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'.

Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreEXCLUSIVE The Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Sport
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
News
news
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Antoine Griezmann has started two of France’s four games so far
sport
Life and Style
techYahoo Japan launches service to delete your files and email your relatives when you die
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
Life and Style
Dale Bolinger arranged to meet the girl via a fetish website
life
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    Sustainability Manager

    Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

    Graduate Sustainability Professional

    Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

    Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

    £850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

    Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

    £100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

    Day In a Page

    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
    Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

    Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

    They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
    The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

    20 best days out for the summer holidays

    From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
    Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

    All the wood’s a stage

    Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
    Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

    Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

    Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
    Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

    Self-preservation society

    Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
    Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

    Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

    We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor