Why you need to ditch the jeans and hoodie if you want to become CEO

Got your eye on the top job and dressing to impress in readiness, or are you more of a fan of the Mark Zuckerberg school of corporate clobber?

While business dress codes have relaxed considerably in recent times – and 33-year-old gazillionaires can wear hoodies and jeans whenever they please – those in the know say looking sharp is as important as ever it was, for those shooting for a spot in the executive suite.

So what are the looks to leave behind if you don't want sartorial shortcomings to stymie your chances of moving up the ranks?

Fit for a king

Anything that doesn't fit properly, says International Cycling Executives managing director Jamie Romanin, who spent several years running telecoms vendor ShoreTel before taking the helm at the networking-on-wheels club.

While he only occasionally sports the navy suit and tie, which were de rigueur in his early work years, ensuring the chinos and blazer that have replaced them are custom tailored is a priority.

"There's no point going out and buying an Armani suit if it's two sizes too big for you," Romanin says.

"Somebody who is buying a cheaper suit off the rack who has it well fitted to their shape and their body is going to look a lot smarter than somebody in a really expensive suit that's not fitted well.

"Tailoring every piece of clothing you wear is ultra-important and I certainly take that philosophy…I make sure [everything] fits me well and you don't have to spend a lot of money to look sharp.

"A more casual style of dress doesn't need to mean sloppy – you can still look very smart and very businesslike in a more casual form."


Style in simplicity

For former communications executive and Flaunter founder and CEO Gaby Howard, rising up the ranks has resulted in her dispensing with jewellery and wild up-dos. She's replaced rainbow-hued workwear with fifty shades of navy, black and grey and these days confines her fashion statements to wearing on-trend spectacles and designer shoes.

"As I went into more senior roles…one of the key considerations for me has actually been paring back," Howard says.

"I like to feel really comfortable in what I wear but I need to look polished so I find wearing dark colours makes it pretty easy in the morning to get dressed and I'll think about the cut or the fabric rather than thinking too much about the colour.

"A well cut blazer and a nice pair of pants is probably what you'll find me in most days and I'll often wear flat shoes not high heels, despite not being particularly tall."

Less is definitely more

Adopting a less flamboyant style has been a gradual process, driven as much by practicality as the desire to appear managerial.

"[It's about] being really busy and not having to think too much about 'is what I'm wearing right for the types of meetings I'll have today?'," Howard says.

Corporate etiquette consultant Anna Musson says exposed flesh equates with lack of credibility in the corporate sphere and conservative clothing is the best choice for ambitious types, even on casual Fridays.

Think covered shoulders, skirts to the knee or beyond – "if you can't sit down without having to place something in your lap for modesty it's too short" – and pantyhose with closed toe shoes for women.

No frills

For men on the rise it's time to bid adieu to any overly snug suits, waistcoats, loud shirts, rubber soled shoes and jewellery.

"If you are looking to be the CEO of a medium to large company you need to wear outfits that convey trust and security and a well cut suit and accessories suggest that you are a reasonable person," Musson says.

"With women it's the same – you want to look like a credible, intelligent, sensible person and while we may feel those things in jeans and a crop top, they don't provide that sense of maturity that we are traditionally looking for in our leaders."

Seeking expert advice

While most folk can get most of the look right without assistance, attention to detail can mean the difference between smart enough and head-to-toe sharp. For those who aspire to the latter, a session with a stylist every five years or so is an invaluable investment, Musson says.

Sartorial signals

Ensuring your clobber sends the right signals to those higher up the tree is vital, executive headhunter Gregory Robinson adds.

"It makes sense to look like you are a part of the group but try to look a little better than the group," he advises.

"Dressing your part, whatever that part is, is effectively communicating the impression of who you are and where you are headed. You are representing your title, company, colleagues and, most importantly, yourself.

"Ultimately the business world is competitive and it doesn't make a large amount of sense to provide your competitor an edge, if they are better mannered, groomed and attired."

What clobber have you left behind in your clamber to the top? Tell us in the comments.