Quick: Think of five adjectives that describe your image. Stumped? So was I. “How would a friend describe your appearance?” my image consultant, Eve Roth Lindsay, asked as we began my makeover session. “Let’s find out,” I said, calling my buddy, Justin. On speakerphone, I asked him to sum up my look in one word. His response: “Frumpy.”
Not exactly the word I’d like a client to use to describe my new business and my product – which, basically, is me. I straddle two worlds: I play in an Afro-beat band named Nude, and I run my own writing, editing and media consulting company. A recent experience with a new client made me seek out Ms. Lindsay’s advice on a matter I hadn’t associated with my potential success as an entrepreneur – how I look.
A bit of background: I am nearly 38 years old and I haven’t had a haircut in about three years. I own three suits – the oldest I wore at my college graduation, the newest was purchased six yeas ago. (I can’t remember the last time I wore them.) I have two pairs of shoes: slip-on dress shoes and a pair of Converse sneakers. Both pairs are frayed because my dog, Luna, used them as chew toys.
None of this really mattered (at least to me) until I got a last-minute call in April to write up a round-table discussion on derivatives trading. I pulled my hair back in a ponytail, put on my blue jeans and a collared shirt and walked into a room filled with investment bankers in pinstriped Armani and Gucci suits. I felt confident and cool for all of give minutes. As the conversation began, my insecurities swelled and settled on my off-the-rack shirt, frayed jeans and curly locks (which, when I saw my face reflected on the video conference monitor, I realized were fast leaving the vicinity of “long” and entering the realm of “Rasta”).
That led me to Ms. Lindsay, owner of Savvy Style, Colour Me Beautiful in Hong Kong, for a makeover that lasted seven hours. I wore the same clothes I wore to the bankers’ meeting; Ms. Lindsay’s greeting was: “Oh, my Kevin, we have some work to do.”
She asked me to write five adjectives for the image I’d like my company to project; I wrote: premium, smart, honest, thorough and creative. Then she asked for adjectives to describe my actual appearance. I wrote: unselfconscious, lazy, sloppy and creative. “Look at the difference between the image you want your company to project and the image you think you project,” she said.
After more questions, she determined my “style personality” is “natural” (relaxed, uncluttered look, comfort and low maintenance are a high priority; grooming a low priority), with some leanings toward “creative.”
The next step was to determine what colours of clothes work best for me. My eyes are hazel green; my skin has a pinkish hue. My hair colour showed the time since my last hair cut like rings on a tree trunk: golden brown at the ends, dark brown with gray streaks at the roots. Ms. Lindsay pulled out a colour wheel and explained that palettes fall into one of six categories: deep or light, warm or cool, clear or muted.
Diagnosis: my colour type is ‘cool,’ with some leanings towards deep and clear shades. Apparently, I am a Ralph Lauren type, with medium-coloured hair that contrasts my eye colour.
Prescription: I should avoid a monochromatic look, and not even think about wearing yellow. She gave me a book of swatches to shop with. Suit colour: charcoal, navy or blue. Shirts: white pinks and blues. Ties: bright colours. Tops and sweaters: teal, blue, purple or burgundy.
When strangers meet me, undoubtedly it’s my hair that makes the biggest impression. I used to wear it short. But at the time of my last haircut, I was in a funk. Then something happened – as my hair grew, so did my happiness. I started writing some of the best articles of my career. My band took on a life of its own, drawing big crowds – including Karina, who is now my fiancée. I didn’t make any vows to grow my hair; just the longer it got, the more Samson-like qualities I attributed to my mane. “Are you sure you don’t want to cut it?” Ms. Lindsay asked, betraying her option.
Diagnosis: We decided to leave it to RowenFaulkner, style director at Toni & Guy Hairdressing in Hong Kong. Because of the thickness and natural curl of my hair – coupled with the frizz-making humidity of Hong Kong – I had only two choices: “Keep it long and thin it out, or cut it short,” he said. I stuck with long.
Prescription: Get a trim at least every six weeks to hold the shape, and wear the bangs long rather than in a ponytail because of my receding hairline – a hairline that will only recede faster as I pulled it back. The cut was clever, eliminating years of dead ends that were twisting my hair into heavy braids of rope down my back, but retaining the length. He also recommended shampoos and conditioners that will minimize the Afro effect of Hong Kong humidity.
I venture into department stores about every two years. I wear my clothes until they are threadbare.
Diagnosis Comfortable clothing shouldn’t mean tattered. And the book bag I carried to the bankers meeting should be replaced with a small, canvas briefcase.
Prescription: Invest in at least six pairs of shoes: two pairs of dress shoes, a pair of sneakers, a pair of sandals and two pairs of casual shoes. Retire anything more than four years old. For smart-casual clothes, buy three new outfits every season.
With my colour swatches in hand, I proceeded to try on a mix of Armani and Prada suits, slacks and shirts. I suffered sticker shock. But Ms. Lindsay advised ordering from online retailers like L.L. Bean to get trendy, affordable fashion that fits.
For me, the real test was when I arrived home: Karina, who warned me ‘not to let them hack off your hair,’ was pleased. And although I’d like to think my work speaks for itself, I’m hoping the lessons I learned will let my appearance do some of the work for me.