Dressing Professionally in the Executive World

February 2, 2024

Whether you’re starting a new business or looking to level up in your career, dressing professionally is key to your success. 

As executive stylists and image consultants, helping people of all shapes and sizes dress professionally is our bread and butter.

We have real-world experience working with successful, driven individuals just like you. Instead of giving you canned advice that only works for some, we’ve got proven steps to bettering your style.

Ready to learn why your style matters, what executives wear, and how to dress like a CEO? Then keep reading.

Why Is It Important To Dress Professionally

Okay, so we all kind of know why you should dress professionally for work. It’s one of the first things you learn in a high school or college “career prep” class. 

But in recent years, it’s become more difficult to understand dress codes and office norms. On top of that, not every industry has the same standards (we see you, tech start-ups.) 

So we figure everyone could use a little refresher on four real reasons why it’s important to dress professionally. 

1. It Enhances Your Personal Branding

Cassandra with Next Level Wardrobe

You are your business card.

How you present yourself to others determines how clients and peers interact with you. And when you’re a CEO or business owner it also affects what they think of you and your business.

Every element from how you dress, talk, walk, act, and even smell is part of your branding

That’s why you should take the time and effort to dress professionally and dress with intentionality.  

2. Save time

Woman thoughtfully looking through clothes

This one may surprise you, but looking polished and professional actually saves you time. 

That’s because, a true professional, functional, and stylish wardrobe doesn’t mean you have one or two pieces you “kind of” like. And it definitely doesn’t mean you struggle to throw together one “just okay” outfit. 

It means you have a thoughtful collection of clothes that are cohesive. They should all be able to go together to create countless outfits that you love and feel confident about. When you have that, you’re mornings get easier.

No more staring at your closet for way too long and then just putting on the same thing you wore yesterday. With a professional wardrobe, you should have plenty of easy-to-put-together outfit options.

3. First Impressions Matter

Man working with a stylist to create a professional first impression

Did you know that it only takes seven seconds to form a first impression? And that the assumptions people make based on that first impression can last a lifetime?

It might not be fair, and we might like to think we’re above judging a book by its cover. But in the executive world, you can’t afford to waste that first impression.

As a CEO or entrepreneur, you’re constantly meeting potential clients, investors, partners, etc. You want their first interaction with you to be the best possible. 

By dressing professionally, you improve that first impression. You show that you’re put-together, reliable, and trustworthy. 

4. The “Dress For The Job You Want” Principle

Dressing for the job

You know the phrase “dress for success” or “dress for the job you want”? These sayings are cliches for a reason: they’re true.

Psychologists have actually discovered a principle called “enclothed cognition” that proves that how you dress affects your mentality. Getting dressed each morning, even when you work from home can improve your mood, confidence, and productivity. 

Follow that principle and it’s not hard to see how dressing professionally can have a positive impact on your mindset and career. 

What clothing do executives wear?

Executives wear clothing that makes sense for their lifestyle, brand, and goals. Some executives might wear suits every day, while others may wear sneakers and jeans. There’s no one right answer, it all depends on the individual. 

Looking for examples of how to dress like an executive? Check out these blog posts we have on the best-dressed female and male CEOs.

How to Dress Professionally in 4 Easy Steps

We’ve talked about why it’s important to know how to dress for work. Now, let’s get into the how. 

We’re going to share the same advice we offer our clients, and that’s the NLW Style System

Our founder Cassandra Sethi developed this proprietary system to work for all ages, shapes, sizes, and industries – and it works.

Why? Because it’s a simple framework that anyone can use to systematize their wardrobe.

It’s what separates our advice from all the other do’s and don’ts you’ll find online. Let’s get into it.

1. Wear Clothes That Fit

Person taking measurement of a suit to make sure it fits for professional attire

There’s no replacement for well-fitting clothes. You can copy outfit advice from magazines and shop the finest labels, but if your clothes don’t fit you, it doesn’t matter.

If you want to look professional, you need to stop settling for clothes that “sort of” fit. 

This means trying on different brands and styles until you find what suits your body and preferences. It also means being open to alterations.

