No one understands the power of fashion to communicate and hide better than Jonna Mendez.
After serving 27 years at the CIA for 27 years before her retirement in 1993, Mendez earned the title of Chief of Disguise, presented a $ 1 million multi-million dollar program and received the Intelligence Commendation Medal for her services. During her career at the agency, she became a specialist in identity transformation and clandestine photography, and competed against the KGB in Moscow, the Stasi in East Germany and the Cuban Intelligence Directorate. No big deal.
In the years since she left the agency, Mendez has used her experience with real-life spies to create books like & # 39; Argo & # 39; to write. "Spy Dust " and "The Moscow Rule "with her husband Antonio Mendez, who shared the title of Chief of Disguise. Jonna is now a lecturer, consultant and a founding member of the Board of Advisors at the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC – and she is probably the best person to ask for advice if you are traveling to your hometown and do not want your ex to be recognized on the street.
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When it comes to disguises, people often concentrate on what you see from the chin – wigs, mustaches, prosthetics in the face – but usually don't forget the rest of the body. Sober to know more about how fashion can be used to completely transform perceptions, we reached out to Mendez to discover the silence secrets she learned as the CIA's head of disguise. Read on to see what we learned.
Based on their shoes, you can tell where someone came from.
If the CIA sent one of its officers to another country, they would have to buy their shoes after landing in their new location. Why?
"In all my years of work, shoes have been the biggest thing (that characterized people as foreigners)," says Mendez. & # 39; It's either American or it's not … We wear brand new, razor-sharp white sneakers. "
So if you want to interfere with travel, you have to go straight from the airport to a shoe store.
There is a specific reason why French fashion is so sought after.
& # 39; What (Americans) put in our bags as we travel (is meant for convenience) … It also translates as either Mendez says: "Most Europeans, when they walk out the door, are constituted – especially the women."
Mendez does not argue that French women are inherently more chic. It's just that they are more willing to spend some time on their looks, and that they are less likely to prioritize comfort over style.
& # 39; They spend time in front of & # 39; a mirror, & # 39; she says. & # 39; And that's why everyone always comments: & # 39; Oh, French women are so beautiful. & # 39; & # 39;
It only takes a few adjustments to change who someone appears to be.
Mendez explains that people often believe that the CIA's disguise department spends most of its time wigs and mustaches, but this is certainly not the case.
"It just talks about the oval in the face, and many times it's not the problem," she says.
Using a US diplomat – a nicely dressed person wearing a suit and tie – Mendez reveals that it would be difficult to get this person to make comments.
& # 39; We were able to pull off their tie, unbutton their shirt, maybe one button too much, put on a horrible gold necklace, remove their wedding ring so you can see that they have a wedding ring, but it is not there. press in the finger, ”she says. "Splash them a little too much, put on a few tattoos or a piercing … it doesn't take anything to completely change people's impression of that guy on the street. "
It's easy to change how people see you, because according to Mendez, when you look at people who come and go on the sidewalk, it's almost like you're scanning a barcode. You look at one person at a time and without consciously thinking about it, you draw conclusions about what kind of person they are.
The labels you carry can be viewed as currencies in other countries.
"There was a time when you arrived in Europe in Levi, in true American Levi, someone would buy it from you," Mendez says. & # 39; They were very, very aware of brands and labels. If you also wore pale Levi's jeans, they might as well see it. & # 39;
From the CIA's perspective, this was not desirable because they wanted to interfere and make sure they carried the residents.
It doesn't take much to change your perceived social status.
It seems obvious that you need to buy more expensive clothing and accessories if you have a perception of socio-economic status, if you want to visually climb the ladder. However, Mendez says it doesn't have to be that complex or expensive.
& # 39; We had a hard hat like on a construction site. We had a red cloth. We had a large rolled-up piece of paper. And the idea was that if you put on the hard hat and the cloth around your neck, everyone you saw on the building site would assume that you were a worker, "Mendez says. & # 39; But you pick up the rolled-up piece of paper and you put on a tie – now you have the hat, & # 39; a tie, the paper, take off the red cloth, and you're probably the boss of the track or the architect. to make sure it is built correctly. "
With these small changes, you can subtly play with stereotyping to change an impactful perception.
The CIA has been monitoring officers in progress in any given area.
If you are a fashion professional or fashion lover, you can keep up with what people are wearing on Instagram or this site, which can help you get to know them well. However, the CIA has a different approach under Mendez, which gives great value to staying on top of trends.
"(I) It became not just a matter of being aware of the style, but of being aware of what is and what is there (in a given place)," she explains. & # 39; Because things are going through. So someone should watch and be able to keep your local disguise officer, who would either be a resident of the city you were in, or through the city you were in once or twice a year. you've been informed about what you can escape and what you probably wouldn't want to see on the streets. "
In short: if you want to know what's new, the internet is good. But if you really want to look like the normal person on the street in another country so that you can effectively become invisible, the best option is to book a ticket there to find someone who is there full time, observe or ask about what to wear.
Jewelry and make-up are really all you need for your day-to-night transition.
"When we disguised women, it was really fun," Mendez says. & # 39; Because women are very open to it. We all played with it makeup since we were three. "
She goes on to say that an easy way for a woman to change her appearance is to eliminate her jewelry: "If she is wearing a very quiet, small gold necklace and little hoops, you will & # 39; # 39; a lot of jewelry – something she would never wear – and makes up her makeup a lot, she can just disappear. & # 39;
This transition can occur within five minutes, which is good news for any woman who tries to switch from an office office to a warehouse space in minutes (not to mention the proof that all articles in fashion magazines about the day-to-night convenience don't look like anything).
The CIA used perfume and lipstick to hide cameras, and the Russians had a lipstick that doubled as a gun.
While discussing whether spying devices were placed in jewelry (they didn't – but the CIA did try with watches), Mendez reveals, "We can put a camera in a lipstick. We can & # 39; # 39 put a camera in a perfume amp. It was like a Chanel perfume atomizer, a black-lacquered thing, we could put a camera in it, so if you put the nebulizer, instead of spraying perfume, took a picture. "
But the Russians took the whole trick with the lipstick-turned-to-apparatus to the next level.
"The KGB had a gun in a lipstick and fired one shot. It's in the spy museum," Mendez says. & # 39; It will be used by & # 39; a woman who was very close to the person she was preparing to kill. & # 39;
This lipstick gun was aptly called "the kiss of death."
Color palettes have a lot of power.
Want to get noticed on fashion week outside the shows or fuse in a sea of faces at an event where your scary ex-boss is likely to be present? The colors you wear play a big role in how effectively you can do that.
"You can let yourself down or stand out (depending on your color palette)," Mendez says. "Red creature on one side and maybe black on the other. Today, now that I'm not working and I want to stay under the radar, I'm almost completely wearing black."
This delicacy can also help you learn something about your own psychology: all it takes is a quick look in your closet to unknowingly hide or stand out in a crowd.
Fashion can be just as protective as an armor suit.
Mendez says the CIA's men did not want to dress in wigs and mustaches, but that it changed completely when they started working against terrorists and doing counter-narcotics.
"Those guys were dangerous, and they were armed. It was more a criminal element than your traditional embassy espionage operation," Mendez says. & # 39; So our guys discovered that & # 39; s a good disguise like wearing an armor suit. This is personal protection. It can prevent you from being killed. It may make you look American … It can prevent a terrorist from following you home. embassy and finding out where your home is, where your wife is, where your children are. It has become a much more useful tool. & # 39;
The next time someone tells you that fashion has no power, you can remind them that the greatest, most protective disguises in history have required a thoughtful approach to dress.