The C-Suite Style
THE LOOK OF SUCCESS
BY RENEE MARIE SMITH, ESQ.
College graduates receive fashion styling from their career guidance centers along with interview tips, job leads and relocation advice. Universities across the country realize that young women need to dress differently once leaving the classroom for the office life in order to be successful. I remember quite vividly a guidance counselor saying “Dress like you already work in the corner office from day one.” Clothes alone don’t make a woman successful but clothes make a silent statement that can make or break many business interactions. Think about the time you wore a cocktail dress to a gown event and you know what I mean. Nothing’s worse than being the one underdressed. Says more about you than your words will relay.
“Flatter your Fabulous…and focus on the fit! Your only fashion ideal should be you at your best! The secret to looking great is choosing clothes that look like they were designed around your body and wearing clothes that look like they were made for you”.
FIRST AND FOREMOST ADVICE FROM CELEBRITY STYLIST AND IMAGE CONSULTANT ELYSZE HELD (WWW.STYLEOUTOFTHECITY.COM)
I am in the boardroom now, having passed the corner office a decade ago, and I outgrew my career counselor’s suggestion, so now where do I look for my fashion advice? As women climb the corporate ladder, venture into the entrepreneur arena or transition back to the work force from raising kids to growing a paycheck, the C-Suite fashion information becomes less and less available. Good luck with the trendy magazine rack or Instagram feed. Few fashion magazines share relevant fashion advice on how a successful 40 to 65-year-old woman should dress in the boardroom. Fashion bloggers talk current trends and fashion shows not work place mojo. I look at social media and see the fashion that influential women are wearing and cringe. Ill fitting, un-polished or just plain boring. All which detracts from the woman.
AS COCO CHANEL SO FAMOUSLY SAID, “Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.”
Also, work place fashion rules have changed dramatically and continue to evolve at light speed as the internet changes how the traditional office operates. In the eighties, there was a running joke that as a woman, you wanted to dress how a man would dress if he was a woman. My 1987 internship suit had those crazy shoulder pads that made my body look like Herman Munster from the TV show.
My first job, post university, was at IBM in 1990. Women were not allowed to wear pants even with a jacket. A sleeveless dress was fine but if you wore pants, you would receive a memo from your boss. Oh, and I did.
In 1997 after passing the Florida bar exam, I was sent to the court house to cover a motion hearing. I learned more than law that day. One’s peers are a better fashion barometer than your mirror. It was my first lesson on fashion social pressure. I wore open toed pumps without pantyhose. You would have thought I showed up in sneakers from the 50 something lawyers’ disapproving looks.
The next evolution was “Casual Fridays” in 2001. A workplace fashion turning point much like what the industrial revolution was to farming. “All bets were off” in workplace dress codes. Formal workplace style rules were sent adrift causing such fashion chaos that coworkers wore everything from sweatshirts to sport coats resulting in numerous “fashion memos” outlining appropriate casual office attire. The Casual Friday revolutionized fashion reporting as well. Articles sprung up about casual style for the workplace and how wearing traditional suiting showed you were a style novice.
The 2017 C-Suite woman has weathered this fashion evolution while building a successful career. C-Suite women’s fashion is more important than ever because there are no set rules to get you through your fashion fatigue. So where does one turn for relevant styling suggestions? Where do we learn how to use our fashion dollars to invest in a wardrobe that telegraphs we are C-Suite status when walking in the room?
Like the women who’ve come before us, we share our secrets and so I’m sharing my coveted top fashion tips, learned through trial and error, for a successful C-Suite woman.
Dress successful, you earned it. If you wore the look to work in your twenties and are still wearing it, make sure it’s a basic and that you layer it with other more current trends. In the C-Suite you have the ability to pull off more fashion forward pieces, especially jewelry, so take advantage of this earned luxury
- Smooth Look. If you look in the mirror and you see undergarment lines, buy Spanx. Nothing detracts more from your visual appearance than underwear lines or bra straps. Your work efforts are wasted if a coworker thinks more about your La Perla than your business acumen.
