Kim and Casey left lunch early just like they always did. The office where I worked was three blocks closer to the restaurant where we had lunch every Wednesday, so I was always the one who ended up with the bill and the tip. At least this time they had left enough money for their share.
I was busy calculating the tip when I saw the man and woman approaching out of the corner of my eye. I paid no attention to them, however, until they stopped beside the table.
"Is there a prob—" I started to say. "Oh my God."
"Carly Stewart?" the guy asked.
Unable to speak, I simply nodded. She was my height, a willowy brunette with a shock of gray in her dark brown hair. He was tall and thin, with a crooked smile and laughing eyes. My own eyes flicked from him to her, observing only that they looked a little older, a little less made up, perhaps, than they did on their award-winning television show.
"My name is—" he began.
"Oh, my God, I know you." I finally found my voice. "Stacy and Clinton, from TLC's 'What Not to Wear.' Oh my God. I love your show. How you do all those makeovers with the clothes and the hair and the makeup. Wait a minute. You can't be serious. I don't dress that badly."
He and Stacy looked at each other and raised their eyebrows.
"Seriously," I continued. "I can't believe one of my friends would have nominated me for your show. It wasn't that skank Meredith, was it?"
Stacy and Clinton laughed.
"And where's the big surprise party?" I demanded. The show always started with a surprise gathering of the "victim's" friends.
"We usually don't film those until the end," Clinton assured me. "After you agree to be on the show. Then we just splice it back together so it looks like it does on TV. Don't worry; it'll look like a surprise. But we do have the credit card for you. Five thousand dollars. And the trip to New York. Although you do have to shop by our rules, of course."
"And give you my wardrobe, of course," I said with a laugh. "I know. Of course I'll agree. When do we get started?"
Stacy pursed her lips.
"Here's the thing. If you want to do the whole hotel thing, we'll have to wait a while. There's a whole bunch of conventions coming through the city in the next month."
My face must have fallen.
"I've got it," Clinton said. "We have an extra room in our apartment. Why don't you stay with us?"
"You guys live together?" I was stunned. "I thought you were..."
"Gay?" Clinton asked with a laugh. "Glad to know that's working. I don't know why, but people just aren't comfortable with a straight guy dispensing fashion advice. So what do you say?"
"I say let's do it!"
My boss was as big a fan of the show as I was and readily consented to give me the following week off for my fashion makeover. On Saturday afternoon I took the train from Philly up to New York. Clinton and Stacy met me at the station and whisked me to a large Brooklyn brownstone in a taxi.
"I don't believe it!" I exclaimed as soon as I walked in the door. "You actually film the show in here? There's the 360-degree mirror."
The show's signature was a set of mirrors that gave you an all-around look at yourself. I was not looking forward to seeing myself in that. It's not that I was fat or anything. I'm a healthy 135, but at five-foot-seven, I carry it pretty well. Particularly considering how much I carry up front, so to speak. But every woman has parts of her body she'd like to change. For me, it was my ass. And my shoulders. Maybe my calves.
"Oh, we just use this place to rehearse," Stacy assured me. "We do all the inside shots—the mirror, the reveal—later in the week after you're done shopping. It's just so much easier that way. Same with us trashing your wardrobe."
"Not to mention us trashing you while we watch the film we secretly took of you the last couple of weeks. We'll do that back in Philly with the friends who nominated you."
"Which you're still not going to tell me who they are," I said.
"That's right. So you brought three outfits with you, right?"
"Yup. One for work, one for hangin' out, and one I use to go out clubbing."
"Perfect," Stacy said. "Well let's not waste any time. We don't need a videographer for this one. We have a stationary camera set up right over there. Why don't you give us the office outfit first and we'll meet you in the mirror?"
I stepped into the mirror and immediately regretted my choice. It was winter, so a sweater was de rigeur at our chilly office. But the pants I usually wore with it made me look...
"Schlubby," Stacy said, emerging from the back of the mirror with Clinton by her side.
"Schlubby?" I repeated.
"Exactly," Clinton said. "You have a dynamite body—tall, well-proportioned, nice long legs. And this outfit manages to make you look both shorter and heavier."
