The Sweatsuit Alternative

I'm a little upset with Tim Gunn.

As a Project Runway fan, I was excited to see his new makeover show, Tim Gunn's Guide To Style, debut this month. I was particularly interested to hear his silhouette advice to women with fit difficulties -- this seemed tailor made (pun obviously intended) for women like me, those of us not blessed with the 5' 10" 125-pound body. The show's promos suggested a kinder, gentler version of TLC's What Not To Wear. So far, it certainly hasn't been a grand slam. Both Tim and his cohost, supermodel Veronica Webb, seem a little stiff yet; perhaps there are some first-season jitters to work through.

One of the ideas behind the show is that a woman's closet needs ten essential items. I love this concept, and the closet cleansing through which Tim and Veronica coach their guests. Most of the women I know have the tendency to buy too many poorly made, ill-fitting "fashions" that don't necessarily flatter them. The cleanse leads women to keep the clothes that make them look and feel terrific. Many of the essential items are expected: a skirt, a trench coat, a blazer, etc. As someone who has a tendency to buy too many grey t-shirts and the daughter of someone who buys too many turtlenecks, I like the idea of having a shopping (or closet-purging) list of must-haves.

That brings me to "the sweatsuit alternative." In the two episodes of the show I've seen, the women are encouraged to find something to wear in place of a sweatsuit -- and in both cases the alternative was a short, bare dress. WIth all due respect, these women -- one a working mother of three and the other a pediatrician -- need comfortable clothes for running errands or doing housework or just hanging out with friends that don't require strappy designer sandals and specialty undergarments. My guess is that Tim has never tried to heave his strapped-in-the-12-pound-car-seat child into the back seat while balancing a stack of slippery, plastic-wrapped dry cleaning. Doing this while managing to keep a strapless bra from slipping down to my waist would probably qualify for the 35+ Summer X Games.

I don't know if the show is too NYC-centric or just out-of-touch with what real women actually do during the day. Perhaps both are true. I don't know -- even when I lived a more fashionable life in Manhattan, it would never have appealed to me to run errands in a halter dress. The fact of the matter is that women need functional clothes infused with a touch or so of fashion that fit well and wash well. I wish that one of these women had challenged this particular outfit, or at least questioned it. Ladies, how are those little dresses working out for you?

Perhaps I really have lost track of the fashionable me, but I don't think so. When I'm wearing cargo capris (a no-no, according to the experts) and a t-shirt in a pretty color that hugs my curves, I can still look pulled together while having a place to stash a half-consumed bottle, a paci, and my car keys. I feel beautiful when I see my husband gazing at me as I hold and nurse our daughter, not when I'm wearing uncomfortable shoes that might make my legs look longer. So where is the middle ground? I would love to have Tim and Veronica help me clean my closet and shop for clothes that fit me properly, but I'd need something that really is a sweatsuit alternative rather than a pipe dream.