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Austrian style

13 Apr

Austrian flagOne of my friends is from Vienna and works in the Trade division for the Austrian Consulate in Toronto. She organized a trade event to showcase Austrian food and wine and asked me to help out, which I did on Tuesday night. It was a fun, day-long event and a good turn out with many Austrian delegates and business people, plus European and Canadian guests.

Austrians are friendly, polite, and reserved; efficient and no-nonsense. They are a culture of people who enjoy life, tasty cheese, meats, and condiments; beer, radlers, and wine (speaking of, if you’ve never tried Grüner Veltliner, you must!).

Besides all of the delicious Austrian products at the trade event, I was struck with something else: the look of the Austrian men.


Habsburg Tacht suit

A modern Tacht suit from Austria’s Kleidermanufaktur Habsburg

The Austrian businessmen’s suit cuts are different than what we’re used to seeing in Canada (i.e. Kenneth Barlis’ fall-winter 2017 collection featured at TOM* – Toronto Men’s Fashion Week, includes very short jackets in dazzling colours). Austrian suit jackets are worn much longer and trousers are roomier as well.

Austrian suits are conservative and practical with straighter cuts than other European styles. English or Italian fits can be quite body-consciousness and sculpted to show off the body line, but not so with the more modest Austrians.

Traditional Tracht jackets are worn by men (and sometimes women) in German-speaking countries including Austria.These structured garments are easy to spot: they are typically styled with a stand up collar with or without lapels, with a of row of fancy buttons and buttonholes all the way up to the neck. These jackets often feature contrast material or decorative braid to adorn pockets, collars, and jacket edges.

Traditional Tacht jacket

Details of Tracht clothing have found their way into modern designs. Kleidermanufaktur Habsburg, an Austrian lifestyle clothing brand, features traditional Tracht designs with noble, “imperial roots”, as their website states. The navy suit above, from their 2016 fall-winter collection, reflects the traditional features in this updated version of the Tracht jacket.

Colour and other details

The last time I was at an Austrian trade event, I noticed the suit colour choices and decided to speak with one of the delegates about it.

“I noticed that you’re all in navy suits,” I said. “No one is wearing a brown suit. Why is that?”

“Brown suits are only for managers!” the Austrian businessman insisted.

All of the Austrian men at the trade event wore black lace-up shoes and belts without exception. In North America, we’re used to seeing brown/cordova shoes and belts to mix up a business look, but not for these men.  Theirs is a very quiet, traditional look for business.

There were no adornments outside of a neat, conservative tie worn with their navy suits and white shirts; not a coloured sock nor a pocket square in the room; no French cuffs, no cuff links. Austrian business men wear their hair short and keep their faces clean-shaven.

At the trade event, as I stood pouring samples at the Ottakringer beer table for the day, I realized that Austrians seem to prefer things simple, clean, and light. For Austrian businessmen, their whole look is elegant, neat and uncomplicated – very much like their taste in beer.

Follow the dress code

2 Feb
At a semi-formal event, don't show up in a t-shirt.

At a semi-formal event, don’t show up in a t-shirt.

I was out at a networking event at a hotel in an upscale Toronto neighbourhood last night. The invitation gave a semi-formal dress code, so I put on a dress and a pair of heels and went on my way.

When I got there, what I saw when I surveyed the crowd of entrepreneurs confused me. Though the dress code was quite clear, several men were in very casual dress. It made me wonder if they came straight from their non-semi-formal work place to the semi-formal event, and didn’t, or weren’t able to pay any heed to the event expectations.

One of these casual men  approached me and inquired about my business. Depending on the person, some men will get really excited because they’re talking to the first woman in Canada to specialize in men’s image, others will look downtrodden because they remember what they decided to wear that day, and still others will outright recoil (possibly out of shame or fear of being judged). This particular man was a member of the business team that put the event together, and he took a great interest in my work.

Of course, he asked me how he was doing with his wardrobe. Normally, this costs money, no different than asking for free legal advice, but I indulged him. I stepped back and took in his ordinary shoes, jeans, and a white knit Henley shirt.

