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Clothes you must never wear in an investment bank, irrespective of the weather

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 colour 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 judgement" 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 judgement can be subjective. There are some things that should never be worn, whether they're 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't. 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 don't want to see any more flesh," says the recruiter. "Or you can show your leg. But we don't 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 Travolta. 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 colour nail varnish' at Nomura, banks don't like colour generally. This applies equally to shoes. Historically, brown has been 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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AUTHOReFinancialCareers Insider Comment
  • pb
    15 July 2022

    At a Japanese bank I worked at, the Japanese bosses tended toward the super conservative side (not politics), and the American bosses (in Ops) were mostly brain dead or absent. But years before, at some other bank, I remember a 'girl' who was in IT, help desk, doing PC assistance at people's desks, often under the desk, who liked to wear miniskirts - short. She was good at her work, but a huge distraction.

    At another firm decades ago, when I got there, guys in IT tended to wear ties, etc. Within a year, I got things to the point that we normally wore (neat) jeans with pressed denim shirts.

    I prefer neat, not distracting, comfortable. If you are customer facing, or expecting to deal with the C's, dress up.

  • Ak
    13 July 2022

    I hate to say this, we are living in 21st century with unlimited possibilities and humans are still judged and told to what to wear and what not.

    But I know where this comes from, the old must die so that young can flourish... soon the older generation will be dead and the next generation will discard these old traditions,

  • St
    Stephen Mitchell
    21 August 2019

    The no brown shoes must come about from the no blue suit rule?
    Blue suits and brown shoes seem OK in Australia (unless there are just a lot of people here who haven't been made aware?
    But yes, nobody wears shorts.

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