Dorothy Shaver was born on July 29, 1893, in Center Point, Arkansas to, Sallie Borden and James D. Shaver, a lawyer and judge. After graduating from Mena High School in 1910, Dorothy went on to study at the University of Arkansas and the University of Chicago. She moved to New York City with her sister Elsie, an artist, in the 1920s. Acting as an agent for her sister, Dorothy sold some of Elsie's fashion drawings to the department store Lord & Taylor. Dorothy also promoted Elsie's "Five Little Shaver" dolls, which became a major fad after Lord &Taylor introduced them.
Impressed, Lord & Taylor hired Dorothy Shaver to head its Comparative Shopping Bureau, the main purpose of which was to spy on other department stores. Shaver eventually reorganized this department to create a Bureau of Stylists in an effort to improve Lord & Taylor's merchandising strategy and set the pace for style in New York. Her career with Lord & Taylor skyrocketed from there. In 1927, Shaver became a member of Lord & Taylor's board of directors and in 1931, she was named a vice president. In 1937, she was elevated to first vice president and on December 19, 1945, she was named president of Lord & Taylor, becoming one of the first female executives of a large department store. One year later, she was elected to the board of directors of the Associated Dry Goods Corporation, of which Lord & Taylor was a division.
Under Shaver's direction, Lord & Taylor became one of the first department stores to sell clothing specifically designed for different subsets of their customer base; teenaged girls, young adult women, petite women, and career women. She also introduced a bridal shop and a maternity department. She was known for her unique merchandising techniques, such as spraying perfume from the store's marquee in an effort to sell perfume and attract customers. Six suburban branches were opened under her leadership in Manhasset, New York, 1941; Scarsdale, New York, 1948; Millburn, New Jersey, 1949; West Hartford, Connecticut, 1953; Bala-Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, 1954; and Garden City, New York, 1956.
Shaver was also known for her early recognition of American fashion designers. She promoted the "American Look" as a fashion trend, putting American designers on par with French designers. Her efforts fueled the careers of many American designers including Clare Potter, Claire McCardle, and Nettie Rosenstein. In 1937, Shaver established the American Design Awards, an annual event hosted by Lord & Taylor highlighting the achievements of innovators in the fields of design, the arts, housing, education, the sciences, and international relations.
Shaver also helped establish the Museum of Costume Art, which became the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1944. She was chairman of the institute's executive committee and was a member of the Museum's board of trustees. In 1942, as a merchandising consultant to the office of Quartermaster General, Shaver supervised the design of new uniforms and accessories for nurses in the military.
Shaver received numerous citations and awards over the course of her life, including honorary degrees from Syracuse University (1947), Bates College (1949), New York University (1950), Russell Sage College (1951), Lafayette College (1957), and Wheaton College (1957).
Shaver suffered a stroke and died soon after on June 28, 1959; she is buried in Texarkana, Arkansas. Her gravestone has the year of her birth as 1897, four years later than her actual birth date. This error apparently was done on the instruction of her sister, Elsie, because the two women enjoyed misrepresenting their ages.