An Interview With Stacy London of “What Not to Wear”

The famously sassy reality TV show host talks about her upcoming book and the healing powers of fashion.

For nine seasons, What Not to Wear has been a staple fashion reality show, there for you when nothing else is on. We’ve watched Stacy and Clinton play fairy godparents to countless sweatpants-clad Cinderellas as they diagnose the self-esteem problems beneath the tapered acid-wash denim their subjects just can’t let go of.

While London’s trademark sass may be front and center in every episode, her personal ups and down have, until recently, stayed behind the scenes. In her new book, The Truth About Style, London gives longtime fans a look at her own transformation—from a child plagued by severe psoriasis to a young woman with an eating disorder and, finally, to the empowered fashion guru who isn’t going to let anyone get away with wearing a dickey.

We had the chance to catch up with London ahead of her appearance at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue on Thursday. Read on for more about her fashion philosophy, the therapeutic effects of style, and, of course, that mysterious gray streak.

On camera, your confidence never seems to falter. Was it hard for you to expose so much about your personal struggles?

That’s not my TV persona, it’s just part of who I am. I think it’s easy to get pegged as being overly tough because it’s a very formatted show—you know what you’re going to see from me. The book is different. I think it was an opportunity for me to dimensionalize myself a little bit. I think people know that I’m very passionate about style, but I don’t think they know why.

Was that the main inspiration for your book?

Clinton [Kelly] and I don’t talk about ourselves on What Not to Wear. It’s just not the forum for it. So I wanted to write a book that delves a little deeper into my personal story, but also explains why style is so helpful as a tool for building self-esteem.

And why exactly is that?

When I sent out the call on Twitter and Facebook for subjects for the book, I specifically asked women to tell me their story, not their biggest fashion problems. Through that, I began to realize that we all tell ourselves a story about who we are, and we believe it to be true. It’s easy to forget that we can change the story, we can edit the story, we can write a new story. It’s hard to remember that kind of objectivity, and style is a fantastic tool to change the game. When you can see yourself differently, the process allows you to believe different things about yourself.

On What Not to Wear, you and Clinton don’t just give physical makeovers—you also tap in the deeper psychological issues of your subject. The book takes a similar approach. How do you think your work on the show has influenced your fashion philosophy?

The way people carry themselves can be symptomatic of other things going on in their lives. I’m not a therapist—what I know is style. In ten years of What Not to Wear I’ve discovered some of the deeper ways to use style in a really positive, healthy, joyful way. That is what I want to share.

The Truth About Style reveals a lot about your personal journey and struggles with appearance and self-esteem. Are you feeling a little vulnerable now, on the eve of its release?

Yes and no. I made a conscious choice to do this, but at the same time it was very hard while I was writing. It dredged up a lot of yucky stuff for me, and I joke around that I really wished I were in therapy while I was writing; it might have been a little bit easier. But coming out the other end, now that it’s done, I have no regrets. Of course, I’m a little bit nervous.

I started out writing the book to remind people that they’re not alone. That was the goal when I started, but in writing it I realized I felt less alone, too.

What else do you currently have on your plate besides the book tour?

Life outside of the book is going as fast as the book. We’re on hiatus from What Not to Wear right now, but I go back as soon as I’m done with the book tour in November, and we’ll be shooting season ten.

I cofounded Style For Hire, which launched nationally in April, and I’m still running workshops, and it’s growing every day. I’m the creative director of Westfield Style and editor in chief of the magazine, which comes out twice a year. I also have a production company with four shows in development that I’ll be executive producing. So I have a lot going on.

Can you tell us about any of the shows?

Our first show aired this past year. It’s called Big Brooklyn Style, and it’s about a plus-size clothing boutique and its owner.

I’m very inspired by what What Not to Wear has been able to accomplish. It’s the type of show I’m really proud to be on. It’s not mindless. What Clinton and I get to experience every week is pretty special. It’s educational, you can take away fashion tips, it’s entertaining, we still make people laugh, and it has an emotional component—all that together is pretty rare in unscripted television. I’m looking to bring the same to my audience in a way that doesn’t bore the crap out of them.

You’re adding a stop at Sixth & I to the mix this Thursday. What can fans expect from your appearance?

A lot of truth talking.

And finally the burning question: What’s with the gray streak?

You have to read chapter one of my book to find out!

Stacy London appears at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue this Thursday, October 4, at 7 PM. Admission is $18 for one ticket, $35 for one ticket and one book, and $42 for two tickets and one book.