Image consultants now as important as a resume

December 24, 1992|By Maida Odom | Maida Odom,Knight-Ridder Newspapers

Rochelle Lewis ushers clients off into a cheery side room of her Philadelphia condominium. The room is awash with bright colors -- sharp teal and clear red. A mirrored wall lets her customers take a good look at themselves.

That reflection is the whole purpose of the meeting, and Ms. Lewis is armed with fabric swatches and fashion clippings to demonstrate what brings out the best aspects of a client's coloring and body type.

Doing a good job might be what's really important, but if you don't look the part you might not get that chance, says Ms. Lewis, who advises clients to "dress for the position you want to be in -- for that next step up."

"Whether we like it or not," she says, "this is a fast-paced society and we're judged by appearance."

That belief is the underpinning of the image-consulting business -- a growing field that has been boosted by the tight job market and the toughening competition for lucrative contracts and management posts.

Job seekers, ambitious salespeople, students, people re-entering the job market, out-placement firms, executives and even physicians are using image consultants to help them look the part.

"Dress is very, very important," said Leslie D. Lockett, who this year left behind 10 years in retail clothing sales to start her image-consulting firm in Woodbury, N.J. "It's the first thing you see before a person speaks. People formulate an opinion of you based on how you're dressed -- because dress shows the world how you see yourself. Based on that, you want to have a memorable presence. When people see you and take you in, you want it to be a memorable, pleasant experience."

Donald and Karen Kaufman found such a growing market for their image-consulting service that he quit his job as president of a mortgage company in 1980 to join the firm his wife had founded the year before.

The Kaufmans guard their client list and promise confidentiality, but their corporate clients include some of Philadelphia's top firms. And without much advertising, a steady stream of individuals finds the firm and willingly pays a $1,575 fee for 10 hours of one-on-one consultation. Corporations pay $175 an hour.

Karen Kaufman describes herself as "a coach for developing a person's self-image." In the Kaufmans' view, a person's role in the job market really is a role -- to be looked upon in just that way.

Sometimes, getting that across to clients is the hardest part, they say, because people want to distinguish themselves for the quality of their work.

"But in this service economy, people are the products," said Karen Kaufman.

One of the main trends in the image business, which really began taking off in 1986, has been "new levels of concerns

among men," he says.

"Most men wouldn't come in voluntarily," says Karen Kaufman, describing the early years of the company. "More women were able to perceive the need -- men needed to be told."

Paul Goldberg, president of an engineering firm in Malvern, Pa., said getting help with his image was "one of the best things I've ever done."

The Kaufmans have taken him from the stereotypical engineer look of corduroy pants and tweed jackets with elbow patches to the "understated elegant look" of good Italian and American-made suits.

As the demand for the Kaufmans' services has grown, they've noted a need among clients for more than wardrobe planning. Toward that end, they created their own broader program to help clients. Called the Kaufman Image Profile, it focuses on 10 areas: proportion (height and weight), carriage (posture and gait), grooming (hair, skin, nails), dress, speech (clarity and modulation), diction (word choices), gestures (skillful use of movement), etiquette, habits (personal idiosyncrasies) and style.

In her image business, Rochelle Lewis uses the principles explained in "Color Me Beautiful," an 11-year-old bestseller by Carole Jackson, who also wrote "Color for Men." Although her business is run independently, Ms. Lewis was trained and certified by Color Me Beautiful. The book spawned the company, which has private consultants all over the nation.

Ms.Lockett has a different take on how color can be used to your advantage at work.

"Black is a power color," says Ms. Lockett who advises clients what dress length or what style clothing to chose for a polished professional appearance. When you want special confidence and also a slimming look, Lockett suggests going with a single color "head to toe." If not black, then blue or white. Dressing in a single color "creates a presence," she says.

Red is vibrant, according to Ms. Lockett, who urges wearing it when you want to be engaging. "It gives a feeling of warmth and people gravitate toward you."

Green is a color that can work against you professionally, she claims, "and tends to mean you're greedy. It's the color of money and even if you're not thinking of that, it goes through the subconscious mind."

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