10 Minutes with Tim Gunn

Television personality and style guru Tim Gunn is anything but shy. He is known and beloved for his mentoring of budding designers on Project Runway; his savvy tips on his hit show, Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style; and his post as Liz Claiborne’s chief creative officer. When it comes to fashion, he is undoubtedly on top of his game. But perhaps what he is best known for is his practical approach to women’s fashion. While he freely admits fashion can be “daunting,” Gunn also feels fashion should be fun and about feeling good. Here, Tim Gunn lets us in on his three universal style rules.

SK: So, what should every woman know about fashion?

TG: I don’t give out specific advice other than silhouette, proportion and fit because it all depends upon who you are, your particular size and shape, your coloring, your lifestyle and the people with which you interact and how you want to present yourself to the world. It’s very personal, and it should be.


quotation mark open This is why when the high-waisted pencil skirt was in, I thought, ‘This is kind of ridiculous.’ quotation mark close




SK: There isn’t one rule of thumb you’d tell women to live by?

TG: If you look at my book, [Gunn’s Golden Rules: Life’s Lessons For Making It Work] there are no illustrations, other than generic illustrations that are meant to be an example of an item. I don’t want people looking at photos saying, ‘Oh Tim Gunn says that’s the jacket I should have.’ I mean, I do have a few essential items, but they’re meant to be personalized, like a classic tailored blazer, boyfriend blazers, trench coats, any number of variations.

SK: OK, so tell us, then, what really matters when trying to look fashionable.

TG: One thing I’m going to say is if getting fashion right were easy, everyone would look fantastic. It’s not easy. It’s very daunting. My thoughts and advice about getting your fashion right has to do with three elements, not items. They’re conditions: Silhouette, proportion and the fit.



Silhouette is pretty easy; it’s the actual shape of the clothes in relation to your own silhouette. The proportion is the relation of the size and scale of the items to one another and on you, which is why things like skirt lengths can be from the very bottom of the knee cap and never any longer (unless it’s full-length) to the top of your knee cap or several inches higher, depending upon your own scale.

This is why when the high-waisted pencil skirt was in, I thought, ‘This is kind of ridiculous.’ If you’re short-waisted, that high-waisted skirt is going to look like a strapless dress on you. So there’s no item to which I would say it would work for everyone, other than a category item like a trench.

As far as fit, we need to see ourselves as a series of thirds from our shoulders to our toes and dress accordingly. So the goal here is not to cut ourselves. Women who wear a pair of jeans with a tunic top, belt it, because it’s going to give your waist definition. The key is to prevent you from looking cut in half.

SK: Any parting advice?

TG: It’s important to develop or sustain that critical objectivity of how you look. Unfortunately, I have another refrain, about the monkey house and the zoo: When we walk into the monkey house what do we do? We shriek ‘This place stinks!’ Then after 20 minutes, it doesn’t smell so bad and after 40 minutes, it doesn’t smell at all.

The trouble is anyone else new to the monkey house thinks the place stinks. The same thing can happen with clothing; You look at something and think ‘Eww I don’t like this,’ then you wear it around the house and think it’s not so bad. I’m all in favor of taking risks, but the risk shouldn’t be getting into that item that you wouldn’t wear otherwise. It shouldn’t be a matter of ‘Ooh, I’ve gotta get used to this.’ It should be like,’Oh my God, I can’t believe this!’ Like an epiphany.

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