Advice for the man who is all dressed up and getting nowhere
Boston — Just when you thought you were safely dressed for success, `a la John T. Molloy's best-selling book on the executive image, the wardrobe guru is back with new research. And his ``New Dress for Success'' (Warner Books, $9.95, paperback) changes the rules. According to Mr. Molloy, the man who followed his advice in the first ``Dress for Success,'' and is now impeccably attired in a $500 business suit, may have a serious image problem.
In the years after his first ``Dress for Success'' was published in 1975, Molloy noticed that American companies hired him primarily to package their salespeople, while Japanese-run companies usually wanted his help in designing uniforms for all their employees.
He didn't think much about the difference until one day four years ago when he stopped to have lunch at a town in Pennsylvania. The employees of a factory there were on strike. The management of the company had told the employees that unless they made major concessions in wages and benefits, the plant would be closed. As Molloy was eating, he could hear some of the strikers seated nearby discussing how they'd vote. It soon became clear that these men felt alienated from the company's executives.
``They started talking about `the suits,''' Molloy recalls in an interview. ```The suits' did this and `the suits' did that. One fellow, when he was pretending to be an executive, put a make-believe suit on and a make-believe cigar in his mouth, and walked up and down and said, `You know, you guys have to sacrifice like me. I'm going up to keep my suit pressed, and my shirt white, and my tie neat.'''
The workers eventually voted no to the concessions. The plant closed. And Molloy felt guilty. It was he who had been hired a few years earlier to dress that company's executives in suits and ties.
``The advice I gave was valid.... No company ever asked me at that point to package themselves so they'd be effective with their employees, except Japanese companies. The American companies wanted their executives to be powerful with other executives, and I gave them exactly what they paid for. But I wish I hadn't.''
The experience so impressed the clothing consultant that he started going around asking workers what they thought of their employers who were dressed in suits. He concluded that the Japanese were right in caring more about what their employees thought of them than what their customers thought.
``There are studies out there,'' Molloy says, ``indicating that workers [in Japanese-run companies in the United States] are more loyal, work harder, are more productive, happier with their company, and think that their management, who is Japanese, think more of them than American management.''
These days Molloy encourages blue-collar manufacturing companies to follow the Japanese example and adopt uniforms. ``I think the men who run [the company] should dress in the same style as the men on the floor. And the best way to get this team spirit is to put everyone in the same uniform.... And they should park in the same spaces, they should eat in the cafeteria wearing the same uniform, not in the executive dining room.''
Men in white-collar companies, however, could use more sprucing up, Molloy says. It's not enough anymore to wear the correct suit, shirt, and tie. The whole look needs to be coordinated. ``There are many more women executives. And the way women executives judge men is totally different. If you work for a woman, she will notice how often you wear that suit and make a mental note of it. We showed pictures of men to business women and asked them which were the cleverest, which were the best attorneys, which were the best accountants, and so on. They always picked the men who put their clothing together most carefully.''
But don't take any tips from Gordon Gekko, the greedy corporate raider in the movie ``Wall Street.'' Molloy reports that real Wall Streeters who saw the movie thought Gekko's ultra-elegant Savile Row tailoring and slicked-back hair made him look like an outsider. One broker told him, ``There was a line in the movie where Gekko looked at a fellow in a perfectly acceptable suit and said, `Hey, get rid of your $600 suit and get a $1,000 Italian suit.' We knew that was written by a woman in Hollywood.'' A far better example of successful dressing was Bud Fox, the young trader in the movie. His more conservative look ``was usually right on the button,'' says Molloy.
Other rule changes Molloy notes since his first book:
Facial hair, particularly a mustache, is more acceptable. ``When I wrote the first book, face hair was still connected with the hippies, and now it isn't.'' But full beards still get some negative reactions in tests. ``Judge [Robert] Bork without a beard would have done better.''
Contrasting collar and cuff shirts, since Lee Iacocca started wearing them on TV, are enjoying new popularity. Molloy's surveys show the number of men who wear them has jumped from 1 percent to more than 60 percent.
Brown suits, thanks to President Reagan, are being worn more these days.
Rules that haven't changed:
The bow tie still says ``outsider.'' But Paul Simon, if he gets elected president, may give it cachet. Mr. Simon's bow tie has helped him stand out from the other candidates.
Red ties (but not bright red) say ``honest.'' Molloy claims the presidential candidates are all running around in bright red ties because their consultants misunderstood his first book. ``I just said a red tie. But the red I was talking about is closer to maroon than the red they're wearing. Everybody running for the presidency is wearing a wrong shade of tie.''
Mustard is still a no-no. ``That jacket worn by Century 21 agents is terrific, it draws attention to it. It's like Simon's bow tie. But you can't sell expensive homes in it. It says `chintzy.' I'd change the underlying tints in the color, which would make it a far more acceptable jacket. The most important thing you have to do is change the socioeconomic message of that jacket.''
What does Molloy think about choosing a wardrobe based on seasonal color analysis? ``Nonsense.'' Colors, he maintains, have measurable class values attached to them. For instance, his research shows that a man is treated with more respect if he wears a beige raincoat than if he wears a black one. Differences in shade are important, too. ``Every woman knows that when you go to buy a dress, the dress in the most expensive store has a different shade to it than the cheaper dress, because 100 percent cotton or wool takes more subtle dyes.''
To complicate the picture, shades of color send different messages to people, depending on where they live. ``The beige suit that works best everywhere in the country has a tinge of gray. But down South you'll sometimes see it with a tinge of green in it. Up North that says `peasant'; down there it says `gentleman.'''