"Now come and see what we think you should show up at work in," Stacy said. "Gray pantsuit with wide pinstripes and a single button on the jacket, and a white cami underneath. Can you see yourself wearing that?"
"I guess," I said. "The bank where I work is a little conservative, though. That might be a little too much, um, skin."
"Cleavage?" Clinton suggested with a smile.
"Honey," Stacy said, "if I had your assets, I'd take every opportunity to air 'em out. As long as you show up looking professional, they'll accept however much skin you want to show. You're going to have to trust us on this one. What we're looking for here is an outfit that's cut much better to your figure. Let's see your casual now."
They quickly tore that one to pieces as well. Skinny jeans weren't a good idea, they said, but the jeans I was wearing were apparently even worse. And the top. Ay-yi-yi. I was 28? I looked 58. Why didn't I just apply for my AARP card right now? Then they showed me their take on casual. It looked a little over the top to me; the jeans would hug my ample ass and the top would be a stretch, in the true sense of the word.
We finally turned to my night-on-the-town togs. I was kind of proud of this look. They were less than complimentary of my little black dress. Stacy's idea was a leopard print dress that ended somewhere north of the middle of my thighs. This was their idea of texture?
I was more than a little surprised by the fashion show they had arranged. There wasn't anything I could point to as actually slutty, but it seemed far away from the usually classy looks that turned up on the show. Stacy sensed my reservations.
"I know what you're thinking, Carly. Have they gone absolutely nutso? They look like such pros on the show. And you get here, and we're not wearing makeup, we look older, and we start giving you outfits that make you look like a hooker. Am I right?"
"Exactly," Clinton said. "That's why we do all this rehearsal. When we do the studio filming, it takes on a whole different look. As for the outfits, those aren't the ones we'll use in the show either. But they do give you an idea of the kind of thing we're looking for, if not the actual clothes. So if you take what we've suggested, and combine with your normal conservatism and very good taste, we should end up at a perfect medium."
I bridled at the word conservative, but I think I understood what they were doing.
"We'll start tomorrow with a fitting here in the apartment," Stacy concluded.
"Here? Fitting what?"
"The girls," she said, cupping her own breasts in a manner she couldn't reproduce even on cable television. "Before we shop 'til we drop, we have to scoop up the droop."
She looked at Clinton.
"That's pretty good, isn't it? I'll have to use that one."
Despite the clinical professionalism of Maura, the woman who was measuring me, I couldn't help but being turned on. My last boyfriend—all of my boyfriends, come to that—had loved to suck and nibble, and the constant attention never produced the desensitizing effect that I had expected. Instead, the girls, as Stacy always called them, had grown even more giggly. And now Maura was slipping a soft cloth tape measure underneath my boobs. Oh, baby.
At her instruction, I had stripped off my blouse. Clinton had been banished for the morning, under Stacy's orders to scout out likely stores in Manhattan. Maura's eyes widened in horror as she looked at me.
"Take that disaster off, too," she snapped.
"My bra?" I squeaked.
"Bra," she scoffed. "That doesn't meet any of the requirements of a bra. It doesn't support your boobs, it doesn't enhance them, it doesn't do shit. God, girl, you might as well be topless for all the good that's doing you. Come on, come on."
"I didn't think you did fittings topless," I whined.
"Normally no. But I can't do it with that bra on. Do you have another one that fits better?"
Of course I didn't. I turned around to look at Stacy and she gave me a nod of encouragement. Taking a deep breath, I reached around for the hook and slowly let the bra drop into my hands. Maura snatched it out of my hands. I turned back and stared in horror as she pulled a pair of scissors out of her bag and cut right through the band between the two cups. She tossed the two halves into Stacy's kitchen trash can.
Then she had looked back at my torso. Maura had smiled and I found myself breathing a sigh of relief. My bra might be bad, I thought, but at least there was nothing amiss with the girls. Unaccountably, I felt my nipples tightening ever so slightly. Feeling that tape against the underside of my breast only made it worse.
"Don't worry," Maura murmured with detachment. "Happens all the time. I get 34, and what were you wearing?"
.... There is more of this story ...