In the first episode of Undressed, the show’s host, entertainment journalist Kathryn Eisman, reveals her credentials: “Ever since I was a young girl I’ve had this ability to read a person’s true character just by looking at the clothes they’re wearing.”
In each episode, streaming from today on Paramount+, Eisman invites “everyday Aussies” to stand in front of her so she can reveal their “secrets, troubles and greatness” through fashion – leading to a makeover by the episode’s end.
Australian reality programming is no stranger to glow-ups and dramatic reveals, but the genre is dominated by real estate and renovation. As a rare show about fashion, Undressed promises to hold space for the emotive power of clothing.
Despite using the rhetoric of a fortune teller – “I see, I see” – and some cold reading techniques, Eisman’s talent for analysing why people wear what they wear seems genuine. The responses she triggers from her participants are often tearful, with more than one saying they feel as though the journalist has seen into their soul.
Being taken into participant’s wardrobes is certainly voyeuristic, but their vulnerability when describing how constrained they feel by their clothing, their anguish and frustration, is palpable. That emotion will be familiar to anyone who has experienced the pang of wanting to fit in, only to feel betrayed by their own body or outfit.
The show follows a classic reality TV format. After their reading, each participant is introduced with beautiful footage of their lives. In the first episode, we meet Latham: a 20-something surfer and landscaper who spends Sundays at the pub with his mates, but wants to get in touch with his feminine side. Krystina is a train driver and mother who rides motorbikes and wants to feel beautiful. Family and friends are brought in to comment on the subjects’ struggles with clothing and identity, while Eisman looks through their wardrobe and assigns them each a seven-day task. Then, their new look is revealed.
It is compelling TV, but what’s missing from Undressed is insight into the process. Instead of footage showing different styles being tried on, with advice from Eisman on how to break old habits or navigate body types, comfort and colour palettes, we jump forward to a rack of clothing pre-selected on each participant’s behalf. Then Eisman sends them off to get changed into the looks that will symbolise their transformation.
Any stylist will attest that trying on clothes and creating outfits can be arduous, but it is almost impossible to dress someone without some trial and error. Clothing sizes are not standardised across brands. Proportions, cuts and fits vary widely, before you even account for individual body shape. Clothes need to be experimented with, sizes need to be changed and silhouettes balanced.
Not educating the audience by showing them these steps feels like a wasted opportunity for someone with Eisman’s knowledge, warmth and passion. Early in the first episode, Krystina laments: “As far as what I should be wearing, especially for my body shape, I have no idea.” At the end of the episode, the viewer is none the wiser.
Both Latham and Krystina have had their hair cut and styled, and Krystina has her makeup done. It’s clear their confidence is affected by more than just their clothes – and it’s hard not to wish for more analysis of that, too. Eisman’s commentary references fashion psychology and theories of dressing, things it would be interesting to see her put into practice. Instead as each outfit is revealed, empty descriptions appear as text on the screen: necklace = individuality; slogan tee = statement maker.
Eisman’s big promise is that changing your clothes can bring transformation from the outside in. Certainly, the subjects’ beaming smiles and newfound confidence at the show’s end are evidence of this. But the most successful style makeover programs, like Queer Eye and the many iterations of Trinny and Susannah, balance emotion with practical advice.
Undressed establishes that clothes have the power to influence the way we experience the world. It just doesn’t explain how to wield that power ourselves.