“Well,” I said, “you’re in very casual clothes tonight.”

“Yes, is that okay?” he asked.

“Considering that the invitation says “semi-formal”,  you didn’t seem to pay that any mind.”

“So what is your advice?” he asked.

“Dress for the dress code.”

It’s simple, really. When an invitation gives a suggestion of what to wear so that you are appropriate for and comfortable at the event, follow that lead. Otherwise, it creates confusion in people and probably isn’t that good for business because you’ve entered an event on a rule and broken it. We only get one chance to make a first impression.

When a person is under-dressed or looks as though they have not made any attempt to dress for the level that is expected, it can have a negative impact. A casual look at a semi-formal occasion may conjure impressions of laziness, ignorance, disdain, spite, and a devil-may-care attitude – not exactly a respectable image to project at a business event where you’re trying to sell your services.

The best thing to do is dress for the dress code. It exists for a reason, and your appropriate look will be much more appealing to others – especially in a business setting. Even if you’re still in jeans, take a sports jacket to the event – this will immediately elevate your outfit. Another option is to change your footwear to a fancier, more stylish shoe – this can also up your look.

First impressions are hard to shake. Do it right the first time and heed the dress code.

The true cost of cheap clothing

25 Apr

Canadian brand, Joe Fresh,made in the collapsed building in Bangladesh. Photo by Global News.

Remember Maya’s speech in “Sideways,” telling Miles what she thinks about each time she opens a bottle of wine? What was going on in the world during the life cycle of the grapes, what was the weather like, and the people who picked the fruit.

This is how I feel about clothing.

Consider what goes into a simple cotton shirt:

  • growing, collecting, and processing the cotton fiber
  • spinning the fibers into thread
  • weaving the threads into fabric
  • applying chemical treatments to the fiber or fabric (i.e. mercerization)
  • dyeing and/or printing the fabric
  • creating a pattern for the garment
  • cutting the fabric
  • choosing findings – thread, buttons, shaping materials (interfacing), etc.
  • physically putting the garment together

It’s amazing how much work goes into one shirt. Even more amazing is how cheap it can be to buy.

The Industrial Revolution brought machines to replace human labour and lower the costs of manufacturing, including  machines to speed the production and lower the cost of textile production in every stage: farming, spinning, weaving, and cutting, but a machine could never replace human hands for building cloth garments. This is why fires and building collapses in garment factories are so sad.

Last November, a fire broke out in a Bangladeshi garment factory, killing 112. Yesterday, a eight-story building collapsed with thousands of workers inside, killing 238 people at last count, and injuring over 2000.

Factory workers noticed a crack in the building on Tuesday and government officials sent them home. The next day when workers returned, the building manager told them not to worry and go inside. If they refused, they would not get paid or may lose their job. Less than an hour later, the building collapsed.

The Times of India reports that upon discovery of the cracks, the factories’ owners were to suspend operations. The Industrial Police asked them to do a structural inspection by engineers before resuming business, but the order was disregarded.

Mostafizur Rahman, Director of the Industrial Police said, “The owners of the Rana Plaza in Savar and the garment factories went into hiding fearing arrest, as the regulatory authorities and police filed separate cases accusing them of illegally constructing the structure and exposing the workers to the fatal accident.”

Retail responsibility

CBC’s “As It Happens” interviewed Kalpona Akter of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity a day after the collapse. Akter said the negligence by factory owners, government, and Western retailers is ongoing, and they are aware of the working conditions and state of the buildings but choose to ignore it. Retailers hire third-party auditors to tour buildings and often there is no documentation or follow up.

Scott Nova, Executive Director of the Worker’s Rights Consortium in Washington, D.C., interviewed this morning with CBC’s Metro Morning, and spoke about irresponsible retailers and cheap labour.

Bangladeshi garment workers earn 18 cents an hour for work in substandard facilities, When tragedy strikes, Nova says, “Western retailers choose not to take direct responsibility for what happens to their workers, and prefer to blame the consumer because it lets them off the hook morally. They throw up their hands and say consumers demand cheap clothing and we’re giving consumers what they want.”

