Gok Wan: How to Look Good in a Pandemic, Plus His Tips for Finding the Perfect Wedding Dress

You’ll know Gok Wan – odds are, you mum probably loves him as the chap from the early 2000’s How to Look Good Naked, and you’ll love him from the UK’s version of the hit franchise Say Yes to the Dress. He’s the guy you want in your corner if you’re having wardrobe doubts, body image issues or a crisis of confidence, with decades of styling, reassuring and consoling women under his belt. Now, the stylist is back with his signature warmth and candour in the second season of Say Yes to the Dress: Lancashire and he shares his highlights of the season, his tips for getting through Covid-19 in style, and what he really thinks of those bloody opinionated bridal salon entourages.

Gok, what are some of your key guidelines to finding the perfect dress for a bride?

I think it’s a combination of many different things. I think, number one, you have to open up your opinion. Because, often, when you walk into a boutique you’ve collected all these different images over the last 10, 20, 30, 40 years of thinking about this dress that might not actually exist. I think this happens because it’s a combination of so many different things that you’ve seen in the past. 

It’s almost like choosing all of your favourite foods, and putting them in a bowl and mixing them together, it’s likely to be disgusting. So you have to go in with a very, very open mind and be willing to accept the fact that actually your opinion may change. 

I think you also have to think about your body shape. I’m not ever going to tell a bride she needs to lose weight or have plastic surgery or do something to find her perfect body, so you have to work with what’s there already, I think that’s also really important. You really have to feel comfortable in your dress. There’s no point in finding a dress that, on the hanger, is your dream gown and that’s what you want to look like, but when you put it on you can’t move or you can’t breathe properly or dance!

The dress needs to work with your day as well. So, you know, it needs to be able to stand well; it needs to be able to photograph well; it needs to be able to move well; fit well; it needs to do all of those things. So there’s a real combination of what goes into the perfect gown. I think that’s probably the hardest thing for a bridal stylist – to convince the bride it’s not just about the aesthetic, it’s not just about your dream lace from Paris, it’s about how the dress that works with your body and feels amazing.

What problems have you encountered with entourages in the past?

They’re all perfect. I would never want an entourage to be wallflowers. I would never want them not to have an opinion – then there’s no point in having them there. It’s really important that we hear from them and we want to see their personalities. It’s fun, you know, and from my point of view, if I had a sofa full of entourage that just were just going to say yes to everything that I did, and say yes to what the bride did, there would be no point in them being there – we could have cardboard cut-outs!

I really do think that every single one of those entourages is perfect. They’re just as important to the show as I am, or the dresses are, or the bride is. You know, they are a huge contributing factor because they know the bride inside out. They have either lived with them, or they’re best friends with them, or they gave birth to them and they know their personalities. So, they’re an incredible tool for me to get to know the bride even better. Even when they argue with me or argue with the bride, I still love them, because I love the honesty!

Bwalya with Gok Wan in dress 1.

Have you got any tips for people who want to dress up but can’t find any inspiration within the lockdown they’re in at the moment?

I think you just have to go with how you feel. If you want to spend the next three months in sweat pants and t-shirts, then just do it. However, it’s not what I want to do. I take the time every day to do my hair, pop on a bit of fake tan, to get dressed up, because it makes me feel better. I guess what I say to a lot of people during this pandemic is maybe use this time; if you are interested in fashion, if you do want to get a bit dressed up, if you want to feel a bit better about yourself, then give it a go, and maybe use this time as a bit of a dress rehearsal. 

Maybe use this time to edit your wardrobe, get rid of everything that doesn’t fit any more, give the stuff to charity that you’re never going to wear again. Sort out and then start putting looks together, and then start rehearsing them, start putting them on. I think it doesn’t matter whether you’re sitting watching the television or doing the gardening, it absolutely doesn’t matter. You know, clothing is massively important, it’s a huge way of communicating with the world and just because we’re in lockdown doesn’t mean you still can’t communicate.

What can fans expect from this new season of Say Yes to the Dress: Lancashire?

I think that what the beauty of Say Yes to the Dress: Lancashire is within two seasons it’s formed a really beautiful, reliable format. You know that you are going to get laughter, you’re going to get tears, you’re going to get gorgeous dresses and most importantly you’re going to get the human story. So I don’t know whether there’s anything new to expect – there’s just all the stuff that you love already. 

