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NEW YORK — The country’s women newscasters may get more daily exposure than A-list actresses and supermodels, but their attire isn’t usually as attention-getting.
But that’s a good thing for TV anchors, who rank credibility above sartorial flair and strive to deliver the news in a no-nonsense way. There’s a fine line between alluring and distracting, they said.
“It’s a constant balancing act,” said CNN’s Judy Woodruff. “You want to look good and stylish. You don’t want to look like you’re wearing clothes from a decade ago. On the other hand, you can’t be so style-conscious that it detracts from your work. You can’t stand there talking about Iraq or the war on terror wearing some ultra-stylish something.”
Despite hours of story research and years of experience, like it or not, appearance comes into play. ABC commentator Donna de Varona, who in 1965 became the network’s first full-time woman television sportscaster, said, “Now if we could only have wrinkles and gray hair, we would have really have come a long way.’
Still some anchors go the designer route, such as Paula Zahn, who’s donned everything from Celine on “American Morning” to the Donna Karan dress when she emceed the fashion industry’s American Image Awards in May along with Liz Claiborne chairman and chief executive officer Paul Charron, and was photographed with Diane Von Furstenberg.
Those who flaunt it are much more likely to be scrutinized. When ABC Sports tapped Lisa Guerrero last week as the sideline reporter for Monday Night Football, there was much discussion about her coquettish pose in Maxim magazine last year.
“I’m 39 years old. For some 18-year-old college kid to come up to me and say, ‘Lisa G., you’re hot!’ — I take that as a compliment,” Guerrero said in a recent interview with ESPN.com.
It’s granted that sports broadcasting is more welcoming to a little sex appeal than the news side of the business, but some feel news anchors are showing more verve. Think Katie Couric’s bare legs and stilettos.
Jean Kilbourne, author of “Can’t Buy Me Love: How Advertising Changes The Way We Look and Feel” and the “Killing Me Softly” film series, said women never escape their appearance.
“If someone looks too good, that’s why she got the job,” Kilbourne said. “But God help her if she doesn’t look good.”
“Because of the image of authority they project, simply wearing products on air gives newscasters power other celebrities don’t have,” Kilbourne said.
Here, four national anchors explain their styles, shopping habits and on-air clothing mishaps:
Greta Van Susteren
Greta Van Susteren, an anchor on Fox News Channel’s “On the Record,” likes to wear whatever is “back from the cleaners or in [her] closet.” Attire is not a priority.
Van Susteren said: “It’s not show business and I’m not on one day a week. It’s constant, nonstop and I take calls all weekend long. I would be very concerned about an employer who didn’t hire me because of the way I dressed.”
Van Susteren declined to comment on how much Fox doles out annually for her clothing allowance, other than to say it’s not huge. Too busy to go to stores, she bought her on-air wardrobe — “very traditional, expensive” suits and a couple of silk blouses from Armani and Escada — in 17 minutes, having reps from each company visit her office. She hasn’t strayed from her fashion sense as a former trial attorney.
“Fortunately, I stay the same size,” she said. “How many suits can you have?”
Lighthearted about her appearance, Van Susteren recalled how once her bright yellow jacket and black blouse became a subject of conversation during an interview with political strategist David Gergen.
“David said, ‘Whoa, what a bright jacket’ and I told him the cameramen asked me earlier if I had a part-time job at Hertz,” said Van Susteren, adding that she was amused by the media’s interest in her plastic surgery. “You would think by the level of publicity I was the only person ever to have that done. Why are there so many plastic surgeons driving around in Mercedes Benzes? One leading newspaper asked me if I felt like I’d lost my credibility. I said, ‘Let me get this straight, because I’m honest and candid I have lost my credibility? They didn’t remove my education or experience.’”
For Daryn Kagan, an eight-year CNN anchor, suits, sweaters and sweater sets fit the bill, since she works mornings, which is slightly more casual than evening reporting.
