I wouldn't have been possibly accidentally taped behaving like an idiot on What Not to Wear had I not been having a What Not to Wear moment myself.
It was Tuesday at noon. I was returning home after a photo shoot for ForbesWoman, the magazine I work for. (I'm the style editor.) All morning we'd been photographing a beautiful and dressed-to-the-nines executive. We had been awash in $7,000 suits and $900 stilettos for several hours.
When I'm interviewing very wealthy women, I have a rule: Don't even try to dress like they do. Most of my wardrobe is years old and purchased on eBay or at consignment shops, and I always fear something I'm wearing might have once belonged to the lady I'm now interviewing. So I have learned to go in the opposite direction and dress like a quirky avant-garde creative type who can take fashion risks these women can't.
But risks also can go wrong—as was the case on Tuesday, when I decided to put on the skin-tight pants I got a few weeks ago. Though I bought them to wear like leggings under long sweaters, they are more structured than leggings: Thicker fabric, a real waistband, a button, a zipper. On Tuesday I had an inspiration—"I can wear these like pants!"—and went to work with just the pants and a top, no long sweater. How sleek and minimal!
Then I got to the shoot and caught a glimpse of myself. If there were a reality show called When Fashion Attacks, I could have starred in it. Good heavens, I realized. They may have a button and zipper, but these are not pants; they're leggings. I am wearing leggings in public, with nothing covering my backside.
This is how I came to be at the cheapo clothing chain H&M, desperately shopping for a long cardigan to wear RIGHT NOW, and realizing they were taping an episode of What Not to Wear just ten feet from me.
Now, I am the consummate blasé New Yorker. When there's filming in the city (which there often is), I yawn and cross the street to get away. But this was What Not to Wear, really the only television show I watch, where in each episode they give an unfortunately dressed woman a style makeover. I love the tart-tongued but ultimately kind hosts, Stacy and Clinton. I've also crossed paths for other stories with some of the hair and makeup pros, including the huggable Ted Gibson.
None of these people was on the scene at H&M—it was the point in the show where, having been told what would look good on her, the guest is sent out to shop for herself. "I"m really overwhelmed," the woman I saw was saying as she pulled a red blouse off the rack. (They always say they're really overwhelmed—you have to wonder if that line is scripted into the show.)
I wanted to say helpfully, "That color is wrong for you," but did not. I wanted to sidle up to the producer, slip her my ForbesWoman card and tell her I've always fantasized about working on What Not to Wear, but I did not. I would never interrupt filming or shamelessly self-promote. Heavens no. I did, however, catch the camera-girl's eye, mouth "What Not to Wear?" and give her a dorky thumbs-up. Then I hung around nonchalantly for as long as I could until I started to feel obnoxious and walked away. You see, I would never, ever, be obnoxious, not I. No way.
That should have been the end of it, except that I coincidentally decided to leave the store exactly as they were about to tape the What Not to Wear woman leaving the store. She and I wound up at the top of the Down escalator together, and I knew the camera crew was thinking I'd deliberately planned this. So mortified was I that I forgot to be a cool professional. I stepped onto the escalator, and as I passed her—she had obviously been instructed to wait at the top for a moment—I said, sotto voce, "You're going to look great!"
"I hope so," she said. "It's overwhelming."
And here's where I turned into an idiot.
Instead of continuing on my merry way down the escalator, I had the brilliant impulse to climb back up to the top, where she was still waiting to get on, and see what outfits she'd chosen. Have you ever tried to climb a descending escalator? You keep climbing and climbing but you stay in the same place.
So there I was, treadmilling like an H&M hamster a few steps below her. The sweater I'd picked out dropped onto the escalator, and I was trying to grab it before it went down without me. And the woman had this understandably panicked, I'm-dealing-with-a-crazy-person look on her face, and finally she said, "Um, I think they want me to come down alone."
And I turned around and looked down and saw the camera-girl pointing the camera right at us. Or, more specifically, right at my long-sweaterless backside.
Now I'm terrified that whenever this episode happens to air, there I'll be, trying to scramble up the Down escalator, dropping clothing as I go.
Worst of all, I'll be wearing leggings as pants.
*Update! The episode aired Friday, January 15. The makeover recipient was Leanne, a witch and psychic from Salem, Mass. She ended up looking gorgeous. Thankfully my rear end was nowhere to be seen.