“Dress for the job you want” goes the old adage. Today’s power dresser knows that clothes are an important part of projecting an image of success and confidence in the corporate jungle.
“Power dressing is about learning to present yourself in the most dramatic way,” said Alan Flusser, owner of a New York-based custom shop for men. “It’s about dressing in a manner that projects importance or success.”
The road to haberdashery success is not as clear-cut as in years past, since employees have much more flexibility in today’s corporate dressing landscape. While the rigid business suit is merely a relic in most office cultures, at least it provided a guideline for office wear. Navigating these new clothing options requires some skill and thought.
To aid the aspiring power dresser, we’ve asked Flusser and other experts — an executive recruiter and department store fashion and stylist directors — for their latest tips.
Click ahead for their advice for dressing the part while climbing the corporate ladder.
By Katie LittlePosted 15 May 2012
Dressing like a power player is a recipe for success with wardrobe staples, fresh accessories and flattering color and proportions as ingredients.
“For your core staples, choose multi-purpose fabrics that can transition from season to season but that you can make new with the current season’s freshest color and/or accessories,” said Fanya Chandler, Nordstrom’s national stylist director.
While Jeanne Branthover, managing director of Boyden Global Executive Search, said that most companies do not expect a business suit on a regular basis, men need to know how to look sharp in a suit and tie in order to impress clients and nail that interview. She added that many men keep a tie and sports jacket in the office to always be prepared for a surprise meeting.
In offices where suits are the norm, power players should strive to maintain a defined silhouette with crisp lines and a rich color palette, Chandler said. For men, suits look best in navy or charcoal with a micropattern, which adds dimension without being distracting.
Rich colors are a power-dressing asset. Chandler said ties should incorporate rich colors and that every color you choose should be a true saturation of that color.
“For example, if you chose red, make it a deep red — not a cranberry red,” she said. “Your other option is to pattern mix the shirt and tie — the smarter the combination, the better the impression.”
Women should avoid soft airy fabrics and items that swing off the body or wearing sleeveless and capsleeve looks.
Colleen Sherin, Saks Fifth Avenue’s women’s fashion director, recommends that women wear either a dress or a tailored jacket with a beautiful blouse that complements a pair of trousers or a pencil skirt.
Chandler stressed the importance of investing in high-quality shoes. These will enable the power dresser to walk better and look better. Heels should be in the mid-to-high heel range along with a slight platform for comfort. Flats are also acceptable, but this will make the look a bit more casual.
“It’s always obvious to me when a woman is really uncomfortable in her shoes, and right there, she loses confidence,” she said. “You can’t fake shoe pain.”
Flusser, owner of the eponymous Alan Flusser Custom Shop,knows a thing or two about power dressing. In the 1980s, he picked out Gordon Gekko’s outfits for the movie “Wall Street,” and has written a handful of guidebooks for men who aspire to be well-dressed.
“The short answer is that learning how to wear clothes to your advantage rests on two bedrocks or two pillars,” he said. ”You have to know what colors flatter your complexion and what proportions flatter your physique.”
Clothes should lead the viewer’s eye to the wearer’s face. For example, if a person has blue eyes, wearing a blue dress shirt would help frame the face.
Flusser’s second fundamental rule involves learning which proportions of jacket length and shoulder width flatter you the most.
A too-short jacket will cut the wearer in half while a too-long jacket will make the legline appear shorter than it actually is.
“The good news about all of this is we’re not talking about fashion in terms of what length of coat or what width should I be wearing at this point in time to be in accord with fashion,” he said. “We’re talking about determining which length of jacket and which width of shoulder is best for your physique.”
The “C” in C-suite does not stand for cleavage. If you think a plunging neckline will help you climb that corporate ladder, think again.
“Showing cleavage — a V-neck top is fine,” Branthover said. “Showing too much cleavage in most industries is not fine and particularly as you’re moving up the ladder.”
But covering up does not equal reaching for the baggy clothing. Chandler stressed the importance of keeping a defined silhouette without showing too much skin.
“I always do the mirror check, and if the first thing I see is cleavage, then that’s probably not the image I want to project,” she said.
