Last week, the NYT declared that America’s top graduates no longer see entry level Wall Street jobs as a top choice careers.
Now, America’s paper of record is documenting an important sartorial shift: the suit and tie once considered the de facto Wall Street uniform (suits for men and heels-and-a-dress for women) has been abandoned in favor of far more comfortable outfits, expanding “casual Friday” to every day of the week.
Accompanied by a lengthy photo-essay documenting the change, the NYT reports that as more Wall Street bankers return to the office (while JPM and Goldman ordered bankers to report back months ago, other banks are targeting a post-Labor Day return for all staff, but many workers from a range of firms have been reporting back to the office for months) even senior bankers are ditching ties, and embracing work gear made by Lululemon, Untucked and other manufacturers of more liberating business attire.
The changes are superficial, but they hint at a bigger cultural shift in an industry where well-cut suits and wingtips once symbolized swagger, memorialized in popular culture by Gordon Gekko in the movie “Wall Street” and Patrick Bateman in the film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s novel “American Psycho.” Even as many corporate workplaces around the country relaxed their dress codes in recent years, Wall Street remained mostly buttoned up.
Consider the informal new dress code a “consolation prize” for staff frustrated about their return to the office.
Like so much else, that changed in the pandemic. Big banking firms, including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup, have realized that their employees are loath to reach for their corporate attire, after more than a year of working from home dressed mainly in loungewear, or Zoom-appropriate shirts on top and sweatpants below. As banks get their workers back to their desks — even as some other companies have paused such plans — senior executives are easing up on dress codes as a concession to their weary staffs.
One Goldman “legal analyst” said the new dress code is even more relaxed than they had expected.
“It’s a little bit more relaxed than what I anticipated,” 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 sported a white jacket, black wide-leg trousers and white sneakers on Wednesday.
While the most egregious style violations (jeans on the trading floor) might only be tolerated until the summer heat subsides (and more clients start returning to banks’ offices for client meetings), ties will likely remain a relic.
Although banks haven’t sent out formal memos, their informal message is that returning employees should feel free to dress appropriately for the occasion — and that during a summer with few in-person client meetings, more relaxed attire is permissible. Jeans have even shown up on trading floors, and bankers have a wealth of opportunities to spring a familiar workplace joke: What’s with the tie? Got a job interview?
No official memos have been sent on the subject. But the NYT says JPM CEO Jamie Dimon helped signal that management approved of the change when he wore a black polo shirt during a TV interview.
JPMorgan’s chief executive, Jamie Dimon, recently wore a black polo shirt for a TV interview; Goldman’s boss, David Solomon, D.J.s in T-shirts on weekends; and Rich Handler, the head of Jefferies, posted a photo of himself sporting a henley tee on Twitter. At an event welcoming employees back to the office in July, Citigroup’s Jane Fraser — the only female boss of a major Wall Street bank — kept her signature look: a jewel-toned dress.
The story even included the following quote from “avowed sneakerhead” John Williams, Governor of the New York Fed, who formerly ran the Fed bank in San Francisco (a decidedly more progressive environment, particularly when it comes to workplace attire).
Williams said that lax dress codes are part of valuing “individuality” and “diversity” in the workplace.
John C. Williams, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and an avowed sneakerhead, said the Fed wanted people to bring their “authentic self” to work because personal style was an important part of valuing all forms of individuality and diversity.
He said he was looking forward to wearing new pairs from his sneaker collection in the office. “When people can be themselves, they do their best work,” he said.
In a way, the trend started before the pandemic: Goldman declared suits and ties optional back in 2019. But most employees were too timid to ditch their ties, given that Wall Street’s pecking order has been, in a way, defined by dress since time immemorial.
But in banking, the strict hierarchies were embedded in unwritten fashion rules. Colleagues would ridicule those wearing outfits considered too flashy or too shabby for the wearer’s place in the corporate food chain. Superiors were style guides, but wearing something swankier than one’s boss was considered a faux pas. An expensive watch could be seen as a mark of success, an obnoxious flex, or both.
“What’s amazing is these guys were wearing suits in the middle of summer, walking the streets of New York, coming off the train” before the pandemic, Mr. Riccobono said.
“It took corona for the guys who never wore anything but suits to realize, ‘Wait a second.'”
Perhaps, in the not-too-distant future, wearing one’s lulus to work will be a hallmark of top executives, a reflection of the comfort they feel as masters of the universe. As one purveyor of work-leisure attire points out: