Tim Gunn Helped Me Not Fear My Rear
His lips moved, I know he was speaking, but I heard almost nothing. After he said something about how lovely I looked in my dress, I was on cloud nine. He was talking to me, looking at me and sharing very important insider tips and information. I nodded where appropriate, I even asked a question. And yet, I heard almost nothing. I was mesmerized by his piercing blue eyes looking at me! His pink plaid shirt under his tailored grey suit, all of that perfection is this man I have admired for so long. It was some of the best two minutes of my life. I was a foot away, he was talking, I was nodding, it was just the two of (and 100 other people but I didn’t even see them or notice them). I touched his arm twice, he had his around my waist for a solid 176 seconds. At one point he whipped me around to look at my face to face and remarked how well preserved I was. He was a gentleman, attentive, warm, and sincere. I savored every minute of that morning the way you would a wonderful glass of wine or imported dark chocolate – one marvelous moment at a time.
It All Began With An Email
A few weeks earlier I was reading through one of the email lists I receive throughout the day from journalists or tv producers who are seeking subjects to speak to them on a certain topic. One caught my eye asking for Fashion Questions for the ABC daytime show “The Revolution” featuring a panel of subject matter experts including fashion expert Tim Gunn and home improvement celebrity Ty Pennington. Having just had a conversation the day before with a friend about my struggle to find pants, I decided to write an intelligent question about my struggle and included a simple photo taken from my phone. When I hit send, I knew that I’d be contacted, no magic I just knew. So when the call from one of the producers came a few weeks later I was very pleased. You have to understand this was the opportunity to ask my question of the man I have admired for years for his ability to enlighten women on how to dress their best, for this teaching and coaching skills of new designers. I had read his books and admired that the man he presented to the world appeared to be consistent, and to me, usually a sign that it was genuine.
Pants Are The Problem
After being asked to send in some more photos, my measurements and a little more about what I was trying to learn I was confirmed as a guest for the “Ask Tim” segment of the Revolution. I was to show up at the Chelsea TV Studios one morning the following week at 8:30am. I had only told my dear friend Maura, about my original email, but she was unable to come with me. I asked one more person and when she was unable to get out of work, I made my decision. I decided that though I was 46 and couldn’t find a pair of pants without the help of an expert, I was going to go on this adventure solo, be at the moment and enjoy myself without worrying about anything else for those few hours.
Now for those who know me, you might be surprised that I had a fashion question. I am on top of trends, dress well and know how to shop. I’ve helped friends organize their closets, shop for big events and have even studied fashion design, pattern making, illustration and the history of fashion. But I wear dresses 90% of the time when I leave the house. My wardrobe consists of dresses, skirts and a few random cargoyish pants I wear around the house. I have not purchased a pair of dress pants for 7 years. That’s a long time. I love dresses. I can spot one on a rack and without trying it I will know if it’ll look good. Give me a Trina Turk dress or a Milly dress, and I am in heaven. Just don’t ask me to buy pants. I fear my rear and therefore avoid the challenge of pants. The night before my TV debut Maura sent me a text that read “Don’t you find it ironic that your ass is what is getting you on tv”?
The Big Day
The next morning I put on a lovely grey dress with a pleated skirt, a purple cardigan, a 20-year-old Hermes scarf, cute grey mary jane heels and an adorable trench coat. I looked the same as do on most days ready to go! I ran to catch the 6:43AM into Penn Station. Below is a photo of me on the train platform that morning.
I arrived exactly on time and as I walked down the street I saw Martha Stewart looming large on the side of the building. Apparently Martha films at the same studio. I walked in the door, up a short flight of stairs and was met by a nice young girl whose job is to check in the guests. I had a few minutes to wait as the producer came down for me and learned that the young woman was an intern at NYU graduating in a few weeks and was hoping to land a permanent job in TV production.
Arriving, Hair & Make-Up And a Slight Change of Plans
The friendly young producer Samantha, who had been my contact, came down to gather me and usher me into a conference room on the first floor. On the table were make-up tools and curling irons. A few moments later, Steven the makeup artist for the show who works on the guests, entered the room, and it lit up with his warmth and charm immediately. When it was my turn he worked gently and with confidence, and I let him do his thing, and I have to say I never looked prettier in my life. Not even on my wedding day! I looked like me, but the best Japanese anime version of myself I could have ever imagined. What a wonderful and unexpected gift I was given by Steven.
My other two “roommates” were Moriah, a 6’3″ science fellow, coach and oh yeah, high school physics teacher who had also had been selected for her question for Tim. Her height has always presented a challenge when trying to select blazers, and she’s been forced to purchase men’s blazers and have them tailored, but it’s not working. She was asking the great and powerful Wizard of Gunn to help her too. Teri was part of another segment that had to do with diet and fitness. A super nice woman who was just crazy enough to exercise on TV was a natural. This picture was taken after Steven worked his magic on us all. The man is a genius.
Samantha ran us through what would happen, what we should say, how to say it and we did that about 4 times each.
