(Forbes) Let’s face it, most of us don’t look to women in the C-suite for style inspiration. That may begin to change because of Marissa Mayer. Yahoo needed a star leader, and they got one when they anointed Mayer, a veteran of Google, its CEO. That star power is thanks in no small part to her penchant for high fashion. It’s not often that you hear top executive women make statements like, “For women, you never have enough excuses to wear great shoes” as Mayer did in 2008.
Silicon Valley luminaries like Mark Zuckerberg reinvented the wheel in terms of what is acceptable to wear to the office—in Zuckerberg’s case jeans and shower shoes. Mayer, a self confessed Oscar de la Renta addict, is very much the anti-Zuckerberg as far as work style goes. “Oscar de la Renta is an amazing designer who works really well with color and detail which I think is something that’s inspiring,” Mayer told Yelp.com. De la Renta told Vogue, “She’s one of my biggest customers.” Mayer even once shelled out $60,000 at a charity event to have lunch with the designer.
The executive has had glittery fashion moments over the years. She donned a vintage Balenciaga gown to wear to the opening of an exhibit at the de Young Museum in San Francisco last year. She opted for an Oscar de la Renta floral gown for a White House state dinner last year honoring Germany (Rihanna wore a version of the same gown to the 2011 Brit Awards). When Mayer wed Zachary Bogue in 2009, she walked down the aisle in a custom Naeem Khan gown, embroidered in snowflakes. Other designers Mayer favors include Carolina Herrera, Nina Ricci and Jonathan Saunders. It’s a fashion appetite afforded by Mayer’s estimated $300 million net-worth.
It’s clear Mayer isn’t afraid to show off her fashionista side. She’s sat front row at shows during New York fashion week. When she was included on Vanity Fair’s Best Dressed Poll last year, among the likes of Kate Middleton and Tilda Swinton, she took to Twitter to ask people to vote for her. And women at Google have said that during employee outings with Mayer talk often turned to topics like the latest must-have Proenza Schouler handbags.
Yes, there have certainly been clotheshorses in the corner office before. During Andrea Jung’s tenure as CEO of Avon she was notorious for her collection of Chanel skirt suits, only occasionally donning Giorgio Armani pantsuits for casual Fridays. For the most part though, the women CEOs in the Fortune 500 approach fashion cautiously, at best.
Mayer is a different breed—managing to be both fashion forward and relatable. In the same vein as Michelle Obama, Mayer is saying with her wardrobe that you can be both substantive and have fun with what you wear. Mayer told the LA Times, “Our country in particular—and the whole world—has a real challenge in bringing more women into engineering and technical fields. It’s good to show that you don’t need to sacrifice your sense of femininity because you are engineer.”
Her ability to toe the line between fashion lover and ambitious executive is just one of the many ways that Mayer will transform perceptions of what it means to be a woman CEO today. As for her work style philosophy Mayer told the Wall Street Journal: “I think that you should pick a fashionable piece that has some flair—some interesting color or detail—and then pair it with more basic separates.”
It will very likely be a bumpy road for Mayer at Yahoo. But at least we’ll get to have fun dissecting her sartorial choices, and taking a couple of style cues from her, along the way.