Finance firms’ attempts at stipulating dress codes for employees have a tendency to fall flat. After the hilarity surrounding Nomura’s historic attempt at banning ‘gay color nail polish’ and skirts with a ‘deep slit entered’ a decade ago and UBS’s famous 40 page dress code that included commandments on ‘the underwear and tights’, the new thing is to let employees decide upon sartorial parameters. – When Goldman Sachs changed its dress code three years ago, CEO David Solomon told staff to use “good judgment” in their clothing choices. Similarly, when KKR loosened its dress code around the same time, it said employees were being trusted to, “strike the right balance and exercise good judgment,” in their clothing choices.
But good judgment can be subjective. There are some things that should never be worn, whether they are judged good or not.
1. Short-sleeved shirts
When it’s hot and summery, you might think you can get away with showing a bit of arm. You can not. The head of graduate recruitment at one international firm told us interns have been reprimanded for wearing short sleeved shirts. Nomura, meanwhile. has been known in the past to send women home when they arrive in sleeveless dresses.
Long sleeved shirts are the norm, even when it’s 39 degrees C.
2. Hawaiian shirts
Interns have been known to wear Hawaiian shirts. Also: Hawaiian short-sleeved shirts.
3. Tailored shorts
Young men and women have also been turning up in tailored shorts. This is not right. “You think they’re wearing trousers and then they stand up,” is the verdict.
4. Flesh-revealing combos
It’s all about skin: if you’re revealing too much of it, you’re transgressing the unspoken rule. “You can show your arm, but we do not want to see any more flesh,” says the recruiter. “Or you can show your leg. But we do not want to see a lot of arm and leg.”
5. Open toed shoes
Barclays banned flipflops and open toed shoes six years ago. UBS’s historic dress code prohibited them too.
6. Skirts above the knee
See point four.
7. Skirts below the calf
In the immutable words of UBS, ‘The perfect skirt length is in the middle of the knee and may down to two inches below the knee (measured from the middle of the knee).’
8. Old T-shirts
An executive coach and former director of pan-European equity sales at Citigroup, says some people in finance had a historical tendency to wear old T-Shirts. “Wear things that are consistent with how you want to be perceived,” she says. “Look at the people you want to be like and wear what they’re wearing.” Are they wearing old T-Shirts?
9. Visible vests
The vests referred to here are not Patagonia, but a thermal underlayer. UBS is an advocate of vest wearing in winter. ‘For aesthetic reasons and hygiene, as well as for issues of well-being, we recommend you wear a vest,’ they say. We say you should keep this vest discretely hidden beneath your other clothes.
10. Purple, blue, or red suits
You are not John Travola. Interns sometimes wear blue and green suits, but rarely for long.
11. Dresses made of diaphanous material
Floaty dresses are a no, says the graduate recruiter.
12. Backless things
A back is a large expanse of skin. “I have had to lend several girls my cardigan,” the graduate recruiter tells us.
13. Tawdry shoes
It’s not just the prohibition on ‘gay color nail varnish’ at Nomura, banks do not like color in general. This applies equally to shoes. Historically, brown has been a no-go in finance. UBS suggests that all shoes must be black.
14. School rugby socks
Another graduate recruiter says the age of the old-school tie has been replaced by the age of the old school rugby sock. In London. candidates from prestigious schools like Eton and Harrow have taken to turning up to interviews wearing their school sports socks beneath their suits, she says.
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