reporter's notebook I've done a lot of risky things as a reporter over the years. I've knocked on doors in the sketchiest of crime-ridden neighborhoods, done midair flips with an acclaimed stunt pilot, and even let Lorena Bobbitt--famous for cutting off her husband's penis with a kitchen knife--give me a manicure using sharp instruments.
But no assignment scared me as much as asking Web fashionista William Sledd to critique the way I dress.
I'd been working on a profile about Sledd, 23, the former Gap manager from Paducah, Ky., who has become an online celebrity through his funny and frank fashion advice video series Ask a Gay Man on YouTube. One of my fellow editors--ever striving for ways to make stories more colorful--suggested I send Sledd photos of my own outfits to see what he had to say. "Yeah, right," was my first reaction. Sure, Sledd starts every video with a friendly, "Hey bitches," but he can be harsh. Here are a few of my favorite zingers:
"Mom jeans are the devil...No Uggs, they're done...The jean we hate more than anything are carpenter jeans for men." (Ask a Gay Man: Denim Edition)
"For real, why wear a toe ring? Why? Your toe does not need jewelry...I don't even understand why people wear toe rings, and they wear them like with flip-flops and there's just like a mess of clutter." (Ask a Gay Man: Summer Rant)
I eventually gave in to the fashion critique idea, in journalistic martyrdom, for the sake of the story. One of our CNET photographers took a daily snapshot of me at work for a week and I sent the photos off to Sledd and nervously awaited judgment day.
What was I so afraid of? I'm a confident, individual thinker who knows beauty is more than fabric deep. And I knew my fashion sense couldn't be too off. But I couldn't help but think of the old ladies with stiff blue hair who probably also feel they are perfectly en vogue.
Sledd, thankfully, gave me his equivalent of a fashion stamp of approval. Now, if this were anyone else, I might chalk his kindness up to the fact that I was about to write a story on him. But if Sledd is one thing, as evidenced above, it's brutally honest.
"If you were a train wreck, I would have let you know...I don't hold back at all," he said, adding that he expected much worse from a mom. "I was hoping for some overalls or a Winnie the Pooh T-shirt...You are so well put together, it's ridiculous. There's nothing bad I can say."
Sledd was a bit "apprehensive" about my peasant shirt, an item he is "not a huge fan of."
Still, I was encouraged by his overall positive feedback, so much so that when he said, "I don't know how old you are," I confidently offered, "I just turned 38." Then came Sledd's unintentional doozie:
"Yeah, I mean, my mom looks a lot worse than this sometimes," he said. (Translation: You're 38? That's so old, you could almost be my mother.)
Ouch. Maybe I should go back to crime reporting.