Style maven Stacy London reveals truths about fashion and herself

Stacy London reveals herself to be just as flawed and insecure as her fans

The Washington PostOctober 7, 2012 

NEW YORK — You know it's going to be painful when the virtuoso of fashion wisdom dismisses your black-and-silver peep-toes as "sensible heels you wear with a cocktail dress when you're getting old and you don't want to wear heels anymore."

"You had a lot of opportunity here," Stacy London pronounces.

It was not quite like having your entire wardrobe gleefully dumped in the trash a la London and co-host Clinton Kelly on their long-running TLC makeover show, What Not to Wear. But after the style savant's assessment — "Style is the quickest shorthand to who you are," London writes in her new book, The Truth About Style (Viking, $32.95) — it's hard not to question a lifetime of sartorial choices.

And yet London, 43, is somehow on your side as she rips you apart. She understands the psychic roadblocks manifested by an ill-fitting outfit. She says there's more to bad dressing than bad taste: Women, she argues, cloak their emotional issues in their clothing.

"My whole life I've had a love-hate relationship with style, and my body, and myself and self-consciousness," she says. "And I have not met very many women who haven't."

The book transposes the show's makeover format to the page. It features nine women in fashion ruts. With empathy, a little therapy and an eye for what's flattering, London diagnoses their fashion problems and proposes common-sense solutions. As she does on the show, London shifts the conversation from the runway to real life, focusing on practicalities such as helping the working woman "who just needs a great pair of jeans."

Makeovers notwithstanding, a more apt title for the book might be The Truth About Stacy London. It turns out that the stylist who inspires godlike reverence from her fans is just like them: highly imperfect. London writes about a traumatic bout with psoriasis that started at age 4 and left painful scars on her arms, torso and thighs, and dramatic weight fluctuations caused by anorexia and compulsive overeating.

"After 10 years of being the expert, I wanted to make myself a little bit more dimensional," she says. "I started to feel a little bit boxed in by the idea that people will tweet me and Facebook me and say, 'You're so pretty and you have such confidence.' Well, I don't feel that way."

Turning the tables on herself wasn't so easy.

"Dredging all that stuff up," she says, "it brought back a lot of pain that I haven't looked at in a long time. To be honest, I wish I had been in therapy while I was writing the book."

The steroid that eventually cleared up her debilitating skin disorder left painful cracks and fissures. The emotional scars resurfaced at Vassar, where a diet spun out of control. Surviving on sugar-free butterscotch pudding, she hit 90 pounds. After graduation, she landed a job as an assistant at Vogue and began binge-eating; she ballooned to 180 pounds.

Her passion for clothes, she says, helped balance her insecurity about her body "with what I could surround myself with on the outside."

However on edge London might be, she appears to be taking her own advice: "You may be hanging on by a thread, but you don't have to look like it."

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