Reporter's notebook

What led you to do this story?

My editor received a piece of mail from an image consultant, which prompted us to wonder: What exactly is an image consultant? The term conjured an image of a Beverly Hills socialite who transforms the classic archetypal "clueless male," who slouches, wears ketchup-stained clothing and ill-fitting pants, into a finely-dressed man about town.

As I found out, they actually have very practical, valuable advice and perspective. Their clients are often very normal people, with decent fashion sense, but a new desire or need to refine that fashion sense.

How did you find these consultants?

Most of them, perhaps all of them for all I know, are women. We contacted the company that contacted us through the mail. Though many image consultants can be found online.

One instructed you that you could introduce your funky ties only after week four of a new job. What's so special about week four?

There's a sense, I think correct, that a person applying for a knew job needs to dress to the standards of what workplace they hope to enter - creative at an ad agency, a bit more buttoned-up at an investment firm. After solidifying yourself as a normal and reliable person at your office, I think the consultants felt it was an appropriate point to show some personality and quirky fashion sense.

In your story, you quote a consultant as saying, "Color is power." Can you elaborate?

I came to realize that many people take the color of their clothing for granted. They may choose their clothing largely based on what colors they prefer, but many (me previously) are ignorant of what colors look good on them (many colors look very badly on all of us.)

The women with 'Total Image Consultants' believe that either subconsciously or consciously, we are aware of not looking right in certain clothing and colors. When that's the case, we simply don't feel right. I think that's certainly true in part. I recently discovered that I don't feel right wearing a white oxford shirt. It's a color and fashion I like, but it just looks terrible on me. So I've stopped wearing it and, in some sense, I've become a more empowered.

Think you would have gone to an image consultant on your own?

I would not have. I had never thought of myself as someone who cared about fashion. I did not think that would change after doing this story. It did, though. I am now far more conscious of color and fit. I have gained a more refined sense about choosing my clothing. It comes from information more than anything. I think I had previously been lax in seeking good fashion advice simply because I didn't want to think about my clothing. Now, having been armed with the advice, I think about clothing more intelligently.

Why are more men turning to image consultants?

Men are saying they need to look good to compete in the workplace. In corporate America in particular experts have measured a sharp uptick in the importance of looking kempt, refined, and cutting edge. Style now plays a very important part of business culture.

One consultant told you: "If clients feel overly concerned about their image, then my job has not been done." Can you elaborate on this a little more?

The consultants believe that when people look good, they forget about how they look. I think that's largely true for many people. It's a question of preparation.

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