A college student from SLU in Louisiana recently contacted me about doing an interview with her about image and wardrobe and the role each plays in current society. A few of her questions and my answers are listed below. Enjoy!
Thesis Topic: What Are We Communicating With Our Image?—A look at cultural standards of dress & how they influence public opinion.
- What do you love most about your job?
I love spending time with my clients and helping them to feel really great about themselves because they know that they look fabulous in their clothing.
2. What are the elements (i.e. dress, behavior, hair & makeup, etc.) that are considered when “communicating an image”?
All aspects of someone’s personal appearance and characteristics influence their image. This not only includes their clothing, makeup, hair, and accessories, but it also includes their tone of voice, their posture, and even their hygiene.
3. What is your perspective to the notion of clothing as a primary means of communication?
I always tell my clients that their personal appearance/image, including their clothing, is the picture that they present to the world. Based on the personal appearance choices we each make when we leave the house in the morning, we decide what we want (whether we realize it or not) to communicate to the world that day. People have all different objectives when it comes to communicating through their appearance. Dress seems to be the fundamental element of appearance in America. Our society is inundated with fashion sources and influences, and we are all a product of these factors. So, when a person puts on a piece of clothing, they are not only saying, “I like how this looks on me.” They are also saying, “I like what this piece of clothing says about me.”
4. Explain why dress codes are important?
I believe that dress codes are important because people, in general, do not like to be surprised when it comes to what is required of them in dress. No one wants to be confused about their company’s dress code policy on their first day of work. This is why a clear dress code is important. It gives employees direction and boundaries. However, many companies in America no longer adhere to a dress code, or have turned to a very lax version of business attire.
5. Is it possible to improve someone’s image and appearance, if that individual is not considered attractive?
Whenever I meet a new client, I never, ever think to myself, “Is this person attractive?” Instead, I focus on how I can help them accomplish their goals through dress and to help them express on the outside, who they are on the inside. While I do consider how society views my clients through what they wear (i.e. Am I helping them accomplish their goals and present their ideal image to the world?), my greater concern is how do I make them feel, how do my services make them feel, and at the end of our time together do they have a sense of really, truly loving the way that they look and feeling like they are dressing in a way that meets their goals and highlights their favorite physical areas. These two aspects are the most important things that I strive to accomplish with every client.
As far as image consulting is concerned, the fundamental goals for an image consultant is to enhance an individual’s personal appearance (and, yes, beauty) based on selection of clothing, accessories, hair styles, makeup, and other aspects of image. These selections are intensely focused on selecting the ideal colors and shapes for an individual. Colors include clothing and makeup, and shapes include clothing styles and even accessory shapes (exp. oval earrings vs. square earrings). My services are unique in that while I am a trained and certified image consultant, I am willing to bend the rules of color and style when it makes my clients feel better about themselves. For example, if one of my clients looks better in wine than in hot pink clothing, but she loves hot pink and loathes wine, I would ignore her ideal color options and select items (in small doses) of hot pink so that she will know that I hear her perspective, appreciate her opinion, and want her to feel really great about her wardrobing process.
6. What is your opinion on whether or not “image” has the power to sway public opinion?
Image is an extremely powerful factor in influencing public opinion. It is the entire reason that I have a job. My clients recognize the power of image! Americans, in particular, recognize the power of image and dress and use that power, in whatever capacity their lives require and allow, to accomplish their goals. Michelle Obama is a great example of using image to sway public opinion. In her case, through her attire and appearance, Mrs. Obama has created a personal image of someone who is current and approachable. She wears labels that are available to many American patrons, like J.Crew. She breaks social boundaries of dress by going sleeveless. She is fit and strong, and, I believe, that even her body shape displays her goals for America (exp. her work with childhood obesity). A powerful image is one that becomes a brand for a person. Like, Mrs. Obama’s, any powerful image is much more than clothing choice. It is the creation and reinforcement, on a daily basis, of that brand.
7. What are some cultural standards of dress?
I feel that in America, at least, our cultural standards are being minimized. We still follow general rules of dress (exp. cocktail attire means a short dress for women, while formal attire in a long dress). Because we live in a society that greatly appreciates individuality, many times, people are no longer shunned for breaking social and cultural dress boundaries. Instead, they are cheered for not blending into society. I believe that this a fine line to walk. I think that it is important to appreciate cultural standards and to follow them to some degree, while still making room for personal expression.
8. What is the influence of sensual and sexual allure through clothing?
Sensual and sexual allure can be objectives for people in dress. Each person varies in the degree of importance they place on allure and in their ability to express themselves in a sensual way based on their job, lifestyle, etc. Sensual and sexual allure are elements of dress that I feel can be important goals that help someone feel good about themselves. They become problematic when someone’s primary goal/objective is sensuality. This will overtake their “brand” if it becomes too much of a focus. This is a problem for the person when their sensual brand keeps them from achieving other image or personal goals.
11.) What is your process for advising clients on dressing for success?
Each consultant has a different process, I am sure. My process is that I customize every single appointment with every single client. I have never had the same experience twice. My general service process is that I visit with my clients and get to know them, their goals, their life story before ever entering their closet. Then, I help them clean out their current wardrobe based on the items that are not helping them achieve their goals and do not make them feel good about themselves. We make a shopping list together during this process, and then we shop for the items on their list. Once we have completed our shopping trip(s), we go back to the closet and incorporate their new purchases with old items so that they max out their financial investment by using their old and new pieces in multiple ways. Then, the next fashion season, we start all over again by reevaluating their items and determining what items to add to enhance their wardrobe and life.