In the time it takes for you to smile, introduce yourself and shake hands with someone — a prospective employer, a loan officer, a new neighbor — that person has already made up his or her mind about you. Research shows that other people, from possible office mates to potential soul mates, need only seven seconds to size you up … or down.
If you're wondering whether your handshake (and all that goes with it) could also be your kiss of death, it might be time for an image consultant. A combination fashion stylist and therapist — with a little bit of your mother thrown in — an image consultant helps with, well, your image. By putting your best foot forward, in a nicely polished, sensibly heeled shoe, you are better managing the way that clients, family and friends respond to you.
"The people you first meet initially look at nonverbal signals," says Judy Pressman, an image consultant from Baltimore, Md. "They look at your body language, at what you're wearing, at whether you're Mr. Bike-Man or Mr. Executive." Pressman contends that people draw certain conclusions — socio-economical, educational or otherwise — about other people based on what they look like. "We all judge and evaluate," she admits.
Pressman, in business now for 17 years, goes on to describe the social hairdo (big and sexy) and the professional hairdo (neat and bunned). "Obviously," she explains, "big, sexy hair is fine for some people, but just not for work."
Turning a "hair-don't" into a "hair-do" is just a small part of Pressman's job. She begins with an intense, truth-telling, journey-taking, hour-long consultation. "I ask them about their goals, values and their desires in life. I try to find that inner spark. Then I figure out how to make the outside match the inside."
Often, the perfect union of inner and outer beauty involves a trip to the shopping mall. "The universe tempts us with these 20% off sales," laughs Pressman. She tries to steer her clients into clothing that suits "who they really are." This could be a great-fitting jacket, a pair of well-tailored pants or anything that is a flattering shade of blue. Says Pressman, "I want people to be in love with themselves. My favorite thing is when a client buys something and then says, 'I would have never put that on, Judy!'"
Bunny Vreeland is an image consultant and hypnotherapist with more than 20 years experience. Her business, like Pressman's, thrives on an old adage: You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
A Brand New You (<i>cont'd</i>)
"This is so true," she says over the telephone from her home in Ventura, Calif. "And I respect people who are smart enough to know that they need help."
Bunny specializes in color analysis, closet organization and shopping — sprinkling in a little morale and self-esteem, as needed. She says the people who come to her all have lives that are in transition. "It could be a divorce, new job or a retirement. Admits Bunny, "Most people don't go out looking for change unless they're pushed into it."
Because hard circumstances can throw people into change, Bunny makes sure that her techniques are gentle and sensitive. "When I work with a client on her closet, I never say, 'Uh! This is ugly.' I'll say, 'Tell me about this.' " Often she finds a person isn't keeping that polyester prom dress because they want to wear it again. "It's all about special memories," she says in a soft voice.
And memories can be hard to toss. Bunny helps deal with this extra baggage with hypnotherapy. She got into the practice four years ago, when she met a woman who told her that although her outside was put together, her inside still needed help. In her one-hour sessions, Bunny tackles self-esteem issues, problems with procrastination, weight management and smoking cessation.
"It's like getting a pep talk from your mind," she laughs.
"Ultimately," says Bunny, "my job is to try and work myself out of a job." In her business, losing clients is a true measure of success. Bunny recalls one recent graduate: "She was an attractive woman who had no idea how attractive she was. I spent the whole day with her, then walked her to my door and hugged her goodbye. About 20 minutes later, I noticed her car was back in my driveway. I figured she had left something at my house. Instead, when I opened the door, it was this woman's husband. He said, ' I just wanted to meet the woman who made my wife look as beautiful as I knew she always was.' " Bunny says. "That," she adds, "is why I love what I do."
For more information:
- Judy Pressman (410) 486-4647
- Bunny Vreeland (800) 755-4083; in California, (805) 984-1237