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A New You

Sometimes It's Not WHO You Are but How You're PACKAGED That Determines Success

January 01, 1998|LILLIAN REITER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Has your social life descended to the depths of wearing pajamas and watching videos with a pal? Is your career as flat as last night's leftover champagne?

This may just be the time to make some major changes: Reap a fatter paycheck, land a more stimulating career, attain a higher number on the social scale and create a new look for the new year.

"There's a direct correlation between beauty and the bucks," said Dianna Pfaff-Martin, founder of California Image Advisors in Newport Beach.

Quoting studies conducted by university psychology professors, she said: "Attractive people make more money."

A first impression comes around only once, and people make 11 assumptions about you in the first minute--age, financial status, family background, education, trustworthiness, level of success, attention to detail, health, social status, self-confidence and tastefulness, according to studies cited by Pfaff-Martin.

Executive ladder-climbers are busy repackaging themselves with the help of image advisors.

Who are these practitioners of people packaging?

The Assn. of Image Consultants International grants the title of "professional image consultant" to members who complete a 20-page application and demonstrate proficiency in fashion, color theory, business practices and public speaking. Many consultants have experience in modeling, public relations and merchandising.

The 7-year-old group, based in Washington, D.C., has fewer than 100 members in the U.S., a third of whom are in California. They offer one-on-one consultations, group seminars and business briefings for corporate clients.

Brenda Kinsel of Image Consultants International reports that her average client is a woman between her late 30s and mid-50s. Over the course of a year, a client invest about 30 hours or $3,000 on Kinsel's services.

"You need to look like your resume," said the Bay Area consultant. "A major tool for living in this world is being as confident about yourself as possible."

That's not a new concept. What has changed in this final decade of the millennium?

Experts agree that those who entered the work force in the 1950s and '60s hold fond memories of a time when brains and a willingness to work hard were the most important criteria. Some million-dollar deals were sealed with a handshake.

Competition began to heat up in the '70s as women entered the job market in droves.

The friendly handshake was replaced by piles of legal documents. The era of the gray flannel suit was dead, and the Dress for Success movement was born.

The faltering economy of the late '80s and early '90s didn't help matters. Experienced employees and professionals were forced to deal with a leaner and meaner economy. Younger workers often faced frantic competition without so much as a meaningful dress code to help guide them. (As large corporations downsized, human resources personnel who had trained management employees were among the first to go, and budgets for consultants were cut.)

The workplace has become a war zone, and even a bright and shiny, brand-new MBA is not enough ammunition.

*

Enter the image consultant.

"Success is based on perception. You can have the most fabulous product or service, but if you don't present yourself as a successful person, you'll never make it," Pfaff-Martin said. "Image consultants are much more than personal shoppers. We deal in the perception of others, and I package my client based on who that client will be dealing with in the business world."

That package includes teaching clients three distinct kinds of communication: visual (wardrobe and appearance), verbal (addressing an audience) and nonverbal (gestures, posture).

Her clients learn how to select a wardrobe based on colors that project a specific message. A navy suit relates confidence and responsibility. A red dress communicates dynamic leadership. Other skills include positioning yourself in a crowded room to attract attention or emphasize importance. Learning how to end a sentence on a firm down-tone shows decisiveness.

"Make your visibility count," Pfaff-Martin said. "Move away from the crowd so others can see your value."

Richard Redmond, a 52-year-old Costa Mesa loan consultant, turned to Pfaff-Martin for advice. Applying his newfound knowledge about image-building, he recently traded in his old car for a black Corvette.

"It comes in handy for business lunches because it only seats two people. It gives me time alone with the real decision-maker, a chance to get my point across to the only person that really counts," Redmond said.

Although Pfaff-Martin often conducts her business in company boardrooms, Carol Priestley, owner of Personal Image, works out of a boutique in a small Lake Forest mall.

"We don't dress to impress; we dress to express something about ourselves," Priestley said. "I'm like a stylist on a movie set who's been given a character to build, the outer packaging that creates a certain image. We are visual learners and live in a visual environment, so that is a great way to make a change."

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