Manhattan Makeovers Blog for Attorneys, Businesspeople, and Artists

Red Dress: The Look of Failure

We hired a forty-five-year-old woman to help us determine the effectiveness of the red dress. The test involved having her shop in Macy’s and Lord & Taylor in New York. First she wore the red dress and we interviewed people and asked them what they thought was her income, her profession, and whether she was someone they would hire to work for their company.

At the conclusion of this experiment, we put the woman in a white dress and repeated the questions with a second set of interviewees.

red dressThe results were startling and totally unexpected. We actually expected the red dress to receive the more favorable response. Many women told us that they thought the red dress would get a better response because “red is a sexy color.” But the red dress was the clear loser in this contest.

When people saw the woman in red, they almost always rated her income as lower than the same woman in the white dress. Sixteen percent said she was homeless when she wore the white dress.

The red dress also made people think she was employed in more menial occupations, such as housecleaner, waitress, store clerk, and even “unemployed.” By contrast, when she wore the white dress the woman was thought to be a doctor, an accountant, a nurse, and a writer.

Only 22 percent of people said they would hire the woman when she wore the red dress, while 65 percent said they would hire her when she wore the white dress — a difference of 43 percent.

Balzac in Dominican robe

Balzac in Dominican robe

The fact that a red dress tests poorly for business does not mean that all red dresses are ineffective for all people at all times. There are occasions — such as a party or a theatrical performance — when a red dress will work just fine.

Keep in mind, also, that Balzac, the great French novelist, wore a Dominican robe when he worked. His robe was white and he wore it because it made him feel comfortable and did not distract him from the task of putting words on paper.

The example of Balzac is instructive because it reminds us not to take the statistical results of our survey to mean that all uses of a particular garment (in this case, the red dress) are incorrect or ineffective. There may be times when a red dress, which tests poorly for business use, can be effective, especially if the garment is comfortable and allows the wearer to feel relaxed.

In Balzac’s case, the use of the Dominican robe allowed him to free his mind from the distractions of the world around him and create a totally new world peopled by the denizens of his imagination.

The point has been made, however, and we think quite conclusively, that in the professional arena a red dress marks a woman as a failure.

 

 

Ruffled Shirts for Male Guitarists

Prince in ruffled shirt

Prince in a ruffled shirt

A question often posed to us by rock musicians is, “What should I wear to be most successful onstage?” The answer to this question comes in two parts. First, we need to look at what a normal businessman or professionals wears. Second, we need to look at how the artist can riff on that look, or alter it to suit his needs.

The average businessman or professional wears a shirt and tie, and a suit. But there is no way an artist can wear this conservative garb and still maintain his artistic cachet. True, Jeff Koons and Yukio Mishima both like to wear suits. Mishima is actually dead, having committed traditional Japanese harakiri in 1970. But while alive he often wore a suit and looked like a banker rather than a novelist.

The male guitar player who wears a suit would look like a throwback to the 1960s, when bands like the Beatles, the Dave Clark Five, and Herman’s Hermits wore suits, especially on television appearances. Instead, rock musicians tend to vary the traditional look in one or more ways. Here we will examine how the use of a nonstandard shirt can add to the success of a male rock guitarist’s wardrobe.

The look of a ruffled shirt for male guitarists is one of the most sophisticated choices for a band member today. This is hard to understand unless you look beyond the obvious. The obvious reaction to the ruffled shirt is that it is a feminine touch and out of character for a male guitar player, especially one who wishes to present a macho image.

But the truth is that the subconscious of the audience, especially the girls in the audience, needs to be taken into account if we are to understand the significance of the ruffled shirt and its peculiar effectiveness for the male guitarist today.

romance book cover

Romance cover featuring ruffled shirt

At first I found it hard to understand the effectiveness of this style. But all you have to do is look at romance novels and you’ll see that many of them feature a hero who looks like a pirate, with long hair and a ruffled shirt! (See image.) It turns out that ruffled shirts are exciting to 40 percent of female readers, and the same response can be expected to occur when a male guitarist appears onstage in a shirt that has a ruffled front, neckline, or cuffs.

In the image above, Prince’s shirt has both a ruffled front and ruffled cuffs.

A male guitarist who wears such a shirt is sure to excite the members of the audience, both men and women. The shirt has a certain androgynous quality, and more importantly it harkens back to the days of the buccaneers, causing young women to spin unconscious fantasies of being carried away on a pirate ship and being ravished by a band of cutthroats.

This is the kind of unusual and unexpected research that Manhattan Makeovers discovers and presents to clients. We made this particular discovery about ruffled shirts as a result of requests from male guitarists, and we presented it to them. They tried the look and found it to be effective. We also interviewed members of the audience and discovered that this style is significantly more effective, as a general rule, than a plain white shirt for a member of a rock band.

Leather Jackets for Women

leather jacket

Hell’s Angels Jacket

Leather jackets have tested negatively in our surveys for business and professional use. This simply means that wearing a leather jacket is not going to help you if you’re an attorney, banker, or doctor. However, there is a significant exception for artists, as well as for social situations.

Before we get to the times when you can and should wear a leather jacket, let’s discuss two other leather issues: color and style. The only two colors that have tested well for leather are black and brown. This applies to belts, shoes, boots, and the like, not to jackets. Black leather jackets test poorly for all business uses. The reasons can be understood if we look at the history of leather jackets in America.

In 1966 Hunter S. Thompson published Hells’ Angels, a gonzo journalism report on the notorious motorcycle gang. The book also introduced a style of writing that Tom Wolfe calls New Journalism. Aside from the significant literary merits of the book, it focused the spotlight on a feared and dangerous group of people. The associations of the Hell’s Angels with black leather jackets goes a long way toward explaining why the black leather jacket is replete with negative connotations in the business and professional world and should never be worn if you wish to be taken seriously.

However, that very negativity is precisely what makes the leather jacket so effective for artists and for use on social occasions. Women, especially, can use the harsh masculine ideas associated with this style of jacket to their advantage. Especially if a jacket has visible metallic zippers or buttons, it will add cachet and excitement to an artist’s wardrobe or even to a professional’s weekend wear.

You will want to use discretion when wearing the leather jacket for social occasions. Keep in mind that it still makes some people defensive. For example, you would not want to wear it to a golf course if you are an attorney and are going to meet potential clients. If you’re a doctor, you would not want to wear it to a dinner date with the director of the new drug treatment facility that you were hoping to be hired by. Instead, wear more formal but weekend attire to those types of events and when meeting with those types of people.

But for a casual outing with your friends or a trip to the amusement park on a fall night, a leather jacket can give you the pizzazz and style that says you’re with the in crowd and that you’re living life to the max.