Dressing for Success | Art Marketing Minute

While I’m sure you spend some time thinking about what to wear before any art event, I wonder if you’ve thought about the implications of that decision.
Whether we like it or not, and whether it’s fair or not, our appearance can have a significant impact on whether our clients end up making purchases. Our clothes and appearance say something about us – let’s make sure we’re sending the right message.

Watch the Art Marketing Minute below to learn more about dressing for success.

P.S. Another important reason for dressing up, which I completely failed to mention in the video, and one which I consider to be of real practical importance, is that being at least slightly more dressed up than everyone else helps people visually identify you as the artist. Wearing a nametag will obviously also help in this regard, but a level of formality slightly higher than the average visitor to your event will help to put a spotlight on you.

What do You Wear?

What do you wear when you are trying to sell? How much thought do you put into what you are going to wear in a selling situation? Please be sure to share your thoughts about your wardrobe before you leave this page by posting a comment below.

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In his Amazon.com best-selling book, Xanadu Gallery owner Jason Horejs shares insights gained over a life-time in the art business.

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About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business. Connect with Jason on Facebook

41 Comments

  1. When I sell my portrait photography work, I usually wear a silk shirt in a rich beautiful color, often deep red. My prices are very high, and I treat the sales session as a very special occasion.

  2. Jason,

    You hit the nail on the head. Though I’d often prefer to go super casual to some functions and exhibits I know that there is always a first impression. You show that you care by taking the extra time to portray that through your personal image. It boils down to knowing your venue, carefully. You don’t want to be the mansion in a neighborhood of moderate houses. Be yourself and let the attire be the welcome mat, not literally of course, unless your okay with being walked on. ;-)….

    And, as always, thank you for the time you take to write about current, useful topics.

    Chris Itsell
    Sculptor – Xetoric Design

  3. I try to wear something which exaggerates the feel I’m trying to sell. People have a perception that an artist is going to be dramatic or quirky; I feel like they will expect me to stand out but I am not costuming unless it reflects the work I’m showing at the moment, and also my mood. To be fair, I am prone to costuming on random occasions if the mood strikes. My favorite everyday Uniform shirt is black with white skeleton bones across it.

    1. I totally love this – black with white skeleton bones. It seems that one task of art is to inspire people to think, and to think anew. As Don Juan in Carlos Casteneda’s books once said, all paths lead nowhere; the only path that matters is the path of heart. Skeleton bones remind us of our temporary existence. The surprise of them encourages us to review how we might be using our limited time; are we wasting it or following our path of heart, applying our energy and time to a purpose that resonates with meaning in our souls? We all will die. We can use that as a reference. What, then, will you or I do about that?

  4. I notice most of the well known artists I know and follow, have a “signature” look. They always wear horn rimmed glasses, they always wear all black, they always wear their hair a certain way, they always wear a feather boa etc… Something a little weird that sticks out and you’ll probably remember it, if only subconsciously, and maybe give the idea that anyone who can be this odd in public, must be super confident and successful

  5. I wear saris, occasionally sarongs. They are pretty and they are what I like to wear. I also wear jewelry that I make (well, if it’s earrings, they are pairs I keep for myself). I like dressing up and looking as lovely as possible, given whatever constraints exist for me.

  6. Yes, I do dress up for art receptions. I think I consider them job interviews and I always dressed for success when going to an interview and feel receptions should be no different. When folks think you are successful they will make a connection between your prices and how you look and feel the prices are justified because others must have paid them and paid for that nice dress or jacket.

  7. I find that the local newspapers and media are on hand to take photos of the artists and your booth, so you never want to get caught looking poorly. I always have a pashmina on hand even if I have my set up clothes on because you never know when you’ll get a photo opportunity and you can wrap a scarf or pashmina to look good.

  8. All of what you said. I usually try to somehow match my art. If I am showing copper work, I wear copper/patina colors. If it is my paintings, I try to match a dominant color scheme. It is a kind of branding as well as a costume to play a part. People expect artists to be a little different and I try to not disappoint. That being said, I know quite a few locally successful artists who show up in paint spattered clothes and make it work. Mostly they are men, I don’t think women can get away with that yet.

    1. I especially like this idea ….of dressing in a way and using a color palette that compliments your artwotk. This takes some of the stress off of deciding what to wear to the Opening Reception. Further, it moves away from an artist’s default option of wearing “all black”.

  9. I have not been in this position yet, but will be in mid-October. The venue is our local art-oriented hospital, which will be hosting a show for an art society of which I am a member.

