We were excited to bring you expert consultation from Style Consultant Mr. Chris Curse in the 2-part series called “Style Vs. Substance”. Chris addressed difficult questions regarding the impact of style on your professional experience, natural hair, and gender roles within the industry.
If you missed the series, you can access them by selecting the article title below:
You had a lot to say!
I received several text messages and calls regarding the content of the articles. Given the interest, I decided to publish comments from a few successful professionals who provided some interesting context and feedback.
Mr. Mac Thirus, MA
Retired Chicago Public School Administrator and Teacher
Dr. Gia, I must commend you on an informative and relevant blog. While reading this interview, it brought back memories of how I presented myself during various stages in my life.
During the Civil Rights Era, mainly the 60’s and 70’s, I wore an afro hairstyle. At times, it was so huge, I couldn’t even wear a cap. Those who wore that hair style were looked upon as being non-conformists, which was troubling to many people. It was not understood that my choice had historical context that was important to me. It was my appearance only, that set the tone.
Later in life, I had the privilege to work for a Fortune 500 Company as a salesperson. I decided that it was important for me to “dress for success.” My choice of clothing was critical to the company and for me. I had to impress my clients. In other words, I had to sell myself. My style of dress was what they saw first. Optics! Once my professional appearance got me in the door, I could start talking about the reasons I was there.
In both examples, style came before structure and content. Today I am retired, but it is important to me how I present myself to the world. In my opinion, it’s style first and content second.
Emily McCall, MS
Learning and Development Professional, and Sales Training Manager
In my experience, there is often a direct correlation between how you present yourself, your work ethic, and output. Individuals who take care to pay attention to the details of their appearance often pay attention to the details in their deliverables, leaving no or very few stones unturned. Conversely, when individuals appear less put together or professional, their work often displays that same lack of detail and professionalism. That lack of detail can be content-based, correct grammar, and/or appropriate punctuation.
However, that said, there are always outliers – individuals who are so engrossed and passionate about their work that their appearance falls to the wayside without them even realizing it. The key is knowing who those individuals are. I will also admit that my own appearance has faltered in recent years as kids have entered my life, but I still TRY to make the effort! 🙂
Additionally, in our ever increasing world of technology, more and more companies are moving towards virtual work environments. As a result, appearance is becoming a non-issue as so many of us work remotely. I work from home several days a week, and try very hard to “get dressed” on those days, as I have found that I am just more “on the ball” when I do.
I recall assisting in the interview process several years ago for a Trainer, and the individual arrived in a wrinkled button down shirt with dress pants and no suit jacket. When I was asked for my feedback, I very honestly explained that I was not a proponent for this candidate because, if they were not concerned with their appearance for their job interview, I would not expect a high level of concern for their work output. It was a risk to give that feedback, but the majority of the team agreed with me.
This is a very interesting topic that’s not often discussed, likely because it’s subjective. Who are we to judge someone’s appearance, or say that just because a hairstyle is outdated doesn’t mean it’s not cared for. It can be touchy. But, I do think that caring about your appearance and how you look are two different things. It’s the “Caring” part that is correlated to your work efforts. And if you care, then how can you go wrong?
Kay Lackey, MA, ABD
Organizational Development Profession, Practice Management Consultant, and Organization Effectiveness Blogger
I have had the absolute pleasure of meeting Chris and he is an amazing person. This article gave me a different perspective on style and substance in the business world. I disagree with Chris (sorry Chris) that you can separate style and substance. It has been my experience that style and substance are a package deal. In fact, they are two parts of the formula that define who you are and allows people to see your personality, personal characteristics, and more. I have met plenty of people who have great style but lack substance, which is a recipe for disaster.
This is especially so as a consultant. Consultants are visual people but, I also need to know that there is something behind it. I mean, unless you are a model, I need to know that you have substance and can hold a conversation with everyone you will be required to engage.
“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 factor, but it is not as significant as who you know, work products, or substance. It has been my experience that “its not what you know, but who you know.” Then generally, it will transfer into 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. It’s 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.”
Monica Gedris, MA
Professional Instructional Designer and Learning & Development Manager
I really appreciated the conversation on style and substance. I believe people tend to think that if they don’t work in the fashion or creative business, style is not a necessity for them. That is incorrect! Style is a way of expressing yourself to the outside world in a non-verbal way. It’s the first or second thing someone might notice about you, even if they weren’t looking to make that critique. I always follow the motto of dressing for the job you want, not the job you have. I am in the Learning & Development field and I feel that if I can’t put myself together well, how would that translate to my work?
To add to the style rules, I also believe that with women and men, it’s important to invest in some classic pieces that will never go out of style, for example, a perfect fitting blazer, nice leather dress shoes, a professional work bag, etc. These investments will take them a long way and can be used to pull a whole, more inexpensive, outfit together.
Bruce Alvarado, MOL
Community Service Program Manager and Organizational Leader
I really enjoyed what Mr. Curse had to say about style and substance. I work in social services where the normal attire is jeans and t-shirts. Being in management, I now have to think about how I dress, especially when going into a meeting with upper management. No matter what industry one works in, first impressions matter. Wearing a tee shirt and jeans would not be acceptable in a meeting with the CEO.
I always want to be able to present myself as someone who is knowledgeable and educated, how I dress matters and makes a difference in my workplace; in any workplace.
Maurice & Ashanti Tyson
A’shanti Tyson is a non-profit professional and Maurice Tyson is a Senior Regulatory Trading Officer (NYSE)
Though this is a very entertaining article, it is myopic in its views. It seems to be based on generalities, which may be reflective of the author’s partial experiences. This may have been a more powerful article if the author provided more evidence for some of his statements.
As someone who works in corporate America, I can attest to the fact that style plays a limited role in perception of performance.
There are individuals that are good at their job and don’t care how they dress. When talking about style vs. substance, he emphasizes his background, which is style; whereas I focus on my background, which is substance and experience.
When I started my career in corporate America, I was a young man wearing Old Navy and dreadlocks, yet I was hired because of my ability to do my job effectively. There is currently a push in corporate America for a more casual appearance in the office rather than “style”. Style is simply a matter of choice.
In regards to the comment about the restaurant industry, as someone who has experience in culinary studies, I have seen an equal number of men and women in the “back of the house” preparing food.
Dr. Gia asked the question, “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? “The Devil Wears Prada” is not a documentary. I don’t think a fictional movie sufficiently addresses the question. Based on his experience, I would actually be interested in Mr. Curse’s response to this question. An evidence-based response to this question would add gravity and legitimacy to this conversation.
In corporate America, your style is determined by the powers that be. You can try to fit your personal style in that box, but at the end of the day, you can get a custom made suit or a K&G suit, as long as it falls into their definition of “business casual” for their company. Again, where I am, it doesn’t matter how well you dress, if you cannot do the job, you serve no purpose. I believe the most important thing is the strength of your substance, not the strength of your style.
Dr. Sokoni Davis
Educational Senior Consultant and Adjunct Faculty
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, and 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 can come off, and so can the black/gray clothes after five and on the weekends for R & R or Turn Up Time.
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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