Like blaming the Devil for bad behaviour.

“The reality is that there is no consumer that wants to save a few pennies on a t-shirt or dress at the expense of the lives of the men and women who make the clothes,”  Nova says.

Last November’s fire sparked a movement to petition The Gap, one of the retailers fingered in the tragedy, to add 10 cents to their retail price to bring working conditions to standard in Bangladesh. The Gap has instead chosen to create its own “corporate-controlled monitoring system that won’t be accountable to workers, consumers, or independent safety experts,” according to Sum of Us.

Ultimately, change is up to us, we that consume these “fast fashion” garments, to urge retailers to give us a choice in paying extra – up to 15 cents per garment – to pay for the assurance that factory workers would be treated well at work and in safe conditions.

Tweet Joe Fresh @JoeFresh or email Loblaw, it’s parent company to ask for a small price increase to protect Asian workers.

Cost to you

Cheap clothing is cheap partially because it consists of low-grade material. The garment may look okay on a hanger in the store, but once you wash and wear it a few times, it will lose its shape and elastic recovery if it’s a knit, often the dyes run, and ultimately you have a new rag to clean with.

Low-grade fabrics could be made of anything but are commonly cottons and cotton blends (i.e. polyester- cotton). Often, fabric manufacturers add chemical fillers (i.e. formaldehyde). but these finishes wash out, leaving your garments limp and lifeless. I often think of the environmental impact of this “disposable” clothing. (Read this post for information on what your clothes go through before you buy them.)

This is a three-way street between us, the consumers, the retailers, and the factory owners.  Retailers and factory owners and managers are ultimately dictated to by consumers.  If we continue to demand cheap clothing, we must tell retailers that we want to adopt a dime-per-garment policy to help Western clothing giants pay for safe conditions for south Asian workers.

Fashion doesn’t have to make people suffer. No one wants human life as the cost of doing business.

Image disconnect

19 Jan

Wouldn't it be weird if this man was actually an insurance professional?

A business contact that I have a lot of faith in sent me a link to a sales tip blog by a salesman who has been working in sales for decades and has influenced thousands of people with his sales tactics. I went to the blog site and there on the first page, before any text, before any sales tips, was a picture of the author – a man easily 56-years old but probably a lot younger, skin pale, hairstyle dated, wearing rectangular tinted eyeglasses and a plain white collared shirt. I saw a middle-aged science teacher from the 70s. I did not see a sales guru.

I kept his web page up to read for about a week with the intention of reading it but in the end, I just couldn’t do it. I just didn’t have faith in him.  The man had absolutely no presence.

You only get one chance at a first impression

Now, some of you will be chastising me for not giving this man a chance, but this is exactly the point. We only have one chance to make a first impression, and to me, I saw a disconnect between what this man does for a living and the way he projects himself; the two together just didn’t add up. This man did not look like a “sales guru” let alone a professional, so I decided that his advice was probably as dated as his haircut. In other words, I felt that his credibility was questionable because his messages were confused.

When I’m talking about politicians to the media, we often discuss what visual cues promote believability and trustworthiness. I tell them that when there is a disconnect between what a politician says, how he looks, and his body language, he affects people’s opinion of him. The same goes for any one else – when we send mixed messages, our integrity is compromised and we become suspect.

In your personal life and in business, a fragmented image isn’t going to be doing you any favours. Here are some more examples to help you understand how this works:

–> I know a fellow in the insurance industry who insists that he is warm and understanding. He could very well be warm and understanding, but the sight of a thin, pasty-skinned man with long wiry hair and large glasses makes him look rather like a mad scientist, not anyone particularly “warm”. I’m not sure how many people could get past this first vision of him and accept him as a “warm” person because he certainly doesn’t project that feeling. The disconnect between what I see and what I hear throws me into confusion and I doubt what he says.

