With winter sales approaching, maybe you’re thinking of updating your work wardrobe? Maybe you’re thinking of buying an ‘investment coat’ or a tailored suit to match John Cryan’s? Before you go shopping, be warned: investment banking dress codes are filled with complexity. You do not want to come away with something that will be detrimental to your career. Worse, you do not want to buy something that will earn you a disparaging nickname forevermore.
“The way you dress in a bank is a reflection of your role,” says Chris Roebuck, a former head of global leadership and talent management at UBS. “If you’re interacting with clients or the media, even at a comparatively junior level, you’ll need to create an impression of being impeccable. If you’re not interacting with clients, there’s still an expectation about the way you dress but your clothing will be much more about creating your internal brand.”
With this in mind, established bankers say it’s unwise to come clothed in any of the following items at particular stages of your investment banking career. You have been warned.
1. As an analyst you must not wear the same shirt more than one day running
Senior HR professionals complain that contemporary banking juniors require more nurturing than their forebears. Seemingly, this extends to personal cleanliness. When young bankers work long hours, hygiene can be a problem. “Now your mum isn’t around to wash your shirts, don’t be tempted to wear them two days in a row,” says one fixed income trader. “You stink.”
2. As an analyst or associate, you must not wear braces
If you’ve seen Wall Street and think Gordon Gekko might be a role model, you might also think it’s appropriate to wear braces for your new job in a bank. Don’t. One director in M&A says braces are the “worst” thing you can wear as a junior – they’re only acceptable if you’re very senior, or very old.
3. As an associate, you must not wear wild ties
When you make the move from analyst to associate, you might possibly get to attend some client meetings. If this is the case (and you are male), choose your tie with care. “Please buy less of those ridiculous ties for the client meetings we’re only letting you attend out of sympathy,” is one VP’s message to his juniors. If you’re stuck on the right kind of tie to choose, the most popular ties at Goldman Sachs are blue, followed by red and purple. Striped barely gets a look in.
4. As an analyst or associate you must not wear ostentatious items clearly purchased for you by your (wealthy) parents
It’s been said before, but it’s worth reiterating: as a junior in an investment bank you will make no friends if you come to work dressed in the kinds of items that only senior vice presidents and above can usually afford.
In other words, don’t wear a Hermes tie. Don’t wear Gucci Loafers. Don’t wear fancy cuff links.
“Leave your Breitling at home,” says one trader. “The watch your mamma gave you for getting to uni is NOT a good show. Unless your people are hedge fund managers and you will bring their biz on the floor, no one likes a spoiled brat as a junior.”
5. As an associate, you must never wear a black shirt
You must never wear a black shirt to work in an investment bank, period. But if you wear one as an associate, it’s worse than if you wear one as an analyst. “I had someone in a black shirt,” says the senior M&A banker. “And yes, he wore it to a client meeting.”
6. As a VP or above, you should not wear a short red dress and black heeled shoes
Libby Hart, a former structured products banker at Deutsche and SocGen, had some good advice for female bankers as they progress through the ranks: mid-level women shouldn’t wear “pencil skirts and cardigans”, said Hart. They should also avoid short skirts and displays of cleavage.
One (male) VP at a European investment bank in London complains that one of his colleagues hasn’t taken Libby’s advice: “I saw a VP at my level today and she was wearing a red super-mini dress and high heels,” he said. “A lot of men commented that this was a bit inappropriate for the bank.”
7. As a director or MD, you must not wear embroidered items of any kind
As you become more senior, you might feel inclined to embellish your work attire with a little embroidery. Don’t.
Cuffs embroidered with your initials are a thing among bankers of a certain stature. Skip McGee, former head of Barclays in the Americas, has them. So too does Lance Uggla, CEO of Markit.
The M&A director says he’s seen people take the embroidery theme further still: “I’ve seen people with purple embroidered button holes on tailored suits,” he tells us.
8. As a banker at any level, you must not wear patent leather shoes
Brown shoes used to be out. They still are, but the range of prohibited footwear also now extends to patent leather shoes (seen in M&A), flipflops (banned from Barclays) and any form of open-toed sandal. One M&A VP goes further still: “I would say no to trainers in the morning.”
9. As a director or MD especially you must wear a suit appropriate to the nationality of your clients and peers
Roebuck notes that different types of suit are appropriate to offices in different locations. In London, for example, pinstripes are still acceptable. In Switzerland, pale grey or dark blue suits are more common. On Wall Street, one quant says black suits are inadvisable, but that you’ll be safe in something dark blue or dark grey and that a, “light blue, white shirt is kinda the standard.”
Back in London, one M&A banker says you must never wear khaki under any circumstances.
10. As a banker at any level, you must not wear bling
Lastly, while you might be able to get away with a Shamballa bracelet or two as a man in banking, one M&A banker says you must not wear “sovereign rings and loads of jewelry.” This, after all, is IBD – not the A Team.