I always use food as metaphors for work because I love food and in my eyes Say Yes to the Dress: Lancashire is like a good roast dinner; you have it probably once a week or once a fortnight and although you always have the same stuff, you don’t love it any less! I think if we changed it around too much, then I think it might be trying to mix, you know, a curry with your roast beef; I just don’t think it would work! 

Are there many tear-jerk moments in this new season?

Every single episode, there should be at least one of them. I think the beauty of SYTTD is the fact that we discuss the human story in its rawest form, because everyone can seem to relate. So, whether you’re a man, a woman; you’re going to wear a dress, you’re not going to wear a dress; you’re gay, straight; black, white, it doesn’t matter, we can all relate to the human story. At the end of the day, the brides are arriving not just to buy a dress for their wedding day, they’re arriving to tell their story of how they got there. 

So, they may be an Olympian, and we discuss that. It may be a same-sex wedding, and so we discuss the traumas of doing that. It might be a relationship between a mother and a daughter but at the end of the day they are all human stories. I think that because of that, there should be tear-jerking moments in every single episode. I also think if you sit and watch the show, not just for the dresses, but you listen to the human story, then I think that you will find your emotions in it. I mean, I do every single day at work and I love it, because I think that people are the most interesting things on this planet.

Were there any standout brides that you felt a special connection with or an affinity towards?

Yeah. I think all of them, actually. It’s very difficult for me, because I don’t ever disregard the very powerful position that I’m in. I believe anybody that’s in a position of where somebody comes to them for help is in a position of great power. I think it would be very, very unkind and I don’t think it would be particularly nice to favour a bride, to say this story is bigger than another person’s, because every single one of them affects me in a different way on a personal level. 

Sure, some brides are easier to work with, and some brides you leave and you spend the entire night thinking about their story, but, they’re all equally important, and they’re all significant, and that’s why they’re there to tell their story. I’ve got an incredible casting team who finds the most interesting people from all over the country. It’s such an amazing position and therefore I couldn’t possibly choose one bride beyond another.

What is your favourite thing about working with so many inspirational women?

I think I’m the luckiest person in the world because I get to learn about myself every day. I say this because every single time a bride or an entourage tells me a story, I have to find somewhere in my life that I can relate to that story. Often these stories come with huge resolutions that are brought on by guidance. I learn about me every single day on the back of that guidance. I know that is selfish and probably bordering on narcissistic, but for me, I go to work and I learn about who I am as a person. It’s honestly such a great place to be in and I am forever grateful for it.

What would be your dream wedding suit?

My dream wedding suit? Do you know what, I wouldn’t wear a suit actually! I’ve thought about this. I have thought about the day that I finally get married, and I don’t think I’d wear a suit. I think I’d probably go a little bit left of centre.I dream of the large wedding with the amazing food, the gorgeous flowers and all my friends and family there. 

However, I don’t really think about what I’m wearing because that’s my job, that’s what I do for a living, it’s truly is the last thing on my mind. I think I would probably cobble something together from what I’ve already got in my wardrobe. It really doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t bother me what I would wear, because for me, it’s more about celebrating the day with my family. I think there are quite a few people out there that feel that way!

What have you been doing during lockdown?

What have I been doing? I’ve been working flat-out. I’ve been one of the un-furloughed people of the world, so I’ve been literally so busy with many different projects and sorting things out, I’ve also been DJing online and doing quite a lot of charity work. It’s just been incredibly busy! The hardest thing at the moment for me is that from 09.00 until 18.00, I am not in lockdown because I’m working, and then as soon as 18.00 comes, I’m in lockdown, like the rest of the world. I think for that reason it’s been quite tough. Having said that, I thank my job because I think I probably would have gone a little bit nuts myself if I was sitting at home waiting for this to end.

What are you most looking forward to doing after lockdown is over and the world goes back to normal?

Oh my God, please don’t do this to me! This is flirting with all of my emotions now. I want to be in a park. I want to be in a restaurant. I want to be in a bar. I want to be in a club. I want to see my family. I really want to see my family. I really want to see my friends. I want my friends to come over for dinner. I miss human contact so badly! You know, I want to hug everyone, kiss everyone. I just want everyone to be better. I’m looking forward to waking up and not thinking about corona, and that’s probably the most important thing. I’m really excited about it not being the first thing that I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about before I go to sleep.

Season 2 of Say Yes to the Dress: Lancashire premieres on TLC – Wednesdays from 2 September, at 9.25pm

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