While we might already be familiar with the ins and outs of dressing for the gym, the cold, or the beach, knowing what to wear for ultraspecific dress codes like job interviews, wakes, and “dressy casual” isn’t always obvious. That’s why we’re launching What Do I Wear? — a series in which we talk to experts about the tips and tricks of dressing for occasions that might need more specifics than a casual Google search can give you. In our first installment, we’re talking to finance experts about how to dress for your first job on Wall Street.
If you’re applying for an entry-level job in finance, you may be prepared to suit up in traditional Wall Street attire, but that would mean different things depending on whom you talk to. In finance, the dress code differs depending on whether you’re hoping to land a spot at an older investment-banking firm like J.P. Morgan or aiming for a venture-capital job or a hedge fund.
“There are a ton of different jobs in finance,” says Alexander Lowry, finance professor at Gordon College and a former executive at J.P. Morgan. “One extreme would be investment banking, which is more the old-school suits and ties, and then you get the ranges in between. Wealth management is probably in the middle, and on the other side is venture capital and private equity. There, you don’t really have to dress up since clients come to you for money.”
Even more casual still, says Oliver Cooke — the executive director and head of Selby Jennings (a global recruiting firm that helps place candidates in financial services) — are the finance people who work in tech or hedge funds, who might wear a tee shirt and jeans to work.
Here, we spoke to both of them about their suggestions for an entry-level job interview for a dressier job in finance.
Investment-Banking or Client-Facing Roles
“If you’re walking into J.P. Morgan or any of those big companies for an entry-level job, you should show up in a suit and tie. And you don’t need to be super fancy: You don’t have to wear cuff links, you don’t have to wear a big, fancy watch. You don’t have to have a handkerchief in your pocket. You probably shouldn’t be wearing 1980s Gordon Gekko–type shirts in two-tone colors, though. My rule is always, ‘Dress a little bit higher.’” —Alexander Lowry
“One of the big trends over the last couple of years is that the guys wear shorter trousers to show off a little more sock and to make it a little more hip, and what I would caution is to be a little wary of that on your first interview day because if you’re seeing people that are mid- to senior-level in their career, they’re probably looking at that going, ‘I’m not sure about that.’” —Lowry
“We’ve definitely seen a trend in the last five years of a general relaxing of dress codes in multiple areas. The general rule of thumb is, if you’re in a department where you’re going out and seeing clients, then the traditional suit and tie for men and traditional corporatewear for women is very much advised. In Europe, we tend to wear slightly more fitted suits and that’s probably a trend I’ve seen in the U.S. I’ve been here for five years, and the suit attire definitely has become more European generally than the traditional baggy American suit that was worn probably 10 to 15 years ago. We would certainly advise people to keep suits in neutral colors like blacks, grays, and nothing too flamboyant.” —Oliver Cooke
“For men, normal dress shoes are ideal, like Cole Haan, but I’d steer clear of fancy brogues. Don’t go too casual with moccasins or even non-lace-up shoes at these firms.” —Lowry
“Mary Erdoes is the best example to model yourself after. She runs asset management for J.P. Morgan. She’s very fashion forward and she always wears pantsuits. That is her rule. You never see her in a skirt, and I think a lot of people follow her path. There are a lot of younger women who wear skirt suits and tights, but for others, that’s not the way it is. We’re pretty conservative at J.P. Morgan. If you’re at one of the older firms like J.P. Morgan, a pantsuit is probably a safe way to come in for an interview.” —Lowry
“On the dressy end of the spectrum, high heels are ideal for women.” —Lowry
Venture-Capital or Private-Equity Firm
“If you’re looking to work at a venture-capital firm or a private-equity firm, if you walk in in a suit and tie, it doesn’t knock you out of the game, but it’s too dressed up. That’s where you wanna come in smart business casual. Really good dress slacks, nice shoes that go with it, with a really crisp button-up shirt. Bonobos has really good slacks. They’re a little bit fitted, they’ve got a little bitch of stretch, and a Lycra approach to it. It’s probably going to be a lot better than, say, going with traditional Brooks Brothers and using some of your bonus money to have a custom-made bespoke suit.” —Lowry
“A suit jacket looks sharp, but you’re not really wearing it that much. When you get in the office, you take your jacket off and hang it at the back of your chair. Why would you spend the money on that?” —Lowry
“The trend with shirts is neutral colors, not the multicolored shirts that you’d wear on a Saturday night. Even though dress codes have relaxed, it’s still something that’s appropriate for the office. So you might go without a tie, but you’d still wear gray suit separates with a white shirt.” —Cooke
“Here, you don’t necessarily need lace-up shoes for men. But I wouldn’t go with dress boots or even loafers. Save those for after you’re hired.” —Lowry
“I would say a really sharp blouse and probably smart slacks would be good for women. You could wear a blazer, too, so it looks a little smarter. It goes both ways because if you feel like you’re slightly too dressed up, you can just wear your jacket in and take it off during the interview.” —Lowry
“As for shoes, skip high heels in these firms — low heels or flats would be professional here depending on how dressed up the rest of the outfit was.” —Lowry
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