Every new decade brings the promise of fashion trends that become part of the fabric of our times, impacting how generations are defined and years are marked. The Roaring ‘20s brought us flappers. The ‘60s brought flower power and boho chic, and with the ‘80s came power suiting (including very big shoulder pads!). The ‘90s ushered in the beginning of what are now standard business casual dress codes throughout every imaginable industry.
Reflecting on the most significant style trends from the 2010s from an executive image perspective, at the top of my list is the extreme casualization of many corporate settings in sectors that most expected to stay pretty buttoned up when the decade started. It is now not uncommon to visit a financial services company or a law firm and be greeted by employees with a significantly relaxed professional appearance. Athleisurewear being worn as much outside as inside the gym; jeans in every cut and rinse from every designer and manufacturer under the sun being showcased for work and play; and the iconic status given to sneakers for every occasion – even black tie – are also memorable trends that have impacted executive presence as a whole. There is also a growing emphasis on fashion sustainability that will undoubtedly become stronger as the new decade evolves.
While I expect casual and environmentally friendly trends to continue, there is also a yearning by many of our executive clients to step up their style quotient, especially when it comes to work and after 5 attire. They are looking for more interesting ways to dress that are still relaxed, comfortable and appropriate, yet more sophisticated than what has become standard business casual fare over the last ten years. We are charged with introducing them to new styles, cuts, fabrics and color combinations that work with what they already own while helping them lead and inspire. This is executive image at its best.
If you have gotten into a corporate style rut yourself, read on. Here are 5 fresh ways you can up your game without sacrificing comfort as you head into the new decade.
1. Get Fitted and Polished. Whether wearing more traditional business separates like sports coats, slacks, skirts and dresses (yes, there is still very much a place for these items in most professional wardrobes), or more casual items such as jeans, khakis, sweaters and unstructured blazers, there is no substitute for a good fit. Many people share during our intake sessions the undesired effect that sloppy and ill-fitting clothing is having on their overall executive presence. For them, business casual has taken their wardrobe (and their mindset!) into a downward spiral. If you can relate, take the time to know your correct size in the brands you wear the most and commit to an upgrade. Clothing that is too tight or too baggy is distracting and can steal your thunder, never mind your credibility and self-confidence.
2. Move Beyond Fleece. If Patagonia can be done with the “Wall Street Uniform” that undoubtedly made their stock soar (aka their signature fleece zippered vests co-branded with every imaginable financial services logo), so can you. This past April, the iconic brand stopped accepting new financial services clients for its ubiquitous vest, stating a shift towards working with “mission driven companies that prioritize the planet.” Overnight this look became as dated as Gordan Gekko’s three-piece suits! With more multi-generational workforces that value sustainability as much as anything, you may want to think twice before holding onto trends that are depicted like this. Besides, there are better fabrics than fleece for work.
3. Consider Clothing Subscription Services. Another significant trend this past decade has been the emergence of subscription clothing services for men and women like Stitch Fix and Trunk Club. While many people report that the novelty of using these companies can wear thin – getting more things that don’t work than do and then having to return can become part of the grind you are looking to avoid – there is something to be said for filling out a focused style and size questionnaire and having a stylist on the other end send you items you may have never considered but end up working well. Look for rental clothing services (like first-to-market Rent the Runway) to also pick up steam as we move through the 2020s. First introduced as a way to affordably dress for weddings and the like, they now offer everyday fashions, including designer brands many never had access to before. Sustainability at its best if you are a fashionista!
4. Use Non-Standard Color Combinations to Stand Out in Just the Right Way. Yes, black, navy and charcoal gray are still very relevant in most professional wardrobes, especially when you use them as the foundation of your wardrobe. They are plentiful in the marketplace, are often price neutral, hide wear and tear well, and are easy to match with lighter colors when the mood strikes you. Yet don’t dismiss olive green, cognac, deep berries and camel as base neutrals too. They come across as less formal but defiantly hold their own when paired properly. Camel and gray always grabs my attention when I see it and I recently paired a purple quarter zip sweater over a plaid shirt with light brown cords and brown ankle boots for a male client who was thrilled with the look. Remember, the fit and the way the fabrics speak to each other is even more vital when experimenting with color.
5. Short Boots, Flatter Shoes and Slip-ons Please. Finally, footwear always has and always will give you an opportunity to quickly press the refresh button on your wardrobe. Best part, you can try it on without having to find a dressing room. More and more, we are starting our shopping expeditions with clients in shoe department as getting comfortable and modern footwear is often a critical first step in helping someone shift their style. While we still have clients that wear heels regularly or at least for special occasions and big presentations, the executives we work with are opting for casual and comfortable shoes at a quicker clip and are willing to invest in new wardrobes to accommodate this priority. Men and women: if you travel, slip-ons and zippered short boots can’t be beat.
Diversity of thought is closely aligned to diversity of style, a good thing as people in all walks of life and professions continue to take down old guards and become more inclusive. When you are true to yourself, creativity also flows. No matter your professional dress style, being mindful of setting good business boundaries through your dress choices, being appropriately dressed for the day at hand, and being respectful to yourself and others, are always in style.