Investment banks are embracing a new era of casual clothing. After years of strict rules around acceptable office couture – think, dark suit, plain shirt, black shoes – banks have been forced to confront a new generation of employees used to less formal restrictions. Goldman Sachs’ attempts to lure hipster technologists means a new “‘year-round casual dress code”, J.P. Morgan allowed “business casual” in the office last year, and we understand that the vast majority of investment banks have, at the very least, dress down Fridays in place.
But there are rules. Barclays banned flip-flops and denim following the outrage of some of its senior investment bankers at the outfit choice in its tech team. J.P. Morgan has said that “business casual is not weekend casual, and if you’re seeing a client, you should dress for that client.” What’s OK for programmers may be frowned upon by investment bankers, so make sure you’re not caught out.
1. Get the lay of the land
If your company has just introduced more casual office clothing, or a casual Friday, it’s unlikely that you’ll go choose that dancing cat T-shirt in the first week. Bold choices aside you, should really check out how you colleagues are adjusting to the rule before diving in. “I turned up in what I thought was a relatively conservative ‘casual’ outfit – a shirt and some chinos – but all my colleagues were still wearing suits,” says one third year analyst working in the City. “Just because the company was offering dress down Friday, doesn’t mean that everyone will take part.”
2. Adopt a safe ‘uniform’
You know the score – you can dress down, but you’re probably not going to dress as you would with friends and family. You should invest in a specific dress-down Friday ‘uniform’ that you know is going to be acceptable, advises Heidy Rehman, a former senior Citi research analyst who now runs her own ethical fashion label Rose & Willard.
“For men this means the usual chinos and polo shirt. Another option is suit trousers and shirt with no tie and jacket – I saw a lot of guys opt for that,” she says. “For women it’s black trousers paired with a top, blouse or light sweater. Most women will comment on their relentless search for the perfect pair of black trousers. This is one of the reasons why – they look smart enough and go with everything.”
3. Restrain your individuality
Yep, you might have your own unique look, but even if you think you’re the epitome of style, anything too odd will give the wrong impression, says Rehman.
“Smart casual allows people to express more of their individuality. However, people must be careful not to go too far with this,” she says. “If you’re a Goth or into 1950s retro fashion or hip hop style, don’t go the whole hog. Similarly for anything too heavily trend-focused. You need to communicate that work is your priority.”
4. Respect the hierarchy
Sam Wisnia, the head of fixed income and currencies structuring at Deutsche Bank, may wander around the office in jeans and cardigan jumper, but this doesn’t mean you’re likely to get away with it as a junior. It’s the harsh reality of investment banking politics that your attire can only get more eccentric as you wield more power.
“Most juniors (especially fresh graduates) still wear a dress shirt and trousers for smart casual,” says one new investment banking analyst in the City. “Obviously over time, senior analysts and associates become more relaxed and actually wear polos or loafers.”
5. Make sure it’s not tatty
“It amazes me the number of senior British bankers here who think it’s OK to walk around on Friday with a pair of old red trousers and a knackered polo shirt with the collar turned up,” bemoans one French associate. If this is common, it shouldn’t be the norm and generally everything has to be “washed, pressed and in good condition”, says Rehman.
“The casual element doesn’t mean that this should be overlooked. If you don’t follow this rule you’ll give the impression you don’t care much – the danger is that this interpretation can extend to your attitude to work. Never forget the context of your setting,” she says. “This also goes for shoes. Scruffy shoes will give the wrong impression. For example, you may be able to get away with Converse but always make sure they’re in good nick.”
6. Keep covered up
Shorts are not acceptable, even if they’re tailored and it’s scorching outside, and it’s not just flip-flops that are should be kept out of the office. Any open-toed shoes or – good forbid – Crocs have no place in investment banking, says Rehman.
“Hemlines must not be too short (guys shouldn’t turn up in shorts), necklines shouldn’t be too low – and this goes for men too – short-sleeves are not for the office, nothing diaphanous and no open-toed shoes,” she says.
7. No T-shirts
Apparently, you must always have a collar. “Normally jeans and shirt are the office casual norm. I have never seen T-shirts and jeans around, nor any other atrocious combination,” says one Italian analyst in Canary Wharf.
8. Think ‘professional attitude’
One of the reasons that Barclays felt the need to clamp down on ‘beach wear’, perhaps, is that what you wear has an effect on your overall attitude, believes Rehman. You may no longer be wearing very formal clothing, but you need to maintain focus.
“When we get ‘suited and booted’ our attitude becomes more serious and work-focused,” she says. “Dressing down tends to relax or even undo this attitude. For this reason it’s best not to wear those pieces that you associate too readily with relaxation.”
9. No sportswear
You might be a regular MAMIL (Middle-aged Man in Lycra) or a keen rugby/hockey/lacrosse player. However, don’t express this in the office.
“Most banks ban sportswear, regardless of how well we’ve done in the Olympics – it will be frowned upon,” says Rehman.
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