Why Massage Therapists Should Dress for Success

Why Massage Therapists Should Dress for Success


Dress for Success is a popular adage based on sound advice ~ advice that actually works! More and more, I’m afraid, that saying is going by the wayside, particularly in regard to more casual vocations such as massage therapy. There are many reasons why massage therapists should Dress for Success.

I’m a keen observer of the world around me, especially when it comes to bodywork and bodyworkers. Over the years, I’ve witnessed enough examples of how not to Dress for Success that it would blow your mind. I’ll share a few in this post to make my point; which is simply, when you Dress for Success, you’re more likely to achieve success than if you don’t.

I happen to live in an area teeming with massage therapists, and mobile therapists in particular ~ there’s hardly a week goes by that I don’t see a therapists carrying a table in or out of a session as I drive around town ~ and I’ve had therapists come to my house for sessions as well, so I have plenty of examples of how not to Dress for Success to share.

What if you were to put yourself in a new client’s shoes? Not necessarily your client unless you fit the description below (and for your sake I certainly hope not!), but think of yourself as just a generic client looking for an in-home massage.

Let’s imagine you’ve called a therapist and booked an in-home appointment with her. You’ve never met the therapist before ~ you either saw an ad, internet or otherwise, or someone referred her to you. You have a conversation with the therapist on the phone, she tells you her rate, let’s say for fun it’s $100 for 75 minutes, and you make an appointment. Before she arrives, you make sure your house is clean and tidy and you’ve showered, shaved and washed your hair out of courtesy for the therapist. You’ve sent the kids packing, the husband golfing and put the dogs in the backyard and turned off the phones. So far, so good, right?

The doorbell rings, and you, in your robe, peer through the peephole in the front door. You’re expecting a clean-cut, well-dressed therapist ~ a professional ~ but what you see is an unkempt slob who looks like she just left the gym after a sweaty workout. If she wasn’t carrying a massage table, you probably would not have opened the door, but since she is, you do. Open the door that is. In comes a woman wearing rumpled sweat pants, a t-shirt with a semi-lewd saying screen printed on the front and a small hole near the neck, dirty sneakers, and you’re pretty sure her hair hasn’t been washed in a week.

At that point, it won’t matter if the therapist is Mother Theresa herself (in disguise as a bum) come to give you a massage, because throughout the whole session, you’re going to be wondering why this slob is able to charge $100 a session when she obviously has no respect for her clients. Also throughout the session you’ll be thinking about who else you can get next time because you don’t want this icky person to come back. Chances are, you won’t enjoy the massage and you sure won’t remember anything good about it or her.

I’d like to say I’m exaggerating in my “let’s imagine” scenario, but I’m not. Clearly, that’s not how you Dress for Success.

Here’s some of what I’ve actually seen ~ whether it’s a therapist on the street as I’m driving by, or therapists coming to my own home that did not Dress for Success:

I’ve had a therapist come to my house who looked like she climbed out of bed and threw on whatever she found lying on the floor. I’ve seen a therapist pulling a table out of her car wearing short-shorts (I’m talking “no mystery” shorts), flip-flops and a wife-beater t-shirt. Seriously. I’ve seen therapists wearing tank tops and gym shorts, therapists wearing holey jeans, and therapists wearing hoochie-koochie mini-skirts and low-cut, tight-fitting spaghetti-strap tops with no bra. I’ve also seen more wrinkled (meaning, un-ironed) therapists than you can imagine. I saw a guy headed with his table into a private men’s resort looking like he crawled right out of a dumpster. It takes all kinds, and I suppose that look is appealing to some, but I sure wouldn’t hire him. Don’t even get me started on dirty shoes. I’ve seen therapists wearing shoes that looked like they’d just been to a stable shoveling manure. I’ve seen therapists wearing sandals with chipped and peeling nail polish and… dirty toenails. Can you imagine yourself as a client looking at those gross feet through your face cradle?

I have to admit, just writing these descriptions makes my skin crawl. Even if any of those therapists weren’t going to a paying client, but perhaps to a friend’s house, my impression as a passerby was a terrible one, and obviously, it’s a lasting impression. I’ve also seen therapists who were very impressive in their attire. Clean and crisp, carrying themselves with complete and utter confidence. I’d think, “Wow, that’s a sharp-looking professional ~ that’s how you Dress for Success! And… I bet they’re really busy.”

Now, I understand that being prior military where starch and shoe polish have been on my regular shopping list for the last thirty-five plus years, that I probably have higher standards for my work attire than most people. I understand that, but I also know that experience gave me a competitive edge over therapists who didn’t have as high standards as I have. I know the first impression I made on a first-time client was one of a neat, clean, professional therapist.

That’s really what the whole concept of Dress for Success is all about ~ making positive lasting impressions. Here’s another popular saying: “The first impression is a lasting one.” It’s popular, because it’s true.

