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Fashion Wisdom From Barbara Corcoran


Fashion Wisdom From Barbara Corcoran

Reddit or Quora advice wasn’t available in the early ’70s, when Barbara Corcoran, an American businesswoman and investor you might know from the ABC reality TV show “Shark Tank,” was starting out her real estate career. She had to learn all the business tricks by herself in order to later be dubbed the Real Estate Queen.

If you need some business and, frankly, life advice, you should consider reading Barbara’s book “Shark Tales: How I Turned $1,000 into a Billion Dollar Business.”   

This book is a collection of candid personal stories of business successes and failures and the hard-earned lessons they both bring. 

Barbara Corcoran is not keeping this know-how to herself. If you are into personal development and learning from others, here’s the style-related professional advice that Barbara shares in her book, as paraphrased by!  

Dress to Impress

When she first started hiring salespeople at her own high-risk startup, Barbara knew that her success depended on finding the right candidates. So, she had a little trick before conducting interviews. 

She tasked the receptionist to greet everyone with a four-page, important-looking sales application. But there was more to it than that.

Barbara instructed the receptionist to give a pen to applicants who looked well-groomed and well-dressed. And those who didn’t dress for success received a pencil. “This way, when the applicants called to follow up later, I had a surefire way to tell which callers to spend my time with,” recalled Barbara.

You might have heard the aphorism that people should dress for the job they want, not for the job they have. Whether we like it or not, our style choices are being routinely appraised by others.

Bernie Klinder, a senior security specialist at Microsoft, points out that we are constantly being evaluated and re-evaluated by everyone around us. “So if you dress more like the peer group you aspire to, and less like the one you are in, you are sending a powerful signal that you belong in that group,” he advises the Quora crowd.  

Barbara wasn’t trying to be biased or snobbish by judging others’ appearance. She knew that looking successful would make her successful because it brings more business. So, she tried to dress up herself.

It was mid-October. New York was getting colder. And her navy blue peacoat she brought from New Jersey looked “just like a navy blue peacoat I had brought from New Jersey.”

Barbara had just made her first commission check of $340 by renting an apartment, so she had quite the dilemma. To buy or not to buy a new coat… She knew she could cover her old lavender outfit with a fresh coat and maybe positively influence how she was perceived.

She decided to buy “the best coat in the best store on the best block in New York.” Barbara overcame her intimidation as she entered the iconic Bergdorf Goodman store on Fifth Avenue.

Even the doorman at Bergdorf Goodman looked fancy in his red suit. Eventually, she spotted her future coat from across the room as it was the flashiest piece in the whole place.

Recalling it like a love story, Barbara wrote: “There was nothing plain about her. She had curly brown and white fur around a high mandarin collar and a pair of matching cuffs.” Thick wool was laid in a big brown and white herringbone pattern; she was smitten!

In the best ’80s traditions, the coat had huge shoulder pads that rode high while the hem swung low, almost touching the polished wood floor. In Barabra’s interpretation: “Everything about her screamed, ‘HERE I AM!’”

Even though the $319 plus tax item almost cost her the whole commission, this coat became her signature piece, and she never took it off. 

“In it, I not only looked successful, I felt successful,” recalled Barbara. 

“For the next two years, I marched in and out of buildings up and down Manhattan wearing my expensive coat and flaunting my new image for all it was worth.”

How To Impress by Combining Style with Organization

The way you dress and accessorize can show your organizational skills and even character. Don’t believe me? Listen to Barbara!

On the day Barbara interviewed Esther Kaplan, a small-framed, elegant woman who would later become her business partner, Esther had worn “a two-piece knit dress that was mostly cream and green with small touches of cranberry.”

She carried a beige handbag with a Bakelite handle and clasp. (Bakelite, by the way, is the first plastic made from synthetic components and it feels heavier than some other types of plastics, like celluloid.)

When Esther opened her purse to present her card, Barabara had a glimpse into “a small miracle of organization, a miniature file cabinet disguised as a fashion accessory.” 

And before the interview was even over, Barbara knew that Esther could be trusted: “I’d feel safe with my wallet in Esther Kaplan’s purse.”

So, if you have an interview yourself, make sure to dress neatly, be presentable and respectful. Being well-put-together might really pay off!  

But don’t get me wrong, clothes alone will not land you a job. If you are tasked with hiring a candidate or finding the right business partner, listen to what Barbara has to say. In her book, she declared, “I look for the same three traits in every entrepreneur I choose to do business with: good character, lots of enthusiasm, and a genuine sense of thankfulness.”

