Fitting In On Wall Street

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So you want to be the next Gordon Gekko? Think you’re a master of the universe, ready to wheel and deal with the big guns on Wall Street? I spend a fair amount of time with those guys and though it’s been a rough couple of months in the Big Apple, most are still looking pretty sharp.

Even with the financial market’s current turmoil, Wall Street continues to grind away at the business of business. Every day, newly minted MBAs surge into New York, hoping to take their places at the feeding troughs of profit. Though movies usually focus on the sexy, glamorous side of the industry (how unusual), the reality of a typical Wall Street starter job is one of emotionally exhausting financial analysis, intense competition and 20 hour days.

If you still want to take a shot at the brass ring the upside is that working on Wall Street can be a very rewarding career – literally. And to make a good impression with both your clients and colleagues, you’ll need to know how to dress.

Sure, the idea of the maverick trader or brilliant iconoclast is what plays well on TV, but in truth Wall Street is a very conformist environment. If there is a prominent color palette, it’s grey. And if there is a defining trait that sets the leaders of the pack apart from everyone else, it’s the quality of their stuff, not necessarily the flash.

The pinstripe suit is the uniform of New York’s financial community. Its inherent sobriety and maturity lets your clients know that they can trust you with their money. No matter how much you’re pulling down, the job of your clothes is to project conservative seriousness.

For those who are moving up the ranks and ready to show off, the name of the game is quality. Where other environments might celebrate flash and obvious excess, Wall Street eschews it (at least out in the in open). In this extremely competitive environment, projecting success and advancement without breaching the “code of grey” is the name of the game. Here are my observations from the Street.

The suit is where it all starts and when it comes to suits, bespoke is the pot of gold at the end of the sartorial rainbow. After depositing your $10 million bonus check (as several Goldman Sachs guys did last year) nothing says, “I’ve arrived” like a couple of suits made to fit you and only you. That kind of success also allows for wider wardrobe options like gen plaids, country windowpanes and the in-your-face attitude of a nice fat chalk stripe.

Custom made suits, where you are matched to an existing pattern tweaked to fit your frame, is the next best thing and certainly nothing at which to sneeze. Many well known fashion houses and tailors offer this slightly more affordable option to the up and coming traders and bankers of the world.

If going with off-the-rack, labels like Brioni, Kiton, Zenga, Kilgour, Canali, and Ralph Lauren are always good choices. Double vents are de rigueur in most cases, though single vents are perfectly acceptable for American makers like Brooks Brothers, J. Press and Oxford.

Almost to a man, French cuffed shirts seem to rule Wall Street. Younger guys in particular like the versatility they offer, along with the associated spread collars and cufflinks. Thomas Pink and Charles Tyrwhitt have made significant inroads in New York. Still highly respected is Turnbull & Asser, famously worn by Washington Post editor in chief, Ben Bradley. And when it comes to cufflinks, I’ve seen everything from subway tokens to solid gold bulls and bears. They are one of the few truly personal accessories a man can wear to the office, so great care is usually given when picking them out.

Ties are another area for individual expression, though again in a somewhat restrained fashion. Hermes and Vineyard Vines are popular in part because their classic and sometimes quirky repetitive designs possess a timeless quality. Of course these premium brands are very distinctive and instantly recognizable – another way to telegraph your taste. For those seeking a more traditional look, Brooks Brothers repp ties are a safe bet.

Footwear is often confined to the cap toe oxford or slip-in loafer; I don’t often see wingtips. Even though brown shoes pair wonderfully with grey, more often I see black. As with tailored clothing, when you can afford it, custom shoes are favored. Names like Edward Green and John Lobb are voiced with idolized reverence.

Of all the accessories that Wall Streeters use to indicate their status in the financial food chain, the wristwatch is king. And the king of wristwatches is still Rolex. I’ve lost count of the Submariners, Sea-Dwellers and Datejusts I’ve seen. Interestingly, when it comes to chronographs, the Omega Speedmaster in particular and Breitling in general seem to be the most popular. I suspect that even for high-flying money managers, spending $25,000 on a Rolex Daytona is a little excessive.

Overall, the Wall Street look is a classic one, steeped in purpose as well as iconic style. Elegance, attention to detail and luxury touches are its hallmarks. Of course, not everyone in the industry dresses this way; some are utterly clueless and others are dandies in the extreme. Nonetheless, this distinctive and polished style of dress has come to define what it means to be “Wall Street.”


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Chris Hogan, an association executive based in Washington, D.C., blogs at OffTheCuffDC.com. A lifelong interest in style and clothing led to sales and management positions at several Ralph Lauren stores and an active wardrobe consulting practice

Comments

  1. Ashe says:

    Sorry, it’s John Lobb, not James.

    You write a nice description of Wall Street dress habits, but for twenty years ago, not today. Most places have business casual dress codes, so guys walking on Wall Street look as good (or as bad) as the guys in Midtown. Even the New York Stock Exchange has relaxed its dress code for upstairs staffers, though a jacket and tie are still the dress code for those on the Trading Floor.

    Like mayor Bloomberg, everyone I know on Wall Street buys suits from Paul Stuart, not the names you listed. And when you see a Rolex wristwatch, it’s probably a Chinatown knock-off, since everyone knows Rolex does not make a high quality movement. The real money goes for names like IWC, Vacheron Constantin, Cartier, or Panerai.

  2. adonis says:

    Ashe, I think this article talks about “fitting in” the right way and how it should be done, not the wrong way many are doing. I also don’t agree with your Rolex evaluation, and especially with the part that “everyone knows” it. How could they know it if they’re so uneducated about style these days?

  3. Chris says:

    Ashe,

    Thanks very much for your comments and for catching the John Lobb typo – I don’t even know anyone named James, so I’m not sure where that came from.

    As to your general remarks on the column I need to point out a few things. First, the overall style and clothing descriptions noted are not just based on my general musings. My particular field of work is closely tied to the Midtown financial industry and I interact quite regularly with fixed income and equity analysts, investment bankers, portfolio managers, hedge fund managers and others.

    The general “Wall Street” style I discussed was drawn from direct observation as well as through conversations with friends and contacts in the above groups. The labels and trends referenced come from mostly from their comments. I agree that Paul Stuart is an excellent brand and could easily have been added to the list; I am particularly fond of their Phineas Cole line – thanks for pointing it out. By the way, Mayor Bloomberg also has many of his suits custom made, some by an excellent young tailor from Milan, Roberto Girambelli.

    Now, I will grant that where I interact with these folks may play a role in the more formal aspect of the column. When I’m getting together with these folks, it’s either in formal meetings with company CEOs and CFOs, at full pads financial conferences where corporate presentations are being made, or in more intimate, albeit business focused, gatherings and dinners.

    I also have to take issue with you comment about Rolex. While many people find irritating the company’s practice of regular price increases and limited discount opportunities from authorized dealers, I am not aware of anyone stating that the watch’s movements are junk. As you may be aware all Rolex movements are certified by the COSC, which right there would discount your claim. What I really sense from your phrasing is a disdain of the brand in general. Rolex movements may not be the most elegant, but they are some of the most sturdy and reliable in the market.

    Who still wears them? In New York at a conference last week, I was seated at a table with two hedge fund managers, three equity analysts, one fixed income analyst, and two I-bankers. I counted two Datejusts, one Submariner and one Sea Dweller. I find it highly unlikely, to put it politely, that these gentlemen would be wearing knockoffs from Chinatown. The other brands you named are excellent ones, any of which I would be happy to wear.

    Best regards,
    Chris

  4. Vickan says:

    Good and interesting article! =)