HDTV, Colors That Pop, and Don’t Forget To Smile and Wave
By now I had been asked to change into a red dress I had bought which I thought looked super on me but turns out, as seen in a photo from that day I may look a little less fab than originally thought. But I don’t want to skip ahead. Now that we were dressed in TV colors to make us “pop” and our faces and hair where HDTV ready, we were brought up to meet and pass inspection from the senior segment producer. Tiny, beautiful and of course, well dressed, she inspected us, coached us and practiced with us. Telling us to have fun, smile, be animated, wave on cue, when to stand, and where to walk. I had not yet even been in the studio so how would i remember all these directions? By this time the show had been filming for 45 minutes, and we were now just a few steps away from the set. We heard the cheering, saw Ty and the other hosts. The sets, the camera crew, the producers, assistants, the talented stylists and all the humans that go into making 60 minutes of television 5 days a week were buzzing around us like flies.
The smile and wave was the only thing I was nervous about. I can be an animated speaker, but I’m not an animated smile- waver. In fact, I have a Mono Lisa smile despite good teeth. It comes from years of practicing to smile with only my eyes because as a young teenager I thought it would reduce the wrinkles on my face when I was an old woman like you know 47. By the way, all these years later my “style of smile” is finally in fashion. The Middleton sisters are not teeth smilers either.
We were told we would be placed in the audience. Tim would call our name, we’d do our manic smile wave, and he’d say “Tell us your question” at which point we are to jump up and animatedly ask the question the way we were coached. The coaching was not to change our question, but rather to get the question framed out in the short time allotted. Tim and the team knew the question because on the set were solutions to our problems and the segment is about Tim teaching and explaining how to resolve it.
Tim Gunn said Hi!
I think it’s fair to say I don’t get particularly star struck and am not flustered easily. But that morning I felt like a school girl who has spent the past three years staring at a cute boy in math class and this was the day he was finally going to say hello.
As I followed the stage manager to my assigned seat, Samantha whispered something to Tim who was onstage and he looked right at me, smiled, waved and said “Hi Linda”! I waved back in double time and smiled wide – with my teeth showing! It was a blissful exchange of greetings (at least it was for me). Two seconds later the audience and I are were being directed to smile and clap as they come back from commercial and then it was show time! “Where’s Linda?” Tim said, camera tight on me, I waved and smiled (this time no teeth- years of training kicked in), and he said: “what’s your question”? At that point, I popped up out of my chair and explained that I’d love to wear pants, but always wear dresses and have not bought a pair of pants in years. He said he could help!
With that, I came down on the stage, and we stood on opposite sides of a mannequin. He then looked me straight in the eye and said something like( b/c those eyes are mesmerizing I can’t give you the exact quote) “Well you look great in dresses!! To which I demurely tilted my head to the right and said I small “oh thank you.” Then he went on to earnestly explain the three styles of pants: straight, wide leg and skinny. How to select them, how to wear them. This wasn’t a “makeover segment” with me trying on pants or anything like that, so after the three mannequins my segment was over, and I scurried back to my seat as I had been previously directed.
During my time with Tim, I never saw the audience, I never saw the crew. It was me, Tim Gunn, three mannequins and nothing else mattered in the world. Then as fast as it happened it all ended. Show over! Moriah’s segment ended the show, so she was still on stage with Tim and Samantha. I figured I was in that crowd and I could hang. I sauntered up there and sidled up next to Tim and stood there for what seemed like an hour (but was actually 10 seconds) I and kept saying to myself – SAY WHAT YOU CAME HERE TO SAY TO HIM. YOU MORON, TIM GUNN IS STANDING NEXT TO YOU. JUST SAY IT!
So I turned to him and said, “I really admire your work. Your teaching style is incredible” He said he had been a teacher for 29 years and I softly said I knew because I had followed his career and read his books. I stopped there because I didn’t want to become stalkerish or scary, but what I wanted to say was “Thank you for all that I learned watching you coach and teach the designers on Project Runway. Thank you for writing your books and behaving in a way that is consistent with my beliefs of etiquette, kindness, and thankfulness. Thank you for teaching women how to better dress. Thank you for being a role model.” So instead I just said it to myself.
Then Moriah asked if we could have pics taken with Tim and he said “of course” without any hesitation. Just another tiny example of how gracious he is. Back in the green room (actually it was yellow) he posed with us for pictures and asked us what we did for a living. But here is the thing. He actually listened because his responses were specific to what we were saying. Case in point, to which was my most favorite part of the day and a comment I will always cherish. When we were side by side taking photos, he asked me about my career, and I mentioned that I’d been in marketing for 24 years. He spun around to have me face him, squinted and said “You look fabulous” to which I replied “sunscreen.”
A few minutes later it was over, and I walked out onto 26th street and rushed back to Penn Station to catch a train. I reflected on my day and pondered why I hadn’t told more people about my adventure and what I would do now. I’ve decided not to watch the episode when it airs in a few weeks. It was never about being on TV, and frankly, as a 40 something with body image issues, I don’t want to watch it with my harsh critic’s eye. I don’t want to critique myself and obsess over my lumps and bumps or the angle from which I was shot or how I looked when I smiled and waved. I have decided to give myself a gift and remember the day as it was, looking through my eyes.
Author’s Note. As of this posting on 5/21/2013, one year later “The Revolution” has been canceled, I am still the Goldilocks of pants, and I have yet to view the episode on my trusty TIVO.
LIKE MY STYLE? SIGN UP BELOW FOR UPDATES.