A few weeks ago, I reintroduced you to Mr. Chris Curse. Chris is the founder of Chris Curse & Co., a professional style expert and beauty consultant company. In my conversation with Chris, he taught us the meaning of style and identified the essential elements.
In case you missed it, you can access Substance Vs Style Part 1, here http://drgiasblog.com/?p=1876
We ended Part 1 with the question “How do you have a difficult conversation about someone’s style?” Wait until you hear what he has to say in Part 2!
Please join me now as we continue our conversation with style consultant Chris Curse about style, fashion and professional image.
DR. GIA: How do you have a difficult conversation about someone’s style?
Mr. Curse: Highlight the obvious! Sometimes we can look in the mirror and still not see what everyone else sees. Find out what that person views as successful and see how they rank themselves on their scale of success. Also, measure their openness and willingness to change and adapt.
There are people who are stylish and aggressively express their style but it may not be appropriate for some occasions. Their ability to self-assess is essential, but we all have blind spots. Appropriateness, can often be defined by industry standards.
DR. GIA: If someone is resistant, do you push or pursue?
Mr. Curse: Absolutely not! However, I will highlight where it may infringe on their success. For example, in the beauty industry, most hair care products are named after men and this can influence a woman’s perception. So a young woman just entering into this industry may find women will value my opinion (a man) before hers (a woman).
DR. GIA: Is that valid?
Mr. Curse: It depends on the woman’s desire. If she wants to attract men, then I can use a male’s eye and style her with a male’s perspective.
DR. GIA: It is interesting that in the beauty industry, which generates billions of dollars from women, that it is not unlike mainstream corporate America where it is still male dominated.
Mr. Curse: Yes, it is just like the restaurant industry, where for centuries women have prepared and cooked the food, but most of the famous chefs are men.
DR. GIA: Do you know of any situations where style either worked for someone (gave them a competitive edge) or worked against someone (hurt their opportunity)? Can you please share those examples?
Mr. Curse: Does the movie Devil Wears Prada mean anything? (laughter)
DR. GIA: In the spirit of honesty, I really like that movie! (laughter)
Mr. Curse: There is currently a debate among African-American women in the workplace and the new movement towards natural hair, natural hair styles, the impression that makes in corporate America, and how that kind of appearance can detract from her ability to maintain her position. In an interview, people are looking at is the entire aesthetic and how it determines their value and credibility for the role.
Employers are looking at their critical style and they are looking to see if you will fit into the culture of their organization. Because no matter what our individual culture is, you’re going to bring that individual culture into that organization. When people decide whether you are going to be welcomed, it is because they are trying to see where you are going to fit in the existing organizational culture.
DR. GIA: Are there some natural styles that you found to be more socially acceptable in other business contexts?
Mr. Curse: No! (laughter) In fact, there is a situation in the military eight now, where black women are being required to relax their hair or wear hair weaves. They cannot wear their hair as short as men.
DR. GIA: I was not aware of this.
Mr. Curse: This is a huge thing right now. This adds a racial element because white woman are not being asked to add chemical to her hair or wear extensions because their hair is threatening or intimidating.
DR. GIA: Is there anything else you would like to add to the question, where has style specifically helped or hurt?
Mr. Curse: Yes. We all have experience working with someone who is relatively incompetent and has no real hard skills for performing their job, but they look [remarkable]. Sometimes having the right style and aesthetic can get you into a position that you may be less qualified for.
DR. GIA: What do you say to someone who realizes style and professional attire is important, but because of their attractive appearance, their credibility is questioned?
Mr. Curse: This goes back to one of the very first questions. Style is extremely relevant to the context of someone’s ability to excel in corporate America. Each case is based on [the] people who are doing the judging and making the decision and they will have a target goal. They will put a different weight on certain elements be it style, context or structure, and to which [element] will be the most important.
For example, I know of an organization who uses models to sell their real estate. Their goal was to attract a certain kind of clientele. Style meant everything to this company, even though these women did not have real estate qualifications. Style became the leading motivator to try and push sales. Style can be more influential than substance.
DR. GIA: If we quote this, it could certainly raise some interesting comments!
Are there different style considerations for someone who is just starting out in their career as opposed to someone who is a seasoned professional?
Mr. Curse: Yes, someone just starting out in their career will not have the same financial ability to have a diverse wardrobe, so it will be important for them to choosing items strategically. Grooming is also a factor, making sure that the presentation people see is top notch.
As opposed to someone who is established, they have more freedom and take more risks because they have already made their mark on their industry. A seasoned professional may be considered eccentric, whereas someone just starting out would be considered inappropriate.
