You're Busted, Fashion Felon

South Florida has its own, sometimes-flawed, dress code. Love our flip-flops, cleavage excites us, and minidresses never get passé. But some local staples are just unforgivable. Especially if you're trying to live up to the rigorous standards of style guru Clinton Kelly, cohost of TLC's hit TV show What Not to Wear.

The dapper gent with the baby-blue peepers hosted a fashion show at the Galleria Mall's Macy's in Fort Lauderdale last week. Kelly's models were full-figured women, but the audience came in all shapes and sizes. Kelly himself emerged in a striped purple dress shirt, gray blazer, and blue jeans. Look and learn, rumpled dolts.

Kelly is a giver. He talks a mile a minute, packing as much insider info as possible into the hourlong encounter. He explains how the producers of the show sort of cheat to achieve those fabulous makeovers on the boob tube. Secret number one: Every woman on the show goes for a professional bra fitting; lifting "the girls" above the elbows does wonders. Secret number two: Shapewear. The ladies are squeezed into girdles. Secret number three: Tailoring. Half the outfits on the show have been nipped and tucked somewhere. Secret number four: Quantity. The ladies try on hundreds of outfits to find seven final looks and 20 pairs of jeans to get a single hot pair.

Kelly also reveals that the crew shoots an hour of footage for every minute the viewers see on TV. And that he keeps in touch with probably 100 of the 240 people that he and cohost Stacy London have transformed on the show. His favorite emails from former guests go something like this: "Hey Clinton! Remember that chump I was dating when I did the show? Dumped him."

Kelly is also an entertainer. He yanks a frumpily dressed woman out of the front row for some laughs. As she rises, Tailpipe catches a glimpse of a wide, middle-aged bum. Her faded black spandex workout pants are stretched so tight that the threads on the back seam cut a visible vertical line down her tush. Just the sort of effect that Kelly and London like to turn, with a little attention to sartorial detail, into curvalicious booty.

She gives her name as Candy. Kelly swiftly brands Candy's outfit as "not so sweet." The 'Pipe, for all of his sympathy for the plucked-from-the-crowd example, reluctantly agrees. Poor Candy cringes as Kelly ruthlessly dissects the rest of her "look": a long-sleeved T-shirt that hugs the soft rolls on her belly and a pair of black Crocs. It's the shoes, maybe appropriate for an afternoon of gardening, that put Kelly over the edge.

"You came to see Clinton Kelly wearing Crocs?!" snapped the onetime fashion-mag editor.

Women in the audience scatter across Macy's after the fashion show. Several scoop up the red satin number that Kelly labeled the "perfect holiday dress." Credit cards fly out of wallets. The ladies don't even bother to try on the recommended garments. Maybe they trust his taste that much. Or, maybe, they wanted a copy of his book Freakin' Fabulous, which was free with any purchase over $100.

Not everyone is impressed by the straight-talking TV host. "He loves to say his own name, don't he?" a Macy's saleswoman snips to a coworker after the show. "He must think he's all that. He just gives some general advice and makes all that money?"

Tailpipe gets in line with the fans to ask Kelly to describe the most hideous outfit he has seen so far in Fort Lauderdale. First off, Kelly says, he passed up Broward's little seaside town for more extravagant environs in South Beach. "There's so much tacky stuff down there." He cringes as he describes a guy in sweatpant cutoffs he spotted during breakfast on Lincoln Road.

"It was just gross, and he thought he was so cool... I'm always amazed at how dressed down people will get. Why? Why do you have to look like you just rolled out of bed?"

What about our region's love of neon? "Neon sort of isn't really in right now."

The good news, South Florida, is that in Clinton Kelly's world, flip-flops are just fine.

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Edmund Newton