'You have to dress the part' Impressions: For Bernie Dancel, who has a debt-management company in Columbia, appearance is the first order of business.

Candid Closet

November 26, 1998|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,SUN STAFF

Just because Bernie Dancel, 34, is founder and CEO of Amerix, a Columbia-based debt-management company, doesn't mean he's above talking about his wardrobe. For Dancel, the father of five, looking good and feeling confident is an important key to his success, and to that of his 600 employees.

"I think the way someone appears, the way they dress and groom themselves, has a lot to do with the way they feel about themselves," says Dancel, who lives in Columbia, but grew up in Hawaii and Delaware. It's not that he believes appearance is everything; but it is the first thing that others notice about an individual and about a workplace.

"When we have a lot of visitors in and out of the call center, they're astounded by how professional the organization looks," he says. "The whole company is pretty much buttoned up."

Are there any exceptions to your corporate dress policy?

We did have a denim day for the American Cancer Society. Employees paid $5 to wear jeans to work, and we matched the donation. Eighty percent of the company wore jeans, including me!

Beyond making a good first impression, what is the importance of dressing well?

There's been a lot of studies on what you should wear given a particular business circumstance. ... If you're meeting with bankers, you should wear a certain color suit. And if you're negotiating, you should wear a red tie.

Do you follow these guidelines?

I would certainly consider them. But I have to confess, my wardrobe is pretty much picked out by my wife. To a pretty decent extent, I'm color blind in some very important colors. Once I get a new suit, she helps me with the colors of the shirts or ties or socks. Once we get things pieced together, I just kind of roll with it.

Where do you find your suits?

I have a fashion consultant from the Tom James company who has my measurements, and he presents me with different styles of suits. I get everything customized. The ones that fit the best make me feel the best. So I want all my suits to fit perfectly. I could never, ever have understood this or believed this up until a few years ago. You may actually feel different in a shirt that fits better. It's the quality, not the price tag.

Can you trace your fastidious style to any particular moment?

I was very poor when I was younger. I could remember many instances when I was concerned about my dress. A lot of my clothes came from the Salvation Army or Catholic Charities. I was very self-conscious about that. The incentive was to steer away from the pain. I knew what people perceived when they saw the clothes that I wore.

Do you remember when you were first able to buy a nice suit?

I bought suits that were expensive before I really could afford them. You have to dress the part if you want to reach your goals.

Do you wear suits to coach the Columbia Bulldogs football team?

You would never know I had a company of this size if you saw me out in public on weekends.

How do your kids dress?

I always wanted my kids to look like I wanted to look, with cool, in-style clothes. There are limitations: those baggy, really low pants. Forget that.

Do you have any treasured, well-worn weekend clothes?

One of my favorite shirts was tie-dyed by one of my kids. And on the back it says, "Zach's Dad."

Do you know any snappy dressers? Let us know. Write to Stephanie Shapiro, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

Pub Date: 11/26/98

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