ByLillian McTernan/Updated: Oct. 17, 2019 5:11 pm EST
From the time Stacy London burst onto the public scene with her 2002 debut in TLC's What Not to Wear, she has spoken openly about her experiences in the fashion world. Personally, I immediately liked her no-nonsense, edgy humor on WNTW, and the more I learned about her as a person, not just her WNTW persona, the more I've come to admire her candor and openness. It turns out that behind the WNTW version of Stacy London, there's a very real person with a lot of depth! Are you intrigued? Read on!
The silver streak in her hair has been there since childhood
When she was six years old, London was diagnosed with psoriasis, an autoimmune disease that can cause a rough, scaly rash anywhere on a person's skin. Then, when she was 11, she dealt with repeated bouts of strep throat that wound up sending her psoriasis into overdrive. She woke up one day completely covered in red scales, and spent the next two years dealing with cracked, scaly skin and full-body rashes that even covered her scalp.
To treat the rash on her scalp, she had to cover it with tar every night, which her mother would then scrub off with boric acid each morning. She eventually got so tired of this that she shaved off her long dark hair and opted for a crew cut — and although it made the tar and boric acid treatments easier, London wrote in her 2012 book, The Truth About Style, that the haircut "didn't just make me feel less girly — it made me feel less human."
She eventually found a topical steroid that cleared up the psoriasis, and when her hair grew back, the silver streak emerged. "My hair is a big part of me," she said in a 2015 interview. "There was a deep sense of insecurity that I traded the grey streak in for as a badge of honor. Now I even have a grey clause with Pantene, where I said 'You can do whatever you want to my hair, but you can't dye my grey streak.' It's part of me!"
She's struggled with body dysmorphia, weight fluctuations, and eating disorders
When contestants on WNTW were facing up to their own struggles with weight and not feeling comfortable in their own skin, London could relate. After the misery of her experience with psoriasis — during which time she was relentlessly bullied by the kids at her school — London developed body dysmorphia, which she has struggled with ever since. During her youth, for a long time didn't want to look at herself in the mirror, and even now, London admits that when she does look at her reflection, "what I see is [...] not necessarily objective."
In her 20s, London also battled anorexia. "I felt like I'd never had a serious boyfriend and I really wanted to be attractive," she said. Her dieting left her at a mere 90 pounds, and she was eventually hospitalized. Within a year, though, she began binge eating and doubled her weight to 180 pounds.
Her weight eventually stabilized in her 20s, but she struggled again when she quit smoking in 2008, gaining 15 pounds in three months. This strained the show's resources: since the budget didn't allow for a new wardrobe, she had to fit into the clothes she had. "It affected me," London said. "I was very moody, embarrassed, and disappointed in myself."
She's wicked smart
I always got the sense that London is whip-smart, but I didn't know she had such awesome academic credentials: In addition to her incisive fashion advice, London graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Vassar College in upstate New York with a degree in philosophy and German literature.
"I went to Vassar to study philosophy and literature, but I always knew I was going to go into fashion," she says. "My father gave me great advice, he told me, 'You should go to college and study what you love. You should study something that teaches you lifelong skills, like how to write, read, and think critically. You can take that and do anything with it.'"
Her first job out of college was at Vogue, and it was a huge challenge
After college, London knew she wanted to work for a fashion magazine. She went to do a practice interview at Random House publishers, and although her typing was apparently awful, she hit it off with the recruiter, and he sent London to a colleague who wound up helping her land a job at Vogue. How's that for a seemingly bad situation that winds up working out beautifully?
While she learned a tremendous amount while working at Vogue, London acknowledges that her time there was "better than Navy SEAL training. You learn everything there is to know about being in fashion. The word 'impossible' doesn't exist for somebody like Anna Wintour. You learn to find things that are unfindable, you learn to get things done in a time frame that is unrealistic."
In fact, there was one time when an editor asked London for 13 Chanel Camellias — but when she called them in from all over the world, there were only 12. "The editor insisted on 13," she says, "and I could not find one more. So I had to stay up all night making a Camellia out of white cardboard and clear nail polish."
She climbed up the career ladder, reached her dream job, and was unexpectedly fired
While most of us know London as a reality TV stylist, her original ambition was to become a fashion editor. During her time a Vogue, she didn't want to risk becoming a career assistant, so she started turning down assignments that people offered her — and despite what she describes as some very lean months during that transition period, she eventually achieved her goal of being hired as a fashion editor.
