Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine have spent their careers spreading the word: style isn't something you're born with, but something you can learn. That message, which started out as a newspaper column nine years ago, evolved into a television show that was picked up by the BBC in 2000. (It's shown in the U.S. on BBC America.) Since then, their no-holds-barred fashion advice has inspired an American TV spin-off, become an international phenomenon and made celebrities out of the two brutally honest Brits.
In their book, What Not to Wear, just released in the U.S., each chapter deals with a problem area short legs, saddlebags, big boobs, flabby tummy and explains which clothes are most flattering and which should be avoided at all costs. It's all about figuring out how to accentuate the positive and camouflage the negative. "We all suffer from body defects; that's how most women define themselves," Woodall explained in a recent interview during their publicity tour in New York City.
Since every body is unique, it's difficult to find something that's universally flattering, though Constantine eventually deems the three-quarter length, fitted coat with one button in the middle "the one item of clothing every woman should have in her wardrobe." However, the pair has no hesitation in denouncing tapered, pleated, high-waisted pants. "If you have a flabby tummy, the pleats make your tummy look bigger . . . they make your hips look wider, and make most women with short legs have even shorter legs," explains Woodall.
The authors admit to being occasionally tempted by clothes that look great on the rack or are stylish but do nothing to hide figure flaws. "Not having a cleavage, sometimes I look at some great dress with a deep V [neck] and I want to wear it," Woodall says, rejoicing in the fact that her current pregnancy "has given me the unusual benefit of some breasts" and a temporary pass to say yes to cleavage-baring clothing.
When it comes to celebrity style, the authors say Nicole Kidman has taken the What Not to Wear tenets to heart. "We love Nicole Kidman, because she really understands her shape and her look. She's not frightened to be adventurous." Surprisingly enough, even "parodies of bad taste" like Cher have redeeming qualities. "Really we like how she dresses because she dresses very much for herself and she has a lot of fun doing it," Constantine confesses. They name Celine Dion as "one person we'd love to get our hands on."
Women aren't the only ones in need of fashion advice, though. The most common male pitfall? "Wearing trousers that are too tight around their beer bellies and winching it in even further with a belt and tucking in a shirt, which makes them look like they've got two bellies instead of one, or a hernia even, which isn't really a very good look," says Constantine. Simply put, fitted clothing is in general more flattering, but there's a fine line between wearing clothes that fit well and looking like "too much meat stuffed into a sausage skin." Don't cross it.
Lack of appreciation for tailored clothing seems to be the prevailing American fashion faux pas. The authors take particular exception to the short-sleeved, Hawaiian-type shirts that many Americans, both men and women, have adopted ("Really we're not mad about [them] because they're just not flattering at all") and recommend a fitted T-shirt as a comfortable, casual alternative. As for the American version of their TV show, also titled "What Not to Wear," which airs on TLC with different hosts, Woodall and Constantine say they're not bothered by the adaptation. "The copycat approach is the highest form of flattery," Constantine says, "so we are very flattered that other networks want to copy our show and they think it makes good viewing. It shows there's a real thirst for what we do out there."