This article oringally appeared in the February 22nd, 2006 Wall Street Journal. The article also appears at Wall Street Journal Career Journal.

Can an Image Consultant Help You Dress for Success?

By Paola Singer

Personal appearance has become such a national obsession that everyone from executives to housewives is now turning to image experts.

In the past, these services were reserved for Hollywood stars and high-profile politicians. But now regular Joes and Janes are paying about $100 an hour or more to learn how to dress for success as they compete for promotions, new jobs and more recognition at work.

Popular makeover TV shows such as "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," "Fashion Emergency" and "What Not to Wear" fueled demand for these services, in turn swelling the ranks of image "gurus," according to people in the field.

The Association of Image Consultants International says its membership has grown 133% in the past five years to 700 people (they have members in 41 countries, though more than 60% are in the U.S.). There are now about 1,500 image consultants nationwide, compared with about 1,000 in 2004, estimates Marion Gellatly, AICI's president, adding that it is an easy-entry, nonregulated profession.

Many people who hire these services do it for career reasons, looking to make better impressions with co-workers or clients, Ms. Gellatly says, although others are going through personal transitions, like a divorce or retirement.

To find out if image professionals can really turn dowdy into dapper, we sent five testers for a consultation. We were seeking advice on projecting a professional image that would help people in their careers, rather than run-of-the-mill hair and makeup suggestions for the dating scene. Although most sessions were helpful, some veered off into basic advice that is found in fashion magazines -- and risked being a waste of money and time.

Ms. Gellatly, AICI's president, says anyone who asks can be listed in its directory, meaning those on the list don't necessarily have expertise in the field. Only those with first-, second- or third-level AICI certification (this information is at have passed AICI's tests measuring their industry knowledge. Ms. Gellatly adds that many experienced consultants are not part of AICI. Before choosing a consultant, she says, a person should talk to more than one pro and ask for references.

In Los Angeles we called on Ashley Rothschild, of the Rothschild Image, who met with our tester, a 28-year-old female educational consultant, at Neiman Marcus. After talking about first impressions over coffee, Ms. Rothschild told our tester that, on first impression, she was "suburban" and needed a more professional look. Her suggestions: get a haircut, cease playing with her hair when speaking and wear dark suits paired with bright tops. They then stopped by a cosmetics counter for a makeup application. Ms. Rothschild also gave her recommendations on everything from the best L.A. restaurants to meet single men to how to negotiate a salary raise. Overall, our tester found the session very helpful.

Ginette Lilavois, of Impression Pros Inc., visited our Miami tester, a 29-year-old male business developer, at home. Ms. Lilavois arrived ready to reorganize his closet but found it in neat-freak condition, he said. But she did a closet inventory, suggesting which clothes to keep and which ones to toss. After going through advice on grooming habits, Ms. Lilavois asked our friend to role-play as if in a networking situation, so she could review his business etiquette. Our tester said this consultant was professional and he would recommend her to anyone looking for an image consultant.

Our tester in Austin, Texas, a 35-year-old man who was recently laid off from a media company, wanted advice on how to present himself for job interviews. Sara Canaday, a consultant with Empowerment Enterprises, asked about career goals and said she would avoid creating a cookie-cutter look that might not be appropriate in his profession. She promised, for example, not to make this writer look like a banker, yet suggested ways to stay away from his collegiate, preppy look. She also gave him a book on exuding authority and style. Our tester said it helped having an outside party critique his appearance.

In New York City, we booked a session with Rosanne Bianchetta, who stuck to standardized wardrobe advice, said our tester, a 25-year-old woman who works in an arts consulting firm and often has to meet with museum directors and other such dignitaries. She also said Ms. Bianchetta used a software program on a laptop to mix and match our tester's picture with different hairstyles, to fake-looking effects. Ms. Bianchetta said she relies on prewritten materials for her sessions because she thinks it's easier for her clients to understand.

Another New York City image consultant, Elena Castaneda, topped the rates chart at $250 for a one-hour consultation. She told our 32-year-old female tester, a corporate insurance broker, to be more feminine even while working in a formal environment by wearing red shirts, fashionable shoes and distinctive jewelry. Then she turned to an InStyle magazine guide on how to dress according to body shape. Our tester said it seemed like an expensive service for such basic advice. Ms. Castaneda says a one-hour consultation provides only a general review of someone's wardrobe, adding that her full-day service ($1,800 for eight hours) is "much more involved."

-- Tim Eaton and Stephanie Kang contributed to this article.

February 22, 2006

Ashley Rothschild picture

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