How To: Be a Best-Dressed “Katie” Guest

Phoebe Baker Hyde shares what it was like getting dressed for “Katie” (& Katie!)

Here’s the dilemma. I just wrote a book about not wearing makeup or jewelry, cutting my hair off and not shopping, but I’m about to talk about this book with one of the nation’s most respected journalists under bright stage lights in front of 2 million people who I know (because of research I did for this book) will instinctively respond better to good grooming and sharp looks. So yes, while I have more trust in my unadorned face and my sense of humor than I used to, and while Katie’s made the makeup decision for me and herself and the whole audience (none), I still have to get dressed. And I want to look good.

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Step 1: Watch clips of the show and scan my closet. See plenty of “mom-at-the-playground” duds and a couple party dresses. Try to envision myself talking to Katie in jeans.

Step 2: Spend a long afternoon in the Petite departments of a mall. Disappoint numerous saleswomen by putting things on hold and never returning. Stick to the NEW Shopping Rules laid out in The Beauty Experiment: shop twice (no impulse buys, leave the store for reflection before buying), know exactly what I want (bright-colored dress or a bright shirt with dark pants) and the seven-year rule (will I be able to wear it in my next decade?) I finally return to a store I’ve had luck with before and buy a very bright blue dress, violating my last rule: LOVE IT. The dress is just okay.

Step 3: Seek council. One girlfriend offers numerous boot options to help the dress, husband suggests pants because he feels women are always yanking at their skirts on interview shows. Think about wanting people to notice me and my book, not my dress or my boots. Remember what a professor friend of mine said about never wearing skirts to conferences where she has to sit on a panel-the distracting worry of an accidental panty flash is always there. Wish desperately that designers would QUIT with the low-rise peg-leg trousers already because they are flattering to exactly four women in the US and I’m not one of them.

Step 4: Go back to the mall. Find excellent grey pants in my size, right length, great design, for what I consider to be a staggering sum. Hover anxiously near the dressing room and discover I forgot my wallet at home. It’s either a sign from the Universe or my subconscious in overdrive. I pull my move: “Can you hold these?” and escape with my budget intact.

Step 5: Mull over shopping options… How to hit that narrow zone of groomed-but not too pretty, appealing-but not overly sexualized, professional but not too laced up? And how does one shop for this appearance ideal with a strict budget, kids tagging along, deadlines to meet and a floor that says “sweep me pleeease!”

Step 6: Back to the drawing board. Visit Redress Boston a local woman-owned consignment boutique. Marvel at how many things are in my size and how many quality items look barely worn. Assemble an entire author-in-the spotlight wardrobe in good (not perfect) condition: two blouses, a cashmere sweater, a gold lace blazer, two pairs of wide-leg trousers and shoes that retail for three figures—all for $69 less than those fancy pants.

Step 7: Return home beaming. Take train to New York. Pull on new (to me) duds, get hair advice from one of Katie’s pros and hang out backstage with intelligent, funny and inspiring women, some of whom are wearing makeup, some of whom aren’t. Get hugged by Katie who even in the dark of backstage is radiant and glorious; get mic-ed up; hear live audience clapping and freak out; get moved right; then forward and left; get warned about a big crack in the floor that I should be careful not to fall into (WHAT?) and GO! GO NOW! YOU’RE ON!

Postscript: The not-quite-right blue dress is packed with its receipt in the shopping bag, ready to be returned this weekend.

Watch Phoebe Baker Hyde’s interview on the show here!

What would YOU wear on "Katie"?