Speaking from experience, when you're a woman aged 24 who is a) five-feet-and-one-inch tall, and b) has the dress sense of a 13-year-old boy, it can sometimes be difficult to feel taken seriously. Many of my favourite outfits look like they would pair well with those Converse with flames up the side, favoured by skateboarders in 2004. This, unfortunately, is not always the best route to success – professional or otherwise. I've wondered for a while whether a change in approach to my clothes and general demeanour (less sixth former wagging it, more SheEO?) might do wonders for me – and recently, I was able to test this theory out.
A few weeks ago, my boss messaged me asking "do you want to interview Tan from Queer Eye?" to which I replied "YES" within a fraction of a second. Yes, the interview would ostensibly be about season three of Queer Eye – which airs on Netflix from Friday, FYI – but this was also my opportunity to literally be made over inside and out by the best in the business, the man without whom millennial men would be French Tuck-less, adrift and stuck wearing shapeless shirts.
When interview day rolls around, I pull on a pair of cords, a fluffy but ultimately shapeless hoodie and a pair of Converse. I feel it is important to be channelling my Freaks and Geeks energy, dialled up to 11, so that Tan can most accurately and eloquently rip on my clothes.
Before I give you what you actually came here for (verbatim quotes from a famous professional stylist slagging off my fashion choices), I do have to just say: Tan France is an unadulterated delight. He is, unsurprisingly, beautifully dressed; his hair, which does not move out of its perfect coiff at all, deserves its own monument in central London. He carries a Dior purse and swears fluently, and my mood after spending mere minutes with him is one of a very rare, pure type of joy, like I've just eaten a delicious ice cream – even if he does tell his PR guy he needs "five more minutes" as soon as I ask him to overhaul my look.
We chat a little about the upcoming series of Queer Eye. I wonder whether the Fab Five get on as well offscreen as they seem to on the show, and he describes his co-stars as "my best fucking friends". "I know them so intimately," he continues. "Like, we spend probably ten hours a day, five days a week, together, minimum – sometimes six days a week. I know them so well, I know that the rapport between us is so good." No, you're crying.
I also ask Tan about his favourite moments from filming the third series of Queer Eye. Unexpectedly, he picks out the makeovers of two women, including one for self-described "butch lesbian". Recalling her transformation, he's just as enthusiastic as he always seems on the show, noting that "she hadn’t worn a dress since she was young, and I did not want to say that she has to – I did not say that just because you are a woman, you must wear a dress. However, she was curious about a dress, and I said. 'Okay, well you can be curious with me, let’s do this together.' She looked wicked."
While chatting about Jess, Tan reminds me that he comes from a "womenswear background". This is my chance to strike. "What do you, erm. What do you think of my outfit? Do you reckon you could let me know where I'm going wrong? Nobody at work takes me seriously."
Immediately, he has me standing up. "Here’s the thing: our brand is not criticism, so I'm not going to criticise for the sake of criticising. If you wanna do this, we have to do it honestly. What parts of your body would you like to highlight, what parts of your body would you like to detract from?"
I mumble something about quite liking my legs and not really liking my midriff.
"Okay, workwear. Here's the thing: I would never have believed you're 24. You look much younger, and you also dress much younger."
He's got me over a barrel here.
"So, if you’re working, I'd say maybe not the cords – and if you are wearing a cord, maybe not the sneakers with it. Maybe a boot. I don't know if you wear a heel – I never encourage a woman to wear a heel. But if you want height – I do love some height – it doesn’t have to be a high heel, just something that looks a little more refined than a sneaker with cords. I think an ankle boot on you with a skirt would be so hot."
It’s easy to see that this is where Tan thrives – he’s so good at it, and his whole demeanour changes as soon as he starts. As I'm clearly in such desperate need of a sartorial domming, he keeps it coming:
"And I honestly think that with you being 'vertically challenged' – I am the same, I am not tall, I am a relatively shorter man – you have to play with your proportions differently. Don't wear a long top, you should be cropping. Don't wear anything that's going to pass your hip – that’s going to make you look shorter. And I would go for more luxurious fabrics."
Now that I've got a handle on what I should be wearing, I want to know how I can develop the attitude to match. "I've got one more question, Tan," I say. "What's the best way to exude confidence?"
He thinks about it for a second.
