Leaders have long known that the way they dress makes a difference in how they are perceived. I recently wrote an article about the ways in which leaders can misstep with their wardrobe. A new job, a promotion, new fashion trends and changes in body weight can make choosing clothes for work a challenge when we want to make new selections in keeping with how we see ourselves. For those who need a little help, an image consultant or stylist — I’ll use the words interchangeably here — can offer guidance.
I’ve used stylists at different times in my career and have offered advice to the executive leaders I work with about how they can get the most from hiring one. Here are a few pointers:
Stylists are only as good as how well they know you.
Just as you suspected, despite what they all claim, some stylists steer clients into being copies of themselves instead of selecting clothes that are an expression of you. Some employ questionnaires to learn about you at the start or interview you to learn about your needs, your role and your industry and profession. That’s all useful. Whatever their approach, what matters is that they appreciate your workplace culture and learn your style and the different audiences that you are in front of.
In my case, I was on high alert that I didn’t want anyone to push a style for an executive coach, a vague job title that conjures up images of conservative power suits. The consultant I chose got to know me and my personal brand well enough to present terrific options that were expressions of me.
Here are a few distinct ways you can benefit from a wardrobe review.
Start slow and small. Try them out first.
There’s no doubt that the best way to get to know a stylist is to begin working with them. Yet I find people go from zero to full-tilt far too quickly, purchasing an entire package of services at the start. Consider beginning small to discover how they work. Many have showrooms with clothes, and some have a retail store. Others accompany you while you shop. Ask yourself if you admire their style. Were their suggestions on point? Do they have a talent, or are they just a bit better in their selection than you?
I hired an image consultant for the first time when I was asked to speak at a large event and had a bit of a meltdown about what to wear. I’ll never forget how she nailed it out of the gate when she proposed a suit that had a flattering cut for my body and fit my style and the occasion. I loved it.
Invite them to review your wardrobe before you shop.
Once they’ve earned your trust, have them over for a wardrobe review so you can repurpose and update what you already own. Do this first, if you can, before you go shopping. Many people use image consultants to weed out clothes that they don’t have the courage to discard, which helps them to decide what to keep or donate.
In my case, I wanted to introduce her to all my styles, through casual and formal wear and across seasons. The value I received from her visit far exceeded my expectations. Here are a few distinct ways I benefited from a wardrobe review:
• Sorting out what no longer fits and pinning it for the alterationist. Stylists are typically more in touch with trends than some alterationists, and so having your consultant do the fitting is an advantage.
• Selecting clothing that needs updating. We shortened the sleeves of a favourite blazer for a summer skirt suit and changed over the buttons to breath new life into it. We also pinned the width of the leg on a winter suit pant to update it.
• Coordinating clothes into outfits in ways I found surprising. People tell me that I have a style of my own and I know I have a taste for fashion. Nevertheless, my consultant amazed me with a creative assemblage of my clothes that I never thought to pull together in the ways she did.
• Coordinating jewellery and shoes with a few outfits. This was helpful, mostly because we both noticed what was missing from my shoe collection.
• Identifying which clothing items were missing. For example, I could use several colours of pants to go with some sweaters to stretch my wardrobe. I also recognized that I had overly invested in business clothes for the winter and needed to shift my attention to my summer work wardrobe with a few more dresses.
Until I engaged one myself, I imagined that stylists were “dressers” for politicians and movie stars in preparation for an event. They are. But they are also an affordable luxury for many of us, and they can bring tremendous value if the partnership is right.
I’ve worked with several image consultants at different times in my career. Each worked in their own way and had their strengths. One had a standout talent of assembling outfits, and another had a knowledge of fit that only a clothes designer like herself could have.
My advice? Image consultants can be invaluable whether you enjoy fashion and know your style or you wonder what the fuss about clothes is all about. There’s so much you can learn from an expert about dressing for work when you want to make good choices in step with a change.
This article first appeared in Forbes.com. Thank you to Sarah Dorweiler for the photo image.