Maybe this has happened to you: The guy in the cubicle next to yours has the identical work experience and credentials you do, but he ends up getting the big promotion you wanted.
Maybe it’s image.
How you present yourself professionally is important – often most noticeably in the way you dress. And if you’re the jeans-and-sneakers type, you might need help navigating a suit-and-tie world.
Augustan Liz Klebba is an image and wardrobe coach who helps people in business environments step up their game.
“We forget that clothing is communication,” she said. “We get dressed in the morning and we don’t think about the fact that, every time we walk out the door, our clothing communicates about our values, about our personality, about who we think we are and how we want to present ourselves. That’s a big part of what I do.”
Conveying image through fashion has been around for millennia, but professionally it was memorably codified in 1975 with the best-selling book Dress for Success, by John T. Molloy. In the 1990s, Klebba said, that mode of thinking morphed into “dress to impress.”
But in her view, “it’s really about dressing to express,” she said. “Because if you express who you are on the inside, you come across as authentic and people trust that, and that builds relationships, and relationships are what drives business.”
Typically Klebba will sit down with a client to assess the person’s values, personality, goals and what the client thinks he or she needs. For a business consult, she’ll ask clients to bring five outfits typical of what they wear at the office, and five of their favorite clothing items in general to gauge a more personal aspect of the client’s style.
Not everyone who’s expected to wear a dark suit, white shirt and primary-color tie to work likes wearing that.
“It may be that their personality is much more relaxed, so there may be a disconnect there between their personality and what they perceive their office requirements to be,” Klebba said. “But we can work with that.”
Later she creates a “wardrobe capsule” of between 10 and 15 core pieces of clothing to work with, then pulls from the client’s existing wardrobe to find suitable items with which to mix and match.
Color plays a huge role in Klebba’s work, because she says color plays a huge role not only in how people feel but how they look. Certain colors, for example, can make certain people appear unhealthy, which suggests they’re unhappy.
Colors such as blue, symbolizing a clear sky, or “vegetation green” are universally appealing – “basically hardwired into our DNA,” she said. Other color preferences can be cultural. For example, in America green can symbolize money, but not all paper money in other cultures is green.
Klebba uses combinations of color and style to “find ways to finesse what your work requirements are but in a way that flatters you and feels authentic and comfortable,” she said.
But establishing a style that works for you doesn’t necessarily mean maintaining a closet crammed with high-end, name-brand clothes.
For some people, Klebba said, brand is important, and if that fits with a client’s preferences or values she will incorporate that into her assessment.
“You should always buy the best quality you can for your budget to make it last, so you’re not having to go to the store,” she said, adding that she doesn’t consider herself brand-conscious, but “quality-conscious.”
“Sometimes you can find fabulous things at a really good price point,” Klebba said.”
And you don’t need to buy a lot. By one estimate, she said, Americans buy about 52 garments a year – about one a week. As a result, often people with bulging closets will insist they have nothing to wear.
“My theory is that it’s a lot easier to take in less and be careful about what you take in, and you can pretty much throw on anything and it’s going to look good,” Klebba said. “Be more picky about what you put in your closet.”
Since her mother taught her how to sew as a girl, Klebba said she has been fascinated by clothes – how “you could change the seams to make a dress fit you and flatter you in a way that it couldn’t flatter someone else.”
Through working retail in high school and college, she “said she “hated the selling part” but loved helping people find outfits and put together looks.
After Klebba enlisted in the Navy, her travels around the world exposed her to different cultural approaches to fashion. She also points to her six years as a teacher, and time spent in accounting and bookkeeping, as factors that bring instructional and analytical strength to what she does.
“But all though my life people have asked me, ‘What should I wear here?’ ‘You look so put-together – what should I do for this occasion?’” she said. “So I used to help them just because it’s fun.”
One night after Klebba received the fourth text and photo from a friend seeking fashion advice, her husband said, “You know, you really ought to do something like this for a living.”
So she sought the tutelage of an image and wardrobe coach and consultant from Australia to learn more about “dressing” other people – strangers, as opposed to just herself and her friends – and cultivating the skill sets to help incorporate people’s values, lifestyles and personalities into reshaping their images.
She hung her shingle for her business, CP Image, in May.
While she handles business clients, she also renders one-on-one personal services, too – including color analyses, wardrobe audits, travel planning or even styling for a special occasion such as a birthday or an anniversary.
“It’s really more the satisfaction of when someone calls you up and says ‘I’m just so much happier,’ ‘It’s so much easier to get dressed in the morning.’ Or ‘I just feel better about myself,’” Klebba said. “That’s huge. Because you have to get dressed 365 days a year. Why not make it easier?”
Reach Joe Hotchkiss at (706) 823-3543 or firstname.lastname@example.org.