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If Your Friends Could See You Now, What Advice Would They Offer?

August 18, 1994|PATRICK MOTT and ANN CONWAY

I t's axiomatic that no one is truly happy with his or her looks, a fact that has spawned several billion-dollar industries and one rather cruel word: make-over.

We see the ads everywhere and the premise is always sure-fire on the daytime talk shows. Take a fairly plain looking person and, with the cooperation of makeup artists, hair stylists and clothing consultants, transform him or her into a dazzling vision of sophistication and beauty.

But will it work in the real world? We wanted to find out. So we stuck our necks way, way, way out and asked a few of our colleagues for their suggestions on how we might change our appearances.


HE: Well, let me go on record immediately by saying I told you so. I said that almost nobody I knew around here would play it straight. To wit: example number one, a computer message in answer to the question of how I should be made over:

"I'm afraid I'm much too compassionate a person to accept that assignment. Seriously, though, I think you'd be gorgeous with a lip ring and a long-shiny gray ponytail. Add some love beads and sandals and some old-fashioned Bermuda shorts and tell people you're a writer."

SHE: I asked an old friend how I might change my look and he sent this computer message: "Do you really think for one second that I would think you're healthy enough to accept any critiquing? Is there anything in your record to suggest that you are? Convince me."

So, I convinced him and got this: "You look your best when you are a little bit less than completely made up and dressed up. I'm just talking shading, I guess. Not sackcloth but somewhere south of top-of-the-line merchandise. Maybe the same with hair/makeup but we're talking minor adjustments."

I think this is great advice. I'm trying too hard. He's telling me I don't have to.

HE: This compassionately incomplete advice from a pair of co-workers who put their heads together on my behalf:

"Dye your hair and let it grow long so you can flip it back, get smaller, rounder, bronzier glasses with clip-on shades, always wear a loose (non-constructed) blazer and pleated trousers or fitted jeans. Oh . . . and get a tan."

Translation: your thinning gray hair makes you look ancient, your current glasses make you look like an owl and you need a big, blousy jacket to hide that paunch. And, by the by, you look like you live in Greenland.

Guilty, guilty, guilty, except for the tan part. I have a choice: go for a tan or live a long and cancer-free life. Hey, I want to be wearing those baggy tweeds when I'm in my 80s.

SHE: I cornered one co-worker and her immediate response was, "You look great!" Then I begged her to tell me the truth. She took a long second look (my medium-length hair was acting a little bubblish and I was wearing a very tailored off-white pant suit): "I would put you in jeans-- torn jeans, a white T-shirt and big belt every Friday. And I would send you to my hairdresser for a waif cut. I'd change your nails from painted to clear."

HE: "Actually," said a friend whom I've decided to remember in my will, "you look pretty good the way you are. And I actually think your butt's getting smaller."

I pressed for the truth. The message came back:

"Your glasses have to go. You have distinctly British features masked by the frames and the glass reflection. When you drop the glasses, your features, which have a lot of character, are clearly seen.

"With the glasses, you strike me as a grocery store manager. Without them, you remind me of a distinguished British admiral set for sail."

And a big yo ho ho to you, too. Wherever you are. Can't tell without my glasses.

SHE: One co-worker suggested that I "get a little looser" in my clothes, wear jackets that are more soft-shouldered. She also told me to experiment with my lipstick, "try a brown/bronze shade" (instead of my predictable bright reds and pinks). OK. I'll do it.

Now, dear Patrick, do I dare tell you how I'd make you over? I'd dress you up more often. With your distinguished silver beard and immaculate grooming you look like a million bucks when you're dressed to kill.

I'd put you in navy or gray slacks, a white Oxford shirt and V-neck sweater a couple of times a week. And occasionally, I'd ask you to show up in that fabulous pin-stripe suit of yours. And to give your co-workers a real treat, I'd tell you to wear black tie to our annual Christmas buffet. Nobody looks sexier in black tie than you do.

HE: If you're angling for a dinner on me, consider the reservations made. I'll send the tux to the cleaners right away.

And now to you, partner. I agree with that looser clothing idea. Your day-to-day look is usually so smartly and closely tailored I think you could only benefit from a more casual approach occasionally. Big, comfortable sweaters and flowing fabrics. Wear the angular stuff with the knife-like creases when you really mean business, but when it's just us kids in the office, how about something you can sprawl in? You'd still look great, honest.

SHE: Funny how I told you to dress up and you told me to dress down. Let's just switch wardrobes.

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