When fashion experts Stacy London and Clinton Kelly ambush the next unsuspecting person this Thursday night on their TV show "What Not To Wear,” West Hartford residents may be surprised to see a familiar face.
This week’s episode of the popular cable TV show features Simona Dalin, who grew up on Parsons Drive and graduated from Watkinson School before relocating with her family from West Hartford to Silver Spring, MD 10 years ago.
The daughter of Atty. Hilary Dalin and Dr. David Dalin, who was a professor at the Greenberg Center at the University of Hartford for several years, Simona, 24, is now working in a lab at M.I.T. and applying for Ph.D. programs in biology.
Dressing fashionably has not been a priority for the brainy budding scientist.
“I’ve always tended to wear t-shirts and baggy clothes, even dressing down for work in the lab in case I spill something,” said Simona in a phone interview with Patch from her office in Cambridge, MA. She could arrive dressed for work in pajamas, she said, and no one would notice or care.
While watching “What Not to Wear” one night with her roommates, her friends joked they were going to submit her name as a potential participant on the long-running show, famous for transforming people from “dowdy to dashing.”
Surreptitiously, Simona’s roommates filled out an application suggesting the petite (5”1’, size 4-6) Brandeis University grad appear on the show.
Shortly after, the producers responded favorably and set in motion a grand plan to “ambush” Simona and unknowingly get her to the TLC studio in Manhattan.
One day early last summer, when visiting a science museum in Liberty, NJ with her cousin, Simona was shocked to find a robot behind her spouting the words: “Wardrobe reboot.” All of a sudden, she was surrounded by cameras, friends and family, and the hosts of the show.
A week later, Simona was off to New York City, two suitcases filled with her clothes. Stacy and Clinton reviewed her wardrobe and discarded almost everything, letting her keep just a few favorite t-shirts and jeans.
From Sunday through Thursday, Simona was kept busy each day shopping for new clothes and filming the show.
“They sent me off shopping, but I had no idea what I was doing,” laughed Simona, who said she eventually learned about different styles of blazers and that sweaters are often called cardigans.
As a modern Orthodox Jewish woman, Simona dresses modestly, covering a sleeveless dress with what she now knows is a cardigan, for example.
“Stacy and Clinton were very helpful with that,” noted Simona, who said the hosts were respectful of her religious beliefs.
After selecting an entirely new wardrobe, it was time to work on her hairstyle and makeup.
Simona hardly ever wears makeup, and as for hair – well, that was a problem area, she said. Her hair is frizzy and hard to tame. She told hair stylist Ted Gibson she once had an Afro and preferred not to have one again. But when he finished styling her hair, it was an Afro once again.
“My hair is very big,” said Simona. “I said no Afro. But in hindsight, it was the best haircut I ever had in my life.”
As for the makeup, she said she felt like a “Barbie doll” after the session with artist Carmindy. Simona still doesn’t wear much makeup, but she did learn some tips on how to apply the makeup she took home after filming.
Despite what Simona called Stacy and Clinton’s “big personalities,” she noted they are “very, very nice” and understood her well, zeroing in on her tastes.
“Everything they picked for me was bright, vibrant, and quirky and that’s my personality,” she said.
So what else did she learn from this experience?
Simona said now she dresses more like a young professional and “looks more put together.”
“I really like the clothes I got,” added Simona.
At the end of her week filming, the show hosted a “makeover” party for Simona’s friends and family at a hotel in Cambridge.
“Everyone said they liked how I looked, although some people later told me they didn’t love the Afro,” said Simona, adding, “My mom was really happy. She loved how I looked.”
Sarah Gibeley, a childhood friend from their days at the Hebrew Academy of Greater Hartford, was at the "big reveal."
"After the big initial shock about her hair, I thought she looked very well put together and classy. I was glad they matured her look while keeping it modern. She still looks great," said Gibeley.
“Random people on the street have told me they like my outfits, which is definitely not something that ever happened before,” Simona continued. “Also, my friends sometimes say they like something in particular that I am wearing. Before, the best compliment I ever got would be something like, ‘oh, this is better than usual,’ or ‘whose clothes did you borrow?’”
Like the rest of us, Simona will see the show for the first time when it airs Thursday, Jan. 24, at 10 p.m. on TLC.