Ad-man Michael Brechtel on how fashion advertises personality.
Style Lesson No. 1: You are a brand.
Style Lesson No. 2: You, otherwise known as your brand, are defined by other people’s perceptions.
Those two messages are second nature to big guns like Nike or Hilton. When they interact with their clients, they know that every detail of such contact becomes part of their brand stories. The first impression – the colour, shape, tone and every other tiny detail – is considered, and those countless subtle cues combine to form the big picture.
On a personal level, style is the first point of contact for your brand.
“Whether you like it or not, all your little style decisions – right down to whether you combed your hair today – are going to have more of an impact on first impressions than anything else,” says local image consultant Miranda Wulf.
She points to a 1971 study by social psychology professor Albert Mehrabian that says 55 per cent of someone’s first impression of you is based only on your appearance. That means you only have a couple seconds to make an impression and your style is the best tool for doing that.
It’s worked wonders for the Marlboro Man. Ditto for the Man in the Hathaway shirt campaign from 1951, which inspired a more recent icon selling Dos Equis beer, The Most Interesting Man in the World. Just by glancing at their images, you feel that you know the characters, and maybe want to know more about them.
As an ad man in an ad world, I know people relate stories based on what they see, and they do it quickly. We call that “story appeal,” and advertisers make the most of this opportunity to send the message.
For each person, fashion sends the same message. So, when it comes to your style and your brand, you need to sweat the small stuff.
Pick a piece – shoes, fascinators, sport coats, hats, chunky necklaces, whatever – and know it better than anyone else. (My trademark? Bow ties.) Love it and layer it with pieces of all your various styles. You might be a yoga mom, but if you’re the only yoga mom sporting antique jewellery, you’ll be remembered.
Own the piece and be a credible expert on it. So, if Hawaiian shirts are the touchstone for your brand, bone up on Hawaiian shirts. Your frighteningly encyclopedic knowledge of that particular piece of clothing tells me that, while you may not take your outfit too seriously, you are deeper than your average tourist. And this tells me that, below the surface, your brand has substance.
Another point to remember: Honouring a fashion icon is good, but imitating it is not. If you’re just recycling someone’s style, you’re not creating your own.
The point of being fashionable is to be in control of your brand, to tell your brand story. So, like The Most Interesting Man in the World, be influenced, but never led.
The best brands have told you stories about themselves and why those stories are unique. And, whether you notice it or not, it’s done intentionally.
The difference between the brand that everyone notices and loves and the one that people forget is the one that gets noticed knows it’s a brand. Everyone else is just wallpaper.
DO: Keep it classy. The guy with the sweat stains or the girl whose butt cheeks are peeking out of her cutoffs don’t have second-chapter “story appeal.”
DON’T: Dress the part if there’s no chance you might be able to play the part. A 60-year-old who dresses like a teenager is just a little sad.
DO: Experiment. You want to be memorable, but there’s no way to know what people will remember … until you try it.
DON’T: Imitate. Dressing like Kanye West – blazer, glasses, heart emblem and all – may feel cool, but you’re just copying. Instead, combine just one signature piece, like his sunglasses, with your own signature look to create something new.
DO: Go with your gut. You may think it requires an expert eye, but the conclusions people come to when they see you are based on standards of style that we all intuitively understand. You have a better eye for that than you think – largely thanks to omnipresent fashion advertising.