I’m old enough to remember my parents always dressing to the nines whenever they went out for the evening, whether it was dancing, a party, the local bar or some special event. My dad, a truck driver in construction, wore a suit and a tie, and my mom always wore a dress and high heels. Yes, my truck driver father owned no less that seven or eight suits, numerous ties, dress shirts, and of course, his perfectly polished Florsheim shoes ~ a brown pair and a black pair. I used to marvel at his suits as they hung in his closet. There was the charcoal suit, the shark skin suit, the brown suit, the tan suit, the black suit, etc. Even as a truck driver, his pants and shirt were always ironed and his work boots always polished. My mom worked in an office downtown, and she always dressed to impress. I don’t think it’s a fluke that she was very successful in her career. What’s interesting is that all of their friends, and well, pretty much every adult I knew dressed up when they went out where today people wear jeans everywhere for practically every occasion. The point is, how my parents dressed made an impression on me that has lasted my whole life thus far. That was a different era, indeed, but it always serves to remind me of how important it is to respect yourself in your attire, especially when you’re engaged in running your own business.

I think my parents’ lasting impression on me is why perhaps the easiest part of Basic Training for me was the ritual taught to me of caring for my uniforms. I always had the sharpest creases in my shirts, and even my combat fatigues, and my shoes and boots were highly polished to glass. In the military, whether you work at a desk or as a mechanic, whatever your job, your attire must be neat, clean, pressed and shined ~ always. Obviously, if you’re in the middle of combat, not so much, but in the general work day, there are grooming standards you’re required to keep. We were very aware of our standards at all times, and could often be found “grooming” each other, especially for an upcoming inspection. Yes, of course there were some who didn’t take the standards seriously, but they were also the ones whose work was sloppy and showed a lack of pride.

Today, so many people are ultra casual in their dress for almost every occasion. When I was younger, I thought casual dress was everything, but now I’m not so sure it’s such a good thing. Several years ago, I remember while visiting my widowed uncle in Las Vegas, he and my mom decided to go to a show on the Strip. They decked out as they always did; he in a suit and tie, my mom in a beautiful dress. When they got to the door, the ticket taker said it was so nice to see people all dressed up for a change ~ everyone else was dressed casually so they really stuck out from the crowd.

Because I live in a resort town, I do see an overabundance of casual wear, and I admit, I’m too often guilty of it myself. But I think too many therapists take that as meaning because everyone’s casual, or because they work for themselves, or because they have a physical job, they can be careless in their attire; when in fact, the exact opposite is true.

When I taught massage, I was a stickler for neatness in my students’ attire. I’ll admit it, I was somewhat of a drill sergeant. Clean, stain-free, unwrinkled scrubs, clean shoes, clean nails, neat hair were a requirement in my class. I got a lot of flack from my students who thought that even having to wear scrubs was an affront to their sensibilities, but I didn’t let it deter me from teaching my standards. Whenever we had practical finals, my students would line up while I gave them the once over, marking them down for stains, wrinkles, hanging threads, etcetera, which would affect their overall grade. The first line-up was a nightmare because they didn’t take me seriously; and, as a result, they paid the price. After that first inspection, you never saw a neater, cleaner bunch of therapists lined up waiting for their once-over. What was more striking than their neatness was their changed attitude. The first line-up they were surly, with terrible posture and honestly, looked like hobos who didn’t care. After that first disastrous line-up, they stood in their line proud as could be! Their posture was straight, their eyes beamed with pride and their overall demeanor was that of unwavering confidence. Even their practical massages reached a higher level of confidence!

Those students who embraced my strict standards for attire found it much easier to secure positions at the higher-end spas which have their own high uniform standards. High-end spas and hotels know their employees are judged on every aspect of their existence from what they wear to their behavior ~ every second of the day and night by their guests. As a result, they drill their standards into their employees, even having their own line inspections at the beginning of shifts. It’s important to note that high-end hotels and spas aren’t successful by accident ~ there’s a reason for their standards. Dress for Success is certainly an important aspect of their own dress protocol.

The bottom line is this: If you want people ~ your clients, the public ~ to treat you as a professional, you have to act like a professional. Acting like a professional includes a lot of things, and dressing like one is right near the top of the list. Dress for Success doesn’t mean you’re to massage your clients wearing a suit or a dress, but particularly when you’re going to someone’s home, you want them to look at you and before you even lay your hands on them, you want them to have total confidence in you and your abilities. There’s an entire experiential aspect to massage that goes beyond our hands. It’s the feel of the table linens, the comfort of the table (warm in the winter, cool in the summer), the feel and aroma of the oils, the relaxing music, your touch, and… you. It’s all incredibly important to the overall experience and it starts the moment the client opens their front door.

Whether your work “uniform” is sweats or shorts and a polo shirt, or even scrubs, it doesn’t mean you can’t take pride in your attire and yourself. A therapist arriving at a client’s house who has bathed more recently than several days earlier, wearing clean, ironed clothes (or at the very least unwrinkled clothing), perfectly clean shoes, clean nails and neatly combed or styled hair is going to make a positive and lasting impression on the client. You can be the most awesome therapist with the most awesome hands in the world, but if you stink, if you look like you stink, if your clothes are wrinkled and stained… it won’t matter how amazing you are, because your client won’t want you to touch their body ever again. Remember, Dress for Success is a popular saying because it works ~ when you put it to work.

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