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Advice for the man who is all dressed up and getting nowhere

By Nancy MullenStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 9, 1988


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.

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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.''