Look the Part

Have you taken a good look in your closet lately?

August 1, 2008

Whether you’re facing a television news camera or a potential client, don’t discount the importance of dressing for success.

“You want to look professional, approachable, and honest,” says Bridget Smith, founder of The Wardrobe Coach, a Chicago-based wardrobe consulting firm.

“People want to see that you’re successful,” adds Robin Walker, founder of image consulting company My Wardrobe Companion, also in Chicago. “There’s a certain way of dressing that demonstrates that you’re in the know and that you have a successful track record.”

That means wearing clothes that look current rather than hopelessly out-of-date, fit properly, and are in good repair. Colors should complement skin and hair tones. Accessories—purses, jewelry, and shoes for women and pocket squares, ties, and shoes for men—should show that you’re someone who pays attention to every detail.

Outfits also should reflect the market you’re working in, says Anna Soo Wildermuth. When she started selling real estate in 1974, she quickly realized her flashy outfits were putting off potential clients in the conservative Midwest area she served. When she toned down her outfits, business started flowing her way, says Wildermuth, who stopped selling real estate in 1986 and today runs Personal Images Inc. in Elmhurst, Ill.

Real estate pros in most areas will do well with our list of “The Basics.” Once you have the right wardrobe in place, organize your closet by type of garment and then by color within each type, going from darkest to lightest, so that you can easily put together coordinated outfits. Prune on a regular basis: Anything more than three years old is a candidate for Goodwill.

The Basics

For Women

  • 10 shirts. Tops  should include blouses and sweater sets.
  • 5 skirts or slacks.
  • 1 or 2 suits.
  • At least three pairs of shoes. Shoes should be smart, dressy, and well-kept.
  • 1 necklace/one or two pins
  • Multiple handbags in colors that don’t distract

For Men

  • 7 shirts. Collared shirts with a tie still says success more than a sport shirt or polo shirt.
  • 1 or 2 jackets.
  • 5 slacks.
  • Go beyond basic blue with suits. Try pinstripes and use pocket squares and ties to brighten your look.
  • 2 pairs of shoes. Shoes should be smart and well-kept.
  • 2 belts.
  • 2 ties. Rather than worry about the latest in tie widths, wear ties whose widths are proportional to your body type. Broad men look odd wearing extremely narrow ties, for example.

John N. Frank is former managing editor for REALTOR® Magazine.