In early February, Netflix unleashed its eight-episode season of Queer Eye, a more nuanced, emotionally resonant reboot of the early-aughts makeover show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
Generally, the initial critical response was pretty skeptical of bringing Queer Eye back in 2018 — but it seems that even the grumpiest of grumps have been won over by the new Fab Five.
Mic recently chatted with U.K. native Tan France — Queer Eye’s resident fashion expert —about the response to the show, what it’s like having thousands of strangers ask him about his salt-and-pepper coif and whether he gave anyone a makeover he regrets.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Mic: How has life been since the show came out?
Tan France: Nobody could have prepared me for what the feeling is since the show has aired. The response from the public and the press has been overwhelmingly amazing.
First of all, my Instagram blew up and I was very happy about that. I managed to get 75,000 followers in a week, which is insane. And I’ve gotten literally tens of thousands of DMs — and that’s the nicest part, actually. There have been DMs from all over the world... people from all over the world have been saying how much they love the show, how much they resonate with us, what we’re talking about and that it’s like nothing they’ve ever seen before. Reality TV is usually not reality. It’s scripted, fake BS.
This is the first [example] I’ve seen where we say what we want to say. We’re very loud gay men. We’re very opinionated gay men. And we say what we want to say whether the producers like it or not.
That’s one thing about this show that feels very different from the original series: You guys get to make crude sex jokes and drop the F-bomb. It doesn’t feel too sanitized.
TF: We weren’t trying to make crude jokes! Me and the boys are so freakin’ close that they are my brothers for life. And they’re the kinds of jokes you make with your friends. We’re real — it’s a real show.
In another interview you said you were anxious about appearing on camera. Is it weird having people suddenly messaging you, asking how you do your hair?
TF: I’ve had so many bloody DMs about the hair, I can’t even tell you. I get two questions more than anything. I get a lot about my clothes, but that’s more in my comments. The DMs I get are always, “What the heck is your accent? Where is it from? I can’t pinpoint it.” And that’s usually from U.K. people. The second one is, “What’s with your hair?”
Well, what are the answers to those questions? We can help spread the word.
TF: I’ve been traveling to the U.S. for nine and a half years now. For six of those years, I lived in the U.S. for six months every year. And for the last three and a half years I’ve lived in the U.S. But before then I was born and raised in South Yorkshire, and lived in London and Manchester for a while. And I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the U.K., but we have very different accents depending on what part of the country you’re from. It can be 20 minutes away and you sound nothing like the other person. So it’s hard to differentiate. So my English accent is split between London, Yorkshire and Manchester. And then my inflection has changed so much because I’ve been in America so much that now I go up at the end of every one of my sentences and every sentence sounds like a question — which is infuriating for British people.
As for my hair, I don’t know what it is. People think I’ve got highlights. I don’t. This is my natural color. I’m just getting old. And I’ve had a very stressful 10 years. How I [style] it is I blow-dry it every day and that’s what gives it the height, and I use pomade. It’s so simple. Easiest thing in the world. It takes not even 10 minutes — five to 10 minutes maximum. And most days I don’t even do it. What you see on camera the majority of the time, I haven’t done my hair. I just wake up and it looks like that.
When you were working on the show and styling these men, are there any outfits that you look back on and think, “In five years, that’s going to look really outdated?”
TF: I try and put people in things that will stand the test of time to a certain extent. You can never stand the test of time completely. Obviously, it’s clothing and it’s always going to change — however, I want it to stand the test of time where in five years it should still look decent. Every few years you should change some of the clothes you’re wearing to be more time appropriate.
However, there’s only one episode where I cringe when I watch it because of what I put him in. And you’re the only person I’ve said this to, but I’m going to explain why.
On Fridays when we’re [filming the makeover reveal] and the goodbye, we all have to do our [individual] scenes and our group scenes within a day. We’ve got, like, eight hours because they have to continue filming the guy when he meets up with his family, friends — whatever that scene is. Every one of us five only have an hour to film our segments, and I’m always last. On the first week, I was really quiet, I was really shy and nervous about doing the show, and I didn’t know the power I had to be able to say, “No, that’s not what we’re doing; I want to do this instead and we need to find more time.”
So, the first episode we shot was with Tom [the 57-year-old who appears in the first episode]. What you see me put him in is a suit, which I’m more than happy with. But then I put him in shorts, a T-shirt and a shirt. What got cut out was that I was meant to have two casual looks — that was the plan when we first started shooting the show. The first one is always meant to be a version of what he normally wears, an elevated version of what he wears. So, he always wears shorts and a T-shirt. I was trying to give him the best version of that possible.
