I’ve met Stacy London quite a few times. The first hundred or so occasions were not in person, but through the television screen, just like everyone else. I listened to her dole out style advice on What Not to Wear and watched as women’s self-esteem rose before my eyes. It was an early lesson in the transformative power of clothes and their ability to brighten that which already shines. I’ve also just always been a sucker for a good before-and-after.

Later, I met Stacy in the non-delusional sense while filming an episode of The Chatroom. It was a real “holy crap” moment. Here was this larger-than-life figure — about my height — right in front of me. She wore a ladylike dress, had a streak of gray in her hair and was everything you hope for those who you admire to be: kind, empathetic, furiously smart, funny.

Following that came a sequence of interactions during which I got to know her better: a press preview, an industry dinner, direct messages back-and-forth over Instagram. A conversation began to brew about giving her a “Man Repeller makeover.” I said of course, and then…

I panicked. Imagine the imposter syndrome that comes with styling America’s stylist!

A “Man Repeller Makeover” doesn’t really mean anything, because all of our styles are so different. For fun, and because it’s an excuse to get weird or make a cool picture, I usually take on the challenge of layering my poor subject in as many pieces as she can tolerate, then weighing her down with accessories. But when calling in clothes for Stacy, that mentality didn’t feel right. I wanted her Man Repeller “makeover” to do something she and I spoke about the third time we met: peel away that which felt like the old her, or the television version of her, or whatever people project on to her, to show a completely different side. She wanted the opposite of the ladylike dress. Meanwhile, I wanted to flex the same transformative ideology she taught me long ago, that clothes can brighten someone who already shines.

Meet Stacy London, the shiniest.

We talked about this a ton on set: How does your perception of your age and the changes that come with it dictate what you wear or don’t wear?

I started to notice my own aging when the clothes I used to wear didn’t feel the same anymore. There are a few things that factored into this. First, after 10 seasons of What Not to Wear and five years on the Today show as a style correspondent, I grew tired of the A-line dresses, the pencil skirts, the floral tops and that relentless the-higher-the-heel-the-closer-to-God mentality. It didn’t suit me when I wasn’t being “Stacy on camera,” but I felt pressure to appear that way generally.

Second, during the last season of What Not to Wear, my body ached all the time. I was always swollen and felt like I had the flu. It wasn’t until a year after the show ended that I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. The flares were caused by physical and emotional stress, so I stopped wearing heels as much and changed my diet. I started to wear fashionable but more comfortable clothing on Love, Lust or Run, the new show I was working on. I noticed how much I liked wearing pants, jumpsuits, leather — all things that felt closer to who I am now as opposed to 15 years ago when I started on What Not to Wear. That’s when it really started to dawn on me that as I evolved, as I aged, it would be silly to think my style taste would stay static.

I started to realize I liked wearing chic suits, not to look like a woman in a man’s world or in an ’80s sort of way, but because I felt more powerful. I began to feel my age deserved a uniform that was in keeping with the depth and breadth of my experience. I didn’t want to wear skin-revealing, body-conscious clothing as much, not simply because my body has changed but because I never wanted to look like I was trying to compete against younger women on whom those kinds of clothes can look fabulous. I mean, I’m not counting myself out here, but I want to savor age and experience, not waste my time trying to hold on to what I looked like at 30. I want my style to reflect my beliefs about that. I wear suits when I want to look sharp and powerful. I wear slouchy jumpsuits when I’m more casual. This is where I’m at now and I want to honor it.

(Also, since my spine surgery five months ago, I’ve been wearing a brace. Roomy is easier and heels are out of the equation for now.)

How do you deal with the awkward in-between of a style transition?

There are milestones in life, in anyone’s life, that require introspection and evolution. To think that your style won’t change isn’t just naive, it will get in the way of you being able to leave room (and money) for those transitions. I think one should always have simple, classic pieces that can act as blank slates and can be styled in different ways as your style evolves. For example, a perfect black suit that can be worn with a white shirt and sneakers works just as well for an evening event with a sequin tank and high heels. You want pieces that have a certain amount of flexibility until you fully realize your next stage of style development.

What do you tend to stay away from and why? What do you embrace?

I tend to stay away from anything too avant-garde, not because I don’t love certain things but because I know my body well enough to know what will look comical on it. For example, a lot of the big, HUGE ruffles we are seeing right now just don’t suit me. And don’t get me started on cold shoulders. Can’t stand them. Never could. They are exactly like sleeveless turtlenecks. To quote Nora Ephron: “Are you hot or are you cold?”

But I love me some jumpsuits. They’re grownup onesies: Ilana Kohn, Rachel Comey, Lauren Manoogian. Can’t get enough of ’em.

There are those who like prescriptive rules to help them get dressed, and those who don’t want to be told what to do. Where on that spectrum do you fall?

In my What Not to Wear days, I was all about telling people exactly what to do. We gave actual rules, for Chrissakes. I don’t really believe in that anymore. We’ve left the idea of “how to” dressing culture behind and have embraced more of a “me too” sense of style. As in,”Ooooh, we have similar aesthetics. I want to learn from her eye and improve my own.” The advice I give now is much more about understanding what someone wants to convey and feel, and I try to help them get there. I’m happy to provide guard rails so you don’t go careening off the road but I’m not going to pick the make, model and color of the car for you. Collaboration is much more interesting anyway.

What’s something you never get asked? What’s the answer?

I very rarely get asked about why I’m not married. The answer is that I didn’t know it was a requirement.

What does your current style say — or what do you want it to say — about you as a whole?

Because my current style can actually be compared to my previous style, I guess I want it to say that I’ve evolved, I’ve mellowed, I have a stronger sense of myself. I don’t need outside approval to make me feel good about what I’m wearing. I want it to say that I’m not trying to be anything other than myself. The power in using style to be authentic affords you all sorts of wonderful opportunities.

What’s one piece of advice you wish you could tell your “younger” self now? (What age are you speaking to?)

I would like to tell my 39-year-old self that spending the year worrying about turning 40 was a complete waste. It is so much better on this side of the fence. All that worry for absolutely nada.

You hate your outfit. You’re stuck because you wore it out of the house in the morning and won’t have time to go home and change. What do you do?

Suck it up, buttercup. Put on some lipstick and handle your shit anyway.

When do you feel your most powerful? Your most beautiful?

To be honest, I always feel somewhat powerful. My style either reflects that power or it’s meant to coax it out of me when I’m not feeling it. That could be a suit or something sparkly, depends on the day.

Beautiful is tricky. The word is tricky and beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right? I guess I would have to say I feel much better when my roots don’t frizz. There are days I look in the mirror and think, “Oooh girl, get something FIXED.” But mostly I kind of watch myself age in wonder. This body, this temporary home of ours, changes in ways that are weird and wonderful, scary and beautiful. All of it kind of fascinates me.

Follow Stacy on Instagram @stacylondonreal. Photos by Tory Rust; follow her on Instagram @toryrust.

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