–> If I had a meeting with a person I only knew from his picture on the web, and he looked about 35 with a full head of hair, and the man I met was actually 55 and balding, I would certainly be confused and I might decide to not trust him (if you’re using a 20-year old picture, this could be interpreted as a little something called “dishonesty”). People recognize and trust genuine and honest people, and if people perceive that you’re not being open and honest with them, you may have to kiss the business/kiss the girl/boy good-bye. This happens a lot with internet dating. It’s in your best interest to maintain an honest and up-to-date online web presence.

–> I volunteer for a cultural organization in Toronto and we are in the process of updating our website. The woman in command and I met with a fellow who raved about the websites he’s created and was sure that we would be convinced that he was our man for the job. When we met with him, he was dressed in dusty clothes and his skin was rough. This vision was immediately confusing to us because we expected to meet someone who looked like a web designer, not a drywaller. On top of this, the man did not prepare anything for our meeting – I came to the meeting with more ideas than he did. What’s wrong with this picture? He looks and behaves opposite to the way he came off during telephone and email contact, and guess what? He didn’t get the job.

–> About 10 years ago, I was buddies with Andy. Andy was a computer geek and had a lot of friends. I got to know one of his friends who helped me with some internet something-or-other and we exchanged some friendly emails. I thought he was a nice guy. A couple of weeks later, I had a party. Andy and his friend were supposed to come together, but Andy couldn’t make it in the end. I suggested that his friend come anyway.

Party night. Andy’s friend buzzes in from downstairs. I open the door to a tall, scruffy man wearing a ripped Ren & Stimpy t-shirt, and reeking of body odor. I sensed something menacing about him. I was so thrown off by what was in front of me that I questioned his identity to make sure that he was Andy’s friend. He was. Dang. Being a polite Canadian, I let him in but I wish I hadn’t. He unleashed himself upon my guests, overpowered them with his stink, bombarded them with his conspiracy theories, and creeped them out by his general demeanor. What an awful experience.

Sending, or not being aware of sending inauthentic messages, might cause you to lose out. I’m telling you this, men, because I don’t want you to make the same mistakes as the fellas in our examples. We’re looking for honour here, gentlemen, an awareness of who we are and the messages we send out to the world about who we are. Are you aware of the messages you’re sending? Are they true and balanced, or are they inconsistent and unclear? How do your messages affect your relationships?

Follow the magic leader

28 Jul

Dan Trommater is not your ordinary miracle worker.

I happen to have met a couple of real life magicians recently and found myself fascinated by their craft and curious that I could apply image principles to what they do and how they do it. Last week I wrote about James Alan, Magician, and how his clothing dictates what kind and how much magic he can perform. We also found that because James practices traditional magic, he makes his image match his profession.

This week, I will again discuss modern magic in ways that you didn’t expect, and I will again draw parallels between a magician’s magic and the magic of  image, but this time, our magician is not a traditional type.

Dan Trommater is doing something completely unlikely with his magic combining it with leadership training to help managers and leaders become more effective in their jobs at organizations who want a unique approach to leadership.

Freeing beliefs and assumptions

I met Dan at a business networking group a couple of months ago and I was fascinated by what he does and how he does it, wondering what a mix of magic and business would look like. The more I talked to Dan, the more I understood where he was coming from and found that what he does and what I do have many things in common.

First, our occupations represent the liberation of thought, belief, and assumption.

Magic, according to Dan, is a tool used to “involve audiences in a friendly, fun, and supportive environment that transforms them into 5-year olds by engaging their sense of wonder. ”

Doesn’t that sound nice? Tell me more, Dan!

“I like to open my keynotes with a magic trick that messes with the way the human mind thinks it understands the universe,” he says, “A member of the audience is invited to sign their name on their $20 bill which I make disappear. Next, they open a box that has been in full view the entire time and inside the box is a lime. We cut the lime open and inside of the fruit is the signed dollar bill!”

This is a trick that Dan performs in order to challenge the assumptions of the group. He asks the flabbergasted audience to write out their theories about how he possibly could have transported the bill to the inside of the lime. Members of the group then share their theories, showing that there is more than one way to look at things, and that there is more than one solution to the puzzle. (In fact, throughout Dan’s career he’s used at least  ten different ways to get the bill in the lime, so he really believes in this exercise.) This type of exercise forces people to question their assumptions about what they understand to be “right” and opens them to other possibilities – this is where the magic happens.

