TITLE: What Not to Wear*
DATE: 12/20/2004 05:26:00 PM
While at a conference this year I happened across a booth that offered free business start-up advice. I began talking to the woman running the booth and somewhere during our conversation she pulled a book out from under the table and handed it to me. She was Susan Wilson Solovic and the book was her book — The Girls’ Guide to Power and Success. A signed copy! How lovely.
Reading it today on a plane home I ran across a very important chapter full of things you should make a point of doing (or not doing) if you expect to make it as a female in today’s business world. This hits home for me personally, in addition to applying to the entrepreneurial aspects of selling your artwork. In all honesty, many of her comments took me back. They addressed solutions to stereotypical views that others hold against women. It all seemed so… well… stodgy. Surely we've moved beyond trying to rebel against June Cleaver?
Then I paused to think about one great point.
In the book she addresses the fact that image is everything. Well, perhaps not everything, but it is proven that image is the first sizeable percentage of what anyone takes in. Then they move on to secondary considerations like the content of your message, the point you are trying to drive home, or listening to what it is you are trying to sell.
Artists and craftspeople can gain a lot by thinking about how they are presenting themselves.
How do you dress at a show? Do you get feedback from others? Do you dress ‘artsy’? Do you dress too casual? Or, would you describe your dress as ‘professional’?
Having attended A LOT of shows (indoor, outdoor, large, small), I know that there is a sizeable number of artists that flub this basic beginning step to selling. Here is my basic list of ‘packaging perfectors’ (you being the package that needs perfecting):
1) Don’t dress like the crowd that is attending the event. If you are at an outdoor fair, you should be especially careful. Birkenstocks and baseball caps are practical-wear for people walking outside at a festival. They are not, however, a good way for you to project yourself and sell your work. The only exception I have found to this rule are people selling tie-dye (yes, you can wear your Birks) and people selling baseball-themed shirts, bags, or other parephenalia (Ideally though your cap should be something you actually sell).
2) Avoid dressing above your audience, it will intimidate some. While your dressing-up may raise the perceived value of your work, there are very few shows I have seen this to work successfully at.
3) Be practical. Wear shoes that will get you through the day AND look attractive. Ideally, bring several pairs of shoes. Changing them midway through the day has always helped me keep my stamina. A change in elevation also has usually helped me. So I bring a few pairs of varying heights.
4) Also bring a change of clothing, if feasible. At a recent outdoor show, I wasn’t entirely sure what the weather would be. I also wanted to ensure that the crisp, white shirt I brought wouldn’t accidentally get something spilled on it. (Practicality should always come first.) Think like a Boy Scout!
5) On the subject of dressing ‘artsy’. I hesitate to wade too deep into this. Suffice it to say that people who buy art often wish they could live the lifestyle they believe artists live. It’s a romantic idea. They also need the artist they buy from to be accessible and approachable though. There is nothing wrong with oddly colored hair or black and white stockings or whatever other colorful way you wish to present yourself. Just, please, be open to toning it down if you see that your audience is entering the booth of your more approachable neighbors. Do you intend to sell your work or do you intend to be a poor poster child for not selling out? It is possible to strike a happy medium?
* Not to be confused by the television program on TLC or the BBC.