Magazines and television programs seem to be full of people telling other people how they can look better and project a better image. But who are these people offering the advice?
Some of the people on makeover shows are image consultants. Of course, there are many image consultants working outside of television — and their numbers are growing.
“The abundance of TV makeover shows featuring stylists transforming ordinary people has had a huge influence on men and women entering this field,” says Joanne Blake. She is an image consultant.
Image consultants are a growing force in the business world. In our image-conscious society, more professionals and corporations are seeking advice from image consultants. Because of this, many people in the field see a bright future for the field. Just don’t expect it to be easy.
“I think it is a realistic way to make a living,” says image consultant Brian Lipstein. “Just look at how many individuals are doing it.
“From a student’s standpoint though, it isn’t going to be the easiest way. There is a certain mindset that must be maintained to operate as an entrepreneur. It takes discipline, knowledge of the industry, knowing how to plan and some business knowledge. They will also have to learn within the industry.”
Blake agrees that starting out as an image consultant takes a lot of dedication. But she believes things are a little easier now. “In the early years of my career, it was a challenging way to earn a living,” she recalls. “People didn’t know what an image consultant was. It has become a lot easier thanks to greater exposure to our industry via the media.”
In addition to media exposure, the Association of Image Consultants International (AICI) has given a voice to the industry. Founded in 1983, the association established a code of ethics and offers many opportunities for learning and accreditation. And there’s a lot to learn.
“Image consultants are specialists in visual appearance, verbal and nonverbal communications,” Blake explains. “We may work with individual clients to assist them in attaining authenticity, self-confidence and credibility. Or we can work with corporate clients and teach them to express their company’s goals by aligning appearance, behavior and communications.”
Clearly, there’s a lot more to this career than telling someone they look best in navy blue.
“Image consulting encompasses a wide variety of services,” Lipstein explains. “Most image consultants specialize their practice in some way or another.”
Some specialized areas include:
- Consulting with individuals and corporate professionals
- Delivering “Dress for Success” seminars to groups
- Offering etiquette seminars (business, dining, international etiquette, etc.)
- One-on-one personal shopping and wardrobe consultation
“Image consultants serve their clients in a variety of ways, depending on the perceived need,” Blake says. “Services could include wardrobe selection, color analysis and personal shopping. Or they may help with body typing and hair and makeup analysis. Then there’s voice coaching, body language training, and etiquette and dining training.”
Blake entered the fashion business more than 20 years ago. She took formal training at a private image consulting school before offering her services to individuals. Today, she speaks and trains for corporations and at conferences and conventions.
Lipstein started image consulting as an added service to a tailoring business based in Philadelphia. With a business partner who carried on a tailoring tradition that went back four generations, Lipstein was able to branch out.
“As I studied for my certification test, I began to realize the importance of image in business and the breadth of what the industry covered. With the realization of the importance, I began to figure out exactly what area of the industry I wanted to specialize in and have worked toward that.”
Now he is an expert in the menswear field. Specializing in men’s fashion proved to be a great tactic for a male image consultant. While men are a definite minority in this field, that has not been a bad thing for Lipstein.
“Being a male in a heavily female dominated industry isn’t that great of a challenge,” he says. “I actually think it has helped me to establish myself since I have less competition…. You definitely stick out as a male, and can make yourself known.”
Making yourself known is just one of the challenges new image consultants face. Both Lipstein and Blake point out that succeeding in this career takes dedication, stamina and a wealth of skills.
“One needs to be a self-starter and be highly motivated,” Blake says. “They also have to have good networking abilities and strong entrepreneurial skills. They need to know sales and marketing, be outgoing and pleasant, and have a passion for helping people.”
For those meeting the requirements, image consulting can offer a lot of variety. Professionals in the field could find themselves working at high-end retailers. Some of these have formal positions for image or fashion consultants. In this role, they would help the store’s customer base in wardrobe selection.
But most image consultants are entrepreneurs who decide who they want to work for and what services they want to offer. Full-time hours could mean working evenings or weekends, especially if the clients are professionals who work their own jobs during the day. There are also consultants who work part time due to family commitments or other considerations.
In practical terms, Blake feels that roughly 10 percent of image consultants earn more than $75,000 per year, and the remainder earns less than that. That’s not counting those who have celebrity or very affluent clientele.
“There are many variables, such as what the market will bear in one’s geographic area or whether one is a fashion stylist working with celebrity clients,” she says. “Corporate trainers and professional speakers generally do well. I know of personal shoppers and others working with individual clients who make a very good living.”
“There is plenty of work out there for everybody in the industry,” Lipstein believes. “You just have to know how to sell it correctly and maintain the relationship so that it becomes repeat business. With the achievement of certifications and credibility, image consultants could have the ability to earn $5,000 a day or more with the right niche focus. There is certainly lots of potential.”
To reach that potential, image consultants need to have a business and marketing plan. They should identify a target audience, set goals and be prepared to reevaluate them, and have a strong support system.
Blake also recommends that students obtain some experience in a retail environment or apprentice with an established image consulting firm. This helps them gain valuable business and fashion expertise and maturity. They can also visit the AICI website for recognized image consulting schools.
“Students would probably want to look for a course about business planning, market research and possibly time management,” Lipstein adds. “For image courses, go with something you find that you can afford to start. There are plenty of books and courses available, and it will most likely be a combination of both when getting started.”
Once established, image consultants can expect a very satisfying career.
“It is satisfying to make a positive difference in somebody else’s life,” says Lipstein. “When they put your advice to practice and begin to see results, they will come back to you and provide feedback immediately.”
Blake agrees. “This is a profession where you can change people’s lives and increase their self-esteem. It’s very gratifying work.”