When I joined the Bank, I bought a suit, with money I didn’t yet have. Nobody told me (essential information was never divulged by the Bank) but after midnight, we were supposed to go ‘casual’ – but not too casual. One of my colleagues in the graphics center had to work in his coat because he arrived in a clubbing outfit.Another one was told that her fashionable leggings needed to be covered with a skirt.
The bankers, however, did need suits. They worked all shifts and therefore had to cover all dress codes, spoken and unspoken. They had to be ready to meet clients at any moment.
Considering they spent up to 20 hours straight at the Bank, wardrobe management became a major life skill (and should really be a mandatory class on MBAs).
Those suits suffered a lot. A colleague, who had started his career in fashion, often had to avert his eyes. Jackets were forever taken off (for comfort) and put back on (because of the icy aircon), getting all baggy from hunching over a keyboard.
Trousers lost their shape and acquired 4am coffee stains that joined whatever had dropped from 11pm’s pizza at the desk. Fine motor skills don’t respond well to sleep deprivation and stress.
The Bank offered in-house laundry services for the bankers, and many kept several shirts in plastic bags hanging from chairs, desks and towering paper stacks, together with extra ties and very dirty towels, giving the work floor the appearance of a shanty town. A few enterprising souls incorporated actual coat stands (no idea how they got them past security). The Bank demanded that its junior employees were perfectly groomed but made it extremely difficult for them to be so.
At 3am, the day old shirts had acquired a distinct aroma of eau de sweat, and, in the graphics center, we could make expert dandruff diagnoses.
At 4am, those bankers who could went home, if not to sleep then at least to get a shower and a fresh outfit. Those who couldn’t because their projects were still being worked on and they had to be ready for an early client meeting often bedded down for a few hours underneath their desks, shirts rubbing against the flea ridden carpet, with a dirty towel for a pillow.
Socks were often a delicate subject. While it is perfectly understandable that you want to slip your feet out of your shoes because these feet get swollen and sweaty after 12 hours, it is unfortunately also true that the condition of these feet (and shoes) will make itself known to all-comers. Athlete’s foot is an intrinsic health risk in the banking profession.
But ‘dress down’ wasn’t all ‘down and dirty’. Bankers who came in on the weekend were usually decked out in very new, shiny jeans and polo neck shirts. Even their jumpers seemed to come straight from an upmarket menswear shop. You could easily have Photoshopped the Saturday bankers into a golf course or a country house hotel, no questions asked.
In the graphics center, we had hot-desking and no personal lockers. We had to bring in all our clothes and food in our backpacks every night. At 5am, when it got really cold, we often shared a big blue woolly jumper around until a manager on the day shift found out and took it away.
So, no - you won't find pyjamas in banks at 3am. Nor will you find dressing gowns and slippers. But you will find improvised alternatives, and however much you've spent on your suit it won't look sharp when you've lived in it for nights as well as days.
Nyla Nox worked for seven years on the graveyard shift in the graphics department of the Most Successful Bank in the Universe in London – a Global Center of Excellence. She has seen more dealbooks (and mistakes) than any banker will see in a life time. Her novel ‘I did it for the money’, first volume in ‘The Graveyards of the Banks’ is available for pre-order on Amazon.