Dan punctuates presentations with magic to lead the audience in the shared experience of wonder and gives them a glimpse into their child-like selves. His tricks challenge assumptions of his audience and they are able to experience reality in a new way, and this is really cool. I say that because I do the same thing with image work.

Altering the image challenges men’s assumptions about themselves, as they are able to experience themselves on several new levels. If a guy continuously wears shirts that are cut too generously, for example, he may assume that all shirts feel sloppy to wear, but when he gets into a flattering and properly fitted shirt,  his assumption about fit and the experience of clothing has changed because he has experienced clothing in a way he didn’t know was possible. His world view has been altered for the better, and this is magical for me.

Magical leadership

When looking for commonalities between magic and leadership, Dan saw that both were about engagement and vision.

“Magicians and leaders must address a diverse group and form connections throughout that group, align them to a clear, common goal, and influence them in such a way that the end goal is reached for everyone’s benefit,” Dan says.

In his leadership speaking presentation, “Think Like a Magician – Achieve the Impossible” , “you’ll learn how magicians are able to turn the impossible into reality and you’ll gain valuable tools for harnessing the potential within yourself and your organization.” And that’s what it’s all about, dear readers – enhancing what is already there (but so often buried) and harnessing the potential of oneself. With this, comes the magic of confidence which can move a man to unbelievable levels!

People like people with confidence; confidence makes us feel safe somehow. I think that confidence is the most appealing characteristic of them all (what do you think?). Some of you will have worked for people who were good leaders and some will have worked for people who were not so good leaders. What was the difference? Confidence. Confident leaders know who they are, they know what they see, and can communicate their vision to the people they influence. (If leaders were not confident, would they be leaders at all?)

I have seen my clients reach the goals they set out to achieve at the start of our work because they have seen themselves from a different angle and their confidence shines through. A new angle and a fresh perspective can change what a guy sees in the mirror, in his psyche, and how people are struck by him. It can be quite amazing.


Reality is subjective and one of the reasons that I like Dan is that he understands this. He understands it so much that he works it into his act.

Everyone sees and experiences the world differently and each reality is unique. With 6 billion people on the planet, that’s a lot of perspectives, but no matter how empathetic we may be, we can really only see things through the lens of our own perspective. Dan sees unchallenged perspectives as “baggage” that can keep us closed by colouring our decisions and clouding our realities (i.e. barriers, often self-inflicted but in place due to outside forces), so he tries to open it up during his presentations and loosen preconceived notions with magic to spark our sense of wonder and possibilities.

In this video, Dan illustrates the power of perspective, whereby the audience experiences the magic “trick” of cutting a length of rope and then restores it, while Brian, the stage volunteer, experiences the “magic” of the rope miraculously reconnected by magic dust:

Brian’s sense of disbelief is suspended from his perspective on the stage because he sees the trick from the front end; the rope seems to be actually restored by magic and as any 5-year old would be, he is delighted by this. On the back-end, Dan is actually showing the audience how the trick works by showing the concealed bits of rope to be cut without going near the long piece. It seems that not everything is what it seems.

And this brings me back to the theatre, the place of illusion, where we think not in terms of what something is, but what it could be. As a theatre designer, I must be able to see the potential of something when I look at it (like how shot polyester can look like linen on stage) and apply this to my work as an image consultant when I consider men. Because I can see what could be, it is my job to shift the client’s perspective so that he is comfortable seeing himself from a new and non-judgemental perspective, allowing him to experience himself, clothing, and colour on a whole new level.

Image work is truly magical in this way because it gives a guy the opportunity to see himself in a way that he has never been seen before, giving him a chance to appreciate himself and feel good about projecting a natural increased confidence.

Challenging perspectives through magic or through image work opens people to new and sometimes unthinkable possibilities, paving the way to liberation through unguarded wonder and the suspension of assumption. When we are open to change and open to learning so that we can become our best, that is our magic moment – grab it!