- Wear clothes that fit. This means not just too tight but also too baggy. Too tight is distracting, Too baggy looks sloppy. Both mean you haven’t invested time in your most valuable asset, PRESENCE. Trust me, if you made it to the C-Suite you have presence. You got to the top office by learning to pick your battles and stand your ground more than a few times to make an impact. So, if you took time to spellcheck you PowerPoint presentation for the new multimillion dollar client, invest time to make sure what you put on fits.
- Know your audience and look the part you are there to play. I attended an education day in New York City for C-Suite women who wanted to apply for open board seats and meet recruiters. I planned my attire, with accessories, when I RSVP’d. I wanted to make sure my time investment was maximized and knew my wardrobe needed to match. I researched our speakers and planned my styling accordingly. I was shocked at what fellow attendees wore. They looked like it was either a day off or were applying for an entry level position. The female panel members were women who were there to meet new board members and were running Fortune 500 companies. Unfortunately, few looked like they could step into a boardroom. C-Suite women know that in every encounter they have a message to deliver and a role to play in their career. Make sure your “costume” matches.
- Buy with a plan. We all impulse buy. No problem with that. Just don’t impulse wear it. C-Suite women plan their casual wardrobe, business attire and formal garments. They calendar style when they calendar events. Know what your closet is missing and fill in the holes. Ask yourself questions like: is my closet filled with basics that need some pizazz, do I have casual clothes that in a retreat setting still make me look polished, or what is that “get it done” gown for that last minute fundraiser. If you spend more time furnishing your living room than your dressing room, you need to get a fashion plan.
- Get help. You don’t fix you own car, your assistant handles your schedule and you have a trainer maybe even a nutritionist. So hire a stylist. Maybe just for that event, to review your closet or to talk about your concerns with your wardrobe transition but hire a professional to give you unbiased advice. Trust me. The dress might be nice when you look in the mirror but from behind its unfaltering and you need an objective voice to tell you. A stylist will support your choice to be bold and wear a red jacket to that power lunch with a new client. To all C-Suite authors, please accessorize for that cover photo. I recently saw the book cover for one of the United States’ top female executives. Her clothes said nothing about how smart she is, what she accomplished or what she could share with the reader and I bet $100 dollars that she didn’t hire a stylist because nothing about that cover said she ran a multibillion-dollar company.
“The secret of professional women who always look so put together? … Stylists.” — STYLISTS AREN’T JUST FOR CELEBRITIES ANYMORE FORBES MAGAZINE, JUNE 2009
I start my meetings when I walk in the room, no words needed but my style announces that with me there, we are ready to begin. For the C-Suite woman, styling is much more than getting dressed for the office or fitting in. C-Suite style is about showing your intelligence by how you have designed your presence for impact. C-Suite style is about running a meeting in your jeans and turtleneck because your power necklace says you are the one to be reckoned with. C-Suite style sums up 20 to 30 years of consistently investing in your career and everyone knows it because your style speaks even when you don’t want to.
RENEE MARIE SMITH, ESQ. IS A TWENTY-YEAR REAL ESTATE ATTORNEY, SUCCESSFUL ENTREPRENEUR, SPEAKER, AND WRITER. RENEE OFFERS ADVICE ON FINANCE, HEALTH, LOVE, AND FASHION FOR WOMEN IN THEIR 40’S AND 50’S THROUGH HER WEBSITE, TRENDINGFIFTY.COM. RENEE HAS AUTHORED THE MY GURU BOOK SERIES AND FREQUENTLY GUEST SPEAKS AT NATIONAL CONVENTIONS AND ON THE RADIO. SHE IS ALSO WELL PUBLISHED IN REAL ESTATE AND BUSINESS MAGAZINES AND BLOGS, INCLUDING FORBES AND HUFFINGTON POST. FOLLOW RENEE ON TWITTER @TRENDINGFIFTY, ON FACEBOOK @TRENDING50, AND ON INSTAGRAM @LAW4COMP.
*LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS ARTICLE AND RENEE’S FASHION ADVISE VISIT TRENDING50.COM OR PALMBEACHWOMAN.COM TO SEE THE VIDEO SERIES.