Want an Image Boost? D.C. Has Consultants for That

Posted January 26, 2011 at 4:32pm

Washington, D.C., has never been mistaken for a fashion mecca. It’s a place where a pop of color in the workplace can feel like a faux pas, and an outfit that fits properly is a rarity. But that’s not stopping image consultants across the city from trying to cure D.C. of its fashion ills.

“Most women don’t have a clue,” image consultant Sharon Glickman said. “And Washington is not an easy city — we’re working all the time, we’re in traffic all the time — and we want it to be easy. And it can be, with the right garments. They’ve just got to get out of the box a little bit.”

Image consulting, said Robin Fisher, president and senior stylist for Polished, offers D.C. clientele a way to escape the suit status quo.

“There’s a saturation in D.C. of professional people,” Fisher said. “These people are busy and frankly might not be interested. And they want to be confident in knowing they’re doing it right.”

But at what cost? Image consultant Lynne Glassman — who calls herself the “Doctor of Dress” — said that while price often deters people from getting the fashion aid they need, the services are very affordable. “People think you have to be wealthy to hire a personal shopper, but that’s simply not accurate,” she said. “We always have things in our closet with tags on them — I keep people from making those mistakes.”

The various consultants — all unaffiliated — offer services ranging from style consultations to life-management skills. A popular option is the closet audit, or “closet surgery” as Glassman likes to call it, to assess a client’s current wardrobe, followed up by a personal shopping trip. It’s all about color, shape, fit and that elusive quality: style.

Washington may be a conservative city, but the consultants agreed that dressing for work should never mean just throwing on a standard monochromatic suit. Most importantly, it should always mean that whatever a person wears is tailored to fit.

“Alterations are the rule, not the exception,” Glassman said.

“Since it’s Washington, it’s the Hill, women especially think they have to look very conservative,” Glickman noted. “So they buy a navy suit and that’s all they wear. Now that is fine — having said that, they need to have the jacket, suit and trousers tailored to their bodies. Good tailoring is very important.”

David Baldwin Barnes of Gait consulting, who recently worked on the Hill as the press secretary of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said staffers should consider clothes an important way to showcase their careers and goals. “It’s all about finding a way to express a positive attitude about life through clothes,” Barnes said. And for men, Barnes said, nothing beats a smart, tailored suit.

“A suit makes you feel different, more confident,” he said. “But you can’t let your suit wear you. You need to wear the suit. You could think a suit is traditional and old-fashioned, but flip through GQ — the suit is still the foundation. After all, there’s a limited number of pieces a guy can wear.”

In the all-too-traditional fashion enclave of D.C., the inclination is to dress conservatively. But with consultants out on the town — and delving into closets — D.C. just may be on the verge of a new fashion frontier.

“Rock it your way. It’s all about individuality,” Fisher said. “Being a carbon copy of somebody else is not a way to go it. It’s all about feeling confident and dressing appropriately for who you are today.”

Just make sure to get that outfit tailored.

Check out the D.C. image consultants featured in this story at their websites — Sharon Glickman at sharonglickman.com, Robin Fisher at polishedimageandstyle.com, David Baldwin Barnes at gaitconsulting.com and Lynne Glassman at doctorofdress.com.