And then, [I’m supposed to give him another outfit that is more] appropriate for him. However, we didn’t have time because everyone else had used more time. So, I only had 40 minutes and I had to rush through my recording of my scene and they said, “Tan, that’s the last look,” and I stood there and got really emotional and I was going to cry and I said, “Please, this is the first episode and I can’t leave him in shorts and a T-shirt, please don’t do this.” And they’re like, “We’ve run out of time, Tan, sorry that’s it, we’ve got to wrap.” Then they said, “It’s fine, we’ll just keep the suit in the episode, and we won’t keep the shorts look” — and then they kept the shorts look. And I’m mortified. But that’s the only one I look back on and I’m like, “Oh god, people think that’s what I think is appropriate for a [57-year-old] man.”
I remember when I watched the first episode with my roommate, she remarked that she didn’t think that look was appropriate for him, but I didn’t hate it. I thought it was kind of quirky and fun.
TF: Well, you’re very sweet but really, your housemate was right. But all the other ones I’m really proud of because they’re appropriate for the men that I was helping. This was never about my agenda and I made that very clear when I got the job. I said, “I won’t put them in something I don’t feel comfortable putting them in. I don’t want to force what I think is appropriate down their throats. I want to put them in something that makes sense for their lives and for their budgets,” and I think that we did a really good example of that.
The best example of that is the Target scene with [Bobby], the religious guy that’s got six children. There’s been a couple of stylists who have reached out via DM to make a couple of mean comments saying, “Ew, you took him to Target? Why would you ever take someone to Target for shopping?” and I don’t respond to those comments on my DMs, but I want to be able to tell everybody that was actually, in my opinion, a really fucking good decision.
This guy has no spare time, he works two jobs, so when he has free time he goes and gets groceries. He gets groceries from Target. Why not kill seven birds with one stone? Get your grooming stuff, your household appliances and your clothes while you’re getting your groceries. You don’t have any extra time, why am I going to send him to the mall? And he also had a limited income — so it’s episodes like that, scenes like that that I’m actually most proud of, because it shows what the show represents. This isn’t a makeover show, it’s a make better show.
Along that same line of thinking, I think a lot of people my age who don’t have a ton of money to spend know to go to places like H&M, Uniqlo or Asos, but are there any other great places to buy everyday staples that you don’t think get as much recognition as they deserve?
TF: Primark does a really good job of really stylish clothing for a really good price. However, my go-to for anybody who says they don’t have a ton of disposable income but still want to look trendy is Asos. And most people don’t seem to know about it. Most of the people I speak to have no idea what it is. I know the quality isn’t the best, but it’s trend-driven, so you’re not going to want to wear it after a year anyway, so I think it’s worth it for what you’re getting.
Within the context of the show it’s obvious that you’re going to be making them over — or making them better, as you say — so you didn’t have to be too careful about critiquing their style; what advice would you give to someone who’s interested in helping their significant other or a friend upgrade their style without hurting their feelings?
TF: OK, I’m going to give myself props here real quick, because it’s something I think I do well and I have done well in the past. And I know this is why I got the job — because we go through this process where we do like, a mock make-better during the interview. And one of the things they liked about me is that I don’t love a bitch-fest. I’m not there to rip anyone down.
The way I go about it is by saying, “You have this which I don’t think is great for you for x, y and z. However, you also have this, which makes sense for you.” So, it’s not about saying, “All of this is wrong.” You highlight what’s great: “You’ve got these things in your closet that work very well, so why are you wearing these things that aren’t great?” I focus on the things I like and say, “Do more of that, get more of that and let’s get rid of all this other stuff.”
Nobody needs scruffy clothes in their closet. There’s no reason for it. Just keep the things you actually like and that you feel good in.
Looking forward, assuming you get renewed for a second season, what do you hope the second season tackles that you didn’t get a chance to the first time around?
TF: On the whole, I think we managed to tackle everything I wanted to. I’m looking forward to even more open conversations. I think we touched on real issues to an extent, but I think we can go farther.
I do want to be able to take on other clients, not just straight men and gay men. I would love to see a woman or a trans person or somebody who’s gender-fluid.
Right, the original show was just gay men making over straight men. Do you think there is space in the future for there to be a woman contestant on the show — or a female member of the Fab Five?
TF: Not a member of the Fab Five, because that means one of my brothers or I have to leave and that’s a no. [Laughs] That’s a real hard pass. However, as far as — we call them “heroes,” or “heroines” in the future, hopefully — there’s absolutely room to have a woman or a trans person or anybody that wasn’t represented in the first season.
Also, I would love — it probably isn’t possible because it would cost a fortune — I would love to do a season that’s outside of the U.S. I know this was a U.S. season, but this is a fully global show. There’s no reason why in the future we couldn’t do at least part of a season elsewhere.
Do you have any dream locations in mind?
TF: I would love Europe or Eastern Europe. Also, possibly the Middle East. We’d probably get into a lot of trouble, but even somewhere like India. It doesn’t have to be the Arab Middle East, but somewhere in India or Asia [more generally] would be incredible.
Again, because it’s not just making over their appearances — it’s giving them a version of their lives they haven’t been able to have before. It’s giving them a chance at a better life, hopefully. That would be incredible.