Style coach: Many Czechs think that it is enough to be clever

Eva Stehliková, photo: archive of Eva Stehliková

The phenomenon of personal coaching arrived in the Czech Republic a few years ago. The first to jump on the bandwagon were business corporations and politicians in need of grooming. Style coaching, managerial coaching and life coaching have become part of the business environment but as style and life coach Eva Stehliková told me most Czechs still regard it as a passing fad.

Eva Stehliková,  photo: archive of Eva Stehliková
“Many people in the Czech Republic seem to think that nobody is judging them or that it is not important. They are living in some kind of strange reality, thinking that if they are clever it is enough, but it is actually not true because a lot of the time you are making deals in person. You have to have a good product of course but you are always presenting yourself and if you make a good impression it gives you a big advantage.”

So you studied to be a style coach in London and then came back to practice it in the Czech Republic. What did you find? Has coaching caught on in this country or is there still a great deal of skepticism regarding the need for it?

“Well, ordinary people don’t get it. They really do not get it. They think it must be some kind of trainer, like a sports coach. And the reaction I get is- what are we supposed to do with it – are you a psychologist or what the hell are you? My clients are actually companies. Not just Czech companies but international corporations and they understand what I am doing. I actually broadened my offer to include etiquette and for them this was really interesting because it covered dress style, behavior and manners. Czech society – for political and historic reasons – has been damaged in this respect. Families were not teaching their children these things, teaching them about ethics, there was a lot of jealousy…history left its mark. And companies saw that their employees needed to be educated in this respect, since they did not learn these things at school, so they were my first customers and it was great.”

So what is it predominantly that you are teaching Czechs today?

“I am teaching tem dress code. They do not know it, they get an invitation to an event that says formal or business casual and they don’t know what to do with it. And even worse –if no dress code is specified then they don’t know what to wear. They have no idea, so that’s why they are hiring me.”

When you look at people in the street what are the biggest fashion mistakes that Czechs make. There are jokes about recognizing a Czech anywhere because they’ll be carrying a plastic bag or wearing socks with sandals. Is there anything like that that you notice in the Czech Republic and do not see anywhere else?

“Well, socks with sandals are the major sin I would say. And people do not see what is wrong. It’s like they leave the house and don’t look in the mirror. They don’t see that their weight is not right for very tight pants and things like that.”

Actually I do not know many countries where there are so many naturally good-looking people, you see so many beautiful people here, but Czechs have no education in taste – that is the problem.

Is it because they do not see it or because they don’t care?

“Both. But I am sure they do not see it, because some of my female clients really feel good in things they are used to wearing. It doesn’t matter that they look disastrous, they are used to wearing it, so they feel good in it. But when you look at it and have just a basis sense for fashion you see it is a disaster and you want to help them. So you dress them up in something different and they will say –it is very nice, but I don’t know if I am the right type for it – and yet they look gorgeous. Actually I do not know many countries where there are so many naturally good looking people, you see so many beautiful people here, but Czechs have no education in taste – that is the problem.”

We were talking about the forty years of communism and its impact on people. How does it reflect on Czechs attitude to life? You also offer life coaching – what is it that you are teaching Czechs? For instance people in this country seem to find it hard to accept compliments – for instance if you praise a woman’s dress she’ll play it down and say –Oh I’ve had that for years and years….Are Czechs self-confident enough, assertive enough?

“Well, women usually lack self-confidence. And I think that they do not even realize it. When you start to talk to them about things, how they could behave if their husband says something nice to them they are surprised by how it should be or how it could be.”

What other things do Czechs lack –men and women alike? What do you teach them?

“Girls have stopped being ladies. They behave more like guys and do not expect gentlemanly behavior from men.”

“To be more creative and to stand for themselves, also to spend more time on themselves, on their grooming. Everyone will tell you they don’t have time for that sort of thing, they say I have kids, I have work or whatever and they are not used to pampering themselves, going regularly to the hairdresser, a nail salon and so on. Only some people do, but not the majority population. Of course we didn’t have these luxuries for a long time, so it is not going to change in five or ten years. It will be a long way.” Is it changing with the young generation –from what you can see?

