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What I Learned from My Survival Job #4: Dress the Part

February 20, 2013

As actors, it is not a difficult concept to consider dressing the part for auditions, just ask any gentleman in a white, flow-y shirt outside a Les Mis open call. Treading the fine line between costuming yourself for the audition and hinting at being a well-prepared actor tuned into the needs of the character can sometimes be a little tricky. For me, having to dress the part of a wedding dress salesperson and an intimates store manager was great training for developing a keen eye for where that line lies.

Understanding what silhouettes work best on your figure, where the hemlines need to be for the footwear you prefer, and the overall impression you give is key to dressing successfully for retail and for auditioning. By developing an eye toward that, I have been able to be much more objective about how I dress myself for auditions, as well as for my survival job.

Have you ever been in a wedding dress store? There are big, huge, gigantic mirrors ALL OVER THE PLACE. Do you know what this means for employees at wedding dress stores? We look at ourselves ALL DAY LONG: head to toe, 360 degrees. A person begins to catch on very quickly to what silhouettes and hemlines work better and which ones need to be chucked. In addition to the narcissistic tendencies I picked up on the job, I also began to tune into what customers responded to positively.

My co-workers who did not dress in a manner consistent with the hundreds or thousands of dollars a customer would be spending with the store were less successful than those who dressed professionally and appropriate for the location. Think about it, do you want to spend upwards of $500, or into the thousands, from a person whose own outfit is ill-fitted or poorly composed? You don’t have to be the height of fashion or wear designer clothing yourself to show pride in your appearance and thoughtfulness toward the situation.

Likewise, at the intimates store, customers responded to us based upon how they thought we were dressed. The store provided two options for attire: 1. A uniform consisting of your own black dress pants and blouse, over which you wore a short, silky kimono; or 2. Clothing from the store. I say “how they thought we were dressed,” because we often had customers say to us, “Oh, I would love to wear my pajamas to work!” The kimono, they thought, was nightwear. The clothing from the store, because it was frequently knitwear, they also thought was nightwear. It was sometimes difficult to convince them that the clothing we sold was, in fact, clothing to be worn out and about, not just around the house.

The customers’ brains were primed to think “sleepwear” when they crossed the threshold of our doors. What this taught me is that even when your intention is to show one thing, people might see another thing entirely. I could be in dress pants and heels with a dress blouse under my kimono and customers would still remark on how lucky I was to get to wear my pajamas to work. Have a trusted friend give you some feedback on favorite audition outfits so you don’t inadvertently give off a very different impression than you mean to give.

Learning what outfits communicate the confident, well-prepared actor that you are and which ones make you look like you don’t know what you’re doing is an important part making fantastic first impressions. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, but you do need to spend time and energy composing your professional image so that all the money you spent on great headshots and training isn’t stymied by a poor wardrobe choice.


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