Sunday 21 October 2018

World of work: Dress to impress

Bernice Mulligan

IT was while shopping with a friend one day in early 2006 that image consultant Mary Holmes suddenly recognised her career calling. Having spent 13 years as a marketing executive in the technology and telecommunications sectors, the penny dropped that clothes, not computers, were her real passion.

“My friend just turned to me and said: ‘You know, you should do this for a living, you’re really good at it’.” With these few words, the path of Holmes’s life was to change dramatically.

Fired with enthusiasm, she enrolled in a part-time image-consulting certificate course at Limperts Academy of Design in Dublin. In between her full-time job with Vodafone she honed her sartorial skills, finding her first paying customers while still a student.

This was not the first time Holmes had considered packing in the day job to go out on her own. “I was made redundant twice; each time I thought about starting my own business. I considered becoming a wedding planner, a yoga instructor and even a dog walker, but nothing ever really spoke to me.”

Image consulting was different; after a while, Holmes had so many clients and so much interest that she was in a position to leave her day job. In December 2007, she started her own company, Ruby Seven, and is busier than ever.

Part of her work involves delivering seminars and workshops to employees of large organisations on topics ranging from ‘What does business casual mean?’ to ‘Taking an outfit from office to evening’. Large management consultancies also seek her out when looking for advice on the implementation of dress codes and uniforms.

However, in this regard Holmes’s remit is wide; she also talks to mother-and-toddler groups and associations for those living with a disability on how they can best work their wardrobe.

Consulting with people, which is also part of her repertoire, is a more personal affair, she says. “It is very intimate because the first time I meet a client I am in their bedroom and they may be telling me the parts of their body they don’t like. I always go to their home because I want to get a feel for their lifestyle — how many children they have, what they work at, that kind of thing. You need to get inside that person’s mind and see what their life is like, otherwise they won’t wear the clothes you pick.”

Holmes helps clients understand what colours and shapes suit them, and identify the clothes and accessories they need to add to, or remove from, their wardrobe. For the latter, she offers a separate ‘wardrobe weeding’ service. In most cases, a consultation is followed by a personal shopping session.

Despite the idea of the image consultant being the preserve of the rich, Holmes says most of her clients are normal people looking to take a bit of hassle out of their lives or inject some glamour into a tired look.

“A lot of people who see me may have undergone a life change such as having a baby, an operation, a divorce or even a milestone birthday. For some, their bodies may have changed and they need to get their confidence back.”

Holmes says the trend has definitely been driven by shows such as What Not to Wear and Off the Rails. “I know some of them go too far, but in general I think they have educated the market about the fact that image consulting is available and what it can do for people.”

As for the traits required for this career, Holmes says a passion for both fashion

and people is a must. “It’s a high-intimacy, high-touch job. You need to be persuasive; a lot of clients will have their defences up, so you have to help them relax.”

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