    I was thinking crisp black slacks, shiny closed flats, perhaps a lavender silk, finely-cabled turtleneck sweater for which I get compliments, topped with a hand-woven, open-work, half-sleeved, non-collared jacket of multiple shades of blue and purple that I bought from a fiber artist in Oregon. I would feel good wearing that. Add an artwork necklace or stay more simple?

    I suspect a good smile and welcoming manner may be even more important than any specific outfit!

  10. I have struggled with this question too often! I want to let my true personality come through with a little bit of “fun” and being authentic, but I also want to be taken seriously as a fine artist and don’t want to detract from my professionalism. For shows I have dressed up and dressed down depending on what I see in other artists at that show. For an opening or reception, I always dress up, typically in black with perhaps a little color in a scarf or my shoes. I love wearing black anyway. But I’m also very much about color in my art so I do need the little pop in my style. The other thing I try not to do is overshadow my art. I want that to be the focus, not my outfit. Thanks for raising this question!

  11. I ALWAYS dress up. Depending on the event, whether it’s a patron’s preview gala, a patron’s signing event at a gallery, or the days behind the table at my exhibit at a show, I consider carefully what I will wear. I want to project an image of success w/o appearing ostentatious. On typical show days, I’ll wear nice jeans or a good pair of slacks with a dressed up to top and nice jewelry. For a patron signing event or opening night of a show, I’ll step up to church outfits and nice jewelry. For a formal or semi-formal preview gala, I’ll go all out with formal attire and better jewelry. I want the appearance of success, and that I care abut myself and my work.

  12. You know the saying “dress for the job you want”, I think this applies to an artist as well. Your look and presentation is an extension of your work, how you want to be perceived as an artist and what you want to become. My solo-exhibition is tonight and I will dress like a business woman, an entrepreneur and to show that I want to be taken seriously. This is black dress, sports jacket & high heels. The artist in me had my hair done in a punk rock faux-hawk braid to give my look that edge. Last night I was at a gallery event and had a piece in the competition. I was shocked (although not surprised) to see many of the artist wearing tee-shirts with ripped shorts and tennis-shoes on. Some wearing baseball caps. This was at formal gallery and lots of media. I could only imagine how series these artist are about their work presenting themselves this way. As a buyer or judge, I would think twice to invest in this persons work regardless of the quality. Anyways, dress how you want to be taken. Cheers!

  13. As a jeweler, i was taught long ago by a friend/goldsmith to ALWAYS dress up in my booth as nice or nicer than the customers in front of the cases. It gives out an aura of success and skill. Has worked for many years, no matter what the price point of the work. Dressing up shows that you respect your own artwork and that customers read that perceived value when you are neatly attired. They respect your work too.

  14. I usually wear black. Black slacks, black shirt, shoes, and sometimes a tie. Sometimes I will also include a sports coat, usually a lighter color. Most of my art is solid, flat black assemblages. I do other colors, but black is the color that sells most frequently. It’s funny, when I am standing in front of or next to my art and talking to someone or maybe even speaking to the group, as artist are often expected to do, I ask everyone if I look like I have vanished into the art and look just like a floating head! It’s a good ice breaker and always gets some laughs and puts everyone immediately at ease. Now they are really listening

  15. Well, this was timed right for me. At outdoor shows, I just wear whatever is coolest (temp-wise) as it’s in the sun. For evening shows, I try to look well groomed and nicely neatly dressed. I don’t like drawing attention to myself, so I leave it at that. It works fine. But thank you for making me take a little more time to consider.
    Despite my (nick)name, I am very much a female

  16. I’m not sure where I read this, but the comment was from an art guru like yourself, Jason. Artists were told to wear black or a dark solid color so that the artist does not compete with their art for attention and I feel that this is great advice. I usually wear something black and classic with a small touch of color, usually with my jewelry.

  17. I do outdoor shows. I typically dress in simple comfortable solid color clothes (sleeveless so I don’t overheat when setting up) and have a more attractive or colorful top, shawl or light weight jacket that I can put on over the basics to dress up my look.

  18. I try to stay in the neutral spectrum (mostly black) so as not to compete with my art. I often include a piece of my “Wearable Art Jewelry”, especially if it’s included in the show.

    I have several pair of wonderful, comfy shoes that are warm & waterproof for outdoor & winter shows. They were made by another artist, very colorful & fabulous; however, after wearing them to several shows, I found they attracted too much attention & I’d rather talk about my art than my shoes! Back to basic black & gray!

