Monday, March 21, 2011

Yes, even you have to Dress for Success

Often when I'm teaching one of my business classes for artists, I get the question, "how should I dress?"  I think this is a great question.  If you’re like me, you thank the wardrobe gods (and goddesses!) that you are not one of the minions who have to sport a button down shirt, or worse, a suit and tie all week.  Back in my 9 to 5 days I gritted my teeth over the dress code.  Even shopping for the stuff was painful.  And believe me, there is little out there in office attire that screams (or whispers); “Look at me!  I’m creative!”

That doesn’t mean that we artists can ignore the timeless saying, Dress for Success.  As if I haven’t stressed this enough-YOU are a brand.  And that means every bit of your presentation both visually and philosophically has to be well thought out and thorough. 

It is stunning how often I’ll assume a homeless person has wandered into an art exhibition or event, only to realize he/she is one of the artists.  I sadly live in what GQ Magazine deemed the worst dressed city in the country-Boston.  I’ve spent years of my life dressed in funky duds, only to have passerby ask me if I’m from another country.  No, I am not from another country.  I just happen to refuse to be in public looking like I randomly wandered out of my house while cleaning a toilet.

Fashion seems to be getting worse.  I see men and women unapologetically traipsing about in pajamas, and somehow they don’t think this makes them appear to be a mental patient.  But we all know (or perhaps we don’t know, so here I am to tell you) that we dress for the part we want to play.  And if you want to be successful, you must dress like you already are.

Now here’s where you are quite fortunate, because being a successful artist doesn’t mean you have to be drapped in Armani.  We creative types have a “get out a jail free” card. We’re wacky, right?  We’re kooky!  We can pull off wearing our great aunt’s pillbox with a thrift store dress.  When I get a compliment on what I have on, it thrills me to announce the entire ensemble cost me $32.50. 

You need to remember that generally the people who buy art, who can afford art, are not going to be buying clothes from the Dollar-A-Pound bin.  So even though you are wearing your Dollar-A-Pound bin finds, you should be well put together and groomed.  And smell good, for goodness sake!

Remember you are a brand.  Ask yourself, “What do I have in my wardrobe that enhances my brand?”  Since my work is all about fun, bright colors and retro (Retro Girls & Birds) at art events I wear eye-catching outfits.  People come over to tell me I look like my art. 

That is what you want.  That is a very good thing.

If someone uses nature for inspiration, earthy tones in natural fibers is a suggestion.  Someone with a twisted, dark sense of humor in their work might want to take some cues from Goth fashion.  But no matter what direction you choose to go, however you dress, make sure you are approachable.  You don’t want to intimidate potential customers. 

I used to work for a jeweler, one of hundreds in the jewelry district of downtown Boston.  When one is that submerged in competition, talent alone isn’t going to cut it.  He would often have a psychic help out at the shop, a weird looking and weird acting guy who turned you off almost immediately upon interacting with him.  So it was no surprise that normal (as in pedestrian, just off the street, run of the mill, conservatively dressed with money) people were made uncomfortable very quickly when they came in to browse.  They would find an excuse to leave as soon as possible and yet another sale would be lost.

I like for my clothes to be a topic of conversation at an art opening or event.  It inevitably allows me to point out my artwork and tell people what I do.  Having a reason for people to approach you to engage in conversation is the goal at such events.  It leads to contacts and sales.  I remember at one show a fellow artist openly made fun of me (and my artwork for that matter) because of what I was wearing-a vintage velvet leopard printed cat suit.  She had decided to come looking like she’d just stumbled out of bed.  By the end of the night I had been booked at a new gallery and I had sold my largest painting in the show.  Little Miss “I Just Woke Up?”  Nothing.


So remember, dress for your brand.  If you’re having trouble finding clothes that excite you try Etsy.  I’ve been finding a lot of low priced, fantastic one of a kind fashion there.  Dress so that you’re memorable, but not too over the top.  Dress so that you’re approachable.  In other words, look fun and creative, not unstable and potentially dangerous.  If you’re not sure what works, have a friend or family member visit your closet.  You’ll be surprised how much you already have to work with.  Now, go get dressed!