About the author:
As co-host of TLC’s long-running series What Not to Wear, a contributor to Vogue and Madamoiselle magazines, style correspondent to The Today Show and personal stylist to stars such as Kate Winslet and Katie Holmes, Stacy London lives and breathes fashion. London is now taking her wardrobe expertise to the Westside Theatre in off-Broadway hit Love, Loss and What I Wore as a member of the September cast. While Broadway.com is slightly afraid to welcome London into our own closets, we did invite the famed stylist to discuss her own special clothing memories (fancy prom dress!) and tell us how the power of fashion lured her into making her stage debut.
I'm not a formally trained actress, and aside from some school plays, I can't say I've ever been onstage, let alone onstage off-Broadway. But Ilene Beckerman's book Love, Loss and What I Wore has been a favorite of mine for many years and affected me quite deeply. In fact, it was the actual inspiration for my celebrity interviews on my talk show Fashionably Late called "My Life In 5 Outfits." But the book means even more than that. With a background solely in fashion editorial and television makeovers, I understand the power of clothes. I understand their connection to our self-esteem and their connection to, if you'll forgive the pun, the fabric of our lives. Clothing has power. Apparel gives us some control over what we want to say to the world about ourselves. If our bodies are blank canvases, apparel is the paint we use to create our own work of art.
While there have been many different styles within the autobiography genre, I never related to one as much as Ms. Beckerman's, simply because the connection between an outfit, an item and an event is something we, as women, share so deeply. It was a shockingly original format, yet completely familiar—a way to talk about a life lived—and I loved it. I related to it not simply because of my passion for fashion, but because Beckerman simply showed us that the outfits of our past allow for such potent emotional recall. Remembering clothing and outfits is like this awesome trigger, just like smell. And once I started thinking about my own clothes in this way, I remembered things long since forgotten.
My own prom dress was a present from my grandfather. He said I could pick whatever I wanted. I found it at Bloomingdale's in the Chanel boutique (which is fancy, I admit, and I was spoiled rotten by him). The store had only one in stock and it was a few sizes too big but because it was strapless, white cotton pique with two thick bands of black lace around the bust, we had it altered to fit. It was cocktail length and I wore it with super high black patent pumps, a vintage sequin cardigan I borrowed from my best friend Sharon and some clutch...I can't remember where the heck I got the clutch, but I know I borrowed it. It was one of those times in my young life when I felt just...right. Every cell in my body felt beautiful. And that dress, that night, was the culmination of hard work—of getting into college, of leaving one world to enter a new, unknown one—a sign of growing up. I stayed up all night. I had that dress for years but never wore it again, though sometimes I would take it out and try it on. It felt like freedom.
There are a zillion instances that I can recall in the same way, and it doesn't surprise me that women like Nora and Delia Ephron, producer Daryl Roth and director Karen Carpenter saw an opportunity with this book. I believe they saw the opportunity to speak to the collective experience we all share. And perhaps this is more particular to women. Not because we are somehow more sentimental or emotional but because socio-biologically we have a much greater investment in our looks than men. We all know a guy who looks like a troll can still hook a hottie if he's got a G5. Our efforts to look and feel attractive pre-date feminism and financial independence. They are connected with our innate desire to mate and breed and nest: a biological necessity.
The desire to feel beautiful isn't a superficial one. It fills us with confidence and power, and now that we can live to be 100? The power to feel good, to create one's own image, goes far beyond that of procreating. It becomes part of who we are, not as women, just as people. And I, for one, find great joy in knowing each day is an opportunity to paint a new self-portrait, to express with joy and wonder just who in the hell I am. Love, Loss and What I Wore is a celebration of that very same ability, and I am both proud and humbled to be cast with such incredibly talented women.
So I hope you'll come during the month of September and enjoy this awesome lovefest, but just a warning: dress well, I judge. ;)