Opinion

Dress To Impress review – the horror-filled dating show that won't go out of style

This dating show might seem vacuous, but it speaks of deep, universal truths, says Lucy Sweet

Image: Shutterstock

When you’ve been married for 150 years like me, dating shows can be tiresome. I still haven’t recovered from the torpor of the last series of Love Island. Once you’ve seen one girl in an upside-down bikini snogging a recruitment consultant who looks like Andrew Ridgeley next to a fire pit, you’ve seen them all. 

I’ve also never managed to fall in love at first sight with Married at First Sight, no matter how many people froth about it. And My Mum, Your Dad just seemed like a lot of knackered old people wandering around a house in bathrobes and leggings, which is a bit of a busman’s holiday, to be honest. 

Get the latest news and insight into how the Big Issue magazine is made by signing up for the Inside Big Issue newsletter

At first, I thought I must be jaded, but I think the problem with dating shows is that you cannot always rely on the couples to provide the spark. Nobody wants to watch semi-sentient Ashley from High Wycombe and dreary Amy from Stockport talking about what their favourite colour is. Unless you employ a crack team of matchmakers, the chances of finding genuine love are extremely low, so what you need is a device that acts as a distraction. Something visual and interesting, like cooking for each other (Dinner Date), taking clothes off (Naked Attraction) or putting clothes on (Dress to Impress).

Naked Attraction has a few too many alarming protuberances for my liking, and Dinner Date always features excruciatingly awkward conversations and a bloke who has never eaten a poached egg before. Dress to Impress, though, has it all. Three hopeful contestants have to choose and buy an outfit for a prospective date in order to win their heart. The date then tries on the clothes in front of their three closest friends, who judge which one most successfully captures their personal style. 

This lucky contestant gets to meet them, usually at a place well within ITV2’s budget (Wetherspoons).

I can think of many less complex and stressful ways of meeting someone, but that’s not the point. The point is that you get to watch people running desperately around shopping centres, sweating and swearing as they hunt through the rails at Burton. Glamorous girls roam aimlessly around Superdry, while nervous boys with sweaty sausage fingers paw frantically at tiny dresses in Quiz with lacy bits and cut-outs. Will he like deck shoes and a bootlace tie? (No.) Will she hate that crotchless teddy and those platform PVC boots? (Yes.) Everybody is utterly clueless, half-deranged with the agony of making the wrong choice. ‘Do these trousers go with these shoes?’ they wail, crumpling to the ground like a tired toddler in a food court. 

The best thing about Dress to Impress, though, is the horror on the faces of the people who are trying on the outfits. The men invariably look like Inspector Gadget at Next and the girls look like they’re in a window in Amsterdam. Everything is the wrong size, the wrong colour or for the wrong person. Then the date gets upset because the people who chose the clothes, who they have never met, didn’t ‘get’ them. Of course not, Sean from Burton-on-Trent who wears brown brogues with no socks! What did you expect? 

But beyond the vacuous premise, this is deep, deep, stuff. It speaks of the universal need to be seen and understood by others. And in our haste to impress, we make assumptions, and leave ourselves open to ridicule and rejection. We fail to connect with each other, or to find the right Hawaiian shirt from Primark, and in doing so, we are forced to confront the benign indifference of the universe. We are all vulnerable people, wondering whether we will ever meet someone who will appreciate us for our true selves. 

Except this lot are doing it on camera in Westfield, wearing a pair of Crocs and a ballgown. Beat that, Jane Austen.

Lucy Sweet is a freelance journalist.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Christopher Eccleston on his love affair with running: 'I always feel better after a run'
Christopher Eccleston

Christopher Eccleston on his love affair with running: 'I always feel better after a run'

Healthcare for trans youth is a human right – it should matter to us all
trans rights human rights
Chiara Capraro

Healthcare for trans youth is a human right – it should matter to us all

Sudan's year of war: How British government has failed UK residents with family in Sudan
Sudan conflict protest
Nick Beales

Sudan's year of war: How British government has failed UK residents with family in Sudan

A lifetime of playing the imitation game has reaped rewards
John Bird

A lifetime of playing the imitation game has reaped rewards

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know