A Wall Street Dressing Down: Always. Be. Casual.

A Wall Street Dressing Down: Always. Be. Casual.

The costumes are coming back to the office. In chino. And sneakers. And ballerinas.

As Wall Street workers return to their Manhattan offices this summer, they stand out for their casual attire. Men show up for work in polo shirts. Women have abandoned the high heels once considered de rigueur. The links cannot be found. Even the Lululemon logo has been spotted.

The changes are superficial, but they suggest a larger cultural shift in an industry where well-cut suits and wing tips once symbolized arrogance, commemorated in popular culture by Gordon Gekko in the movie “Wall Street” and Patrick. Bateman in Bret’s film adaptation of Easton Ellis’ novel “American Psycho”. Even though many corporate workplaces across the country have relaxed their dress codes in recent years, Wall Street has remained mostly buttoned up.

Like so many other things, that changed during the pandemic. Major banking firms, including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and Citigroup, have found their employees loath to wear their corporate attire, after more than a year of working from home wearing mostly loungewear or Zoom-friendly shirts. on the top and the sweatpants. below. As banks bring their workers back to their desks – even as some other companies have suspended such plans – senior executives are loosening dress codes as a concession to their tired staff.

“It’s a little more relaxed than I expected,” said Melissa Cortes, a legal analyst who recently joined Goldman. “I’m wearing sneakers right now and people are wearing jeans with blazers or shirts,” said Ms. Cortes, who wore a white jacket, black wide leg pants and white sneakers on Wednesday.

While banks haven’t sent formal notes, their informal message is that returning employees should feel free to dress appropriately for the occasion – and that during a summer with few meetings with customers in person, more casual attire is permitted. Jeans have even appeared in trading floors, and there are plenty of opportunities for bankers to throw a familiar joke in the workplace: what’s with the tie? Do you have a job interview?

That being Wall Street, laid back doesn’t necessarily mean cheap, of course. Most of the sneakers, shirts, watches and other more casual accessories spotted in Lower Manhattan last week cost several hundred dollars or more.

Formal dress codes began to erode in the 1990s when casual Fridays were introduced to workplaces, fashion historian Daniel Delis Hill said. “I was working at Merrill Lynch in 1999 when the big shock came from the CEO that brokers could now wear casual clothes on Fridays,” Hill wrote in an email. “There was however a long list of dos and don’ts,” he said – jeans were definitely not allowed.

Despite periodic efforts to relax dress codes – including in 2019, when Goldman made suits and ties optional – the bank had been one of the last strongholds of formal workwear, alongside law firms. And in some areas of Wall Street, like hedge funds, the code has generally been more permissive.

But in banking, strict hierarchies were anchored in unwritten fashion rules. Colleagues would ridicule those who wore outfits considered too gaudy or too shabby for the wearer’s place in the company’s food chain. Superiors were style guides, but wearing something fancier than your boss was seen as a misstep. An expensive watch can be seen as a mark of success, an obnoxious flex, or both.

Nowadays, some bosses have ditched luxury watches in favor of Apple watches and swapped suits for short sleeves and khaki, making it difficult for subordinates to know what to wear to look the part. JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon recently wore a black polo shirt for a TV interview; Goldman boss David Solomon, DJs in T-shirts on weekends; and Jefferies boss Rich Handler posted a photo of himself wearing a henley t-shirt on Twitter. At an event welcoming employees to the office in July, Citigroup’s Jane Fraser – the only female patron of a major Wall Street bank – kept her signature look: a jeweled-toned dress.

“Gone are the days when people had to wear the uniform of a coat, tie and suit,” said John Florsheim, a fifth-generation descendant of the namesake brand, known for its dress shoes. with leather soles for men and boys. “It’s going to continue to get more comfortable and relaxed, but people are still going to want to look good. “

Today, 80% of the shoes designed by his company are casual in style, said Florsheim, up from 50% before the pandemic.

Another reason banks are doing away with traditional dress codes is talent retention. As Wall Street companies increasingly compete for rookies with tech companies – which are more supportive of both remote work and casual wear – they seek to present a less stifling image. Many banks are also trying to hire a more diverse cohort.

John C. Williams, chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and renowned sneaker enthusiast, said the Fed wants people to bring their “authentic selves” to work because personal style is an important part of valuing of all forms of individuality and diversity.

He said he can’t wait to wear new pairs from his sneaker collection to the office. “When people can be themselves, they do their best,” he said.

“There’s this urge to break down this idea of ​​what you have to look like to work in banks,” said Alison Taylor, who teaches courses in professional liability at New York University’s Stern School of Business. . “It is such a heavy and unspoken signifier to know if you adapt to it or not. “

Large lenders vary in their plans to bring staff back to offices. Most of the industry was targeting Labor Day for a full-scale comeback, although this may be complicated by an increase in coronavirus cases. Some Wall Street employees have been working in their offices for months, but many have only recently returned for the first time since the outbreak began.

It was like the first day of school, some bankers said. They wanted to look good in front of their coworkers, but couldn’t bear the thought of wearing dress shoes or heels. Before entering, some checked with friends to see if their choices matched the crowd.

One item that has been popular among the men on Wall Street is the ABC pants from Lululemon, which the athleisure company markets as a stretch, wrinkle-resistant polyester garment suitable for “all-day comfort.” (The company placed its highly recognizable logo on a pull tab near the pocket to make the pants look less like workout gear.)

Untuckit, the maker of short-hem button-down shirts, saw sales increase as vaccination rates in the United States increased in April and May, said Chris Riccobono, founder of the company. Customers flocked to its two stores in Manhattan, looking for consistently crisp shirts in breathable fabric.

“What’s amazing is that these guys wore suits in midsummer, walking the streets of New York, getting off the train” before the pandemic, Mr. Riccobono said. “It took corona for the guys who only ever wore costumes to realize, ‘Hang on a sec. “”

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