“If you are in a position to be asking people for their money, or to trust you with their money, you absolutely need to show up looking as if you have some of your own.” – Lauren Solomon, Image Consultant and Author
Yes, you can increase your income by learning to dress for success. But for senior executives and entrepreneurs, the stakes are much higher: The right image can mean the difference between a fatally stalled career and out-of-the-ballpark success.
Here’s an opportunity I never anticipated: I spent a day last week with renowned image consultant Lauren Solomon in Newport Beach, CA. I was referred to Lauren by a mutual friend, leadership expert Dr. Jeffrey Magee. An increasing number of my clients have requested image consulting for themselves and for their CEOs as preparation for video and broadcast. As Magee described Solomon’s background I realized I needed to meet her as well.
Lauren Solomon is an expert image consultant, business consultant, media personality and author of Image Matters!
Lauren is a fascinating individual. She received her first makeup kit at age three, and admits to being smitten for life. She also recalls fondly the memories of her mother, dressing the family for all occasions and preparing to look “just so” for formal dinner events with her dad. Solomon prepared herself for traditional business with a degree in World History from Rutgers and an MBA from NYU. As a graduate project in marketing, she used her hobby of styling others to communicate the power of appearance at NYU. That’s where she came to realize the role professional image would play in her life.
A significant departure from a career in corporate finance, the former Chemical Bank, soon to be Chase Manhattan Bank, recognized her impact and created a new position, Vice President of Image Development, giving Solomon responsibility for the image education and employee image standards for Chase Manhattan employees worldwide. Four years later she left the corporate world at the request of NYU’s Stern School of Business that she return and create a mandatory for graduation professional skills workshop addressing appearance, etiquette, dining skills, presentation and speaking and multi-cultural awareness, and the result, “A Brand Called Me” was born.
Since then she’s counseled companies ranging from AmEx to Disney to Pfizer, myriads of groups and individuals, and has become an author, presenter and a media personality (in my background research on Solomon, in addition to television and radio broadcast, I noted she’s been consulted and cited on several occasions by Forbes).
Today Solomon is an advisor to CEOs, resident image consultant for Career TV and the Lifetime TV Series Remake My Life, Director of Business Development for luxury clothing line Worth New York and the author of Image Matters! She’s also co-author of bestseller The Law of Business Attraction and Executive Image Power.
So how much does a powerful professional image matter? Among Solomon’s clients, she showed me pictures and shared stories of some of the entrepreneurs she has coached. In one example, Frank Wells, the CEO of World Power and Water in St. Petersburg, Fla., had shown up for his meeting with Lauren like a nice “guy next door”—a musician with a good idea. As they worked together, Lauren adjusted his hairstyle to be a better proportional fit to his face and head and polished up his wardrobe. His entire appearance transformed. But afterwards, she reports that once he truly integrated the power of his evolving image, he also lost 30 pounds without really trying. He liked the way he looked, felt better about himself and started making different, healthier choices, which proved to be an extra benefit of the work.
“The greatest difference for me—the biggest ‘a-hah’,” he said, “is the awareness that I can now go into any situation and feel crisp and confident. That internal confidence, coupled with the ability to make a powerful first impression is priceless.”
Entrepreneur Stefan Doering secured new business easily after adopting a professional image that matched his career.
In another case, a young business coach and environmental sustainability expert, Stefan Doering, had been a contender to host a TV show (which, ultimately, never happened) and realized the business he was capable of having was just not happening for him. (By all typical estimations, as you can see from his photos, the image he had walked in with was fine). Lauren worked with Stefan to match his dress and appearance to his true potential—smartened up his hairstyle—and the day after posting his new images he received a call and a client for $10,000 based on his new image. “I hired you because you look like the kind of creative consultant I’m after,” she said.
Lisa Vehrenkamp found the confidence to take her place at the executive table when her appearance aligned with her career.
A woman who was a true shining star for years in a financial services firm had been pegged as young with high potential by the company’s C-level executives. A change in her image and wardrobe triggered a leap in her self-confidence and company leadership took note. She was invited to take her place at the executive table and rewarded with great opportunities for leadership and promotion at her Fortune 100 firm.
Harry Lay, Lay Professional Services, achieved an immediate 30% increase in revenue when he followed Solomon’s professional image advice.
Harry Lay, an individual I know—he works with my own firm on strategic development—is from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Among his fellow IBM-league executives his dress and appearance were stellar. When Solomon provided him with another point of view and suggested changes to his hair, his eyeglasses and his wardrobe that would make him appear less intimidating and formal to the entrepreneurial companies and clients he serves, he took the leap. “Within a year of working with Lauren, my revenue increased by 30%, a difference that was in the six figures,” he said.
As we sat together I also showed Lauren a photograph of my own company team. She correctly pegged the professional experience and status of each, based solely on the imaging clues.
Short of hiring an image consultant yourself, what are Lauren’s top suggestions that all executives and entrepreneurs can use? The following are some of her primary points of advice:
- Wear clothes that fit properly. If entrepreneurs did nothing more than have their current clothes tailored to fit properly, they would make a substantial improvement in their professional appearance, she said. For men, pants and suits are often as much as two sizes too large or small, and she pointed to too-long slacks puddled at their ankles. “Inexpensive clothes that fit well will always make a better impression than even the most expensive clothes that fit poorly.”
- Wear good shoes. As Lauren surveyed the photo of my team, she noted that each of the men was wearing shoes “at least three years old” and that lacked current style. Simply updating the shoe choice to a quality and stylish option can make a significant and fast improvement in the existing wardrobe and professional appearance of both women and men, she advised.
- Casual clothing can be stylish and smart. We talked about the fact that some clients are very informal, and would be entirely put off by consultants arriving in suits. “Casual clothing can be fine, if it’s done with care,” Lauren says. Select jeans that fit. Wear good shoes. Even an un-tucked polo-style shirt is okay if it’s selected with care—“not faded, and be sure the collar is not rolling up.” The key is to dress with the tone and style of the audience in mind, Lauren says. “Dress one level up from the people you’re speaking with or selling to.” A buttoned up shirt and tie could be off-putting, for example, and in many cases, an open-collar shirt, nice denim, good shoes and a high-quality sports jacket would make a much better impression on the clients you are coming to see.
- How you start the day is how you end the day. Taking the care to look your best when you start the morning can make a big change—and even be life changing—in the way you “show up” for your responsibilities for the rest of the day. As you see these positive changes occur, your new habits will become self re-enforcing, she says.
Wayne Peterson, David Salon, Costa Mesa, Calif., contributes hair and coloring expertise to the transitions Solomon prescribes to entrepreneurs.
I believe she is right. In my own case, Lauren recommended a number of changes in hairstyle and makeup and has suggested some significant wardrobe changes as well. The boots and “Stevie Nicks”—style clothes I tend to favor are now relegated to weekends only. And, for me, black is not a great choice, she observes. Alas. Fortunately for me, I did like the new alternatives she’s shown me. There is progress to come.
Peterson’s handiwork on my professional image last week. Will it last?
For entrepreneurs who would like to learn more, Lauren’s book Image Matters! is available here. You can also reach out to Lauren directly as well as find a schedule of her upcoming appearances by visiting her website at www.laurensolomon.com.
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