FASHION : Consultant Separates the Good, Bad and Ugly : Director of Enhancements wreaks havoc on a client’s closet in the pursuit of a new image.


Before he met Eve Halpert, Ralph Strohbach’s grooming was just ho-hum. He tied each tie with the same knot, and wore whatever shirt came to hand. Shoes and belts might match by the luck of the draw.

But that’s all in the past.

As he stands in his Port Hueneme beachfront condo watching his personal clothing audit, Strohbach can see the last remnants of carefree dressing receding like the tide.

By day, this man is an auditor. It is he who calls the shots on careless coordination and ill-formed plans. But now the shoe is on the other foot. And in the final analysis, his assets are found wanting. His liabilities are shirts and ties.


Halpert, director of Enhancements, a professional image consulting service in Agoura, has come to view his closet. And she is a woman ruthless in the pursuit of excellence.

Holding her client’s tie rack to the light, she pronounces judgment on its contents.

“This is too warm; it’s an ‘autumn,’ ” she says, handing the offending tie to Strohbach, who has come to know himself as a “summer.”

“This is too geometric. . . . This is too harsh; the teal is warm, the mauve is warm . . . This is definitely terrible; it’s way too yellow; it fights your skin.”


The rest of the rack fares no better: “A winter . . . too thick, too loud, too old, too cheap . . . .”

The consultant can be candid, because she has laid sartorial groundwork with her client. The two have an understanding forged through earnest dialogue and hardy field trials.

Strohbach came to her on the advice of his girlfriend, a real estate appraiser, who thought it might be fun.

“I would not have thought of this in a million years,” says the 41-year-old bachelor.


But during his 30-minute computer-assisted analysis ($50), he became intrigued. Halpert told him his best colors, his body and face type, his ideal hairstyle and handed him a 15-point goals list for a successful image.

Dubious, he tried out the haircut--including blond highlights in his light brown hair. “I thought, ‘I’m not going around with stripes on my head'--but, it turned out pretty good,” he says, running a hand over sleek locks.

So, he plunged. He booked two personal shopping trips and the closet coordination.

For Strohbach, shopping with Halpert was like having a linebacker take down a running back.


“I am pretty much at the mercy of a salesperson,” he says. “They always say (an outfit) looks good.”

Shops are Halpert’s turf. “Salespeople don’t have a clue as to what we are doing,” she says. “I tell them, ‘My client wants an ecru shirt and a warm blue tie--they will bring a white and a cool blue. Sometimes I get into arguments.”

Color is crucial, according to the consultant, as are lapel widths and tie patterns. If everything’s right, it brings people’s attention to a man’s face. If it’s wrong, they will miss half of what he is saying, lost in concentration on a discordant tie.

Strohbach is not the typical male client, she says. Men tend to come to her at a time of crisis--personal or professional. They might be out of a job or have been denied a promotion. But even in a cheerless state, they are a tougher sell than women.


“Most men really don’t dress right,” says Halpert, “and when you show them how, they argue all the way. A woman just hears about this, and she’ll say, ‘OK, what can I do to look better?’ With men, you have to show them first.

“Once you put something on them that’s right, their whole demeanor changes.”

The consultant likes to take clients to discount stores, where she may save them most of the cost of her fee. With Strohbach, it wasn’t that easy. He has been working out, and his body type, Halpert says, is “bordering on a wedge.”

So his is not a bargain wardrobe. But it is a masterpiece. Shirts, ties and socks blend and harmonize with more than one outfit, giving him what he terms “more bang for the buck.”


Tonight’s session will merge the new elements with the old, and leave him with a detailed chart of authorized shirts, ties and socks for each suit. Thus, when he solos, he can’t go wrong.

Unfortunately, after Halpert is through weeding out his old clothes, all that remains of them are two suits, two shirts and six ties.

But, she says, the less blatant rejects will do for his middle wardrobe of weekend wear.

Alas, it develops that Strohbach is a man who has no middle wardrobe! For him, there is corporate wear and what might be called definitive beach grunge. He opens a cupboard of unquiet shorts and T-shirts to demonstrate.


Halpert peers up from her chart, and judging by the look on her face, it would appear that Session 5 looms.

“I want to get into that next,” she says and turns back to the task at hand.