The Theology of What Not to Wear

I’m kind of stuck in limbo, between the guy side of me that hates TV shows like What Not To Wear, and the counselor/theologian side that finds them irresistible.

For here, played out on TV for all, are stories of transformation.  In 40 minutes, a 40 year old woman who still dresses like a 12 year old girl will find her true self.

But not until she stands in front of the 360 degree mirror and faces the truth.

There is a way forward, and hosts Clinton and Stacy always know how to find it, but the journey is always through layers of fear and falsehood one has piled on to protect and disguise the true self.

There will be arguments.

The trainee rarely submits easily to the trainers.

All kinds of excuses will be made.

Eventually, tears will be shed as the trainee confronts the inner demons that the 360 mirror makes so apparent on the outside.

The show succeeds not simply because Clinton and Stacy are always on point (the clothes make the man — or woman), but because they understand how this is true, and why.

They are fashionistas, yes, but they are also counselors and psychologists.  They have to walk people through layers of fear and falsehood, being patient with temper tantrums and not taking rejections personally.

To do their jobs well, they must do what all good guidance does — lead people on a journey of truth.

I have come to see that the journey of truth consists of three parts — finding, facing, and following.

First we must find the truth.  On What Not To Wear, the trainee-to-be is unknowingly followed around with a video camera for two weeks, during which time all his/her fashion gaffes are documented and saved for the public showing, where this footage will be shown to the trainee, in the presence not only Clinton and Stacy, but a large gathering of the trainee-to-be’s closest friends.

If the show had chapter names, this weekly chapter would have to be called The Intervention, for just as with an intervention for substance abuse or drug use, this is a public rebuke of sorts — a full-on slap in the face with the cold water of truth.

The messages?

“You are a slob.”

“You are better than this.”

“You have really let yourself go.”

“You are not 12 years old anymore.”

“You think you’re being sexy, but you’re actually being slutty.”

I am always amazed by how well the trainee-to-be seems to handle this.  He/she is probably in shock, as well as in the throws of denial.

Which is what often comes when one first encounters the truth.

“I don’t care about clothes, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.”

“I’m a busy mom, I don’t have time to dress well.”

“What’s wrong with wearing t-shirts with unicorns on them to the office?”

In order to be on the show, the trainee-to-be must agree to ditch their current wardrobe and purchase a new one, following Clinton and Stacy’s guidelines.

This is what happens when we are confronted with truth. We must decide whether to cling to what is past, or move into our future.

Clinton and Stacy realize we cannot do both.  The future awaits, full of promise, but the drab clothing of the past offers routine and comfort.

What will it be?

For those who decide to take the deal, a trip to New York City is next and, having arrived, next up is the infamous 360 degree mirror.

This is what it sounds like.  The trainee stands in front of the mirror wearing one old outfit after another and explaining its appeal, while Clinton and Stacy re-frame the story.

Trainee: This is an outfit that I would wear to work.
Stacy: Lovely.  Do your boobs get a separate paycheck?

This can often sound like Springer-esque white trash talk, but it is actually the work of counseling — bringing new awareness to the client.

For it is not only the clothing the trainee needs to see in 360 degrees, but also the impressions they are creating in others.

Clinton and Stacy voice them out loud.

The trainee has already found the truth, back home on video, during the intervention.  But in front of the 360 degree mirror, he/she must face the truth.

To find the truth is to be made aware of it.  To face it is to begin to acknowledge that the truth is true.

The result?  More denial, more shock, but also increasing feelings of shame and embarrassment. These feelings are not caused by Clinton and Stacy, but by the trainee’s encounter with the truth.

One more stage to go.

Having found the truth and begun to face it, the trainee must determine to follow it.

He/She must allow the truth to lead to new perspectives, new ideas, new perceptions of him/herself, and ultimately a new wardrobe.

That is of course the goal of the show, but a new wardrobe does not come until a new human being has begun to emerge.  For clothes not only make the man, they reflect him.

Ultimately What Not To Wear is about the transformation of the human self as person after person goes on the journey of truth.

Let’s face it — if this were only about a person who dressed one way on one day and another way on another day, there wouldn’t be a show.  But there is a show, because there is drama and danger on this journey.

“What if I don’t feel comfortable?”
“What if people don’t recognize me anymore?”
“What if I’m not being true to myself?”
“What if I really AM this frumpy person?”

This proves what I have known for a long time.

All change is spiritual change.

And all change requires that we embark on the journey of truth.

Whether we wish to dress better, improve a marriage, manage our money more responsibly, stop drinking, or know God, we will have to find the truth about ourselves as we are now, face that truth squarely and bravely, and then resolve to follow whatever path the truth lays out before us.

What Not to Wear shows this process as well as any popular TV program can.

It’s not just about fashion. At its heart, What Not to Wear demonstrates that in a way, even fashion isn’t just about fashion.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. A request for me to defend some of my comments does not obligate me to do so.

  • Christy

    Dave, this is really good. I love the way you take reality TV and find the spiritual in it. That’s part of what makes you an awesome preacher/writer. You connect spirituality with real life experiences and help the rest of us see it too so we can grow. Bravo, my dearest!

    • I just came across this response you wrote to one of my favorite blog posts of all time. Thanks, Christy. You know your encouragement means so much to me.