Dresses

C-Suite Style for Women: How to Upgrade Your Wardrobe After a Promotion

young professional woman sits at head of table and gestures with her hand; she has a laptop in front of her. The rest of the table has other women executives.

young professional woman sits at head of table and gestures with her hand; she has a laptop in front of her. The rest of the table has other women executives.

Something I don’t think we’ve ever talked about is C-suite style for women — what are the best tips for stylish power dressing for women in the C-suite? Where should women executives shop? And how much does any of this matter?

General Tips on C-Suite Style for Women

I’ll say it up front: If you’re in the C-suite, you’ve earned the right to dress however you want. In fact, you often see executive women at the very top having fairly non-traditional styles, like colorful moto jackets and other styles that might be a “know your office” kind of thing for a more junior employee. But you’re the boss, and it’s OK for you to set the tone that others follow.

If you want to look polished, tailoring would be a good use of your money. It’s famously been said that absolutely everything on television is tailored, down to plain white T-shirts — and tailoring can make a huge difference with blazers, dresses, pants, and more.

{related: what stylish women get tailored}

In fact, I would view all of your purchases through the lens of tailoring — if you need a new pair of pants, for example, do you need a $100 pair or a $1,000 pair? After all, a $100 pair of black pants doesn’t look so different than a $1,000 pair of black pants. However, the $1,000 pair was probably designed with tailoring in mind, so the seams and fabrics will better survive and last after tailoring, whereas the $100 pair of black pants probably has some stretch in them because they’re designed to be worn off the rack (or are so trendy they’re not intended to last more than a year or two), and stretchy fabric is often harder to tailor well. So assess for yourself which clothes fit you the best — it’s OK if they’re affordable ones! — and discuss with your tailor what alterations will make the biggest impact overall for your wardrobe, and buy accordingly.

Details and accessories matter more than head-to-toe designer outfits. For example, an Hermès scarf or Cartier watch will elevate any outfit, no matter whether the other wardrobe pieces are affordable ones. I would think that authenticity matters, though — if you’re often in meetings with other high-achieving, wealthy people, then they will probably know the difference between a Hermès vs. a knockoff or a “similar” dupe. Spend money on good jewelry, shoes, and belts.

Other details to consider: haircuts and underpinnings. Bras should be replaced every 6–9 months, both for comfort and maximum effect (whatever you want them to do, they’re going to be doing it more at the beginning of their life, whether it’s minimizing, pushing up, etc.). Your hairstyle doesn’t have to be anything in particular — curly hair, gray hair, long hair, and natural hair are all OK — but your hair should be flattering and look intentional. (A fabulous stylist who you see as often as needed is another great use of your money!)

In terms of bags, you’re welcome to spend money on great bags, but I’m not sure you need an amazing briefcase like a man might. In fact, I’ve often been amused that some of the highest powered women I’ve known have used either preppy L.L.Bean-type totes, or — the real power move — a huge tote bag from a charity that you only get as a pretty major donor. (But then, this is for the commute to work, and not for VIP meetings or court.)

I would argue that the overall look you want to convey is a person who is smart, up to date, well informed, and aware of everything in your orbit, including how you present yourself to the world.

But again: You’ve earned the right to dress how you like!

Readers, what are your thoughts? How do the most powerful women you know dress? Is there a difference if they’re in the C-suite, a partner, or an owner?

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Where to Shop: C-Suite Style Advice for Women

If you did want to know where to spend money on particular things, here are some of the more expensive brands that we recommend for workwear often — and if you have a big clothing budget for your work wardrobe, here’s where I’d start.

The Best Luxe Brands for Workwear

This is my list — readers, I’d love to hear your thoughts! If you had an unlimited budget and wanted to spend it on a killer work wardrobe, where would you start?

Specific Classic Styles from Lux Brands for Workwear

The Best Designer Heels for Women

Pictured above, some of the most classic designer heels for women: 1) Choo 2) Manolo 3) Prada 4) Valentino 5) Louboutin

Investment Flats for Women

Some of the longest-standing “investment ballet flats” ($300–$900) as of 2021: one / two / three / four / five

The Best Designer Suits for Women

collage of 5 women wearing black suits from designers; see caption for more info.

Pictured: some of our favorite designer suits as of 2022: 1) Akris  2) McQueen 3) Altuzarra 4) Veronica Beard 5) Armani

Lux Plus-Size Workwear for Women Executives

Designer plus-size clothing for professional women can be hard to find, so this list has a pretty broad definition of “designer”…

Stock photo via Deposit Photos / AndrewLozovyi.

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