  19. For daytime shows, I will usually wear a colorful dress, or nicely coordinated stylish top and long skirt. For night time, I love basic black with a standout, colorful piece that catches the eye -it can be a chunky necklace, or striking handbag, or lovely shawl. Something that says “artist”. And a nice bun or ponytail to keep my long hair neat.

  20. For outdoor shows, it’s always shorts and a comfortable but attractive shirt. I don’t handle heat well, so it’s better than appearing red faced and sweaty. I always wear a pair of earrings I’ve created. My signature, however, has become my hair, which is dyed bright purple. It seems to make people find me more approachable and starts lots of conversations. I’ve literally had people stop as they were driving by while I was walking through a parking lot to compliment my hair. When people comment, I always say I’m letting my inner artist out. They invariably ask what I create, so I take the opportunity to show them a couple photos of my mosaics on my phone. I’ve had people come in to my booth and mention that they remember meeting me at the local hardware store, another art event, etc. and they made a point of seeking me out at the fair so they could see my work in person.

  21. My artwork is rather funky and different. I generally wear black slacks and a black top with a jacket that’s made by myself that’s a bit unusual, and perhaps a scarf. I prefer to wear flats. It’s either that or a solid color dress, with a funky jacket and scarf.

  22. Such a great article. Don’t leave the clothing choice until the last minute. It saves time and stress to have one or two “go – to” outfits ready well in advance. You will also save money by not purchasing items in a rush.

    I like to dress as nice as the patrons attending the event. I have found that fun, interesting earrings give good eye contact with guest and can be a conversation starter.

    For more casual or painting on site at an event, I have a beautiful, blue green apron with my business name on the front (and pockets for business cards).

  23. Jason, in an outdoor show, by the time I put up my tent and arrange all my art, I am hot and my clothes can look a little crumpled. I have tried to apply to events where I can set up a day in advance…but these events are usually in the hot sticky Summer. I tried doing more shows in the cooler fall weather, but in NC the wind is terrible.

    I take great pride in looking my best, so the outdoor shows are not for me anymore. I’ll stick to air conditioning inside. It is more expensive, but worth it.

  24. I always dress up for art receptions and events. There are usually cameras around, and you never know who will pop in. I almost always go with a black dress and it’s fun to dress up after spending so much time in painting clothes.

    Also, I would think twice about getting involved with someone who couldn’t be bothered to make an effort during a business function.

    Great post!

  25. In a recent past job, I wore business clothes daily and didn’t really have to. Visitors often thought I was the Exec Dir. mostly because the Exec Dir. dressed way down for her position.

  26. While I agree in spirit, that it’s a good idea to dress up more for art openings, I have a hard time pulling off dressing up in general. Thankfully, the venues I’ve shown in are pretty casual, because any time I try to dress up I feel like the personification of that saying about trying to put lipstick on a pig! And, IMO, women’s clothes are designed poorly, they’re uncomfortable and impractical. It’s not that I haven’t tried to find a style, I just haven’t succeeded. That I have one outfit (other than shorts and tee shirts) that I call my “jury duty uniform” should tell you a lot.

  27. As a deaf person, I was not able to access what you were sharing on your video regarding dressing for success for artists. Would you consider captioning your future videos, Jadon? I did pick up quite a bit from the comments your followers sent. Lots of good ideas.

  28. Hi Jason,
    You and the comments from others made some very important points! I always dress for comfort and like the concept of beauty and symplicity in clothing.
    I like to look smart and well groomed but don’t feel I need to shock anyone or look over the top!
    Sincerely,
    Santana Star

  29. I enjoy dressing for receptions as part of the package. I love flowing, cut velvet, silk, and Asian inspired pieces, and the majority of my closet is “art reception” clothes, because I find them so beautiful. My paintings are bright, so sometimes I’ll wear solids which pick up the painting colors, such as a pink top with red pants, with a statement necklace. Always with flats. Standing on a cement floor for hours can take the fun out of anything!

  30. Next month I will be attending an exclusive and prestigious museum “gala” opening and fundraiser event, so this is timely and of particular interest.

    I have been a firm believer in John T. Molloy’s “Dress for Success” dictum since it was first published in 1975, but this is something I’ve wrestled with a lot in regard to artists. Most of the replies here are from women whom, in my opinion, have far greater choices and latitude in this respect than do men. I’d be very interested to know how other men dress for special art and gallery events such as this. It isn’t a tux & tails affair, but it will be a nearly impossible task to be “at least slightly more dressed up than everyone else.”

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