Deal Makers Don't Wear Plaid (Well, Maybe Warren Buffett
by Hillary Chura
A young doctor from Silicon Valley is seeking
respect. A fine-rug dealer in Houston wants to impress clients and a professor
in Manhattan hopes to establish himself in his new career. These men have joined
the quiet swell of professionals enlisting image consultants, who help them project
a fashionable, affluent presence that does not tip into slick. In some circles, shabbiness can be as grave a business transgression as licking
the knife at a power lunch. To avoid the stigma, people from executives to entrepreneurs
to everyday Joes are seeking coaching in the art of dapper dress. Tutelage covers
shopping assistance, house calls to examine the contents of closets - smelly
sneakers and all - and suggestions for skin care, hair products, eyeglasses and
Fees range from $125 an hour to $2,000 a day - and that is before a subject buys his first pair of lace-ups.
Greg Janicik, 38, the Manhattan professor, says he sought help this winter as he navigated a transition to consulting. With a Ph.D. in managerial and organizational behavior, Mr. Janicik is no cerebral slouch, but says he was stumped at what to wear. At the behest of an image consultant, he streamlined his closet, spent $3,000 on clothes and ditched his glasses for contacts or frameless specs.
"You have one shot to make an impression," Mr. Janicik said. "Clothes are a big part of that." Used to be, only the rich and fabulous indulged, and more often than not, it was women not men. But television hits like Bravo's "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" and de rigueur reimaging on morning news programs and the daytime talk circuit are edging wardrobe consultants toward the mainstream, and men, in particular. For Jane Friedman, president and chief executive of HarperCollins Publishers, the significance of apt dress cannot be overstated. "It is extremely important to be appropriate for interviews and meetings," said Ms. Friedman, who uses a personal shopper, "and if someone is inappropriately dressed, of course, it reflects on who they are. If they are going to be hired for a decision-making post, I would question that in my own mind."
Most high-end department stores offer free personal shopper, but they limit their advice to the goods sold by the stores that employ them, whereas independent wardrobe consultants provide a wider spectrum of services.
"Men are very hush-hush about it," said Elena Castaneda, an image and fashion consultant in Manhattan, adding that shows like "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" are "bringing image consultants and stylists out of the closet."
That may be so, but the Silicon Valley doctor seeking respect still felt uncomfortable giving his name, though he did allow a visitor to witness a recent image consultation. Because he is young, 34, and an anesthesiologist, his motivation for a makeover was straightforward: he said he did not want to be mistaken for an intern.
He did a Web search and found Ms. Castaneda, and he flew across the country to visit her. She met him in his room at the Mercer Hotel in SoHo. She quickly sized him up, taking inventory as she stood him in front of a full-length mirror. He stood curious at the impending transformation.
"You should smile more often," she said. "Your smile is your calling card. It says 'I'm happy, approachable.' Marla Maples taught herself to smile even when she was ordering a hot dog," Ms. Castaneda said, suggesting Crest Whitestrips for a brighter smile. She stared at his eyebrows and said he was fortunate not to have the unibrow that afflicts many men. Waxing therefore was unnecessary, but a strategic tweeze could help, she said. A different haircut would be more flattering, she said, cropping his hair with her hands to show what she meant. She told him how to make the most of shoulders, pointed out that his trousers were too baggy, and explained that less billowy sleeves would make his arms appear longer.
To his chagrin, he heard that his new $850 Loro Piana linen trousers had to go. A fine brand but too roomy, she explained. Same concept with Brioni - a high-quality label that is not cut for him. So Ms. Castaneda and her client headed to Madison Avenue and went shopping at Barneys New York. They were in the market for a spring wardrobe that was classic yet cool enough for a bachelor finally done with 27 years of schooling. At first, he could not tell if new trousers fit him or if he even liked them. Six hours and $8,000 in merchandise later, he said he was confident enough to select his own ties. Ms. Castaneda's $1,800-a-day rate was a bargain, he said, considering the bad purchases she had prevented.
"I know I needed help," he said. "People who see me at work probably know it, but it's nice to give the illusion that I've figured it out myself." Dr. Anouk Stein, for example, hired Ms. Castaneda after celebrating her 43rd birthday and in the midst of a career change from Manhattan radiologist to Phoenix medical consultant. Ms. Castaneda went through her closet, relegated 20 percent to the dust bin and teamed orphan pieces into chic ensembles. Soon Dr. Stein said she was wearing her Hermès scarves as belts and jazzing up dowdy suits with snappy separates.
"I had seen all these TV shows with people who had completely changed how they looked without any surgery, and they looked so much younger and better by the clothes they wore," she said. "I was spending a lot of money on clothes, and I didn't look a whole lot better than when I wasn't spending a lot."