You won’t be surprised to learn that the heroine of my current WIP, a young woman who’s spent her whole life passing as a monk, eventually gets found out. Shortly afterward, Reasons require her to dress and act like a lady for the first time ever. In different circumstances she’d have enjoyed it, but the stakes are high and she’s way out of her comfort zone, so she finds the experience highly stressful.
I’m having fun torturing her, though, and working on Alexis’s transformation reminded me how much I enjoy a good fictional makeover. It’s a very popular trope, so it didn’t take me long to put together a list of some favorites.
Pawn in Frankincense (Dorothy Dunnett)
I have to give Pawn in Frankincense, book four in Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles, top billing for sheer chutzpah. The heroine, Philippa, a clever and brave but physically unremarkable young English woman, voluntarily enters the harem of the Sultan of Turkey because Reasons. The women and eunechs of the harem work tirelessly to make her presentable in case the Sultan should decide to honor her with his attentions, and by the time she emerges, unsullied, she’s a triumph of hair, makeup, perfume, and wardrobe plus a few other unexpected skills. The improved Philippa is a joy to read, and (of course) the perfect match for Francis Crawford of Lymond, the brilliant, attractive, trouble-magnet hero.
Bet Me (Jenny Crusie)
One of the many wonderful things about Bet Me is that Cal, the hero, already knows that Min, the heroine, is sexy. His battle is to get Min to see past her own negative self-image, reinforced over her entire life by her weight-obsessed mother and pencil-thin sister. Cal’s a keeper, from the moment he tells Min she dresses as though she hates her body to the scene where he charms a boutique assistant into finding Min a dress to wear for her sister’s wedding rehearsal – instead of the horror chosen by her mother she wears a draped, sexy blue number that positively flaunts her assets. Love Min, love Cal, love Jenny Crusie, love Bet Me.
See Jane Score (Rachel Gibson)
This hockey romance is my all-time favorite Rachel Gibson book, and I know fellow 8L Elizabeth is also a fan. The hero is a hot hockey player (of course), and the heroine is a journalist who’s smart and funny but whose clothing choices, like Min in Bet Me, are downright unflattering. Jane tells herself it’s because there’s more life than clothes, but really – in this and other areas of her life – she’s afraid to try and fall short. When she changes her mind and enlists the help of her clotheshorse best friend (every girl should have one), the results are stellar and there’s a fabulous example of one of those classic scenes where the dowdy girl dresses up, turns heads, and knocks the hero’s socks off.
The Charm School (Susan Wiggs)
I read this book last year and had to include it here for the sheer crazysauce nature of the makeover. Plain, awkward, shy bluestocking heroine, the ugly duckling in a wealthy, accomplished Boston socialite family, runs away to sea, where she blossoms. Her transformation is effected by the boat’s motley but lovable crew who oversee her triumphant return into society, where she dazzles her spoiled, worthless former crush before rejecting him for the hot, heroic but lonely boat captain. Hair, makeup and wardrobe courtesy of matchmaking salty sea-dogs – who could resist??
There must be a million movie makeovers too. Famous ones like Pretty Woman (not that Julia Roberts was exactly ugly to begin with), and my all-time favorite, Julien Temple’s hilarious musical fantasy Earth Girls are Easy, which simultaneously celebrates and sends up the trope by sending three primary-colored hairy ape-like aliens to a California beauty salon where they are miraculously transformed into Jeff Goldblum, Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans.
What about you? Love ’em or hate ’em?
Do you have any favorites to add to my list?