Hillary Rodham Clinton.
My list for men is the same as my list for women: dress pants, a classic white shirt and a blazer. You can go anywhere and do anything.
What are some misconceptions people have about style?
Most people assume that style costs a lot of money. It doesn’t. In fact, I believe that more style mistakes happen with big budgets than with small. Shopping on a budget causes you to ask important questions, such as, “do I really need it?” and “how does this item fit into the rest of my wardrobe?” Shopping on a budget means that you can’t afford to make a mistake.
How can people be successful beyond the first 30 days of a style change?
It’s one thing to launch a new style, but it’s quite another to sustain it. Get rid of the clothes that you shouldn’t wear any longer. If [the clothes] are in good shape, give them to the Salvation Army or Dress for Success. Otherwise, just throw them away. Resist the urge to save your “wrong” clothes by rationalizing, “oh, I’ll just wear this on weekends.” Removing the temptation to lapse back to your former fashion self will be liberating.
What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?
I believe that life’s pathway is serendipitous and that we never know what’s around the bend. So, I’m always mindful that change could be around the corner. I navigate the world with my radar scanning for opportunities. I create opportunities of my own, and assess all of them as thoughtfully and strategically as possible with the further belief that nothing is forever.
The best thing about change is…
… discovery. Change allows you to look at the world through an entirely new lens. It brings enhancements to your life and your world.
What is the best change you have ever made?
Moving to New York City from Washington D.C. in 1983, but that’s in retrospect. At the time I was terrified, but I knew that it was time to take a risk and throw life’s dice. That move took me as far from my comfort zone as anything I had experienced up to that time. It also presented me with more opportunities than I could ever have dreamed.
For more information on Tim Gunn, visit www.bravotv.com.