And how to stand in a less intimidating manner.
The executive program began in March 2011 as a kind of one-stop shop for information about transitioning to civilian life. But for eight years, Barone has volunteered nearly every month at military installations in the area to teach a “Dress for Success” course for service members at all levels. He considers it one of the most valuable workshops that military personnel can take.
“Anybody can teach them about insurance benefits, but clothing is personal,” Barone says. “They know the basics: that a belt has to match the shoes, but which shoes? How is the suit supposed to fit? Does it work for their body type? It’s all about the fine-tuning.”
Barone strives to use relatable examples. “They understand quality. I’ll say, ‘Here’s a Toyota and here’s a Mercedes. See the difference?’ It’s the same with suits.”
Originally from a family of tailors in Sicily, Barone immigrated to the United States when he was 9, and has owned Sofio’s Custom Clothiers and Tailors in McLean for 15 years. In class, he tells the officers that clothes matter: that a $1,000 suit is the uniform of executives and lobbyists and contractors.
“Some of the men have their doubts at the beginning of the course, but after, they always thank me,” Barone says. “I want to give them knowledge. If they’re armed with knowledge, people will respect them, on a sales floor or in the workplace.”
The program highlights a larger effort by the U.S. military to provide veterans with practical services for an increasingly competitive job market. Although this week-long executive transition program is for senior officials, all military branches provide extra courses to help younger veterans, too.
In May, the Labor Department reported that the unemployment rate for post-Sept. 11 veterans was 12.7 percent, compared with the 8.2 percent national unemployment rate. In recent years, the unemployment rate among veterans ages 20 to 24 has risen to as high as 30 percent.
Such numbers give Matthews pause, and service members are becoming aware that perfecting their clothing and mannerisms may give them an edge over other job applicants.
“In this economy, you may have nine other folks who are as capable for the position as you are,” he said. “We want them to understand that they are walking into a different arena, where the rules are very different.”
Matthews has yet to hear complaints from Army personnel; in fact, the fashion component is often one of the most popular portions of the program.
“The number one comment we get is, ‘I am so glad I had this experience. It was an eye opener.’ ”
“This isn’t just about clothes, it’s about change,” he says. “And change isn’t necessarily bad. I’m just happy I can help and that after the class, clothing is one less thing they’re unsure about.”