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.”