A number of independent studies maintain that clothing can affect a first impression dramatically. Is it possible, then, to determine how someone is paid based on what they wear? For men, the answer is nearly always yes according to a 2011 salary report from Payscale. For women, the answer is more complex: According to some studies, dress doesn’t influence higher income for women as much as it helps to ensure security in their current roles. Forbes writer Laura Sinberg warns that dressing ‘too sexy’ can make a woman seem less competent.
Regardless of your position on the data, in the spirit of the New Year I’ve invited six image consultants to share the advice they give clients on how to improve their salaries by improving their wardrobes. Each of them has helped clients make more money by wearing the optimal clothes.
Sam Russell, The Giving Closet
For the past year, Sam has provided disadvantaged women with $10,000 apiece in work and personal clothes. He’s accomplished this by convincing fashion designers and PR handlers to reroute some of the “PR Swag” they customarily give to famous people to help people in need. Here are a few of their stories:
Whether advising young starlets such as Sophia Bush, Emmanuelle Vaugier, DJ Sandra Collins before their press appearances or helping established stars to “pop” at a special event, Sam Russell has proven that women can increase their incomes with clothing, while also proving that
Sherrie Mathieson (sherriemathieson.com)
Sherrie expresses a bit of a contrarian view: “I think the theory of how well you dress being proportionate to your income is disproved in areas other than sophisticated cities such as NYC, London, Milan and Paris,” she says. “There, in pockets, beautiful attire is a language still spoken. I’ve observed men in the financial business in cities such as Phoenix, Las Vegas and LA who wore ill-fitting black suits with black shirts and silver ties or burgundy shirts with black ties, but they do extremely well.”
Perhaps their looks express a regional or personal vibe?
“They do well, I believe, because their clients don’t expect or don’t know themselves what the Madison Ave version of a properly dressed businessman would look like,” Sherrie says.
“All you need is observation to witness the fact that most men have no idea on how to dress well in a traditional business venue.”
“Men like Jamie Dimon dress fairly well, as does Sandy Weill–but when you look at Bill Gates and Warren Buffett you see two men who wear only what will get them by and get respect–conservative and boring—clothing is obviously not their focus.”
“Then there are Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs who consider jeans and hoodies or turtlenecks fine. So does it really matter? In my opinion, less and less…Prince Charles stands alone!”
Hmmm…but I would still suspect grooming counts, as well as the ability to develop a personal sense of image or style. Here’s a contrasting view:
Sandy Dumont (theimagearchitect.com)
Sandy considers the art of “Old Money” power dressing to be the key to her clients’ success. Several of her clients were hired away by a more prestigious firm (the head of a small investment firm got hired away by a bigger one) and confirmed that it was due to image changes that they got big promotions. For example, an executive working for a big bank got hired away by another bank for the position of VP.
Another man was in sales and wanted to be promoted to corporate fund-raising. With Sandy’s image help, he got the promotion. Another client was hired away from the Senator he worked for by a major PR firm, and was so successful he ultimately started his own agency. (I will share this note with my husband, of course—“See, honey, the money I spend on clothes will pay off.”)
According to Sandy, every person who gets an image makeover reports increased self-esteem and greater trust and respect after changing their image.
Here are Sandy’s specifics for men on dressing for power:
The best power colors are navy blue and dark grey. The darker the color, the higher the authority. Wear black with caution, as it can make some men look threatening, severe or too “slick.” Navy blue is the universal power color for a suit. Brown is for monks or professors, Sandy says–it’s not a power color, although it is non-threatening in general.
Choose ties carefully. Opt for stripes, small repeating patterns, dots, and Ivy League patterns. Avoid large patterns such as floral prints and geometric patterns. Avoid paisleys, as they are too feminine, Sandy says. Power colors for ties are yellow and anything in the red family, including dark red, true red, cherry red, magenta and raspberry. Red violet ties are classy and powerful, but if the tie is too dark, it won’t create enough contrast with a dark suit (that’s why it must be red violet, she says).
Some blue ties can be powerful, but only if they do not “blend in” with the suit. The tie should contrast with the suit and the shirt. White shirts are the most formal (for financial services, for example). The best colors for shirts are French Blue (not too dark) or blue and white stripes. Wear Oxford Blue only if you do not intend to remove your jacket, Sandy says. The color is too pale for light skin: you’ll blend into the shirt and look invisible. It also causes five o’clock shadow. For shoes, wear simple lace-ups such as cap toes or wing tips. Black shoes go with everything.
