Carol Carter's jacket is tweed. Expensive. Elegant-looking. But she never wears it. She can't figure out why not.
So she asks her image consultant, Kayleen Simmons, about it.Simmons, who charges $200 to help clients clean out their closets and pull together a new image, gets paid to be merciless.
"You'll never wear it," she says, briskly. "It's cut too tight through the shoulders, where you're small anyway. It's short, drawing attention to your hips and rear end. Even if it was in style right now - and fitted styles are coming back - you would never feel comfortable in it."
Carter agrees. She calmly sets the brand-new jacket aside, to be given away. She pulls out another jacket, a boxy sports coat in a weave of black and bright blue flecked with yellow, red and green. "I love this but I never seem to wear it, either."
The two women go to work, standing before Carter's closet.
They pull out skirts, slacks, sweaters and blouses. Carter produces earrings, shoes, scarves. Within two hours they have planned dozens of outfits around the jacket and have decided what pieces of the wardrobe need updating.
Carter took Simmons' yearlong image class several years ago (through Simmons' company, Personal Style, at a cost of $395) and still follows the fashion path she set out on then.
Carter has defined her image. She's a successful business owner who travels to mining and construction sites, selling replacement parts for compressors. She prefers classic styles and informal clothes. "No three-piece suits, no high heels," she says.
She believes her customers, the majority of whom are male, take her more seriously when she's dressed for work, not "dressed for success."
She has already built a wardrobe around her personal power colors (black, red, bright blue) and amassed a thick notebook of Polaroid shots of every possible ensemble. A red silk blouse and black wool skirt might appear 30 times, for example, because Carter takes a new photo each time she varies the scarf, or shoes, or necklace.
"Carol was Miss Collegiate when we first met," recalls Simmons. "All button-down collars. Her idea of an accessory was a gold chain."
"And I always wore beige," adds a smiling Carter, "because I read somewhere that neutral colors go together.
"When I realized my business was growing and I was still dressing like I did in college, I decided I needed to start dressing more professionally. So I bought some suits. They weren't me. I couldn't drive in them. And when I got to the mines I'd feel so uncomfortable.
"I think I lost a lot of customers because I looked too formal."
Carter met Simmons at a Women's Information Network meeting. She says it took her several years to get to admit to herself and Simmons that she needed advice.
(Simmons' business associate, Carol Priestley, has a similar image consulting business in California. She believes business people get to a point in their careers where they are using the services of an accountant, a stockbroker, perhaps even an attorney, and it's a rather natural step for them to start using a professional shopper as well.)
When asked if she could have given up her tweed coat so easily before she took Simmons' class, Carter says no.
Simmons says every client finds it painful at first to get rid of an image or a specific item that they liked when they were young. But because she already has her image and closet in shape, Carter's current consultation with Simmons is simple.
They decide she needs: to have her black skirt shortened; to buy a bright green, red or yellow silk blouse or turtleneck (nice knit, not ski wear); to replace her black slacks; to buy a black silk blouse, off-white silk blouse, and off-white slacks and jacket.
Carter notes the items on the shopping list she always carries with her. (She also carries pictures she's clipped from magazines of certain styles and shades she likes. That way when she is looking for a blouse she'll remember she likes a soft look and high collar, for example.)
When she goes shopping, Carter follows the rules she learned from Simmons. She avoids sales. She dresses for the shopping expedition wearing the accessories she'll use with whatever she's buying. She doesn't buy anything that's not on her list.
Simmons charges $65 per hour to take her clients shopping. The cost is worth it, she explains, because she saves them hundreds of dollars on clothes they don't wear or don't look good in.
While Carter probably doesn't need Simmons' shopping help, right this month, the two women agreed to shop together so Deseret News readers could gain a little more insight into what an image consultant does.
Simmons plans a shopping trip to Norrine Ward Inc., a small women's clothing store in Sugar House. She explains she likes to develop a working relationship with someone who not only works with customers but goes on buying trips too, so the buyer will keep Simmons' clients in mind and perhaps buy something just for them.
She calls ahead and has Norrine Ward pick out clothes in Carter's size in the colors ("brights, black and off-white") and fabrics ("Carol likes knits") and styles ("Carol likes high necks") she prefers.
When Carol Carter walks into the store, Ward and Simmons are waiting for her with her sports jacket and a dressing room full of clothes to be tried on. Then it's down to work.
"You looked taller in the other black pants," says Simmons. "They are comfortable now, but if I gain 1 pound I won't feel good driving in them," says Carter.
Decisions are made. "I'll buy the white jacket if your tailor can alter it, Norrine. . . . I can't use a sleeveless turtleneck, because I have to take my jacket off too often on a construction site. But I sure love the color."
Within two hours Carter has bought $1,000 worth of clothes. Clothes she looks good in. Clothes that go with everything else in her closet. Clothes that she will wear and wear and wear.
And the great part, as far as Carter's concerned, is that she won't have to think about clothes again for months. "Because I hate to shop," she says, sincerely.
On dressing well Thoughts from Kayleen
On dressing well
Thoughts from Kayleen Simmons:
- "If you have more than three colors in your wardrobe, your closet is chaos."
- "If a woman has 20 blouses and three skirts she has variety in her wardrobe. If she has three blouses and 20 skirts she has nothing to wear."
- "The only thing that should go into a chest of drawers is underwear. Clothes ought to be displayed. Most of us can't dress ourselves because we can't see what we have."
- "Women on a limited budget should buy separates rather than dresses."
- "Wool gabardine slacks may be more expensive, but you can wear them all year round."
- "Green is a powerful color. It's about abundance. Nature is green. So is money. When you are making lots of money and are comfortable with it, you'll wear green."
- "Most people say brown is their least favorite color."
- "Women need to realize we are not our clothes. Men have always gotten by with just a few outfits, and so can we. That way we can afford to buy more expensive, better-quality clothes."
- "Men grow up playing team sports and don't mind dressing alike. They can set themselves apart, however, with quality clothes and tailoring (no suit jackets that try - but fail - to cover the gentleman's derriere, for example) and elegant accessories."
- "When your wardrobe is working, you wear every single thing in your closet and you wear it until it is wearing out and you are throughly sick of it."