Looking the part of a leader: Fashion CEO Pranav Vora shares the secrets of a confident style

By Tina Irgang

Pranav Vora

Pranav Vora

Many CEOs are naturally confident and at home in their own skin. But let’s face it — that doesn’t apply to everyone. For those of you who struggle to project confidence and power at all times, the right outfit can be key to helping you get there. But how do you find that perfect outfit?

We asked Pranav Vora, founder and CEO of Washington, DC-based menswear retailer Hugh & Crye, to weigh in. Hugh & Crye’s mission, Vora says, is to make clothing that actually fits men’s bodies — based on real-life torso measurements, rather than standard sizing.

In the following interview, Vora shares the secrets to dressing with confidence, style and a sense of fun. (Note: While Vora specializes in men’s clothing, much of his advice applies to both genders.)

CEOs tend to want their outfits to project power and confidence. What are some of the best ways to achieve that?

Vora: A lot of things can directly influence an individual’s confidence, but being comfortable in your own skin, no matter what you’re wearing, is super important. But putting that aside, when you’re looking at clothing, you really want to start with clothing that just fits you and fits your body. It’s just understanding that perhaps what you have been wearing up until now isn’t exactly made for your particular shape. When you wear clothing that fits your shape, it’s just much more flattering.

What does that mean? If we’re talking about shirts, you want to look out for having that shoulder seam right at the top of your shoulder, and not too much fabric in the arm area that you can pull away from your body at the side. You actually somewhat want to see the shape of an individual’s body. That’s much more flattering than being drowned in swaths of fabric. So I think fit is the number-one thing — pay attention to clothing that fits your body.

What are your recommendations specifically for CEOs who are on the heavier side?

Vora: Whether you’re heavier or super skinny or short stature, chances are there’s a brand somewhere that adheres to a little bit more of your body type. That was the origin story for our company. We honed in on lean people, but that doesn’t mean that every one of our customers looks like an athlete. … You really want to just try on the product and throw out the norms and conventions that perhaps you have been used to. Rather than searching for an XL if you’re a bigger guy, pay attention to the shape of your body and what you think that might need.

What kinds of accessories, in your mind, go with a real “power outfit”? And how much is too much?

Vora: When you think of a power outfit, it really has to do with something that you feel very good in, no matter what that is. That could honestly be denim and a sweater. It’s how good you feel wearing it, and how comfortable in your skin you are, and how prepared you are for any situation. That said, I would say there has been a trend to accessorizing in general, so a tie, pocket square, lapel flower and pin, tie bar, cufflinks, that kind of stuff. I think it’s great when guys do take a little bit of risk, and not feel like they need to just wear khakis and a blue shirt. So it’s good, but I think if the outfit is louder than who you are, you’re peacocky. It should be supportive or secondary to who you are. It should just make you feel great and like yourself, rather than being about being noticed.

Apart from the peacock effect, are there any other fashion faux pas that CEOs should avoid?

Vora: I think there’s a fine balance between developing your own personal style and trying too hard. Paying attention to trends and fashion is very different than developing your own style. One is much more about what’s popular now, perhaps not even suited to you, and developing your own style is more about taking an interest in the process of fashion to suit your own interest. If it’s that you really enjoy a heavier-weight twirl than a dress shirt, then that becomes something you care about. If it’s a blazer that lets you breathe a little bit more and doesn’t feel as structured as a suit jacket, that becomes something you care about.

But it’s really developing your personal style by just showing a genuine interest. It’s pretty obvious, at least to me, when someone is inspired in their style by another person and doesn’t really own the clothing, the look, you know, and I think that’s unfortunate. If we talk about a power look, it’s being really in command of who you are and what you’re doing, and you should be really intentional and deliberate about the things you wear — just like you would be in your business.

Otherwise, be courageous about matching, cultivating different fabrics or patterns, while being mindful of when things will clash. But even then I don’t think there are any real rules. You’ve got to do what’s right for you. I don’t subscribe to things like, if you have a round face, you should have a pointy collar.

Do you have any additional advice on CEO fashion?

Vora: The last thing I’d say is have fun with it and do it for the right reasons. There’s nothing more engaging and exciting than seeing an individual who’s passionate about what he or she is doing, and that extends beyond the business. If you’re wearing a pocket square or a watch or something that has a story behind it, tell that story. Really own the clothing that you’re wearing. And I think that’s fun. Fashion doesn’t have to be rule-based, it doesn’t have to be do’s or don’ts.