Dressing Up, Dressing Down


How many times have you opened your wardrobe, groggy-eyed, thinking I have nothing to wear, or simply wanted a different look from your usual everyday? Or perhaps, thought about building a capsule wardrobe with its bare essentials that eliminated choice? Workplaces differ, dress codes vary, and unless you’re working from home in your pyjamas, what you choose to wear is almost always a deliberate decision (laundry day aside). C-level executives are no different.

Dress appropriately!

Today, we look at what executives wear to work, factoring dress codes into account. After all, what’s in a dress code anyway? Mary Barra, the chief executive at General Motors, replaced the company’s 10-page dress code with two words: “Dress appropriately.” The rationale?

““What I realised is that you really need to make sure your managers are empowered—because if they cannot handle ‘dress appropriately,’ what other decisions can they handle?”

Create your own iconic work uniform

But, is making decisions about what to wear taking a severe toll on you? CEOs like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are known for, amongst other things, wearing the same thing daily: in the case of Jobs, a black turtleneck with Levi’s jeans, and in the case of Zuckerberg, a grey t-shirt. In his biography of Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson elaborates:

He also came to like the idea of having a uniform for himself, both because of its daily convenience (the rationale he claimed) and its ability to convey a signature style. "So I asked Issey to make me some of his black turtlenecks that I liked, and he made me like a hundred of them."


Steve Job's turtlenecks are simple yet iconic

In case you were wondering, Issey refers to the Japanese fashion designer, Issey Miyake. And, the aforementioned Levi’s jeans were such a big part of Jobs’s wardrobe that Levi’s have an essay on the different styles worn during different points of his career. We also see Levi’s successfully bidding on a pair of Levi’s jeans from the 1980s in an auction.

Adopt a minimalist style

In contrast, you have Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world and the Amazon CEO. His wardrobe, described as “modernist and minimal,” has evolved from his 1999 style “of white or blue dress shirts and a pair of khaki pants.” Bomber jackets, Prada jeans, Ulysse Nardin Dual Time watches, and “lucky” cowboy boots are all part of the new Bezos wardrobe.


Bomber jacket adds a stylish touch to Bezos' minimalist style

Perhaps the slightly more casual—slightly more scruffy—look associated with tech companies is not unique to them, nor is it unique to the United States. The Chief Marketing Officer at Deloitte, Matt McGrath, was voted one of Vogue’s Best Dressed Men in the 90s, has only worn a tie once, and that too on the advice of the head of the company’s Melbourne office. Ties, according to him, “probably had the function at one point to wipe your nose with them.” Of course, there are tie enthusiasts, but increasingly, executives and managers are dropping ties from their wardrobe, albeit there are exceptional circumstances that require donning that tie.

Complete your look with accessories

Women, of course, don’t have to worry about ties most of the time—if ever. However, they do have to worry about accessories (handbags, shoes, jewellery), make up, and clothes that ensure they will be taken seriously at work, especially if in male-dominated environments.

Yahoo!’s former CEO, Marissa Meyer, was considered a “style setter” during her time at Google where she avoided flip-flops and hoodies. Instead, in the workweek guide to Meyer’s office dressing, we see Cartier and Tiffany & Co. watches, Alexander McQueen and Michael Kors totes, colourful Oscar de la Renta cardigans and tops, and Ferragamo shoes.


Meyer's style is glamourous yet professional

Create a powerful look

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, on the other hand is considered a “power dresser,” which, for a woman, usually means dresses with heels (for men, surprise, surprise: suits!). Her style, as observed by The Guardian, typically includes “fitted dresses, medium-height heels, block colours in the blue-red-purple arc. Not yellow, not pink, no print. No jewellery apart from earrings.”


Sandberg uses strong colours to create a powerful look

But, even so, women have a lot more latitude in dressing—they can be as creative or bland as they want, and as this BuzzFeed piece shows, still look like “rock stars” at work, be it through one standout piece like an iconic leather jacket, a “power jumpsuit”, or acid-washed jeans. And, for those that suffer from decision fatigue, a “rotation of pieces” in neutral colours that can be worn in any combination is always an option.

And, so, you can see, it’s not only you who sometimes has to put in more than a few minutes of thoughts into what to wear for the day. Solidarity, huh.

Team Vanna

Vanna's expert writing team

3 min read

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