Most mornings, the bankers ascending from the subways at Wall Street look like so many Cabinet members on a Camp David retreat -- all ill-fitting khakis and creaseless, glistening topsiders. But in every trading room in town, rumors are flying: Business casual is about to become history. "I heard that it's all over at Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Deutsche Bank . . . everywhere," whispered one banker. "That right after Labor Day, everyone's going back."
The days of dressing to impress your dot-com client are over. Former paper millionaires are stumbling around Williamsburg in guayaberas and bedhead, while the pleated-twill refuse they left in their wake struggles to make sense of itself.
"It'll be very hard on us," says a worried trader. "Some people have given their suits to charity."
"Obviously, everyone is losing their jobs," said another, "so it's not like people can argue."
Young bankers are torn about the return to the dress of their elders. "We're much more comfortable dressed like everyone else," one explains. But they don't want to lose their jobs. They still want to inch toward SoHo lofts with plasma-screen televisions. They'd rather not have to settle for another summer share. And if that means buttoning up, they'll button up. But they might not like it. "It would be," says one, sighing, "seriously uncool."
If the banks have plans for back-to-school surprises after Labor Day, they're keeping them to themselves. "So far, we've made no plans," said a spokesperson for Goldman Sachs. "But we do have our bankers keep suits here for meetings."
However, retailers are convinced that a shift back to formality -- which they've been cheerleading since dry-cleaned denim on casual Fridays first showed its dorky face -- is already taking place. "I've heard more than rumors," says Clifford Grodd, president of Paul Stuart. "I've seen the bloody heads! I said all along that the business environment would suffer. It's too confusing! Many of our customers represent the heads of the firms, and I've watched their thinking metamorphose. Now they recognize that what the young guys wanted was a palace coup. They recognize that the lines of authority have blurred, that the work effort has slackened. There's no doubt in my mind that the dress code will come back."
"There's definitely movement this season," says designer John Varvatos. "It's more toward suits. People keep telling me the same thing: Guys just didn't get it."
In a world of "mandals" and Lycra blends, after all, suits are safe. While golf shirts and Dockers may breathe a little better on the subway platform, there's plenty of comfort involved in not having to second-guess your zip-front leather jacket and knowing that your most burning sartorial concern is more like this: "Am I really senior enough for French cuffs?"
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