Lessons learned in 7 years of makeovers

I have “made over” 90 people in the The News & Observer since 2008. Most were women looking to revive their style after falling off fashion. I did the same for a half-dozen men, most of them prompted by the women in their lives to seek style help. I helped several girls who were shifting their style from kid to teen.

I’ve learned a lot about style by dressing real people whose images wouldn’t be Photoshopped afterward.

My biggest takeaways:

▪ What’s keeping someone stuck might have happened in puberty.

▪ I can affect how someone dresses, but I can’t change how they dress.

A Roxboro homemaker told me that she had never liked dresses, and she remembered her mother forcing her to wear them. She had wanted to wear pants and shirts so she could climb and play.

“I wasn’t like a lot of girls who wanted to wear makeup,” she said.

Even as a 70-something, she rebelled against ruffles and fussy details.

A professional woman told me that, as a girl, she overheard neighbor boys talking about her body and it made her self-conscious. Another woman remembered that after an older boy said she wiggled when she walked, she had always worried about her back view. Each was unusually attractive and said the memory had limited her style in some ways.

Makeover requests streamed in every month.

My first makeover, a retired teacher, wanted help building a wardrobe “around my new life of relaxation and fun.” She liked the two outfits –denim slacks and green trench coat, and a patterned skirt with fitted jacket. But a couple of readers complained that the pants weren’t hemmed in the photos.

People who were bored with what they were wearing asked for makeovers. Some wanted to look good at a party, wedding or speaking engagement.

Eventually there was a yearlong wait for a makeover.

I borrowed most of the clothes, but persuaded department stores, small chains, boutiques, consignment shops and discount stores to give dozens of makeover subjects free clothes and accessories. Hair and makeup was always done for free by local salons, beauty schools, barber shops and makeup artists, who almost always said yes when I asked.

I made my goal attainable: I would affect each makeover participant’s style in a positive way.

In the three hours of shopping, I can’t change the way someone dresses.

Sissy Perry, for instance, looked great in her summer shorts and fedora in my May 2008 feature. But she conceded that the makeover only went so far.

“Despite your best efforts, my daughters still think I’m a candidate for ‘What Not to Wear,’ ” she wrote me in 2010.

Based on the thank you notes, gifts and Facebook friendships I’ve cultivated, I’ve succeeded in many cases.

Others embraced the changes.

I styled Meredith Indermaur, a Raleigh mom of six, in a knitted, cheery yellow jacket when I made her over in 2009.

“I was thinking, ‘I don’t know about yellow,’ ” Indermaur told me last week. “But you put me in something that looked great. I still wear yellow. ...

“You look at the before and afters, and most of these people, they’re beaming,” she added. “They leave with a boost.”

This month’s makeover, Elizabeth Langston, summed it up this way.

“I was afraid that my size doomed me to frumpy, and I discovered that it does not,” she said. “I see that I can actually look good with the right pieces.

“I had a co-worker staring at me in a meeting the other day. And at one point, she burst out, ‘I can’t take my eyes off you. You just look so great.’ ”

I will continue to make over clients as a personal stylist, but this is my last Refresh Your Style column.

Contact me if you’d like your shot at a fresher style.

Sheon Ladson Wilson is a personal stylist ( and @SheonWilson) and freelance writer in Durham.