Dress for Success
On Tuesday January 30, the YU Career Center hosted an event for all students considering pursuing a job in the financial services industry titled “What is Wall Street.” The event, featuring a keynote speech by Goldman Sachs Managing Director and YU alum Bennet J. Schachter (SSSB ’97), was meant to give aspiring financial services professionals insight into what working on the Street is like. While Schachter, along with the panelists — most of whom were YU alumni — outlined the pros and cons to both the pursuit of a career on Wall Street and the various careers themselves, they failed to address an often overlooked aspect of life on the Street: dress code.
Ever since the dot-com bubble at the turn of the 20th century, workplace dress codes on Main Street have become increasingly more casual; on Wall Street, not so much. While male employees at startups are often seen wearing anything from a button down shirt and chinos to jeans and a t-shirt, bankers and other financial services professionals are seldom seen in anything less formal than a dress shirt and slacks, and are most often found in a suit and tie.
But what is acceptable Wall Street style? Are pinstripe suits, contrasting collar shirts, maroon power ties, gaudy cufflinks, and suspenders (for reference, see Gordon Gekko in the 1987 film Wall Street) still acceptable? Is there a style hierarchy at banks that, while not in writing, is not to be broken? What about those fun, colorful socks? Is that patterned sport coat you wore to your sister’s Bat Mitzvah party acceptable to wear into the office? I am here to answer these questions, and give some advice, free of charge. Now I’ll admit, anyone who knows me knows that I prefer wearing joggers — or jeans if I feel the need to dress up — a t-shirt, and a solid crew neck sweatshirt to most anything else in my wardrobe; at the same time, however, I do enjoy putting on a suit and tie and having the opportunity to not look like the college kid in every movie who rolled straight out of bed and into class. After hours of extensive research — I’ve been reading GQ and watching Tom Ford interviews recently — I am here to present you with the definitive guide to the male dress code on Wall Street.
The suit: While the stereotypical banker suit has bold pinstripes and wide lapels, and is worn with a power tie that screams “I’m better than you,” that is no longer the case, especially for interns and analysts just starting out at the firm. Suits — yes, you should have more than one — should be in one of two colors: gray or navy. While they do not all need to be solid, make sure that one of each color is. The suits you purchase after those two basic one’s can be patterned, but nothing too “in-your-face.” For example, instead of a bold Gordon Gekko-esque pinstripe suit, opt for something a little more subtle — something that shows you put effort into your outfit, but that won’t make you look like you’re trying to get into GQ’s “People of Pitti Uomo” album. Instead of wearing a suit with Tom Ford’s signature wide, peak lapels, choose something with a slimmer profile that will show the client you came to play ball, but keep you from looking like a guy who has too much money and doesn’t know what else to do with it other than purchase a $5,000-plus suit.
The shirt: While finding the right type of suit may be difficult, finding the right type of shirt is not. It comes down to three words and two colors: white and blue. These are your basics. They’ll match with your navy suits and your gray suits, and almost every tie you own. Now, like your suits, a little bit of pattern is okay, so long as it is subtle. Bengal stripe? Check. Pinstripe? Check. Solid white or blue? Obviously. Check and micro-check? You bet. Seeing as your shirt will be covered up by your suit jacket majority of the time, you have some additional creative liberty should you choose to exercise it; just be careful.
The tie: This one is admittedly tricky. Unlike with a suit or shirt, not all patterned ties are considered “peacock-ish” and unacceptable; at the same time, it is important to know not only what tie matches with your respective suit and shirt, but also what patterns are acceptable for you to wear. A solid tie in a neutral color will never cause you any problems; where it gets more complicated is when you decide you’re getting bored of your solid ties and want to incorporate some patterns into your otherwise conservative wardrobe. The key here is to not do too much. It shouldn’t have to be said that those “fun ties” with team logos or cartoon characters on them are a no-go. Ties with diagonal stripes, polka dots, small shapes, basically anything in a neutral color that isn’t going to stand out too much, is fair game. With ties, even more so than with shirts, there is an incredible amount of creative liberty you can take, but with that immense creative liberty comes a tiny margin of error. One paisley tie and you may never be taken seriously as a banker ever again.
Socks: This one is hard for me because, like everyone else at YU, I have been wearing socks with different colors, patterns, and shapes for years now (I can even remember when I got my first pair — it was my freshman year of high school in 2011). The easy solution to the question of whether or not you can wear patterned socks is to say no. If you’re wearing a gray suit, wear gray socks, a navy suit, navy socks. But to our generation of fun sock wearers, this solution does not suffice our desire to ball out of control in the six dollar sock section at Target. So what should you do? Treat your socks like your shirts. Solids are always acceptable, and patterned socks work as long as the base color is the same as that of your suit and the pattern is subtle. So wear your Happy Socks, your Unsimply Stitched Socks, or whatever other brand you choose, just don’t let your inner peacock get in the way of your outer banker.
Shoes and belts: Shoes and belts are the easiest articles of clothing to wear into the office because you really only need two of each. In terms of shoes, you should have a black pair and a brown pair to go with your black belt and your same-shade-of-brown-as-your-shoes belt. Your shoes should be made of leather and with welted soles, so you won’t find yourself having to buy a new pair after six months of daily wear and tear. Your belts should also be made of leather, and should not have any big, flashy buckles. You got a Ferragamo or Gucci belt as a present? Good for you. Leave it at home and wear something that doesn’t tell the rest of the world you’re privileged.
The watch: “Significantly higher levels of conscientiousness were observed in participants who wore a watch.” This is a line taken from the abstract of a study conducted by David A. Ellis and Rob Jenkins. It is proven that wearing a watch gives off the impression that you have your stuff — I use this word in lieu of a better, explicit one — together. So the question is not whether or not you should be wearing a watch, but what type of watch is acceptable. As a junior banker, this answer is simple. Like a Ferragamo or Gucci belt, anything expensive that screams “I’m privileged” should be left at home. Stick with watches that are less than a few hundred dollars and you’ll be fine.
Accessories: Yes, men wear accessories too, even if we do not define them as such. Cufflinks? Accessory. Tie clip? Accessory. Pocket square? You guessed it, accessory. Let’s run down the list real quick. For starters, wearing a button cuff shirt is a much safer bet than wearing a French cuff shirt, for which you need cufflinks. Should you choose to wear a French cuff shirt, however, make sure your cufflinks are not too “in-your-face.” Unlike a woman’s engagement ring, your cufflinks are not meant to be shown off. Despite being billed as a fashion accessory, the tie clip serves an extremely functional purpose in keeping your tie connected to your shirt so it doesn’t blow in the wind or accidentally dip into your coffee. Unfortunately, tie clips are not seen that way, and at least as a junior employee at a bank, should be avoided. While a pocket square is a great way to show the world you know how to match patterns and fold nice crisp lines, they are not worth the hassle, are difficult to coordinate with an outfit, and are just unnecessary. The bottom line for accessories is as follows: You can if you want, but there’s really no point.
The key to dressing well on Wall Street is to wear well-fitting, relatively conservative clothing that shows your clients and your higher ups that while you put you put effort into your appearance and your image, you know that at the end of the day your job is more important. I’ll leave you with some very simple advice for dressing for your career on Wall Street — advice you didn’t get from any of the financial services professionals who came to the “What is Wall Street” event: KISS — keep it simple, stupid.