2013 Fashion: What Matters in Real Estate

Whether you’re on the go or working from home, we’ve got style advice specifically tailored to your day-in-the-life as a real estate pro.

September 18, 2013

There are countless magazines, books, and blogs dedicated to how to dress for business. But the needs of the real estate professional are sometimes quite different from that of your average desk jockey. Here are some tips especially formulated for the agent on the go.

Ready for Anything

Everyone knows real estate professionals are constantly moving. What are some tools that can help you get from a gritty showing of an abandoned REO home to a ritzy listing appointment in a downtown penthouse?

Many of the fashion experts we spoke to suggested layering several different clothing options—from comfy sweaters to highly structured, neutral suit coats—whether they are on your body or stowed away in a garment bag in your trunk or office. A durable garment bag or two with your logo on it could also serve a marketing purpose and at the same time make your trips to the dry cleaners a little more eco-friendly.

“I always have a black blazer in my car, because I think you can make anything a bit more professional with a black blazer,” says Erin Mandel, a broker with Chicago’s @properties.

Kat Griffin, a New York-based lawyer and blogger for business style blog Corporette, advises female professionals to keep a shrunken or ponte-knit blazer around for an instant transformation. “A ponte-knit blazer is a step up from a cardigan, because it’s got structure [and] it doesn’t wrinkle,” she says, adding that “a shrunken blazer looks good with almost all dresses.”

For shoe lovers, Griffin suggests adding fold-up galoshes, stiletto heel protector caps, and a product that can help you hem your pants on the fly to the arsenal of stowed style savers. Another helpful accessory Griffin suggests her readers invest in for transitioning is a wrist wallet. That way, you can keep your folders, devices, and bulkier items in a larger tote. But you can also easily stow your phone and other small, “important” stuff in an attractive container that can double as a clutch. Let’s face it: No one wants to try to network with a laptop bag on their shoulder.

Home Body

Many real estate professionals find themselves working from home offices. So, does it matter what you wear when you’re kicking around your house? Men’s fashion consultant and author Andy Gilchrist thinks so.

“How you dress influences not only the people who see you, but how you feel and how you work. A recent study from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University found that when people dress up for a role, they actually become better at it,” Gilchrist says. He notes that when researchers asked study participants to perform tests while wearing lab coats, they made only half as many mistakes on the tests as those who were wearing their street clothes. “If you feel like you are dressed smarter and more professionally, you will actually act smarter and more professionally. The subjects in the lab coats took a more methodical and scientific approach to problem solving and cut their errors in half.”

For her part, Griffin leaves it up to the individual to decide whether they should dress up or down when working from home. But she does note that it might be better to operate in the extremes, rather than wearing something that would be acceptable for the post office but not for an open house.

“If you’re wearing crazy pajama pants [at home] ... it guarantees you have to put on something cute before leaving the house,” Griffin says. She warned against yielding to the temptation to wear yoga pants while running errands in your community, “should you bump into a client.”

Dress for the Client, Not Yourself

Another concern for real estate professionals is the notion that they are representing clients, and they must dress with that specific duty in mind. In her fashion blog, Griffin tries to give women advance warning of what more conservative people might think about certain clothing choices. She notes that, while 80 percent of the population will be totally fine with bare arms, peep toes, or heels over a certain height, she warns that sort of thing “can give off the wrong vibe to certain people.”

“When you’re representing someone other than yourself,” Griffin says, “you need to be aware of what that 20 percent is going to object to.”

Gilchrist warns that this doesn’t mean that you should match yourself to your client’s dress.

“Many people who are selling something mistakenly think they should dress down to match what their audience is wearing. This is a mistake, since the customers aren’t looking for someone dressed like them, but someone who they can trust, is professional, and is authoritative,” he says.

But how do you know what your client wants you to look like? Jennifer Mahoney, owner of a full-service style agency for men based in Chicago, says you just need to pay attention.

“Read people. Because they’re reading you, really,” she says. Mahoney also cautions against making assumptions based on a client’s real estate price range: “If you’re presenting yourself like you’re selling a $2 million home even in a $200,000 home, it makes a difference.”

Style as Marketing

But, beware: Being too cautious with style could translate to being forgettable. Chicago-based wardrobe stylist Tamika Martell-Price suggests that you try to be a little bolder, especially when you’re looking to attract new clients.

“It’s the people who are not afraid to wear a little color who get noticed a little bit faster. [They’re] more memorable,” she says. “A color that works for you brings a certain energy. … A great way to have a presence is to add some color or maybe add a statement piece or a boldly colored bag if you’re a little [timid]. Infuse it in your shoes, your handbag, or your tops.”

Meg White

Meg White is the former managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine.