Image experts help job hunters dress to impress
by Mark Tutton
Job seekers struggling with a cutthroat job market are turning to image consultants to give them an edge at interviews.
Amanda Sanders, image specialist with New York Image Consultant, told CNN that her clients used to be mostly divorcees or single people wanting to update their look. She says that these days around half of her clients are looking to boost their careers. "Now the job market is more competitive people want to invest in themselves and improve their game," Sanders told CNN. "Employers aren't just looking for a skill set, it's a complete package, including the presentation," Sanders said. But it's not just in style-conscious New York that workers are fretting over their appearance.
Gabrielle Teare, a London-based personal stylist, told CNN that her clients include bankers who have been made redundant or are concerned about losing their job, while in Toronto, image consultant Lynda Jean told CNN she has clients who worry they're not given the same respect as their colleagues simply because of their appearance.
When it comes to job interviews, the style experts have no doubts that image counts. "Research has shown time and time again that first impressions are made within 10 seconds of meeting someone," said Jean. "We all make assumptions in the first 10 seconds of meeting somebody and they include that person's level of education, social standing, economic status, and how well they will do in the future. "You only have one chance to make a good first impression and we live in a shallow world where we can benefit by looking good."
So how do you dress to impress at an interview? It may sound obvious, but, male or female, wear a suit. While the amount you should spend on a suit depends on your salary, Teare says it pays to splash out on quality. "To pull off a really good look you need to spend more money and view it as an investment," Teare told CNN. She said men's clothes tend to be cheaper than women's, so women have to spend more to compete. In fact, Teare says men tend to dress better than women for interviews.
"Women are reluctant to spend a lot of money on an interview suit because they view it as something they would wear once, whereas a man would see it as something they could wear to work and get a lot of use out of," said Teare.
But Teare says men often get carried away when it comes to colors. "Don't wear a gray suit or a pink shirt with a yellow tie. Stick to a black or navy suit and a white or pale blue shirt," she said. It's not enough to have a smart suit and matching colors -- when it comes to making a good first impression it's the details that count. Hair should be neatly cut, nails well scrubbed and shoes polished. "I've heard stories where CEOs and VPs have told human resources that if any men walk into a first interview wearing rubber-soled shoes, not to have them back," said Jean.
For women, there are more details to worry about. "Hemlines shouldn't be too high, and necklines not too low," said Sanders. "Footwear should be appropriate, accessories not to flashy, and perfume not too overwhelming." The image experts agree that knowing you look good builds confidence, and that confidence will be apparent to interviewers. Sanders told CNN, "It's not just about the exterior, but when you feel great about the exterior it resonates. It opens more doors and people feel more secure about going for certain jobs."
Do you need a style consultant?
by Agnes Le Nart
"I don't like shopping," says Busser, a Boston-area corporate speaker and trainer. "I don't think I am particularly good at it. And yet it is important in my work to look really put together."
So about a year ago she hired Ginger Burr, president of Total Image Consultants, to help upgrade her look.
"Ginger's fee was less than the cost of buying the one 'bad' suit that I would probably have chosen without her help," Busser says.
The makeover has been a staple on daytime talk shows for years, but reality television programs like TLC's "What Not to Wear," Bravo's "Tim Gunn's Guide To Style" and most recently Lifetime's "How To Look Good Naked" are spreading the word about how style consultants can help everyday people like Busser get out of their style rut.
Like the stars of these shows, real-life style consultants will spend time paring down an unsuitable wardrobe. Then they'll show a client exactly what to do with what's left, and how to integrate new purchases into what they already own.
"People come to us for a number of reasons, but the overlying theme is that they want to be better seen, heard and understood," says Robin Baab, creative director at The Image Studios, based in Chicago. "We work with everyone from students to rock stars, stay-at-home moms and CEOs.
Help for the rest of us
January is a natural time for people to seek a makeover, says TIC's Burr.
"Right after the new year there does tend to be a wave of interest -- either people who've made a new year's resolution to update their image and are trying to get back on track after the holidays or they've received a makeover as a gift," she says.
The growing popularity of makeover shows on television is a boon for business, too.
"These shows often help women realize that everyone can look good, it's just a matter of making wise choices," Burr says, "Of course, most of them want the help without exposing themselves to millions of viewers."
Shopping days with Burr usually run two to three hours and cost $160 per hour, in addition to the cost of clothing; other consultants interviewed charge similar fees.
Burr is open to working within a fixed budget, even finding things on sale for her more cost-conscious clients. Most image-consulting firms have hair and makeup experts on staff, or can put you in touch with some, to complete a makeover for a similar fee.
You don't have to hire a consultant to help you choose a new look, however. Many stores offer such services as well.
"As Americans, we generally have a lot of clothing but not necessarily great wardrobes," says Jose Parron, director of the Image Studio at Barneys New York.
"Some people love to shop and they can buy great things, but sometimes they have trouble putting it all together. I take my clients from where they are to where they want to be."
At their first meeting, Parron brought client Dorothy Rabinowitz a black jacket that she fell in love with on the spot. "It was as if he'd read my mind," she says.
As Parron went through her closet, "I heard a lot of 'You can't wear this, you can't wear that'," says Rabinowitz, a writer and editor at "The Wall Street Journal." "But he also ended up putting together a number of new outfits with things I'd already owned but didn't know how to wear."
He also managed to get her to wear high heels after decades of living in flats.
There's no charge for taking advantage of the magic touch of personal shoppers at Barneys New York and most other major U.S. department stores. However, you should be prepared to spend a substantial amount of money on clothes. "It's an expensive investment but it's certainly worth it," says Rabinowitz.
Where to start
To find an image or style consultant, ask around: Rabinowitz heard about Parron through her personal trainer.
"Most of my clients come to me by word of mouth, referred by friends or co-workers," says Amanda Sanders, a stylist with New York Image Consultants.
If you're still unsure about a company's credentials, you can ask them to put you in touch with some existing clients to get a feel for how others rate the experience.
Most importantly, be open to change, but make sure you choose someone you're comfortable with and can trust. "Change is hard and personal change is even tougher," says Parron. "You do it when you're ready."
Also, personal shoppers work only at their store and may earn a commission from what you buy.