"Being presentable can only help your message."

(By Jim Deyonker -- Cw)
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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Eighteen months. Forty job applications. Zero responses. Desperate to be a fashion writer, Georgetown grad Johanna Cox applied on a whim and became one of 11 contestants chosen for the CW's new reality series "Stylista." The winner gets a junior editor gig at Elle magazine, a rent-free Manhattan apartment for a year and an H&M clothing allowance. But only after suffering through challenges as a personal assistant to Elle's news director, Anne Slowey. So far, Oklahoma-born Cox, 28, who created the Washington fashion blog A Serious Job Is No Excuse, seems to be the front-runner.

-- Emily Yahr

You work as a Chinese linguist for a defense contractor. How did you end up auditioning for a reality show to work at Elle?

Two years ago, I realized that if I wanted to continue doing something in the China field . . . I couldn't keep middling where I was. It takes a lot of effort and passion for the subject, and I realized I just didn't have that. So I thought, okay, what do I love, and what am I best at? I literally made a list, and it intersected at fashion journalism.

In the first few episodes, you're portrayed as the mature, calm one. What kept you sane?

I thought about my parents, and my current boss, and if I actually won, any future boss would see this. I watch so much reality TV, I knew how I would come across. So I think maybe this is the reward for having watched "Rock of Love" and all those horrible shows.

During the "dress up a mannequin" challenge, yours ended up without arms, and judge Anne Slowey said it resembled a run-in with the Russian mob.

I was almost in tears at that point. I was like, this is not "America's Next Top Mannequin."

On your blog, you "counsel" professional Washington women in the ways of workplace fashion. How did you come up with that concept?

I was seeing women who stood out for the wrong reasons. It seemed to me they came across like, "I worked so hard, I went to this school, I've got this degree, and it doesn't matter what I look like . . . people will only need to listen to what I have to say." My whole premise of the blog was, well, that's true in an ideal world, but . . . being presentable can only help your message.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company