DR. GIA: If you had to give three critical style tips to help support someone’s career, what would that be? Top 3 for men. Top 3 for women.
Mr. Curse: Keep it simple. I would recommend this for both men and women. For men, I would tell them to think classic. For men, styles remain more stable and change less often. For example, I can wear a suit today that I bought five years ago. The style doesn’t change all that much. This also makes for a better investment since there is less change, I can swap out the tie or some of the accessories to keep the style updated. However, don’t over-accessorize; save that for after work. Try to focus on a simpler look. The cut and the fit can dramatically influence the perception of your image. As Jeffrey Fox says, “Your clothes should never be more interesting than you are”
For women, I would suggest purchasing things that are versatile and interchangeable. If you have a unique piece, then it tends to have a limited use. Even with shoes, it is good to have various heel sizes – some for comfort and some for style. This works well when having an after work event. You can wear stylish, comfortable shoes during the day, then dress up the outfit after work with a stylish pair of pumps. It is ok to dress like a woman and embrace being a woman, but I would also recommend not to over-accentuate – be modest. Find ways to add character without adding clutter. Less is more.
Once you have the right style, do a self-check. Ask yourself “Do I look like this [job] position right now?” Meaning the industry standard – not mine. For example, if I were a banker, do I look like a banker according to industry standard? It is important to keep an appropriate aesthetic. Some jobs may require a specific uniform, but actually all of us wear a uniform to create uniformity in our industry.
DR. GIA: Should professionals have a style budget? Budget for men? Budget for women?
Mr. Curse: Yes! Having a budget is as necessary as your hygiene. The budget you determine is part of your total look. I don’t believe there is a particular percentage, but give it good thought. And when planning your budget, be sure to plan it seasonally.
DR. GIA: Who is your style role (icon) model and why?
Mr. Curse: Oh my goodness, I have to think about this! (laughter) I would have to choose Pharrell Williams for his fashion. His clothing is playful and not too serious. Also, he chooses clothing that flatters his build. I would also have to choose Sean Connery because of his classic style. Even watching him in the Bond movies, his characters had a timeless, classic style. So I guess you could describe me as classic yet playful.
DR. GIA: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Mr. Curse: Yes, I was glad you decided to address this topic. I hope that people will understand that style brings value and benefit to your look – it helps to build your brand. We should be careful not to take this for granted. People forget that your style is a part of your image.
DR. GIA: Chris, you have shared some very valuable insight with us about style and image. We are truly appreciative for your time! Thank you so much!
Mr. Curse: Thank you!
Chris Curse is an international hair stylist, educator and brand ambassador, and brings a unique blend of artistry and expertise to the hair care industry. Chris continuously provides comprehensive training workshops for stylists throughout the U.S., Europe, South Africa and the United Kingdom. In between styling his clients and teaching, Chris enjoys an active social life as an ambassador for Remy Martin V.
If you are looking to enhance your professional persona, personal style, and unique beauty, Chris Curse may be the consultant for you. Chris is available for private consultations. Contact him at chriscurse.com.
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“Style is extremely relevant to the context of someone’s ability to excel in corporate America.” Not sure if I would agree with this. Style is a contributing fact but it is not as significant and who you know as well as work products and substance. It has been my experience that “its not what you know but who you know.” Then generally it transfers to what you know that will keep you there. Style is more of a compliment to the the first two.
For instance, natural hair in corporate America. Its a struggle everyday for me personally but I have chosen to go natural. Even though I have seen the benefits of non-natural hair. Depending on the project, some clients embrace it while other hate it. I say “BE YOU.”
Mr. Curse, I commend you for your honesty in discussing style and natural hair. Hair is a very touchy topic in the African American community. Touchy topics such as weave vs. natural, Gabby Douglas, Blue Ivy have gotten pretty heated in beauty salons and at kitchen tables across the nation in our communities. I think that African American women are more subject to scrutiny because there are so few of us in high level professional positions, so in order to get ahead we do have to blend in with how everyone else looks. When we wear our hair in Afros, Bantu knots or closely shaven, which I find beautiful, it often does not fit in with the corporate status quo.
I do believe that in order to get where you want to go in your career you will have to sometimes change the way you look and sacrifice an image or style. There are many style sacrifices such as wearing straight wigs or wearing boring non colors such as black and grays to work. I think that this applies to most people in cooperate America even though African Americans feel the pressure to assimilate more than others. Changing the way you look does not mean changing who you are! The blow dried hair can turn kinky; the wig and black/gray clothes can come off after five and on the weekends for R & R or Turn Up Time.