Throughout my 20-year career in financial services, I anxiously navigated my way through a variety of office dress codes.
These corporate stipulations on attire seemed to change with every new job and included traditional business formal, business casual and then finally the clothes we all wore in that dreadful COVID work from home environment (pajamas anyone?).
The most formal fashion ensembles I observed were at J.P. Morgan on Wall Street, where I worked as an investment banker in the 2000s.
Approaching my very first day on Wall Street, I felt confident that I would impress my superiors with my three suits from Dallas, Texas' Culwell & Son, five long sleeve button-down shirts from Brooks Brothers, a few ties and my pride and joy: a pair of brand new black Johnston & Murphy wingtip shoes.
However, when I arrived at the office, I noticed that this was the outfit that many of the male Managing Directors wore:
Suit: Custom made Oxxford Super 140s wool, blue pinstripe. $3,000.
Tie: Hermes silk tie, usually blue or pink with elephants, dogs or other animal pattern. $240.
Shirt: White button-down with spread collar and French Cuffs, replete with monograms. From Thomas Pink in London. $135 and up.
Cufflinks: Silver from Brooks Brothers or Thomas Pink. Usually with a Wall Street theme such as a bull and bear. $175.
Pocket Square: Silk with white or colored pattern to match the tie. From Thomas Pink. $90.
Belt: Black alligator leather with monogrammed sterling silver belt buckle. Probably from Saks Fifth Avenue. $700.
Shoes: Ferragamo black leather loafers. $550.
Watch: Rolex Submariner or Cartier Tank. $10,000 - $20,000
Total Outfit Cost: approximately $15,000 - 25,000.
Over the course of the first few weeks, I was horrified that my clothes weren't nice enough, but in the end my staid but solid outfit as an Investment Banking Analyst served its purpose, as you NEVER want to show up your boss by wearing nicer clothes than her or him.
Late at night after all the bosses had left, the whispers of junior investment bankers roaming the halls of 270 Park Avenue (J.P. Morgan's Headquarters at the time) informed me that it was a SURE FIRE WAY to get canned if you tried to wear ANY of the following: a pink shirt with a white collar, a pocket square, or - and this one was the most serious - SUSPENDERS.
For that was the look of J.P. Morgan's legendary Investment Banking Vice Chairman at that time, Jimmy Lee.
We all shuddered to think of the consequences if someone actually had the gumption to try all three at once. Only the most senior Managing Directors could attempt that sartorial combination.
Our mantra became Pink Shirt = Pink Slip, and we learned to dress well, but not too well.
That being said, you do want to make a good impression, because the opposite can have catastrophic social consequences.
I remember bearing witness to one unfortunate young man's first day on Wall Street.
When he arrived at work, his suit was crumpled, sized for a person about 100 pounds heavier than his current weight, and was of a faded khaki color.
The purple shade of his way-too-tight shirt was what Google terms "solid neon magenta," which is probably avant-garde for today, but back then it was just plain wrong.
The pièce de résistance was one of those fish ties.
You're thinking: what is a fish tie?
It's a tie that literally looks like a fish, see photo below.
Close your eyes and try to imagine this outfit for a second: Wrinkled, ill-fitting, ugly khaki suit.
Tight, Neon Bright, Purple Shirt.
And Catch of the Day Novelty Tie.
One woman actually SCREAMED in surprise as he walked down the office corridor, thinking that a homeless person had somehow stumbled into our genteel, secured area of one of the world's largest investment banks.
Janet, our office manager - by far one of the loveliest human beings I met on Wall Street and like a mother to us all - immediately shot out of her office at the sound of the commotion.
Janet had moved to New York from Savannah, Georgia and married an investment banker who worked at the same firm.
In her elegant Southern drawl she said, "Oh darling, now don't you just look...unique," and then craned her neck to the side and whispered to the Managing Director in charge: "His outfit looks like he's coming from a redneck family reunion on the Bayou, and after seeing that tie, I am never eating salmon again!"
From then on this poor soul was known as Mr. Unique.
On the plus side, management did give Mr. Unique an immediate salary advance of $1,000 and sent Captain Unique of the U.S.S. Cajun Freak (oh yes, we had all sorts of humiliating derivatives of the Mr. Unique nickname) with Janet to Bloomingdale's for the rest of the day to shop for appropriate apparel.
The good news is that the investment banker wardrobe has become much more relaxed over the past two decades, so hopefully you won't experience the terrifying socially awkward moments we did.
If you want to read more about my time working on Wall Street, click here to read more of my crazy tales or Google “investment banking stories.”