What does power dressing mean now?
Fewer workspaces require a man to wear a suit nine to five – but how do you dress like a boss in the post-shirt-and-tie era? We sat down with four CEOs to hear about what power dressing means in the 21st century.
Iain Watson, Chief Executive, David Collins Studio
Trousers, £380 by Marni at Liberty; Shirt, £95 by L’Estrange; Jacket, £355 by Barena at mrporter.com; Boots, £445 by Tricker’s
Office dress code: Tailored separates, but no suits
Although he originally studied business and economics, design has shaped Iain Watson’s career from the very beginning. He joined David Collins Studio in 1988 and alongside Collins built it into the huge commercial success that it is today. But, despite being CEO of the studio, Watson has never been one to wear a suit.
‘In the beginning I was in Vivienne Westwood from head to toe,’ he explains. ‘David also has an obsession with fashion, so there were periods in the Eighties of buying Romeo Gigli by the truckload, as well as a phase of Comme Des Garçons.’ Great design is also partly the reason Watson and Collins came together: they were wearing the same Dries Van Noten jacket at an event, and got talking. ‘That jacket paid back in spades,’ laughs Watson.
Nowadays, he prefers a more low-key approach, with a focus on impeccable tailoring and British designers. ‘I have a core wardrobe of items that work together really well,’ he explains. ‘And, although we now have a staff policy at work, it’s what you make of it. A smart jacket with a fresh white T-shirt is perfectly modern and businesslike.’
Whatever he wears, Watson is very clear on the importance of clothes to being a successful businessman. ‘It’s a signal of who you are, what your values are, distilled into a piece of cloth,’ he says. ‘As a society, people’s careers have been made or broken on what they’re wearing.’
Our style director says: Texturise
‘Opting for a dark palette? Add interest by mixing different textures and fabric weights, such as a light collarless shirt and voluminous wool pleat trousers.’
John Burke, Chief Marketing Officer, Bacardi
Polo shirt, £180 by Richard James; Blazer, £645 by Richard James; Chinos, £195 by Gieves & Hawkes
Office dress code: The smarter side of smart-casual
John Burke has worked at Bacardi for more than a quarter of a century, rising through the ranks from lorry driver to the C-suite over his 26-year tenure. Over that time, his workwear wardrobe has changed to fit whichever role he’s in. ‘About five years ago, I was working on whisky, and I grew a beard and dressed really casually – I needed to look the part,’ he laughs.
He’s also been cocktail-bar-ready working on the Martini brand, and in full site gear when he built the Bombay Sapphire distillery in Whitchurch, Hampshire.
These days, though, workwear for him means anything that can survive a suitcase. ‘I try to keep it simple and repeatable,’ he explains, meaning blazers, chinos and an open-neck shirt, plus a suit and smart shoes if he’s called in for a last-minute presentation. Despite not often wearing a tie, though, Burke likes to ensure the details are as slick as can be: pressed creases in trousers and polished shoes. ‘When I want to feel sharp, I dress sharp,’ he says.
But that’s not to say that he believes in power dressing. ‘It feels quite Eighties,’ he says. ‘It sounds like you want to project your power, and I don’t think people really want to do that any more.’
He sees today’s looser workwear dress codes as a positive: ‘You get more from people if you let them express their individual creativity. If you create an environment where people can be themselves, you can get the best from them.’
Our style director says: Keep co-ordinating
‘A blue blazer is the key to smart-but-not-stuffy style. Wear it with a knitted polo and slim chinos in a similar shade for a masterfully minimal managerial set-up.’
Tushar Agarwal, Chief Executive, Hubble
Chinos, £125 by L’Estrange; T-shirt, £100 by Paul Smith; Jacket, £275 by Mr P at mrporter.com
Office dress code: Casual style that still wins the investment
After graduating from the London School of Economics in 2011, Tushar Agarwal spent two years in investment banking. During this time, he noticed how many small start-ups struggled to find office space – and Hubble was born.
Treading the fine line between the two industries in which Agarwal works, technology and real estate, is the main challenge facing his workwear wardrobe. ‘What you wear can put some people off pretty quickly,’ he explains. ‘Real estate is really smart and if you’re too casual people can instantly judge you as not serious enough. On the flip side, in technology if you’re too smart, they might think you’re not creative or innovative enough for them.’
He tackles this dilemma by focusing on a core capsule of chinos, T-shirts and shirts that he can feel comfortable in from morning meetings to evening drinks. ‘I want to make sure I’m still expressing myself, and not conforming to any stereotype of the industries I’m in,’ he says. ‘It took me a couple of years to find my look; at the beginning I was too scruffy, I felt like a hermit in a basement with my laptop.’
Nowadays, what he wears is as much a uniform as the expensive suits and ties he wore as an investment banker. ‘I think of my wardrobe as fashion meets function,’ explains Agarwal. ‘I’ve done the planning beforehand, so I don’t need to think about it in the working week.’
Our style director says: Collars still matter
‘If you’re a T-shirt kinda guy, but feel you need to amp up the smart factor, go for a cropped jacket with a collar. That little nod to tailoring even in a casual item will make you feel as smart as any suit-wearer.’
Iré Hassan-Odukale, Managing Director, Ikoyi
Chinos, £225 by Raey at matchesfashion.com; Shirt, £230 by Paul Smith; Jacket, £385 by APC at Liberty
Clothes that mix a dash of comfort and style
Iré Hassan-Odukale opened his first restaurant, Ikoyi, back in 2017 with friend and chef Jeremy Chan. Previously, he spent six years working in finance in the City, meaning these days he will do anything he can to avoid wearing a suit. ‘People have this idea that suits are formal, but I think you can look smart without wearing a suit,’ he explains.
He prefers to keep things more casual now he’s left the City and set up his own business. Because his day can take him from the kitchen to the meeting room in a flash, feeling good in what he’s wearing is key. ‘It’s really important to be comfortable in your clothes,’ he says. ‘I find my day doesn’t really go right if I’m not comfortable. Sometimes I have to go home and change, and then I feel right again.’ If ever he does need to dress up a little – when he’s front of house at the restaurant, or meeting potential investors – he’ll put on a shirt, trousers and a pair of Common Projects sneakers. ‘They’re the modern version of smart,’ says Hassan-Odukale. ‘You don’t feel underdressed in them.’
Above all, feeling confident in what he’s wearing is his answer to modern-day power dressing. ‘It’s the person wearing the clothes, and how they present themselves,’ he explains. ‘If you feel good in your clothes, no one can make you feel otherwise. People can really see when you feel comfortable in your clothing.’
Our style director says: Keep it in check
‘Forget jazzy ties – bring on the jazzy office jacket. Check out how smart and versatile this green and navy Black Watch tartan number is.’