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Fashion-Impaired to Trendy

Md. Teen Gets Mocked, Then Made Over, for TV Viewers

By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 6, 2004; Page B01

It was the sock that did it -- the sock that played music and had an embroidered Santa Claus.

Erinn Johnson-Long's other sock did not even match, which might have been a good thing because one piece of musical holiday footwear seemed more than enough. The 17-year-old senior at Montgomery Blair High School sat in the hot seat on the TV makeover show "What Not to Wear" and tried to explain her fashion choice.

Montgomery Blair High School senior Erinn Johnson-Long, left, went from the hot seat on "What Not to Wear" to a $5,000 spending spree in New York as part of her makeover. (TLC)

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"Why do you have to wear matching socks?" she asked the show's style gurus. The impeccably dressed hosts, Stacy London and Clinton Kelly, stared at her. Fashion rule number one, they said: Your socks have to match.

So began Johnson-Long's week-long lesson in personal style, documented in a back-to-school episode of the show scheduled to air tonight on TLC. The episode follows Johnson-Long's attempts to layer clothing, choose complementary colors and boost her fashion confidence with the help of the show's hosts and a $5,000 shopping spree in New York City.

"You have to be willing to give yourself -- mind, body and wardrobe," said Brian Eley, the publicity manager of "What Not To Wear," said in an interview.

The U.S. show, a slightly toned-down version of the caustic BBC program of the same name, is in the middle of its second season on TLC. Eley said more than 100,000 people have applied to be on the show.

Tonight's episode is the program's first teenage makeover. Two other students from Blair, Susan Blythe-Goodman and Clarence Turner, will be featured in a promotional edition of the show available only on DVD.

In most episodes, family and friends nominate someone whose fashion sense they feel is about on par with filmmaker Michael Moore's. But in consideration of vulnerable teenage psyches, the show's producers decided to let students at Blair, in Silver Spring, nominate themselves. Producers were familiar with the school because TLC is part of the Silver Spring-based Discovery Networks.

"We didn't want it to be a scene from [the film] 'Mean Girls' where all the popular girls pick on this poor thing," Eley said.

Still, the show can be brutal. Its two hosts ambushed an unsuspecting Johnson-Long during her chemistry class in June as she sat wearing a light blue sweater, black top and short shorts. Their arrival was a mixed blessing.

"You asked for us, so here we are!" London chirped.

"Ouch," Johnson-Long said.

Before show participants get their makeovers, they are subjected to scathing critiques. In Johnson-Long's case, there were the mismatched socks, of course, which she proudly displayed in her nomination video.

In addition, hidden cameras capture candid footage of the fashion victims. One taped scene shows Johnson-Long, who stays fit through cheerleading, wearing a pair of extra-extra-large pants that Kelly tactfully called "billowy." But London was more blunt: "Ugly pants," she said.

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