London spent four years as a senior fashion editor at Mademoiselle magazine, but when a new editor-in-chief came in, London was fired. "I was so surprised when I was fired from Mademoiselle," London said. "It hurt my feelings so much that it made it harder to pull myself up when I got knocked down." Although she struggled at the time, she added that while getting fired was a huge blow, "it was a blow I'm glad I experienced."
She never anticipated being on TV
Although London is a natural fit for a TV role, it's not something she ever set out to do. After leaving Mademoiselle, London was working as a freelance stylist when her agent called and said "This is going to sound weird, but there's this production company that called, and they're doing some television show and they're looking for stylists who are freelance [...] and can talk a lot off the top of their head. So we thought of you."
She would end up doing four screen tests over the course of about eight months, and during that time she heard that tons of other freelance stylists in New York had also done screen tests — and almost all of them believed that they had the job in the bag. Feeling demoralized, she resigned herself to not getting the job. She was on vacation in Spain with her family when her agent called and told her that she was one of 27 finalists who were asked to come in for a fifth screen test — and she almost didn't go. "I said 'What do you mean? If they want me, I've done all these screen tests, why do I have to do another one? I'm not leaving Spain.' I hung up the phone and my stepmother said 'We're putting you on a plane tomorrow, and you're going to do the screen test and it's going to change your life.'" As it turns out, those were wise (and very true) words from her stepmom.
Once she was on WNTW, she struggled with the public's perception of, and reaction to, her TV persona
Although WNTW was her big break, it came with its own struggles. "When I started What Not to Wear, people hated me," she wrote in an article for Refinery29. "They said I was a bitch, that I had no right to tear people down, and who in the hell did I think I was in the first place. Some people may still think that. But my intention [...] was never to hurt anybody. When I found a Facebook page dedicated to "Hating Stacy The Jew London," where people wrote that they hoped I would trip and fall and break my huge nose and crack all my teeth, I was weeping on the floor." Y'all, let's all agree that although it's totally normal to feel jealous of someone, trolling them and actively wishing them harm, whether behind their back or to their face, is not okay. Can I get an amen?
Although her WNTW persona definitely brought some snark to the show, London pointed out in the same article that she wasn't in charge of the show's format, and that, in fact, they were told by the show's directors and by the network to be snarky. "It took four seasons for audiences to come around to the true ethos of the show, to see that we wanted for each and every participant: to help break down their blind spots and build them back up with a sense of self-esteem they deserved."
Her personal style has changed since WNTW
While she was on WNTW, London wore lots of dresses and pencil skirts — and while she looked indisputably fabulous, those clothes aren't really her jam anymore. "When I look back, I realize the style I had while I was on What Not to Wear — the pencil skirts and sheath dresses, the floral and ruffled tops — does not reflect who I am now. It reflects the television persona I gave up a long time ago," she wrote in a separate article for Refinery29.
Indeed, by the time WNTW wrapped up, she was ready to branch out: "I was sick to death of wearing a floral pencil skirt," she said in an interview with Huffington Post. "It's not like I don't love a stiletto, but hey, I had hamstring surgery, I'm 45, you know, some things have to change."
Now that she's able to make more of her own style choices, she's found that she's much more drawn to suits, leather, and pants than to the girly outfits featured on WNTW. "I wear a lot of jumpsuits and I wear lower, thicker heels and a lot more boots," she told Huffington Post. "I have a very different style — I wore a body chain this season! — that might surprise a What Not to Wear viewer."
She loves doughnuts and watches Law & Order
"I love Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," she told Huffington Post. "That's about as far from fashion as you can get. Mariska Hargitay is totally stunning and gorgeous in those terrible trousers."
She also has a soft spot for gluten-free, dairy-free doughnuts: In an article she wrote for Refinery29 about her recovery from a recent spinal surgery, she confessed that after finding out that gluten-free, dairy-free doughnuts do, in fact, exist (and this is the food intolerance equivalent of a real, live unicorn), she had two dozen delivered the next day.
More power to you, Stacy
One thing I really admire about London is her willingness to do her own thing: she's unmarried, never had kids, has been navigating her way through a successful career in fashion, has successfully weathered some very tumultuous times, and is willing to speak openly about her struggles, both past and present, with deeply personal topics like health and weight. This, for me at least, makes her feel like an incredibly cool big sister or cousin who I'd gladly turn to for advice. Stacy, can we please hang out?