- From Allbirds sneakers to Lululemon pants, Wall Street work attire has gotten more casual.
- College students preparing for summer banking internships may be especially puzzled.
- Insider has tips on what they should — and should never — wear, from sneaks to blazers.
It’s an awkward time for the Wall Street wardrobe.
Certain trends have become unspokenly accepted — the near-extinction of ties, for example. But caught between residual casualness from the pandemic and a recent crackdown on RTO mandates, industry insiders say there’s a lot of variety in how financiers dress for the office these days.
Defining the fuzzy parameters of “business casual” can be particularly confusing for the industry’s newest blood: summer analysts. It can also be particularly consequential for them. In an environment where dealmaking has plummeted and banks are laying off employees, snagging a full-time return offer stands to be more competitive than usual.
“As people are going back to work, what’s happening is a really crazy, strange hodgepodge of things,” said Jessica Cadmus, a personal stylist who formerly worked at Goldman Sachs and specializes in dressing Wall Street bankers. “A suit is a uniform, that’s easy. Anybody can do that. It’s the in-between gray area where people are just absolutely struggling.”
Insider spoke to industry experts and junior investment bankers to learn what people actually wear to banking jobs these days and how newbies should prepare accordingly.
Trying to nail the modern Wall Street look can be intimidating.
Adding to the complexity of what to wear is a dress code that can vary widely by firm, office location, and even banking group. In some groups, you might catch some side-eye for showing up without a blazer. In other divisions, you will need a pair of Allbirds sneakers to fit in.
One New York-based first-year analyst said a small handful of senior-ranking, old-school bankers still show up in full suits to her office every day. But that’s atypical — most people keep it more casual.
“I’ve seen my VP show up before wearing slacks, a polo, and his running shoes,” she said. “So there’s definitely variety.”
On the West Coast, an incoming first-year analyst said he never once wore a tie during his internship last summer. In fact, he began wearing Allbirds sneakers, shoes that boast about sustainability and comfort on their website, and Lululemon mock trousers, made of a stretchy fabric, but cut and designed to look like flat-front trousers, after noticing they were popular among colleagues.
“As the time goes on when you’re at the firm, you’ll become more relaxed,” he said.
Regardless of where you fall, the New York-based analyst recommends waiting to do most of your shopping until you get the lay of the land.
“After that first week, see what the vibe is and then go out and buy more clothing to fit whatever that is,” she said. “The first three months on the desk I accumulated so much more clothing than I had initially, just because the vibe was different than I expected.”
And when in doubt, it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed, said Steve Sibley, a finance professor and co-director of Investment Banking Workshop at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. It could make the difference when it comes to landing a full-time role at the end of the summer, he said.
“Assuming business professional-dressed student A and business casual-dressed student B perform equally well on the job, student A would be more likely to receive the return offer,” he said.
It might also depend on how client-facing the role is, he pointed out. Mock trousers and sneaks may be fine for an intern who doesn’t interact with clients. But professional attire may be more appropriate for interns participating in client meetings.
“Start the summer in business professional,” he said. “If senior bankers suggest that you dress more to your day, then follow their directions.”
No tie, but what about the blazer?
Everyone knew ties were out when David Solomon, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, ditched one at the bank’s all-important investor day in January. But blazers still have a place on Wall Street, even if they’re not as omnipresent as they once were.
“The joke is that interns are always the most dressed,” said the incoming Silicon Valley analyst. “You can tell who’s an intern because they’re wearing a blazer, and most people actually don’t wear blazers.”
The New York-based analyst agreed. Most people, both men and women, don’t wear them on a daily basis at her office, she said. Though she will dust one off if she has a client meeting.
Despite poking fun, both the East coast and the West coast bankers said they recommend all interns show up in a blazer for the start of their internships — at least for the first week.
Cadmus says a simple solution is to have one blazer and leave it on the back of your desk chair — ready to go when you need it for a meeting, or just to throw on if you get cold.
“I think it’s an absolute core piece of wardrobe that is very, very functional,” she said. “Even if you only have one and it lives in the office, it’s still very utilitarian.”
As for color and cut, classic is always best, she said.
Black is a fine color for ladies, she said. In fact, if you’re a woman and can only get one blazer, let it be black. But it’s too formal for men and makes them look like they’re going to a wedding or funeral. Guys should opt for dark blue or navy, she said.
“The number one tip on a blazer would be to make sure that it fits in your shoulders,” she said. “Anything else can be altered.”
Sneakers: Tread carefully.
The New York-based analyst said some women wear heels, but it isn’t the norm it once was for corporate working women. She wears white sneakers to work most days and keeps a pair of mules and loafers under her desk to change into, but admits that some days she keeps the sneakers on all day.
She said she’s in the minority, however, and that most people wear dress shoes, heels, or loafers in the office. “Come 6:00 p.m., however, “they’re sitting at their desks to take them off and put their Allbirds on.”
Cadmus warned against wearing any sneaker that looks like a training shoe or activewear — she thinks a sneaker for the office should be elevated and clean-looking.
“Not all sneakers are created equal,” she said. “If you’re going to do a sneaker, it’s got to be what I call a ‘fashion sneaker.’ And it needs to be pristine.”
Her suggestion for both men and women at anyone’s price point: All white Stan Smiths — you can get them for about $100 from Adidas.
Cadmus’ other suggestions include a button-down shirt for men or (if their particular environment allows) a classy dress polo with trousers and dress shoes.
And she reccomends that women ditch the Anne Taylor suit in favor of dresses or skirts with knit tops.
“Knits have largely replaced button-downs, and people are wearing a lot more dresses,” Cadmus said. “You can have knits in a tank, short sleeve, long sleeve. Your life is solved.”
Where to shop.
It may seem obvious, but ladies should avoid wearing anything too tight or short. Showing shoulders and wearing colors is OK within reason, however, said the New York analyst, whose go-to outfit is a pencil skirt and a sweater.
“You don’t want to stand out in a bad way,” she said. “As long as you don’t show up wearing neon, I think you’re fine.”
She said she prefers brands like Calvin Klein and Tahari.
Cadmus suggests all aspiring financiers buy the best quality they can afford.
“I would prefer to buy one thing and wear it more often than to have five cheap things,” she said. “What I would suggest for the junior personnel is, you must be polished. That word should be your north star.”
But buying a work wardrobe also doesn’t need to break the bank.
Cadmus recommends going to Bloomingdale’s or Saks Fifth Avenue — or stores like JCrew and Theory — for junior bankers who need to watch their spending.
“It’s ubiquitous, but the thing is, you’re a junior. You’re not trying to differentiate yourself so much,” she said. “So if you look like everybody else, in this world, it’s actually fine.”
Companies need to be more clear, and a “come to Jesus” is imminent.
Byron Slosar, founder of career recruiting platform Hellohive, said there needs to be more defined guidance from companies about what they expect from employees — especially young ones entering the workforce in a post-COVID world.
“I think the term “business casual” should be thrown in the toilet,” he said. “No one ever knows what it means, period.”
It’s up to employers to lead transparency, he said. They should specifically define their workplace attire, and do it much earlier in the hiring process.
“There’s a way in which companies can say ‘part of our culture is how you show up. And business casual here means [insert definition here].'” he said. “If not on the job description, it’s something your first phone screen hiring manager should talk about.”
Cadmus agreed there will eventually need to be a reckoning and more specific guidance.
“The pendulum is probably going to swing so far towards messy and unkempt that there’s going to have to be a come to Jesus moment,” said Cadmus. “There’s going to have to be more formal language around what’s acceptable and what’s not.”