IIn the first episode of Undressed, the show’s host, entertainment journalist Kathryn Eisman, reveals her credentials: “Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve had this ability to read a person’s true character. just by looking at the clothes she’s wearing. .”
In every episode, streaming from today on Paramount+, Eisman invites ‘everyday Australians’ to stand before her so she can reveal their ‘secrets, problems and greatnesses’ through fashion – leading to a makeover at the end of the episode.
Australian reality programming is no stranger to dramatic glows and reveals, but the genre is dominated by property and renovation. A rare show on fashion, Undressed promises to make room for the emotional power of clothing.
Despite using the rhetoric of a fortune teller – “I see, I see” — and some cold reading techniques, Eisman’s knack for analyzing why people wear what they wear feels authentic. The responses she triggers from her attendees are often tearful, with several saying they feel like the reporter saw into their souls.
Being caught up in the participants’ wardrobes is certainly voyeuristic, but their vulnerability as they describe how constrained they feel by their clothes, their angst and frustration, is palpable. This emotion will be familiar to anyone who has felt the angst of wanting to fit in, only to feel betrayed by their own body or outfit.
The show follows a classic reality TV format. After reading them, each participant is presented with beautiful images from their life. In the first episode, we meet Latham: a surfer and landscaper in his twenties who spends Sundays at the pub with his friends, but wants to get in touch with his feminine side. Krystina is a train driver and mother who rides a motorcycle and wants to feel beautiful. Family and friends are brought in to comment on the subjects’ struggles with clothing and identity, while Eisman goes through their wardrobe and assigns them each a seven-day task. Then, their new look is unveiled.
It’s compelling television, but what Undressed lacks is insight into the process. Instead of footage showing different styles being tried on, with advice from Eisman on how to break old habits or navigate body types, comfort and color palettes, we go to a rack pre-selected clothing in the name of each participant. Then, Eisman sends them to change into the looks that will symbolize their transformation.
Any stylist will attest that trying on clothes and creating outfits can be daunting, but it’s nearly impossible to dress someone without some trial and error. Clothing sizes are not standardized from one brand to another. Proportions, cuts and fits vary widely, even before you consider your body shape. Clothing should be experimented with, sizes should be changed and silhouettes should be balanced.
Not educating the public by showing them these steps seems like a wasted opportunity for someone with Eisman’s knowledge, warmth and passion. At the start of the first episode, Krystina laments, “As for what I should wear, especially for my body shape, I have no idea.” At the end of the episode, the viewer is none the wiser.
Latham and Krystina had their hair cut and styled, and Krystina had her makeup done. It’s clear that their confidence is affected by more than just their clothes – and it’s hard not to wish for a deeper analysis of that as well. Eisman’s commentary references fashion psychology and sartorial theories, things that would be interesting to see her put into practice. Instead, as each outfit is revealed, empty descriptions appear as text on screen: necklace = individuality; slogan tee = statement maker.
Eisman’s big promise is that changing clothes can bring transformation from the outside in. Certainly, the radiant smiles of the subjects and their regained confidence at the end of the program are proof of this. But the most successful style makeover programs, like Queer Eye and the many iterations of Trinny and Susannah, balance emotion with practical advice.
Undressed establishes that clothes have the power to influence the way we experience the world. It just doesn’t explain how to use this power ourselves.