You could look it up, as Casey Stengel used to say: A glance at the New York phone book reveals more than a column of listings that begin with the word Image.
There's Image Assemblers, Image Builders, Image Communications, Image Consultants. Also, Image Crafters, Image Creators and Image O'Youth. That's just a partial list, in just one town.
What hath John Molloy wrought? When he wrote Dress for Success in 1977, he launched an entire new industry. Sprouting across America, like wild mushrooms after a rainfall, are grooming gurus, color consultants, speech therapists, handshake analysts. For a fee that ranges from large ($300 per person for group seminars) to colossal ($5,000 a day for corporate programs), these makeover artists will turn any creepy caterpillar into a butterfly.
Easing the insecure to the top rungs of the ladder of achievement has become a $100 million-plus annual business, according to Jacqueline Thompson of Image Industry Publications in New York. "Our 1986 Directory of Personal Image Consultants listed 364 firms, 100 new ones in the past year alone," says Thompson, who edited the directory. By contrast, in 1978, there were just 36 such companies. Beyond those she has catalogued, Thompson estimates that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other individuals and firms.
The urge to have a retooled, enhanced and upgraded persona is rampant among Americans. Last year, a record 125,000 people signed up just for courses in public speaking, sales training and customer relations, says Thompson, who estimates that at least 1 million people each year enlist the services of image enhancers of one sort or another.
Trouble is, anyone with four weeks of a night class at some fashion center can hang out a shingle and claim to be an image consultant. Some image-makers have good credentials and years of experience (as the most highly reputed ones say -- presumably about themselves), while others have little of either. To hear it from these one-minute managers, no one can afford to be left behind.
A firm handshake, an unrelenting smile, a memory for first names -- and you're well on your way to realizing the American dream of the 1980s, being first among equals.
"People make up their minds about you in around one-tenth of a second these days," warns William Thourlby, wardrobe adviser to former presidents Nixon and Carter and author of You Are What You Wear and Passport to Power. "People eyeball you and wonder about your income, your finances, your education, your social background, your heritage, even your morals," says this ex-actor turned retailer. By the time you cross the doorsill you are either in or out." Thourlby's clients include Merrill Lynch, Smith Barney, and Coca-Cola. And they pay up to $2,000 for all-day seminars.
Dress for Success has become Dress to Kill. Enough is never Enough. The job of image consultant is to help you "Fake it till you make it," as one prominent practitioner put it.
"It's amazing how many mistakes people make -- even sophisticated people -- in their dress, manner and appearance," says Lynn Pearl, former actress and model and now head of Executive Image in Chicago. "No one can be successful today unless he can create the right visual effect. TV has seen to that," she adds.
At Frederick Knapp's self-projection workshop in Manhattan, he and the staff of Frederick Knapp Associates focus a lot on the Don'ts: Don't have a droopy mustache, don't sit with legs far apart or knees pressed together, one is sloppy, the other uptight.
For $750 and up, executives learn "power gestures," the Executive Freeze, the Golf Grip, the JFK Curlicue, mannerisms designed to rivet the attention of one person or an audience of hundreds. "Today's world is so ... competitive. Everyone is striving to be better. Even CEO's have blind spots; we try to eliminate them," stresses Knapp, who sees himself as an image "doctor." His "patients" include AT&T, Kidder, Peabody, IBM and Xerox.
"My clients aren't losers," says Elaine Posta, founder and head of The Image Institute. "They are achievers who want to be even better than they are." Posta sees herself as a "strategist, part psychologist, part nutritionist, part dermatologist ... whatever it takes."
For $100 an hour, she gives people quizzes, reconstructs their psyches, takes them on shopping expeditions and shows she cares; the latter is the main thing. "No one would come to me if I didn't demonstrate concern." She trains people for Revlon, Neiman Marcus, and Manufacturers Hanover Bank, among others, making "emergency repairs" when necessary.
"It's important that executives and professionals perceive how the rest of society sees them. That's probably why so many people seek us out," muses Susan Bixler, a fashion expert and former consultant for a cosmetics company, who expects to gross more than $1 million this year for making presentations to employees of Bristol-Myers, Dow, Corning, Hewlett-Packard, Citicorp and others.
"How do I know it works? Because people keep coming back again and again. I talk about everything, from how to shake hands to how to wield power. If a man needs to shave his whiskers, if a woman needs to go on a diet, I will deal with those things as well," says Bixler, founder of Professional Image Inc., headquartered in Atlanta.