John Carroll (carrollandco.com)
One of John’s employees started out as a stock boy at age 16-17. This same boy, after learning how to dress properly, became a pre-eminent attorney in LA. However, most of John’s clientele come to him after already achieving a certain level of success or income. He likes to quip that “people aspire to Carroll and Co.”
Many of Carroll’s clients have been with him for 30 years or more; the company itself has been in business for 62 years. If nothing else, this alone proves the fact that dressing and grooming is a highly valuable and sought after service in LA.
Carroll drills into his employees, and also his customers, the idea that first impressions are key. Dressing for the first impression, whether it be for a job interview, a graduate interview, or a client meeting has long lasting effects. So how do you “dress for success”? According to Carroll, right now it’s the difference between wearing a three year old suit, wider shoulder, full pleated pant, and a 3 ¾ inch tie and a trimmer silhouette, flat front pants, narrow lapel, narrow pocket flap and a narrower tie that will give you the edge. And he contends there’s no such thing as being overdressed for an interview.
Heath Wells (nuorder.com)
As an employer in the fashion industry, Wells has owned fashion and music magazines. According to Wells, you should dress for your personality. What does that mean? “Everyone thinks they must wear a suit to look fashionable and proper,” he says.” In reality,” he maintains, “It depends on your job description.”
“If you are an artistic designer or producer, for example, is a suit going to help your chances of landing an interview or increase in salary? No.”
Most companies are trying to find really talented people, who have an identity, he maintains. Wells, in particular, would rather see someone dress to suit their personality. In some cases, maybe that means carrot top pants, boots, a checkered shirt and a bowtie.
Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are prime examples of powerful men who dress to suit their personality, he says.
On the flip side, however, it is human nature to judge. So for Wells, he notes many times that his own personal success has boiled down to what he wore to a meeting. He attributes success to wearing something that created an interest point, whether it was the blazer/bow tie combination or a dinner jacket with skinny jeans. Wells advises sales and customer service people and public facing employees and executives to mirror the style of the person sitting across the table.
In essence, if you perform a job function that requires you to produce something–whether artistically, physically, or abstractly–putting a suit on can be detrimental to your credibility and acceptance at the new job. Conversely, if you are a public facing employee in finance, sales, or customer service, you must be as fashionable as your clients expect.
I will add my personal note that in the agency world, dress code varies—once upon a time, I recall the dress code for the women of Regis McKenna being suits only—with skirts, never pants. A leading agency in Salt Lake City reportedly still eschews sandals or open-toe shoes. In New York and San Francisco, currently, the joke is that any agency’s dress code consists of one color—yes, of course, it is black. In the creative agencies, the joke is that if you didn’t spend at least a full day selecting your eyewear (designer, of course) you have no business expressing an opinion on art.
Chase Murdock (dresscodecustom.com)
Murdock’s company Dress Code creates custom suits. His team of Style Consultants works with men in the U.S. to build wardrobes of professional clothing. Oftentimes, he notes, it’s how a man is being perceived in the workplace that actually drives the decision to give his wardrobe a new look.
For example, one of Murdock’s clients was preparing for a job interview and, being heavier-set, had always found it hard to look good in a suit. Murdock worked with him to create a suit to fit his body type. This involved a more fitted silhouette in his chest and stomach, and pants that were more tapered than the trousers that generally come with the size of the jacket when purchased off of the rack. He also added small details like a pocket square to draw attention to the client’s chest instead of his girth.
When the client walked out of the dressing room after his final fitting, his wife said he looked like an entirely different person. In the interview, the suit was highly instrumental in helping the client to project his true self.
According to Murdock, regardless of your body type, style preferences, or budget focus, the key to dressing successfully is to focus on fit. It’s the surest way to project the confidence that is linked in studies to boosting performance in a variety of tasks.
In summary, when you “dress up” a level at work, your boss or supervisor and your co-workers will assume you are going to or coming from something better. You project confidence and competency, which is exactly what you want to portray when you sit down for your annual review.
Pay attention to the culture of the company and the optimal dress code for the role you desire. For example, while in some sectors power dressing is tantamount, in others, quirkiness and individuality reigns. In some organizations, particularly for non customer facing roles, it’s assumed a high engineering or creative talent will have a mind of their own (the operations lead of a former agency once told me “If a person has got the right talent, I could care less if they show up to work in their gym shorts and they smoke a cigar.”)
In all, it’s clear that the way you dress can affect your income. So how is your current image and wardrobe supporting your ability to command optimal pay?
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