Before making the transition to news, Kagan worked in sports for three years. Though she said CNN generally gives its anchors autonomy in terms of dress, she did work with a stylist when she made the move to news. For her, dressing comes down to credibility. “I just keep in mind that this is a visual medium. Sometimes it’s a pain, but it’s part of what you signed up for,” Kagan said. “If you don’t take your clothes seriously, why should your viewers take you seriously?”
Kagan said she’s never had an executive tell her not to wear something. Instead, she anchors under the watchful eye of her mother, who once e-mailed Kagan while on set with a subject line reading “New Outfit Alert.”
If she were to describe CNN’s style versus other networks, Kagan said there’s less flash than other stations. In general, CNN anchors are not allowed to accept any gift over $25, so expensive suits from designers are out of the question.
“When you get up, you don’t know what story you’ll be doing that day,” said Kagan. “As you can see, the Middle East could erupt and you could go international, so you have to come dressed ready to go.”
For NBC correspondent and “Today” show news anchor Ann Curry, finding TV-friendly clothes takes work.
“Matt Lauer once told me a dress I was wearing would be better on a couch,” said Curry, noting she thought he was only half serious. “When I first started, I put things on that I thought I should wear. Over the years, I have found an on-air style that I feel comfortable with. I think in news, you don’t want your clothes to get in the way of what you’re doing. I don’t even wear necklaces anymore and rarely change earrings.”
Curry said she’s drawn toward crisp, button-up blouses and slimming suits in rich colors such as navy blue and deep red. She’s never been told to tone down her look, nor to spruce it up, and doesn’t have a clothing budget. She arrives at the show studio around 5 a.m., looks over the schedule and then selects that day’s outfits from a small closet on the show’s set.
“I like thinking about what is on the program that day,” Curry said. “If we’re doing a lot of funerals, then I want to wear black. If the lead story is about something a little less serious or we’re doing something fun, you feel you can wear yellow.”
Since Curry doesn’t work with a stylist, finding time to shop for work clothes can be a challenge, especially in hectic news periods. During the war in Iraq, Curry went to the Middle East for three weeks to cover the conflict.
When she does find the time, Curry can be found shopping at Bergdorf Goodman or Barneys New York, though much of the merchandise at Barneys is a little too fashion-forward for TV, she said, so it ends up being worn for personal use. Searle, J. Crew and shirts from Thomas Pink also make her shopping list. While she likes wearing suits, they’re hard to find, she said, noting that Piazza Sempione tends to fit her well. (“Tina Brown and I were both talking about how we liked Piazza Sempione.”) And she’s recently started shopping at Prada, despite the steep prices.
“I was more of a grunge kid in high school and college,” Curry said. “What I’ve come to conclude in these years is that you want to make a good impression. It’s the same sort of thinking when you go visit someone’s home: you don’t want to walk in sloppy.”
Overall, Curry’s goal is to find the right thing to wear for what she’s talking about that day without distracting the audience. After the three hours delivering the news, however, Curry said she can be found in a pair of Swedish clogs and a great pair of jeans.
Typically anchors stay away from prints or designs such as checks, plaids and florals, according to CNN’s Washington anchor Judy Woodruff, who also hosts “Inside Politics” and “Live From Washington.”
Those same restrictions carry over into hairstyles and jewelry, so the mantra is basically to look appropriate. Woodruff works on several sets with different backgrounds and color schemes, so darker colors tend to be the most versatile. She frequently asks producers, lighting directors or assistants if her look works with the set. Woodruff also wears a wireless box for her microphone clipped to the back of her waistband, so jackets conceal it nicely, she said.
“On one set, I’m sitting in front of the control room and on another I’m standing in front of a plasma screen, so with certain blues, I can look like I’m part of the screen,” said Woodruff. “You generally don’t wear white, but on the other hand, the palette has changed over the years. Color is more acceptable now.”
However, Woodruff said she was very conscious during the war to wear darker colors.
“There were three weeks during the war where I made a point of wearing black or navy. Red, pink or anything bright just didn’t make sense when there was so much grim news.”