Marketing for Scientists

Interview with Image Consultant Kasey Smith: Part 2

How is a scientist supposed to dress? I posed this question in an interview with professional image consultant Kasey Smith. My last post contained the first half of our interview, where Kasey introduced herself and explained what image consultants are, and why scientists need them. Here, in the second half of the interview, are some of Kasey’s specific fashion tips. Take these to heart and you’ll kill ’em at the next AAAS meeting–or at your next faculty interview.

MK:  I remember when we were talking earlier and I first asked you for advice on how to improve my image. You looked immediately at my outfit and said, “Your jacket’s too big.” [laughter]Badly fitting suits

KS:  It wasn’t even your jacket, right? It was your brother’s jacket. It was the wrong color for you as well. You looked frumpier than you should.  Because when you were in that gray jacket, that dark, dark gray jacket, you looked stunning. You just look taller and thinner and younger and more professional when you’re in the right color and the right style and the right fit.

MK:  Well thanks, Kasey. This may seem like a basic question to you, but we scientists are so clueless in this regard. How do you make sure that your clothes fit?

KS:  First of all, the shoulders. Your jacket’s shoulders, your seams on your shoulders are falling off the edges of the tops of your arms I believe. I think there was a lot of extra fabric in the arms. We don’t want that tight, but we don’t want it so loose. We want to see some definition between your side and the arm. If there’s so much fabric around your arms, it just makes it look more bulky. That would be one thing.

The length of your pants are another, you want them to break right there on your shoe and not be too short. Not too long, but not too short. If things are too baggy, then you just look bulkier. It needs to look good and it needs to feel good.

You could take your clothes to a tailor shop, or when you buy new clothes have them tailored to fit you. Men know this already. Men’s clothes come with the hems not even in there. They know that they have to mark the hems. Women just think that clothes should fit them off the rack, but that’s not true either. Just like men have to do these alterations, so do women.

MK:  Doesn’t it cost a lot of money to have custom tailored clothes?

KS:  Not really. I think that Nordstrom’s does it for free if you buy their clothes from them. It’s surprising. It does not cost a lot extra.

MK:  How should we choose the color of our clothes?

KS:  One of the things that I do is professional color analysis. However, it’s all based on the three dimensions of color. The first dimension is the name of the color, if it’s red or blue or green or purple. The next one is the intensity of the color. Is that blue a warm blue? Is it a dark blue? A warm blue? A sky blue? That’s the intensity of the color, from the brightest that it could possibly be to the dullest that it could possibly be. That’s the second dimension. The third dimension is the value which is the lightness to the darkness. It’s on a scale of one to 10 where white being one and black being 10.

MK:  So how can we pick colors that are right for us?

Warm vs cool skin tones

KS: That’s based on your skin type–if you’re cool toned or you’re warm toned. Cool means that you have cool undertones to your skin like a pink blue undertone. Warm would be more yellow golden. Then there’s neutral. There’s people that are neutral that don’t fit into warm or cool.

The next thing I would look at is eye color. If your eyes are blue, then you look fabulous in blue. If your eyes are brown, you probably really look good in the right tone of brown.

If your eyes are green, you’re going to look good in green. Also, your hair color. If your hair’s brown, you’re probably going to look good in brown. If it’s red, you could use some red tones in your clothing. There’s a lot of factors to determine what the best colors are.

(Note: some classic books that you might not hate about chosing what colors to wear are Color Me Beautiful and Color for Men, both by Carole Jackson.)

MK:  Now, a lot of scientists where I work tend to wear the same khaki pants over and over and polo shirts. When we give talks, we wear the same khaki pants but we put on a jacket. We know we’re supposed to wear a jacket when we dress up, but that’s about it. If you put on a tie, sometimes you feel out of place in the scientific lab.

KS:  Mm-hmm.

MK: Sometimes people work in jeans and t-shirts. I might go into work in the summer wearing shorts and flip flops.

I see you don’t approve. How do you suggest we improve things?

KS:  I would wear the best looking khaki pants that fit me the best. I would pick polo shirts that are the right colors for me. I would not wear shorts and flip flops. You can look really casual, but look neat and presentable and put together.  You trim what needs to be trimmed. You shower and shave or whatever you do. Wear casual clothes, but make them look the best that you can and that fit you well.

You could also start up scaling incrementally. Maybe instead of those khaki pants you add a pair of dark pants, a little nicer quality pair of pants, or a dress shirt instead of that polo shirt.

The tie and the jacket is the professional look, but if you take that tie off that just downgrades it a little bit. The jacket is considered the third piece and when you add a third piece, that adds professionalism to your wardrobe. That’s why I said you can wear jeans and a stylish t?shirt and wear that jacket over it and you’re going to look fantastic and more upscale than without it.

Woman with scarf
The third piece can be a jacket, a tie, or even a cozy huge scarf. Credit:

MK:  In general, what do you mean by third piece?

KS:  The piece that goes over your top and pants. That’s the piece that adds the extra business professional look to your outfit.  A third piece could be your jacket. A doctor’s lab coat could be his third piece. It depends on what industry you’re in.

MK:  OK. So I could try adding a third piece.

KS:  For a woman, it could be a sweater over a tank top. It could be a jacket. It could be several things. For men, it could be a jacket or a sweater. It could be a lab coat. It could be a lot of things.

MK:  Does being fashionable necessarily mean that you have to spend a lot of money?

KS:  No, no. Being educated in what looks good on you and the style that you need to look for in stores. You can shop sales. You can shop online. There’s a lot of ways to build a wardrobe. It doesn’t have to be designer labels and designer price tags and even it was designer labels, you can still find them on sale. An example would be Off Fifth. They have major sales. Nieman [Marcus]’s has major sales. Macy’s and Nordstrom seems to be really good places for men to buy clothing because they have a lot of price points and they have a lot of good quality stuff for very good prices.


Make sure your clothes fit, that the colors of your clothing complement your skin, hair and eye color, and try adding a third piece. This has got to be easier than quantum mechanics; I’m going to give it a shot. See you on the runway, colleagues!