Your true colours revealed - for a fee: Choosing clothes used to be a matter of taste. Now the right 'season' is all. Naseem Khan remains sceptical

I STUMBLED into all this by accident. The prospectus for 'Presenting Yourself' had promised a one-day workshop on voice, body language and appearance, and I'd enrolled to pick up tips that would help my public speaking.

Little did I know that I would find myself in the realm of shoulder pads, colour coding and leather chequebook covers. But tourists, I told myself, should keep their mouths shut and their eyes open and they might learn something. I certainly did, but whether it was worth knowing is a different matter.

Other people's judgement of us is based 53 per cent, it seems, on appearance and 38 per cent on voice, the tutor said. A neat, trim woman with alarming shoulder pads, she explained that actual words were unimportant. They accounted for a mere 7 per cent.

These are not facts to be trifled with, and the group cowered under their force. Clairol, the cosmetics firm, she continued, the light of messianic battle in her eye, once undertook an experiment. It 'made over' a number of women and sent photographs to firms showing them before and after the treatment. In what income bracket, Clairol asked, would the firms place these people if they were applying for jobs? The 'crisp executive' look consistently came out on top.

The group was silent as the impact of the facts sank in. A shaken young woman whispered that she had just spent pounds 1,000 on new clothes. It was an act of desperation: she had been made redundant a number of times and was determined to do the right thing in the job she now held. Could it be, by some awful stroke of fate, that she chose the wrong clothing? Maybe the message her new wardrobe gave was: 'Sack me again'. The possibility of failure, derision and ostracism loomed.

Authority was the name of the game, the instructor said encouragingly. She listed the items we should pay attention to: belts, jewellery, buttons, briefcases. We noticed people, didn't we, who signed the cheque at Sainsbury with a leather-bound chequebook? 'That says you're going somewhere,' she said.

And above all, jackets. How many of us did not wear jackets to work - the essential armour of the working woman? A few in the group muttered that they did, but several shuffled their feet. (Buy jacket, I wrote down obediently.)

She gave us examples of the power of appearance: the home economics tutor who could not control her pupils. She bought a jacket and, bingo, you could have heard a pin drop in her classroom; the hospital complaints officer who was mercilessly harried by impatient people. Her assertiveness problems vanished when she dressed with authority.

Look, said the tutor, she would demonstrate. And she proceeded to 'de-rank' herself, discarding jacket, high heels, chunky jewellery, belt, make-up. To my eyes, she looked much nicer, with a more natural form of assurance.

Colour was her next target. I'd always thought I was good with colours - olive green mixed with sharp emerald and maroon and orange give me a thrill. I had also thought the colours people chose should be determined by common sense and a simple liking for them. Far from it.

The world, in fact, is divided into four colour types that go by the names of the seasons. Individuals have a spectrum of diverse colours that suits their appearance and from which they stray at their peril.

The instructor started to demonstrate on eager participants, holding alternate scarves in different colours under their chins. A tall, dignified black woman turned out to be a 'winter' person. What a relief, she sighed. They were the colours she chose anyway. She was a single parent and could not afford to buy new clothes. The pounds 1,000 anti-redundancy wardrobe also, thank goodness, more or less passed muster.

The group was now transfixed. There is something comforting about rules. Follow them and success will follow. They make sense of the arbitrary nonsense that is life. (Buck the rules and who knows what will

ensue.)

Notebooks out, we prepared to take down the 20 pitfalls facing the working woman. She should not wear ankle chains, nor should she have hairy legs, double-pierced ears or pop socks. Hang on a minute . . . ankle chains? When had I last seen a woman wearing ankle chains to work? Or with over-long, over-red fingernails (pitfall 8), chewing gum (11) or wearing over-tight, over-short clothes?

Were we really paying pounds 51 for this? Doubts persisted. I noticed, for instance, that only one of this small group was of English origin. Significant perhaps? However, docilely, I wrote on: Italians and Japanese spend a third of their income on clothes, while the Brits spend only 2.2 per cent. Discard wire coat hangers from the dry cleaners.

I wondered if Cinderella had abandoned her wire coat hangers and had her colours done? Maybe if she had gone to the ball in the wrong colours, the prince would have waltzed off into the sunset with one of the Ugly Sisters. Perhaps her unswerving faith in herself would have carried the day, even if her shortsighted godmother had wrongly kitted her out as spring, and as a dramatic (one of six basic personality types) and not an ingenue.

Clearly I was alone with my reservations. The day ended and the instructor packed away her glorious wheels of coloured fabrics, lipsticks and blushers.

The only sound from my companions was the ripping of cheques torn out to pay for the cost of further private consultations. It gave a new meaning to the phrase 'buying power'.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Field Engineer

    £15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has 30 years of ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Account Manager

    £27000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing cloud based I...

    Ashdown Group: Product Marketing Manager - Software & Services

    £35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Product Marketing Manager...

    Recruitment Genius: Exhibition Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

    £16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An expanding B2B exhibition and...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat