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A fashion-heavy scene from "Gossip Girl" (Courtesy of CW Network)
A fashion-heavy scene from "Gossip Girl" (Courtesy of CW Network)

John Doyle: Television

TV fashion: To tune is to buy in Add to ...

Ever wonder why there are so few stylish people traipsing the streets these days? I do.

There’s a dismaying uniformity. Often it seems to me everybody is trying to look like some celebrity. And, all too often, the result is a fashion disaster. Ill-fitting and unsuitable clothes are worn by people who really don’t look the slightest bit like some movie or TV star.

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The issue doesn’t keep me up at night. But I do ponder it. Recently, while watching the excellent documentary Bill Cunningham New York (it’s airing regularly on SuperChannel this month) I was struck by the reason for Cunningham’s fame as a photographer for The New York Times. He does impromptu photos of people walking the streets – people who look strikingly dressed. Cunningham doesn’t photograph celebrities. As he points out, celebrities are dressed by stylists. What they wear is not an expression of their own personality.

This is all too true and yet vast attention is paid to some actress who was told what to wear by somebody who has a deal with a designer. It’s getting worse, too. Let me tell you a story.

Actress Sheila Kelley is on Monday’s episode of Gossip Girl (The CW, 8 p.m.). She plays “Serena van der Woodsen’s mischievous Aunt Carol Rhodes.” Certain shenanigans have required Kelley’s character to visit the Upper East Side for damage control.

Now, I’d normally be oblivious to the antics of Serena van der Woodsen and her aunt. But I received an alert from a PR company about Kelley’s return to Gossip Girl. The point was not to get some press coverage for the appearance. It was to promote Sheila Kelley’s S Factor, a fitness technique that “incorporates fluid feminine movement and pole dancing.” For a limited time, Gossip Girl fans can win Kelley’s Soulfully Sexy DVDs. I now know that S Factor, which has studios in several U.S. cities, and sells DVDs and stuff, is recognized as “the first and only pole dancing and striptease workout in the world.” If your kids are watching Gossip Girl (the core demographic is teenage girls), there’s something right there you can put under the Christmas tree.

I draw this matter to your attention because, at regular intervals I also get bulletins from the CW, with the subject heading, “Fashion to Talk About.” These press releases inform me and other people who cover TV, about the fashionable items worn on the show. What they are and where to buy them. Gossip Girl and the new Hart of Dixie are the two shows that relentlessly flog the schmatte worn by the characters in a major manner.

The most recent bulletin about Hart of Dixie, which stars Rachel Bilson as a doctor in the Deep South, doing her doctoring and meeting cute guys, gave info on her outfits. Bilson isn’t wearing very much in the photo of a key scene, which is not unusual, I gather. A teensy dress and some shoes. The dress is by Herve Leger and the shoes are by Christian Louboutin. What they cost was unknown to me until I Googled “Herve Leger dress Hart of Dixie” and discovered, instantly, it costs $2,200 (U.S.). It looks very nice on the tiny Bilson.

In the matter of what they wear on Gossip Girl, I can tell you that an outfit worn by the social climber Jenny (Taylor Momsen) comprised earrings by Diana Warner, necklace by Courtney Udelson, coat by Zero + Mario Cornejo and sweater by Alexander Wang. At that point I stopped. I know the coat costs $1000.

Granted, some of the clothes are pretty, though few would be considered truly stylish – they’re expensive but ordinary and obviously chosen by stylists working for the show. Also, call me crazy but some clothes are chosen so that the result is a surge in sales for the designer or manufacturer.

This is one way that television generates revenue these days. Not only are there ads during the commercial breaks, but the stuff you are seeing worn by actors is being peddled too. The result, I put it to you, is an unreasonable amount of peddling expensive clothes, and streets teeming with fashion victims.

ALSO AIRING TONIGHT

Drafted (The Score, 11:15 p.m.) is a fascinating reality show which sets out to find Canada’s next sportscaster. In the finale of season three tonight, you can learn who wins – Ryan Long or Jackie Redmond. The winner gets a one-year contract with The Score and is a spokesthingy for Gillette, the sponsor. The show should be of interest to anyone who watches sports on TV because it actually illuminates what is expected of a TV sports reporter these days and gives some insight into an often unforgiving job.

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