I can’t remember the last time I stood dumbstruck in front of my closet, trying to decide what to wear before an interview.
But then, I seldom interview someone like Judith Rasband, an internationally known authority on image consulting and management, a former Deseret News fashion columnist and the operator of the Conselle Institute of Image Management in Orem.
She can size people up in a millisecond and tell
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them what nonverbal message they are suggesting, or perhaps screaming, to everyone they meet. On most days, I have a hard enough time deciding how to even verbally express these things.
It was a hot day. I chose dark slacks, a tan linen sports jacket and a light brown tie, topped by a Panama fedora, but it hardly mattered. A few minutes into our discussion it became apparent I wasn’t the problem that keeps her up at night.
I first met Rasband in late spring. United Airlines had just dragged a paying customer off a flight, feet first, to make room for employees who were going to staff a flight in a different city. I wrote a column suggesting one of the reasons the airline did this was because the man was dressed casually.
While acknowledging that the world’s problems won’t be solved by a quick trip to Men’s Wearhouse, I wondered whether airlines would treat people different if they were dressed formally. Would they drag a man in a suit and tie off by his heels?
Rasband contacted me to say yes, indeed and emphatically, dress makes a difference. And yes, as I had written, ratty jeans, shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops, “don’t exactly scream that the wearers are adults intent on adult behavior.”
I had tapped into something of significance. As we sat in her Orem office last week, she explained it all in more detail.
“What you choose to wear affects the way you think, feel and act, and only then the way others react and respond to you,” she said. And if your dress is slovenly, an avalanche of slovenly things is bound to follow.
“You relax the dress, you relax manners, morals, productivity, respect for self, others and the occasion.” Actual science backs this up.
Look around you. We’re in big trouble.
Rasband travels the world doing workshops and seminars; she helps corporations draft dress codes and use imaging as a branding tool; and she trains style consultants in her government certified post-secondary school. Groups come to Orem from as far away as India to learn how to dress for success, a phrase she finds loaded.
John T. Molloy started a counter-revolution of sorts in the 1980s with his book by that name. People everywhere were wearing power ties and pin stripes. But then came the backlash. Businesses started “casual Fridays,” which evolved into casual Mondays through Fridays. Then millennials hit the workplace, following the casual trends of Silicone Slopes.
Today, Rasband says, we think we are expressing individuality, when in fact we are all conforming in dreary sameness. And men are suffering from “Peter Pan complex.” They don’t want to grow up.
As a result, she said, productivity in the workplace is suffering. Employees expect to have fun every day. The Bureau of Labor Statistics bears this out, showing a profound decline in non-farm business productivity over the past decade.
Even the political world is caught in a type of wardrobe spinning-teacup dizziness. Liberals, as slate.com reported, are wondering aloud whether to be appalled at the tie-less, rumpled way presidential strategist Steve Bannon shows up for work at the White House.
Rasband is quick to note that dress is only one factor in the decline of civility. But then she pulls out a box and shows me what really keeps her up at night.
Inside is a collection of back-to-school clothes she just bought at a popular retailer. She pulls out jeans with giant rips in the legs, frayed tops with unfinished edges, jeans caked in fake dirt — a collection of things that look like they should be left outside the front door for charity, or the garbage collector.
“It’s poverty chic,” she said. “But it affects the way they (school kids) think and makes them better able to accept lower standards.”
It’s also not a good sign for the future of air travel, among many other things.