An Increasing Number of Teenagers Are Enlisting the Help of Image Consultants

By Cathy Alter
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, July 11, 2009

Surely it was inevitable. Moms already bring their teenage daughters for high-end haircuts and mani-pedis. And now, image consultants -- who act as personal shoppers, closet cullers and makeup advisers -- say their business is thriving among clients of high school age and younger.

"I don't have the best confidence," says Hannah Abrams, 16, shrugging and offering a small smile. "I feel like a makeover will make people look at me in a different way."

In an effort to build her confidence, Hannah's mother, Tamar, a communications strategist and Huffington Post blogger, has brought her to Jane Pennewell's Falls Church townhouse for a consultation and makeup application on a recent Sunday. In the weeks to follow, Pennewell, an eternally chipper woman who loves to accessorize, will supervise Hannah's salon haircut and take her shopping for a new summer wardrobe.

"I'm worried I dress too suggestively," says Hannah, a sophomore at Arlington's Yorktown High School.

"To find a grown-up who will help my daughter establish how she wants to look is a gift," her mom says. "I think other girls can sometimes steer her in the wrong direction."

Even if the economy were booming, the idea of a teenager using an image consultant is perplexing, to say the least. But the trend has been taking hold among young girls who have been raised on a steady diet of pop culture, from "The Hills" to "Hannah Montana," girls who are being shaped by an industry that trades in reinvention. In this week's episode of Bravo's reality drama "NYC Prep," one teen client actually rebelled against her hectoring stylist, who declared items in the girl's closet so "last season."

"There has definitely been an increase in my number of younger clients," says Lynne Glassman, a D.C.-based image consultant who has clients as young as 9, and recently shared her wisdom with an entire Girl Scout troop.

"I get so many calls from teens," says Rachel Weingarten, a New York-based style consultant who also does marketing and public relations. "It used to be that deb parties were rites of passages. Now, makeovers are the norm."

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Or, if not quite the norm, hardly an expected trend amid a recession. The Association of Image Consultants International has no hard data on the number of teens seeking help, but a dozen D.C.-, New York- and Los Angeles-based image consultants and personal shoppers all report an increase in their number of clients who are minors, despite the flagging economy. To further bolster their business during these lean times, many say they are being more flexible with their fees. Some, like Pennewell, are willing to barter -- Tamar Abrams is writing for the image consultant's Web site in exchange for her daughter's initial consultation ($150) and several hours of shopping ($500 and up).

"In the past couple of years, the market of 12-to-20-year olds has absolutely grown," says Los Angeles stylist and image consultant Abby Michelle Moll, who works with adult clients and their kids. "It's being driven by the media and the Internet."

Reality shows like "How Do I Look?" and "What Not to Wear" usually center on the remarkable before-and-after transformations of the participants. Maybe it was only a matter of time before the trend hit teens and preteens. The idea of perpetually camera-ready teens is what youth market analysts call KGOY, "kids getting older younger," which is, of course, no new phenomenon.

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