Leisure Fashion 

Sometimes, we think that we don’t need to bother looking good while doing recreational activities, like skating, hiking, or camping. Who cares or gives a damn, right? The answer is… people. People always notice, even if the squirrels might not.

So putting in a little more effort than just rolling out of bed might be rewarded. What if your skating outfit will end up in an acclaimed person’s memoir? That’s what happened to Ron Rossi, a leading salesperson at The Corcoran Group.

At the time, Barbara’s staff was exhausted because the New York real estate market was insanely hot. She suggested that everyone carve out some vacation time, but quickly realized that was unlikely to happen. So, Barbara made it happen.

She planned ice-skating for her team on Whaley Lake in Dutchess County, near her newly-bought house. And even though the event wasn’t the fanciest or very corporate, Ron Rossi took it as a chance to show off his sense of style. 

Barbara marveled at his one-piece Bogner snowsuit that came with matching chartreuse gloves. She would later write: “His ensemble’s finishing touch was a long magenta and yellow Hermès scarf, which floated behind him as he pushed off the boathouse wall.”

Yep, even leisure fashion might impress your boss!

On Having a Gimmick 

Barbara is convinced that everyone should have a gimmick — it’s good for business!

There was one Shark Tank pitch in particular where Barbara was convinced that Heath, the entrepreneur behind Pork Barrel BBQ sauces, should be wearing a pig costume as his company’s mascot because he resembled “an adorable pig.” 

She didn’t mean it in an offensive way. She was 100% sure it would drive business growth. “If you’d be willing to wear a pig suit when promoting and selling your barbecue sauce, I’d like to be your partner,” said Barbara. 

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Apparently, gimmickry is a contributor to success. They worked out a deal and Pork Barrel BBQ dramatically widened its retail distribution.

But that’s not the only time Barbara benefited from a good gimmick!

When she and her managers found themselves incapable of firing their underperforming salespeople, Barbara bought a pair of pink shoes that looked like bunnies and sent the shoes to the managers. She said they should jump on that uncomfortable, procrastinated issue and dismiss the employees who weren’t at least pulling their own weight. And the response from the managers, after past resistance, was that they’d “hop on it” right away. 

Barbara wrote: “I made it a standing policy at The Corcoran Group to clean out the bottom 25 percent of my sales force every year. My pink bunny shoes were just a gimmick to encourage my managers to get the job done.”

The Power of Pink paid particular attention to what Barbara had to say about our namesake color, pink.

On the first day in the Corcoran Group, Barbara had several announcements, and the second one was about apartment listing categorizations using a color system. All studio apartment information had to be written on white cards, all the one-bedroom info went on yellow cards, two-bedrooms went on blue, and three-bedrooms and larger got treated to, you guessed it, pink! Coincidence? I don’t think so.

This card system wasn’t the only time Barbara used pink to her business advantage.

She wrote: “All my best ideas came from talking to the little guy… I was able to sell an unsalable building because a mailroom clerk was smart enough to suggest that I paint the building pink and label it the ‘pink elephant.’”

Sex sells? No! Pink sells!

To feel like an absolute boss lady, Barbara even had a pink phone at one point! And she paid a premium for it!

She recalled, “I rented my pink Princess phone, one dollar extra per month because I felt just like a fancy business lady every time I answered the phone.”

Fake It Till You Make It

In its early days, Barbara’s business was in a state of financial peril. And yet, she understood the importance of investing in appearances, an idea commonly peddled in the phrase “fake it till you make it.”

“When it comes to building a successful business, I’ve learned to fake it till you make it — you’ve got to dress the part,” wrote Barbara. She explained her willingness to invest in “the things that helped create an image of success.”

She copied the typeface of the famous Tiffany store for her first business card. And she used grey ink instead of the usual black to make it look even more attractive. If someone handed me a business card like that, I might instantly think that the person is successful even without consciously noticing or deciphering those little details. 

But dressing up will only get you so far on the journey to success. No one canceled hard work and determination. You might think that very successful people seem to be winging it because they look so comfortable on their feet. “But don’t be fooled; there ain’t no such thing,” Barabara advised in her book.

She continued, “They just come across that way because they practiced so many times. Doing your homework well takes time — time less successful people aren’t willing to give. Putting the extra effort into preparation results in extra rewards in the execution.”

By now, you are probably convinced that the way you carry yourself, and the way you organize your bag, does matter. Barbara Corcoran shared her fashion wisdom with you, and what you do with that knowledge is up to you!

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