Anyone who wanted to know a scrunchie from a shoulder pad tuned into The Clothes Show on BBC in the 1980s and 90s. It demystified the fashion world for the masses, and once pulled in nine million viewers. Now, TV is embracing fashion again – on all formats.
This week BBC One is showing You Are What You Wear, the channel’s first makeover show in 15 years. Meanwhile, Amazon Prime will release Making The Cut this Friday, where guest judges including the model Naomi Campbell and fashion editor Carine Roitfeld will award a winning designer $1m and, in a heartwarming moment of synergy, a deal for their clothes to be sold exclusively through Amazon. This follows hot on the heels of Netflix hit, Next In Fashion, where designers from around the world competed against each other to be the next big name.
“Fashion shows are accessible because we all get up and get dressed every day,” says Sara Rea, Making The Cut’s executive producer and showrunner. “Making The Cut illustrates that fashion is moving into a more inclusive place where everyone has a place.”
The idea of a fashion democracy is at the heart of the BBC’s You Are What You Wear. The show features people with everyday clothing problems that are solved by a team of five stylists. In the first episode, participants include a PE teacher who doesn’t know how to wear anything apart from tracksuits and a man who is 5ft 3in and has dressed from the children’s section all his life.
The executive producer, Ceri Aston, explains: “The makeover format just works on telly. If somebody puts on an amazing outfit, they’re going to feel different. What we wanted to do is ask, ‘who are the people that are going to make those transformations and why are their stories relevant?’”
Absent from this new breed of fashion show is the acerbic tone associated with programmes such as America’s Next Top Model, Ugly Betty and Absolutely Fabulous.
For Queer Eye’s Tan France, who presents Next In Fashion, tone is key. “I made it very clear to the creators of the show that I wouldn’t be involved with a show that pushes a negative, drama-filled narrative,” he says. “It would go against what I do on Queer Eye.”
In an era of reality shows defined by Queer Eye, but also The Great British Bake Off and First Dates, viewers want to see things work out and not go awry. “There’s enough drama in the world,” says France, “we’ve created a show that provides an escape from that.”
Aston looked back to How To Look Good Naked’s Gok Wan for inspiration. “The way he interacted with his women with warmth and approachability was something we wanted to do on the show,” she says. “You don’t want it to be like Changing Rooms circa 1992 being like ‘what did you do to my house?’”
As traditional TV tropes change, so have formats. More brands are live streaming shows on Instagram. Last week Tokyo Fashion week was streamed live, and it was announced that menswear trade show Pitti Uomo would have a strong digital presence which many interpreted as more streamed shows.
Outside official channels, fashion influencers primarily reside on Instagram, TikTok has become the natural home for “how to” extreme beauty tutorials, and edgy makeover shows such as PAQ and the Go Fug Yourself-style critiques of vlogger Haute Le Mode sit perfectly in bitesize chunks on YouTube. On 6 April, Quibi, a mobile-only service, is set to launch. With snippet segments of eight to 10 minutes each, it is a platform which is hugely influenced by the structure of social-media streaming. Among the fashion content will be Potty Talk, a toilet-based chatshow hosted by Alexander Wang, and Fashion’s A Drag, a fashion news show. “Instagram has definitely influenced how we share our fashion and influence others,” explains Willam, the former Drag Race star and host. “So it’s becoming more and more popular.”
France thinks social media was a driving force in the popularity of Next in Fashion and Queer Eye. “Without it [my shows] wouldn’t have hit the zeitgeist globally the way they have.”
The synergy of social media and TV is part of what led the BBC to commission You Are What You Wear. “The popularity of fashion on those other platforms is the reason the BBC were in the market for another makeover show,” says Aston. “The last one they had was Trinny and Susannah.”