"This is so Americanised, I know, but when you look at yourself in the mirror when you're brushing your teeth, I want you to do it in your underwear for that two minutes and think, 'What do I like about myself? What do I love about my body?' And I want you to highlight those things. The amount of times I've looked at my body and thought, 'I fucking hate that about myself, why the fuck do I look like that? I need to stop eating all of that and go to the gym more.' I'm sick of that narrative for myself, and so now I spend more of my time in the morning, when I'm looking in the mirror, thinking, 'Alright, you don’t like that about your fucking body, but you really like that, you like that.'"
I feel my heart grow three sizes and leave our interview feeling like my days of dressing like a pre-teen rollerblader might well be over. Maybe, with Tan’s help, I can look 17 instead of 12.
The next morning, I spring into action.
First of all, it's time to look myself square in the eye in the bathroom mirror, in a specially selected bra that I don't mind being photographed in, and affirm myself. Usually my days start with Rice Krispies and running out of the house, late, with half a slice of toast in my mouth, but if Tan does it and his hair is that nice, surely it could only be positive for me.
Existentially reassured and minty fresh, it's time for the clothes. Tan had recommended a skirt and boots, so I go digging through my stuff for the items I usually save for job interviews.
For my Professional Lewk, I pair a soft black mini-skirt with some Very Serious Tights, and the sort of silky shirt (a "luxurious fabric", right?) that matches my mental picture of aspiration by looking like it'd be worn by someone who models for And Other Stories. I am transformed.
If any magazines would like to do a Meet the Millennials Making Moves feature on me, you can use this photo. I am available for interviews.
Tan was right: my outfit does make me immediately feel more powerful. But he’d also be the first to admit that to be truly Queer Eye’d, there was more to it than a pair of heels: I need to undergo a personal story arc too. So I decide that through using his advice to essentially guide myself through my own Queer Eye episode, I can become a better me.
I've got to think about what I'm going to feed my improved self. What would Antoni do? There's only one real answer:
As I mash the avocado, I feel my inner self opening up and blossoming, like I'm crushing my lack of confidence and nourishing the Sheryl Sandberg who slumbers inside me.
Next: I have to do the impossible and Karamo myself. Karamo Brown is Queer Eye’s resident life coach. He is the world’s most calm, kind and put-together man, and it's his job to help the Heroes (the name of the Queer Eye makeover-ees) overcome the boundaries that are stopping them from being who they want to be.
Sometimes he does this via practical help, like the time he built someone an entire website. Sometimes he does it just by kind of fucking around and doing fun shit in the name of "letting go and finding your confidence". Guess which one I choose.
Do you get it? I am submerging myself in my confidence issues in order to look them in the eye and then cast them away, just as I am doing with these pink balls.
DO YOU SEE?
After my time in the pit, I finally feel as though I can face my work environment. This is the final hurdle. I'm going to break the glass ceiling, but first I need to start with the door:
Sadly, this article doesn’t have the budget for me to get my house done up by Bobby Berk, the backbone of Queer Eye’s Fab Five, who renovates people’s homes and, in doing so, materially improves their lives. But: important to show willing, isn’t it? So I give my desk a quick tidy.
All set, I do a spot of relevant reading now that I'm almost a zen girlboss.
If you're a fan of Queer Eye, you’ll know that the Heroes always do a final task to show their friends and colleagues that they’ve become a brand new person. The whole point of this exercise is for me to stop presenting myself at work like a small child, and become the Empowered Woman I always knew I could be: so what better end point than for me to lead a meeting, about important business things, like synergy and so on?
"Hi everyone. I'm really happy to be here with you all today," I say. Hopefully you have noticed my incredible transformation. I am all of your bosses now." I’m on fire and they all love it. I've evolved – no longer a tiny, hoodie-wearing Pikachu, but a Lean In Raichu. I’ve been Queer Eye’d.
Though I've been taking the piss out of myself, my Queer Eye-adjacent experience did encourage me to think about how others see me, and about my confidence in general. During my time with Tan, I was struck by how constructive and heartfelt all of his comments were, and though I won't be making a habit of leading work meetings, what the experience did impress on me is how fully and comfortably Tan (and the rest of the Fab Five, though I didn't meet them!) seems to inhabit his own skin. It was very genuinely inspirational, and his suggestions did, let’s be honest, make me look quite a lot better.
So the moral of the story, ultimately, is this: viva Queer Eye, viva Tan France, viva me going in ball pits for my job.
Queer Eye series three drops on Netflix on Friday the 15th of March.