In the 2000s, fashion TV was booming. Trinny and Susannah were telling us what not to wear, Gok Wan advised on how to look good naked, Paisean Faisean proposed the way to a woman's heart was through her wardrobe, and Off the Rails sought to make over much of the country.
In the US, controversial series such as The Swan showcased radical transformations involving cosmetic surgery, while Tyra Banks brought us America's Next Top Model (ANTM). Project Runway began in 2004, and spawned a wave of TV hits, including Top Chef and RuPaul's Drag Race - which features judge Carson Kressley, the "fashion savant" of the original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
But towards the end of the decade, many series started to die off, due to dwindling ratings and relevance. Perhaps it didn't help that reality shows like ANTM and The City, along with the fictional worlds of Ugly Betty and The Devil Wears Prada, depicted the industry as a fiercely hostile and bitchy one. As Heidi Klum put it in her Project Runway catchphrase: "In fashion, one day you're in… the next, you're out!"
Today, however, style shows are enjoying a resurgence - and they appear to have learned a lesson from the new breed of reality programmes ruling the airwaves. While there are still huge audiences for the likes of Love Island and the Real Housewives franchise, many of today's viewers prefer their reality TV served up as comfort food.
The Great British Bake Off has won legions of fans worldwide, providing a cosy respite from the cruelty of its peers. Room to Improve similarly championed a more wholesome kind of reality show for years, and First Dates, Gogglebox and Flirty Dancing have charmed viewers with their gentle warmth.
Netflix has seized on this niche, with home makeover show Tidying Up with Mari Kondo; Nailed It!, a baking contest for terrible cooks; and Terrace House, a largely drama-free Japanese series following a group of strangers in the same beautiful house. Yet the biggest sensation has been its revival of Queer Eye, with an all-new "Fab Five" and an all-new message: "More than a makeover."
BBC One will soon debut You Are What You Wear, its first makeover series since the days of Trinny and Susannah. Hosted by Rylan Clark-Neal, the show has bizarrely enlisted its own "Fabulous Five" - including stylist Darren Kennedy - to help members of the public "look good and feel great". The marketing emphasises that this is a feel-good show, not one where 'frumpy' women sob in fitting rooms while brutally frank hosts prod at their 'saddlebags'.
In the age of body positivity, such appraisals make for uneasy viewing - RTÉ's latest makeover series The Style Counsellors, which aired in January, earned criticism for its "outdated" discussion around weight loss in the first episode.
Such shows straddle a complicated line between empowering and critiquing their subjects, with many of fashion's ground rules (cinch the waist, elongate the leg, avoid horizontal stripes) designed to make the wearer look thinner. Style shows have struggled to reconcile the uncomfortable truth that many women, raised on conventional standards of beauty, do want to look thinner, even when they know they shouldn't.
Yet where many of Trinny and Susannah's or Gok Wan's subjects ended up looking the same (a waist belt and chunky beads proved to be an irresistible fashion formula), the BBC series promotes a diversity of styles with five different stylists: one favours edgy looks, another prefers megawatt glamour, Darren Kennedy is billed as the expert on classic tailoring, and all are determined to make fashion democratic and inclusive of all sizes.
That philosophy plays a big part in the latest slate of fashion design shows, too, with contestants that span all ages and backgrounds, and inclusive body representation on the catwalks. Fashion, these shows insist, is not an exclusive club for ultra-wealthy, ultra-thin, ultra-white women.
Tomorrow, the Project Runway duo of Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn launch their competition series, Making the Cut, with two episodes arriving each week on Amazon Prime Video. What distinguishes this show is an impressive $1m prize and the fact that audiences can shop winning looks on Amazon straight after watching them on the catwalk - a detail that can make episodes feel like an hour-long ad for the e-commerce giant.
In January, Netflix premiered Next in Fashion, hosted by Alexa Chung and Queer Eye's Tan France. The winner bagged $250,000 and the chance to stock their collection on Net-A-Porter, where some items have already sold out.
The judges evaluate contestants' ability to "run a global brand" as much as their design talents, and Making the Cut even assigns each designer a professional seamstress (as Gunn explains, "This is not a sewing competition, this is a design competition").
The commercial aspect brings greater realism to the competition: where once contestants were starry-eyed amateurs, almost all of those on Next in Fashion and Making the Cut have their own labels. The focus has shifted from fashion fantasy to business savvy - Making the Cut asks its contestants to design a "runway" look and an "accessible" look for each challenge, which are rigorously critiqued for their selling potential by Naomi Campbell, Carine Roitfeld and designer Joseph Altuzarra.
It marks an interesting shift, swapping bitchiness for business. The contestants are more likely to help with last-minute sewing than attempt workroom sabotage, and although Campbell can still be relied on to deliver biting assessments of unsatisfactory designs, the judges are obsessed with "real women" and wearable clothes.
Where these competitions consistently faltered was in their failure to create real fashion stars, with the exception of Christian Siriano, who won Project Runway's very first season. The prize money may get a label started, but the exposure from these episodes and a collection sold on Amazon is unlikely to turn anyone into the next Altuzarra.
Reality TV allows fashion insiders to connect directly with the viewing public, giving an opportunity to rehab the industry's elitist reputation. Yet in order to do that, they need to be engaging. And unfortunately, with little drama, uninspiring "accessible" designs and unfailingly polite contestants, they fall flat.
Next in Fashion tries to force a storyline when a guest judge walks out, leaving host Tan France in tears. In Making the Cut, Klum recognises the competition is too "snoozy" and attempts to liven things up with a seven-hour challenge deadline. Ultimately, though, the stakes feel oddly low. When a contestant shrugs that it's time to go home, you shrug along with them. There is no nail-biting suspense, no gasp-inducing fashion moment, no stand-out hero to root for because there areno villains.
In a period of quarantine, we'll watch just about anything, but under normal circumstances, the new guard of fashion shows will need to pull their Gucci socks up if they want to cut through the noise.