If you work for any investment bank you must not wear flipflops, braces [aka suspenders on Wall Street], or a pastel suit. You must not flash a watch more expensive than your boss's car. Nor must you have perspiration stains beneath your armpits. These are all givens. But does the dress code differ from bank to bank? Should your appearance vary if you're interviewing at Goldman Sachs, Deutsche, Credit Suisse and Barclays?
Yes. A bit.
This is how the tribes at banks differentiate themselves, according to insiders who work within them.
1. The dress code at Goldman Sachs: Business casual for the masses, facial hair and suits for partners
If you're a man who's interviewing at Goldman Sachs, you should probably wear a dark grey suit and a white shirt. If you're a woman who's interviewing at Goldman Sachs, you should probably wear heels, a round-necked shirt, and have long and well-groomed hair.
"For the most part, the code is to fit in," says one executive director. "- It's the standard City uniform - trousers and shirt, add a suit jacket and tie as appropriate; depending on your seniority or delusions/aspirations to seniority."
"Keep it simple and elegant, and if you have to ask yourself, "Will this stand out?" then you should probably avoid it," says one associate.
There are nuances, however. The dress code at GS varies from business to business and office to office. One senior GS banker in London says there's a lot of business casual in IBD: "The senior VPs and below only put suits on when they go to meetings." In San Francisco, it's standard to wear jeans to meetings. In London, it's all about dark suits and shirts. "Ties are usually only worn to meetings (seniors might wear ties all the time but that differs from person to person). Internal roles are more relaxed and you will see most people wear jeans and t-shirts," says one insider.
"For guys at Goldman it's always ties, shoes without buckles, and suits without a pattern," says a GS M&A banker. "For women, 90% wear dresses and high heels. A lot wear expensive shoes like Louboutins."
It's the partners who stand out at Goldman. "Partners always wear suits, even when going for a smoke," says the senior banker. "You always know the MDs who want to make partner," she adds. "They have new suits. They start wearing their jackets. They grow beards."
Beards are a thing among senior staff at Goldman. Lloyd Blankfein grew one, and then shaved it off. Marty Chavez has one. Pablo Salame does too. There are far fewer beards at J.P. Morgan than GS.
2. The dress code at Deutsche Bank: Less smart than it was, ties above VP
Deutsche insiders say the bank has become less smart since Anshu Jain - famed for his sartorial rectitude, quit. "The formality at Deutsche Bank has decreased," says one MD. "But if you're in the front office you should really wear a white shirt and smart suit and if you're above VP level you should always wear a tie, whether you have a meeting or not."
The exception to this rule appears to be Sam Wisnia, the ex-Goldman partner who runs Deutsche's macro business. "Wisnia wears jeans, a dress shirt and a cardigan jumper, " says one senior Deutsche insider. "He then flips his dress shirt collar up (as if he is going to put a tie on) but the tie is only draped around his neck (as if he doesn't have enough time to get dressed)."
Another Deutsche insider said the bank has dress down Fridays along with the rest of the industry and that some staff in London "took it too far" by turning up in "things like leather shirts."
3. The dress code at Credit Suisse: Moody suits, quiet formality - except on the trading floor
Credit Suisse's 2015 annual report was a study in moody suits. - CEO Tidjane Thiam and chairman Urs Rohner looked like something from a genre movie. Its 2016 annual report wasn't quite as noir, but Rohner is still wearing a three piece suit and Thiam is still sporting a structured two buttoned suit with an extra ticket pocket. Tailoring is everything.
Insiders say it's not that bad. "On the trading floor, the dress code's very light," says one. "The only real rule is to avoid sporty clothes and sports shoes."
"We're not required to wear ties unless we meet with clients," says a junior M&A banker. He says there's a dress down Friday at Credit Suisse: jeans are allowed but wearing a T-shirt too would be taking things "a bit far."
Another mid-ranking banker at CS says the real point of contention is the tie: "Monday to Thursday is suit, no tie. Friday is casual." He says he always wears a tie, however: "Ties are appreciated by the MDs. They notice this stuff."
4. The dress code at SocGen: Discrete and dress-down
As a French bank, you might have thought SocGen staff would be the epitome of style. Apparently not.
"I was very surprised when I came here," says one senior banker. "It's not smart at all - a lot of people dress down and it's worse in Paris. A client complained to me that one of our teams came to visit him and only one of them was wearing a proper suit."
She surmises that the relaxed dress code at SocGen - especially in Paris - has something to do with the fact that the investment bank is housed with the retail bank. It's more Carrefour than Chloe.
When SocGen investment bankers do dress smartly, she says they do so "discretely" - there are no big labels and prestigious accessories: "I've had to put away my best handbags."
5. The dress code at Barclays: Classic, quiet banking
Insiders say the dress code at Barclays' investment bank has changed along with its CEO's.
Under Rich Ricci it was brash: "Ricci wore red braces. He tried to look like a stereotypical banker," says one Barclays MD.
Under Antony Jenkins it was confused. "Jenkins had this idea that Barclays was a tech company, and he wanted us all to dress like tech professionals," says the MD. "For a very short period of time we had this thing that you didn't have to wear a suit could get away with jeans and casual dress."
Now-chairman John McFarlane put an end to all that summer. Under Jes Staley, the insider says Barclays has become more formal. "It's quite old school and American - stylish. There are no pin striped suits and braces any more."
6. The dress code at Citi: The guy with the "pocket square"
At Citi, insiders say it's "pretty boring." White shirts, grey suits. Dark shirts are out.
Individualism is expressed through "funky glasses." Somewhere, there's a guy with a "pocket square." - "We think he does this to be intimidating," says one associate.
If you would like to share your sartorial secrets, please do so in the comments box below.
Photo credit: B.R.I.A.N. S.I.M.S. by ZITTO & GUARDA is licensed under CC BY 2.0.