Most people don’t find their perfect fit straight off the rack. 

That’s because designers manufacture their clothing based on patterns from “fit models.” That means if your body is different from that model, their clothing isn’t going to match your shape and size.

That’s why most people need alterations in three key places: the body, arms, and legs. 

If you find a well-made essential that can be altered down to fit you like a glove, you should.

2. Invest In Workwear Essentials

Suits hanging up for workwear essentials

Like any other part of your appearance, your clothing is an investment into yourself and your future.

So when you’re buying pieces and thinking about where to spend, you should think in terms of returns on investment. 

It makes sense to use more of your budget on items you’ll get the most wear out of, like a blazer or a great pair of trousers. 

We recommend thinking about what items you’ll need day in and day out. Make that shopping list and commit to buying high-quality items that will look good after countless wears.

3. Have Versatile Basics 

Stack of folded sweaters as versatile basics to dress professionally

From working with clients over the years, we’ve found that versatility is a huge part of how to dress professionally.

Professional style should be classic and timeless. That way, what you’re wearing looks good in different scenarios and environments. Plus, you can look back at yourself in photos and be proud of how you were dressed instead of cringing.

To have a timeless look, you need versatile basics. These are those ride-or-die pieces that you can easily dress up or down for any occasion.

Think a black or navy blazer, a white T-shirt, dark wash jeans, and white sneakers.

Your color choices play a big part in the versatility of your closet. That’s why we recommend making the biggest percentage of your closet core colors. Core colors are black, navy blue, white, and grey. 

These colors go with everything, including each other. They never go out of style and always look crisp and professional. Aim for about 40 – 50% of your wardrobe to be made up of core colors.

The second biggest section of your closet should be made of tonal colors. Tonal colors are shades, tints, and textured variations on those original core colors. They add visual interest and variety without being over the top. 

Lastly, the smallest section of your closet should be bold or accent colors and patterns. They should add that little sprinkle of personality that makes your style your own. 

4. Know Your Dress Code

The New Dress Codes showing formal, power casual and casual styles

Last but not least, the number one rule of dressing like a professional is knowing your dress code.

So many people have no idea what their office attire rules are. That leads to confusion and a lack of confidence when you’re getting ready each morning.

The solution? Ask! Talk to your HR department and nail down hard answers about what clothes are acceptable to wear at work. 

If you don’t have an HR department or you’re starting your own business, call us! In addition to one-on-one styling, we’re also more than happy to consult with businesses to design clear, no-BS dress code policies.

Suits for professional attire

What’s the Best Outfit for a CEO?

As we mentioned earlier, there’s no one “best” or “correct” outfit that every CEO should wear. But in our opinion, there is a dress code that works for most, and that’s power casual. This style is the perfect in-between of structure and relaxed, formal and cool. 

Check out our full blog posts on power casual style for men and power casual for women to learn more.
Start dressing like a professional today. Apply for Next Level Wardrobe’s women’s and men’s image consulting services. Our experts are ready to take the stress out of creating outfits and help you build your dream wardrobe.

About the Author - Cassandra Sethi
About the Author - Cassandra Sethi

Personal Stylist & Image Consultant

Cassandra Sethi is a Personal Stylist and Founder of Next Level Wardrobe, a luxury Personal Styling and Shopping Service that helps successful professionals of all ages and sizes. After working in the fashion industry for over 25 years, she used her expert knowledge to create a proprietary styling system called ‘The Next Level Wardrobe Style System' which guarantees clients more outfits with less items in their closet. NLW has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Tamron Hall Show, NY Mag, Huffington Post and more.

*Disclosure: Next Level Wardrobe only recommends products that we’d suggest to our clients or personally wear ourselves. All opinions expressed here are our own. This post may contain affiliate links that at no additional cost to you, Next Level Wardrobe may earn a small commission. Read the full privacy policy here.

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Cassandra Sethi

is a NYC Personal Stylist and Image Consultant. She is the Founder of Next Level Wardrobe and 'The NLW Style System' that guarantees clients more outfits with less items.

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