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14 things you must never wear to work in an investment bank, no matter the weather

Investment banking dress code

Don't go there

Banks’ attempts at stipulating dress codes for employees have a tendency to fall flat. After the hilarity surrounding Nomura’s attempt at banning ‘gay colour nail polish’ and skirts with a ‘deep slit entered’ in 2009 and UBS’s 40 page dress code that included commandments on ‘the underwear and tights’ in 2011, banks might decide they’re better off leaving employees to wear whatever they like.

Even so, Barclays’ new all-powerful executive chairman John McFarlane has had enough. The Telegraph reports that McFarlane has issued a missive stating that no one must wear flip flops to work at Barclays’ London headquarters in Canary Wharf. This follows a 2013 edict commanding that Barclays’ investment bankers participate in ‘super casual Fridays.’ “I didn’t become an investment banker to dress like a perpetual teenager,” complained one U.S. Barclays banker at the time.

If you work for Barclays or elsewhere, you might be feeling a bit confused. When banks keep tweaking dressing codes, of what should your wardrobe comprise? These are the categorical no-go items, for men and for women.

1. Short sleeved shirts 

When it’s hot and summery, you might think you can get away with showing a bit of arm in the City. You can’t. The head of graduate recruitment at one international firm told us interns have been reprimanded for wearing short sleeved shirts. Nomura, meanwhile. has been known in the past to send women home when they arrive in sleeveless dresses.

Long sleeved shirts are the norm in finance, even when it’s 30 degrees C.

2. Hawaiian shirts

We understand that interns have also been guilty of wearing Hawaiian shirts this summer. Worse, they were Hawaiian short-sleeved shirts.

3. Tailored shorts

Young men and women have also been turning up in tailored shorts. This is not right. “You think they’re wearing trousers and then they stand up,” said the graduate recruiter. A few years ago, an executive director at Goldman Sachs said shorts might be ‘”ok on junior staff” but that she wouldn’t wear them. At the same time, a risk analyst at Nomura said they’re just “not part of the business dress code.”

4. Flesh-revealing combos

It’s all about skin: if you’re revealing too much of it, you’re transgressing the unspoken rule. “You can show your arm, but we don’t want to see any more flesh,” says the recruiter. “Or you can show your leg. But we don’t want to see a lot of arm and leg.”

5. Open toed shoes

It’s not just McFarlane at Barclays who has a horror of flipflops and open toed shoes. UBS’s dress code said open toed shoes are prohibited. It also said, “Never wear shoes that are too small for you: there’s nothing worse than a twisted smile.”

6. Skirts above the knee

See point four.

7. Skirts below the calf

You’re not trying to look like a Tudor Queen. In the words of UBS, ‘The perfect skirt length is in the middle of the knee and may down to two inches below the knee (measured from the middle of the knee).’

8. Old T-shirts 

Susan Treadgold, an executive coach and former director of pan-European equity sales at Citigroup, says some people in finance had a historical tendency to wear old T-Shirts. “Wear things that are consistent with how you want to be perceived,” says Treadgold. “Look at the people you want to be like and wear what they’re wearing.” Are they wearing old T-Shirts?

9. Visible vests

UBS is an advocate of vest wearing in winter (possibly due to the Swiss cold).  ‘For aesthetic reasons and hygiene, as well as for issues of well-being, we recommend you wear a vest,’ they say. We say you should keep this vest discretely hidden beneath your other clothes.

10. Purple, blue, or red suits

You’re working in the City, not as an extra on Saturday Night Fever. This year’s heat has brought out some interns in blue and green suits, says the recruiter. UBS lays down the law, as usual: suits should be ‘anthracite dark’ (coal black), black, or maybe dark blue.

11. Dresses made of diaphanous material

Floaty dresses are a no, says the graduate recruiter.

12. Backless numbers

See point three. A back is a large expanse of skin. “I have had to lend several girls my cardigan,” the graduate recruiter tells us.

13. Colourful shoes

It’s not just the prohibition on ‘gay colour nail varnish’ at Nomura, banks don’t like colour generally. This applies equally to shoes. Historically, brown has been no-go in finance. UBS suggests that all shoes must be black.

14. School rugby socks

Another graduate recruiter says the age of the old-school tie has been replaced by the age of the old school rugby sock. In the City, candidates from prestigious schools like Eton and Harrow have taken to turning up to interviews wearing their school sports socks beneath their suits, she says.

Photo credit: Lar sen

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