Not everyone in the Image Business likes this overworked term. Former actress Dorothy Sarnoff, head of Speech Dynamics Inc., calls her service "one-stop consulting." Author of Make the Most of Your Best, she has counseled everyone from Menachem Begin to E.F. Hutton executives, from the president of Boston University to Marriott Corp. managers, on talking to groups. For $2,000 (six hours of counseling) or $650 (two-day open enrollment seminars) she turns "gulpers and gropers" into commanding speakers with presence and style.
Jim Tunney, 25 years an NFL referee, co-author of Build a Better You -- Starting Now, sees himself as a motivational speaker who lectures to major corporations across the United States. "Most of us die with our music still in us, Oliver Wendell Holmes once said. My job is get the music out, help people make first downs, on the way to touchdowns," he says.
Perhaps the prime example of an image-created success in America today is Lee Iacocca, the man who is perceived by most of the country as having "saved" Chrysler, riding a white steed, or perhaps limo.
Where did he acquire his skills? Why, from Dale Carnegie, the granddaddy of all image-makers. "I was an introvert, a shrinking violet, before I took the course at the Dale Carnegie Institute," Iacocca writes. Although Carnegie himself has been gone from the scene for three decades, his self-help courses are still flourishing. The Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders were graduated from Dale Carnegie after they overcame -- you didn't guess it, did you? -- stage fright. Could anything better illustrate the need of image-builders in this image-obsessed land?
The image game is played on many levels, some of it a little bizarre. Sometimes it goes by terms like self-awareness, self-actualization, spiritual well-being, but the motive doesn't change: to get a jump on everyone else.
In New York, some executives have signed up for an Acting for Business People Workshop. A Korean master conducts a Chi and Money workshop, adapting Tai Chi, an Asian exercise regimen, to Western greed. Then there's the Open Circle, where a sculptor-painter-psychic conducts meditation sessions. Also, there's the Institute of Core Energetics for overcoming compulsions, and Joyce Barrie's workshop, "The Game of Life -- Play to Win," at which some enrollees -- men -- do a strip tease, or dress up in costumes and run amok.
Now that women are an integral part of the workplace, they too have joined the quest for the right goddess. Diane Sawyer, the TV journalist, first woman host on CBS's "60 Minutes," and Geraldine Ferraro, the politician who ran for vice president, have both made video tapes for Alcott & Andrews, a national retail chain, extolling their personal dress codes. Susan Seidelman, director of "Desperately Seeking Susan," recently turned out a new film, "Making Mr. Right," in which the heroine is an image consultant. At least two image makers, Susan Bixler and Brenda York, in Washington, have between them trained hundreds of women around the country to become image consultants.
Does any of this help people to get a better job, a promotion, more income? At least some nonimage industry experts doubt it.
"Everyone is trying to look like Iacocca, to be a team player, trying to make their clothes carry a message," says Norman Karr, executive director of the Men's Fashion Association.
"There is probably too much emphasis on corporate conformity, rigidity and the like," in the view of Michael R. Solomon, a consumer psychologist at New York University's business school.
"Cities tend to be dressier, more decadent," claims a California observer of the image-making scene. "Putting your best foot forward in the area of dress, grooming -- the outside cover -- probably is an indication that an individual doubts that he can make it on talent," opines another.
"To change a person's self-image, one that has been developed via dozens of complexities over a lifetime, is a foolish pursuit," says Georgetown University sociologist Amitai Etzioni.
"The whole procedure makes an individual feel sort of preposterous, but what are you going to do? One mistake and you can be out the door," decides a middle manager currently enrolled in an image-building curriculum.
Image consultants protest. "Teaching the tense to relax, the shy to be radiant, the inarticulate to be eloquent is certainly a worthy endeavor," declares Doe Lang, who was once featured in the daytime soap operas "The Edge of Night" and "As The World Turns." Now, she runs Charismedia in New York City. "We don't give people a fish, we give them a fishing rod. How they use it is up to them," she adds.
"The image consultant is a reflection of America, of traditional values like equality of opportunity and freedom. If you can package yourself to look like you've got it -- in fact, that you've always had it -- what's wrong with that?" asks William Thourlby.
After all, rank does have privileges, so almost everyone wants to rank higher than his neighbors. But one vice president of a major firm took an image-making course because "I wasn't successful and I wasn't happy. Afterward, I still wasn't successful and I still wasn't happy. Years later," he adds, "I became successful. Then I was happy." Image making, it seems, wasn't as much help as years of effort.
Alan D. Haas is a New York writer.