“Yes, but the young generation now has a lot of options and in a way that is a problem as well because they are not sure what style to adopt. They change it every year or tailor it to the people they associate with, when they travel abroad they will buy something they like, but I think they are often confused as to what they can combine and what they cannot. There is even a problem with behavior. Girls have stopped being ladies. I see that as a basic problem. They behave more like guys and do not expect gentlemanly behavior from men. So when my client is a young woman I try to teach her how to behave, to know her price.”

What does the coaching entail? How exactly do you work with people?

“You talk to them. You have to know a little about their life – maybe more than a little. I have never been to a psychologist, but I assume it would be similar. You have to know the person, you have to know their background, why they are doing the things they are doing, what people they associate with because the community always forms you in some way, the family relationships – what is your input and output in feelings. When you comprehend this you can tell them what they could try to change and the coaching consists basically of giving examples in stories. I am always telling a lot of stories where they can see similarities to their own case and maybe they can take something from it –or maybe not, I cannot order them to do this or do that. I am more strict in the field of fashion where I push them a little bit but when it comes to changing their attitude I am more hesitant, I talk and they can take what they want from it.”

If you were to compare clients here in the Czech Republic and abroad –how do they differ?

Photo: Miloš Turek
“Clients abroad know what they want from you. They are used to services, they know what your goal is and they open to you more. The funny thing is that if someone hires you here they do not expect to have to let you into their lives. But without that you cannot help them. So the person hires you, pays you, but is not willing to collaborate in some areas, which makes it a bit difficult. A client from abroad knows this and is counting on it. So he is ready to open to you so you can help. And ideally, when you force people to change their outer appearance the positive response to the change from people around them will make them more self-confident and they will think maybe she wasn’t wrong, maybe I could try what she suggested. So one impetus for change in behavior comes from their own physical transformation and then also when they remember stories I told them and decide they might try to act differently.”

As a style coach do you have what we call a “professional deformation”? Do you look at people in the street and think –what dreadful shoes…..

“Yes, I have. I wouldn’t say I am prejudiced or judge people but almost with everyone I try to guess what kind of person it is and what is behind it. It is not so much about clothes. That I see immediately – whether an outfit works or not. But I think about body language, how people act, look at you –whether they make eye contact and so on. So yes, I do have a professional deformation of sorts.”

Taking a broader scope – where would we find the most stylish, smart-looking women in Europe? What nationalities dress well, behave well and how is the post-communist block doing in this respect?

“I admire Italians the most. They always have perfect shoes, perfect glasses and a perfect haircut and that helps them so much because they look stylish at first glance. As far as France is concerned, I have been there many times and I think not everyone has a flair for fashion, even if it is Paris. But in general people from Western Europe think much more about what they wear every day, just for themselves, not for the people around them. And if you go to the Czech Republic, Slovakia – in Bratislava it is really coming up, the style, but in Poland or Ukraine you find people that have no taste, they are plain and most of the time it is really not well done, unfortunately. But then, countries like Italy or France never had a forty year break from being stylish, like we did, and forty years is a long time. And it is actually not just forty years because in the past twenty years after the fall of communism many people behaved along the same lines. People cannot change overnight, in a day or a year. So for me these are sixty lost years and it is a lot.”

Illustrative photo: Ambro /
So how much longer will it take?

“I really cannot say. Right now thanks to the Internet and the media it is very fast. Everyone is watching Hollywood movies, you have plenty of magazines, you have inspiration everywhere and it is not so much about the price, it is not as if poor people or people on an average salary cannot buy nice things, they can because it’s not that expensive anymore. Before it was, but right now it is not. You can find almost the same design in the cheaper shops which are inspires by the expensive stores. So people have the chance to change. It is just a question of will. Everybody is beautiful. You cannot say that one body is more beautiful than another. It just has to have the right clothes on it.”