You can't judge a book by its cover, the adage goes. Or can you?
Consultants in the image industry argue that you can indeed. This worldwide field of fashion consultants, designers and etiquette instructors has grown to 100 firms from 37 in 1978, according to the Image Industry Council International, a trade group. All told, the industry represents more than $130 million in revenues.
Image consultants work with lawyers, doctors, corporate executives and politicians, helping them spiff up their appearance and polish their persona.
They teach clients how to improve their speaking habits and stop irritating mannerisms. They tell them how to dress for success, and they will even go out and handpick new wardrobes for them to clinch a fashionable but businesslike look.
"First impressions do count," said Marily Mondejar, executive director of the image council, a San Francisco-based group. "When they meet you, people will make a decision about you in the first five seconds based on the colors you're wearing, your hairstyle, clothes, jewelry and body language."
Philippine-born Mondejar, 40, learned the importance of a businesslike appearance years ago as a young sales representative working for Time Life books in Thailand. A Philippine co-worker convinced her they should wear native costumes to a business reception.
The guests, however, were Thais and Americans, who were puzzled by her fluffy-sleeved garb.
"No one talked to me. I felt like an outsider," Mondejar recalled. She was determined not to be embarrassed by her clothing again.
Now the bulk of her business consists of coaching doctors, attorneys and other professionals who are defendants in malpractice suits on how to enhance their credibility on the witness stand.
Color analysis is probably one of the least understood and some might say flaky aspects of image consulting. But the industry views it as a promising new frontier.
Color analysis categorizes people into seasonal groupings based on the color of their hair, eyes and complexions. Persons with light coloring are grouped as "summers" or "springs" while those with darker tones are considered to be "autumn" or "winter" personalities.
Winter personalities are aggressive while summers tend to be more compromising, Mondejar said.
For example, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is a "winter" while President Bush is a "summer," Mondejar said.