RUSSIANS say, ``You meet a man by his clothes.'' In other words, if Ivan Petrov, head of the iron works in Omsk, wants to make a good impression on his first business trip to America, he had better leave behind his polyester suit, his dark shirts, his pinky ring, and his vinyl shoes.
Mr. Petrov is fictitious, but the message was real for the 110 factory directors who gathered here recently from around the Soviet Union for the first Soviet conference on ``dressing for success.''
``I don't want to insult anyone, but these guys are still in the Stone Age when it comes to knowing what to wear, how to behave at a reception, what they should have in their briefcase,'' says Alexei Ivanov, the 32-year-old director of publishing for the cooperative consulting firm Fakt, which organized the seminars. ``After this, these people will be able to get off a plane in Paris and blend right in.''
Charles Bausman, a dapper young trade consultant here for the Washington law firm Heron, Burchette, Ruckert & Rothwell, was pressed into service by his friends at Fakt to deliver some of the lectures.
``I told them `no bright colors, avoid synthetics, and white socks only with sneakers,''' says Mr. Bausman, himself dressed like an ad for Brooks Brothers. ``They wondered if beards and mustaches were OK. They also wondered about jewelry. I told them to keep it to a minimum ....''
``Sometimes I pointed out someone in the audience who was doing something `wrong,' like wearing a black shirt. They weren't insulted; they don't have big hangups.''
However, Bausman says a Crimean factory boss approached him after the talk and asked him who he thought he was. ``You smart-alecky Americans think you're so much better than us,'' he scolded.
Spyros Stalias, a Greek investment banker, addressed a group on proper conduct during a business trip and during negotiations.
Some pointers: don't be the first to light up a cigarette; don't get drunk; and get plenty of sleep - the work day may start early. (The ``power breakfast'' hasn't made its way here yet.) Many of the participants had fresh memories of the bad impression Boris Yeltsin left in the United States with his alleged drinking and carrying on.
For the price of admission - 1,500 rubles paid by their factories in hard currency ($2,385) - each participant got two business suits, a trenchcoat, four shirts, four ties, a pair of black shoes, other accessories, and a fully stocked Samsonite briefcase. (The few women execs got a comparable array.) This was clearly the draw for many in attendance.
Mr. Ivanov and Markos Shiapanis, a Greek business consultant whose company helped run the conference, waxed eloquent about the ``name-brand quality'' of the items they had imported from Greece and Cyprus.
A survey of the merchandise, however, produced quite a different reaction from this correspondent - and, it turns out, from many of the factory directors. The shirts were either 85 percent or 65 percent polyester (contradicting the advice of one American to avoid anything that's more than 30 percent polyester). The suits were little better than the ill-fitting Soviet variety, the shoes worse.
Petr Vernitsky, head of the ``Pioneer'' machine-tool plant in Tallinn, Estonia, who has been to West Europe and Canada several times, would not accept the clothing and asked he be sent something better.
``There is a wave of dissatisfaction over the clothes,'' Mr. Vernitsky confided, while an American radio producer sang the praises of Post-its to the crowd. ``But I'm glad I came anyway; I came here more to find out the negotiating techniques of the southern Europeans, to find out if they're trustworthy.''