Nothing says power dresser like properly tailored clothing, the experts agreed.
“Our bodies are not created perfectly,” Chandler said. “If you want to make [an off-the-rack suit] look like a custom suit, then all you have to have is a great tailor.”
Scott Kuhlman, who founded the scott james brand, echoed this advice. He advised that men think of clothing as a sort of second skin and avoid anything that is too baggy, which he said looks sloppy and is uncomfortable.
“This doesn’t mean it should be a sausage casing; nor should it be a tent on you,” he said. “For most, because clothing off the rack is meant to fit a lot of body shapes, proper tailoring is the first key.”
Kuhlman also suggested shelling out the extra cash to have the tailor open a jacket’s button holes to create “working buttons.” Then while wearing the jacket, you can leave the bottom button, which is closest to your fingers, unbuttoned and show observers that you understand proper tailoring.
What’s a power player to do with unlimited ambition on a limited dress-for-success budget? To stay in the black, you’ll need to balance those splurges with some saves.
Invest in your core pieces, Chandler said. This means men can shell out a little more for a high-quality suit while women can spend extra on the dress, skirt or jacket. Blouses are a spot women can scale back a little, she said.
“In terms of splurging, I would say a great place to start would be with a great pair of shoes or a beautiful handbag,” Sherin said.
To pocket square or not to pocket square? Kuhlman insists that the pocket square, which can be as simple as white linen or more colorful in a bright paisley, can help the power dresser add some personality to his outfit.
“How the pocket square is placed in the pocket is key,” he said. “This is not to be flamboyant; this is to show your personality. However, it should be tucked into the pocket in just the right way.”
He advises that power dressers use this item true to its name — as a square — and fold it and place it in the jacket’s breast pocket.
Brooks Brothers has an illustrated folding guidethat may help the pocket square newcomer.
Gone are the days of formulaic dressing for the workplace. Today’s power dresser isn’t afraid to trod off the beaten path and show a little personality. Accessorizing and dressing more creatively will help you stand out and appear as more of an individual with a distinct look, Saks' Sherin said.
“I don’t think the rules are as rigid anymore, and there is room for a woman to express her individuality in the way that she’s dressing, and this really will project the image of a power player,” she added.
Sherin suggested accessorizing with belts or necklaces to give an outfit more of an individual look.
Men can inject personality through their cufflinks, pocket squares or ties.
Nothing says “Forgot to dress for success this morning” like sweating through heavy wool on a blistering summer day. Since most items are constructed for different seasons and weather, power players need to pay close attention to ensure that they are wearing seasonally appropriate clothing, Kuhlman said.
“For instance, if your jacket is a linen (or) cotton fabric, do not wear this when it is snowing outside,” he said. “Or if your trousers are a lightweight flannel, don’t wear when it is 90 degrees.”
In today’s digital world, employees are always on display — both during the work day and also online, through LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook photos. Since recruiters and employers often look at applicants’ and colleagues’ online personas, it is crucial to show your best side on the web.
“Anything that is out there should be the way you want or choose the world to see you,” Branthover said. “Anything that you consider a bad picture of you — do not put it on LinkedIn.”
Branthover advised that applicants post current photos that make them feel good about themselves in order to project confidence.
While incorporating all the latest trends into an outfit may work in some offices, power dressers in general should steer clear of looking like they just walked off the runway.
But infusing outfits with one or two of these trends in addition to work-wear classics can be an important element of dressing for success.
“Overall the look should be current in style and season; looking current creates the presupposition that your ideas are current,” Chandler said.
Sherin added that the decision of how many fashion-forward items to add to an outfit will depend on the industry. What works for a banker or a lawyer is going to be different than what a fashion editor or gallery owner may deem appropriate.
“Certainly if a woman is dressing in a way that is more fashion forward, that sends a message that she is in the know for fashion trends and that is something that is important to her,” Sherin said.
Among this season’s hot items, colored pants could transition well into the workplace. But avoid getting into a competition of who can sport the skinniest jeans and instead go for a looser fitting pant.
Pictured hereis a white statement necklace from Cara Accessories. Chandler listed the color white as one of the top trends this season.