The blue eyes burn down on the noonday swarm at 16th and K streets from a fifth-floor suite at the Sheraton-Carlton.
"Lower middle-class colors," John T. Molloy says, leaning into the window. "That one walking out from behind the tree now - see, he's wearing a salmon pink shirt and those green pants. And he has a lower middle-class walk" - which is to say that this poor soul lumps along as if he's hauling about 20 pounds of birdshot in each back pocket.
"Now, the man in the brown suit: Brown doesn't work well in Washington, my surveys show. Washington is a blue and gray town. But a lot of people come here from out of town. And in Seattle, he'd be perfectly acceptable."
Which is to say upper-middle-class. Which is how John T. Molloy, 42, makes a living teaching you to dress, in $1,500-a-day corporate seminars and in his two best-selling books "Dres for Success" and "The Woman's Dress for Success Book."
"Would you like a cup of cawwfee?" Molloy asks in a cheerful fog of Manhattan accent. He grew up there, lower middle class, even devoutly so, turning down a scholarship to Columbia "because I wanted to drink beer with my buddies at Manhattan College."
The accent jars, of course, with his gray worsted three-piece side-vented suit, his silver hair and moustache, and his maroon silk club tie. But it jibes with small lapses in his dental profile, and his impulsive body kinetics. He walks as if he's getting caught in the ran. He sits like a man testing a bed.
"I come from New York, which is thought of as an unfavorable verbal patern area, right?" says Molloy, who claims to have run thousands upon thousands of statistical surveys on how to be upper middle class. "But we've homogenized speech till we've eliminated it as a status factor. I grew up in the speech generation - now the status factors are all visual. See, every element in society has a uniform. There's no such thing as taste, there's only conditioning . . . "
A moment later he hit his favorite metaphor, Pygmalion. Just as Prof. Henry Higgins proved, at least to theater audiences, that he could teach a Cockney flower girl to speak upperclass English, John T. Molloy proposes to lift us from the serfdom of off-lime polyester, black raincoats, pink and pale yellow for women trying to make it in business, umbrellas for short people, mittens and other "failure cloth," as Molloy puts it.
In other words, the dress codes which the powerful like to think are probably genetically endowed are nothing more than a set of unwritten laws learned through painful years of sniggering and indecision in school and college. And now, Molloy has devalued this long novitiate by publishing the secrets in books.
"Unwritten laws are nonsense," he says. "It's like Pygmalion - the aristocracy would say, 'We can't teach these little blighters to speak properly." Nonsense! I've done it with clothing."
Down at 16th and K, three men wait to cross. Two figures large in the production of a Washington morning newspaper, as it happens, so Molloy is asked about them, a stern test.
"The one on the right in the blue pinstripes is the most powerful of the three," he says. And he's right. "You can tell by his hair - it's so neat, almost as if he had a barber comb it this morning. They all have upper middle-class walks. And I'd say they're from the South." (Two are.)
Shooting sartorial skeet is not Molloy's game, however. He'd rather talk about research, the surveys and computer correlations which have determined his own wardrobe on this publicity tour, for instance.
"I'm heading South, so I brought three gray suits. in progressively lighter shades. Gray gets a good response there, and the farther south you go, the lighter colors can be and still be seen as upper middle class.
"I could wear blue - blue has authority, like gray, and it doesn't get gray's, negative response from the lower middle class. But I get interviewed by a lot of women, and they see blue as stodgy."
Dress, writes molloy, is a "science" which can "open the doors to the executive suite to men for whom they are now closed . . . trial lawyers can win more cases . . . salesmen can sell more products." He opens the women's book with the pronouncement: "This is the most important book ever written about women's clothes."
Molloy started as a prep-school teacher in Connecticut, 18 years ago, picking up extra bucks by running a summer research project on the effect of clothing on teacher effectiveness. It turned out that the teacher wearing penny loafers did worse than the teacher wearing lace-ups, and soon Molloy had become "America's first wardrobe engineer."
His shirt, a metallic gray-blue, puffs out under his vest. He hasn't tugged the knot of his necktie quite tight.
"Let's face it," he says, "I'm not chic."
But then, chic is anathema when you're working as hard as Molloy thinks you should be to join the upper middle class. (The upper class has to descend to upper class in order to tap into real political or commercial power, Molloy says. He cites the example of Nelson Rockefeller's famous "Hiya fella" campaign greeting.)
Molloy forgives no lapses, laying out your wardrobe with the smug brio of a drill sergeant: "No dress skirt should have epaulets or decorative pleats or cowboy yokes to be sewn with thread that is different in color from that of the shirt fabric." And: "The only acceptable ring is the wedding band.Period."
And: "Many critics may charge that my approach to successful dress is snobbish, conservative, bland and conformist." But: "Class-conscious conformity is absolutely essential to the individual success of the American business and professional man."
Uniforms! Molloy is even out to put women in them, and his book provides an oath to be sworn: "I pledge to wear highly tailored, dark-colored, traditionally designed skirted suits whenever possible to the office . . . "
But if we all realize we're wearing uniforms, then they have about as much panache, wit, originality, and charm as, well, uniforms. What's more, if everybody has the symbols of power, then nobody has them.
"Exactly," says Molloy. "I'm taking away all the power symbols. And then talent will out."
Not that Molloy claims a lot of it, but he avidly concedes that "one of the reasons I've succeeded where others haven't is that I work work very, very hard. I wasn't born to be purple."
In fact, he's got a littel time before his publicity tour resumes with another interview.
"I'm going to change my clothes and head down to the Smithsonian," he says.
YOu wouldn't single him out down there. "I'll be wearing jeans and soft suede shoes and a Swiss Army shirt," he says, sounding almost surprised to be asked.