TV Stylist: Audrey Mansfield
Perception is reality. Image is everything. Looks matter.
All of those are true to varying degrees of scariness in the TV business, even at the lowly local television news level. So a lot of TV stations will invest in consultants, who come in periodically to coach the talent (a term loosely used to describe the people who appear on air.) The consultants will discuss all sorts of things, from your vocal delivery to your on air presence to your hair, make up, and wardrobe. It depends on what type of consultant they fashion themselves to be.
I've met with a few over the years, but a couple weeks ago I had a mini breakthrough when the station brought in Audrey Mansfield to talk to us about our on air look. She's worked with a lot of national and local TV types and she has things down to a science.
We were instructed to bring in 6 of our favorite outfits, along with accessories, and we were to come to our session in full hair and makeup. Sidenote: Unless you work at the network level, or your salary has two commas in it, it's highly unlikely you have a hair and makeup person other than yourself. That is definitely the case in this market, as I've often been asked if we have "people who do your hair and makeup." I AM the people.
Luckily for me, I only had Marianne Favro in my session so we had a fair amount of time to go over the essentials with Audrey.
She was the first stylist who brought in "lookbooks," page after page of suits, dresses, jewelry, and haircuts ripped from magazines and catalogs that could really illustrate the points she was trying to make about what is a TV news fashion YES, and what is a HELL NO.
Problem for me was, I was yessing on some of the hell no's. Like prints. What woman doesn't love a good animal print? Or a DVF dress with splashes of color? Or a BCBG wrap dress flecked with brightness? My boss has long told me to avoid prints when I'm in studio. Even my News Fairy Godmother warned against leopard on the anchor desk. But deep in my print-loving heart of hearts, I thought they were wrong. They just didn't understand. A woman does not live by solid colors alone!
Until Audrey put it this way: "Prints make you look young. And you don't need to look any younger." She may have added a "Missy" in there too. I don't remember. I was actually taking notes on my phone because she had such a long list of do's and don'ts. Thankfully, as Janelle Wang pointed out, her accent made it easier to take the blunt criticism. "Dreadful!" "Mumsy!" "Too young!" Simon Cowell in a female TV consultant form.
Not only are prints out, but so are puffy shouldered suits. Pink too. Darker shades of pink are OK, but baby pink is a "Please don't take me seriously when I tell you there's been a terrorist attack. I'm wearing the color of your baby's onesie."
No giant accessories like big pendant necklaces, "the third eye" as they're called. Small, natural stones and delicate pieces are preferred. I can think of quite a few people who need that memo.
There was a long list of things she advised us about, and she backed them up with actual photos. Sophisticated, tailored, solid colored dresses and tops are the way to go. Pencil skirts flatter most figures. Say no to stuffy jackets and the reporter uniform of "collared shirt outside the suit jacket lapel." Some prints are OK if you throw a cardigan over them and just let a little bit peek through. No silky/satiny blouses or asymmetric necklines, gasp, two things I love.
Audrey talked about the Today Show anchors. You remember how great they look but you don't really remember their outfits. And sure enough, the day after I met her, I saw Ann Curry in a light green pencil skirt and a dark green V neck sweater. Natalie was wearing a sheath dress with a jacket over it and pumps that matched the dress. Understated, fitted, minimal jewelry, just "one point of interest," like a belt or a necklace, and off you go.
Giuliana Rancic has a wardrobe to die for, but her hardest hitting news is Kim Kardashian's last minute wedding plans. Hoda and Kathie Lee get to wear crazy jewelry and prints because they also get to drink cocktails at 10AM on TV. They, and their clothes, can be the story. In local news, we need to get out of the way of the story and look presentable without being a distraction. It sounds no-brainer, but people need HELP. And sometimes we get in a rut. What worked 10 years ago ain't still working.
It's a hard pill to swallow when you want to be an individual who loves prints and wants to have some flair, as some of us do, but Audrey's visuals sent the message well.
It's funny because some people are very resistant to this kind of advice. To that I say, HELLO?! We work in a visual medium. It'd be great if we could just write well and ask the tough questions, but people are watching us with their eyeballs. It's superficial but it's part of the gig. And if you don't want to change, there's someone in that stack of DVD's in the news director's office who will. Or who already gets it. So good luck to you and your jankity oversized trench coat.
I only wish I could've been a fly on the wall in some of the other sessions. Meow. The truth shall set you free.