London is one of the fashion capitals of the world, yet dress codes in its banking sector remain steeped in tradition.
Business Insider spoke to bankers at Citi, Credit Suisse, HSBC, ING and a Spanish institution to find out what people are really wearing to work in the City.
The most important thing to remember if you’re joining a big London bank is not to stray too far from the norm.
In fact, blending in is the unwritten rule at most institutions, according to insiders, particularly if you are joining the middle or lower ranks of a bank.
Most banks give guidelines on dress when hiring new recruits. “It’s not very specific, along the lines of no flip flops, etc.,” said a banker at Citi. “But there’s also a general rule of thumb that if you’re unsure it’s probably inappropriate.”
Here’s what you need to know about dress codes if you’re joining one of London’s big banks, according to their employees.
1. STICK TO THE PALETTE.
Colour schemes for men and women are pretty dark and conservative. “Your suit is navy or grey and your shirt is white or blue,” says a Citi banker. Suits are usually slim-fitting and have no pattern. Pinstripes are a “no-no.” If you see a guy walking around in a pinstripe suit then they’re either from New York or work in equities on the trading floor, according to bankers we spoke to. Equity trading has historically been viewed “lower market” than fixed income by some, leading them to suggest the dress code here is “less sophisticated”. A female analyst or associate will usually go for a classic white top with black pants, and only really start mixing colours and styles at the VP/director level. “Women are advised to wear suits so that they are promoted as much as their male counterparts” an analyst says.
2. FACIAL HAIR IS OK, BUT ONLY IF YOU CAN GROW A FULL-ON BEARD.
Despite the rise of the hipster beard, clean shaven is still preferred at most London banks. And facial hair is more often something experimented with by seniors. One banker said: “Either you can grow one or not — no one wants to see a load of ‘bum fluff’. I think over the last 10 years in the city beards have become commonplace and there is generally no issue unless perhaps you are a client facing M&A banker.” “Even then I know a few with a beard.”
3. MAKE SURE YOUR SUIT FITS.
No one really cares what make of suit you have as long as it fits you right. The suits being worn at most UK banks in the City are not considered very fancy. “Most guys buy off the rack, there are only one or two on my floor who get custom suits,” says a trader at HSBC. That is, unless, you’re working at a French bank, such as BNP Paribas, Société Générale or Crédit Agricole, where tailored suits are far more commonplace, and you may even catch people wearing a three-piece. According to an employee of Dutch bank ING: “The French banks are much more ‘dapper’ in general.” An employee of a Spanish bank recommends buying tailor made suits in South-East Asia. “If you spend £300 on a tailor-made suit out there you know it will be a worthwhile investment!”
4. TIES ARE IMPORTANT …
Ties are not compulsory at London banks, but they are for client meetings. At places like HSBC and Credit Suisse, men typically only wear ties while with clients, but UK-focused teams and investment bankers will often wear a suit and tie every single day. Most just follow their line manager’s lead. Garish and outlandish patterned styles are frowned upon: “Ties are also pretty vanilla, usually blue, but every once in a while you’ll get a rogue purple or red tie,” according to a banker at Citi. In markets, though, no one wears a tie and you will usually see employees with at least two shirt buttons undone, as traders are less likely to meet clients in person.
5. … BUT ABSOLUTELY NO BRACES.
If you want to be taken seriously, leave your braces at home, insiders say, and the tie clip and vest for that matter. The Wall Street circa 1980 look is not considered sophisticated in the City. “You won’t really see braces or a tie clip at all, anyone wearing them is obviously having a little fun and purposely trying to differentiate themselves — just being outlaws!”
6. FEEL FREE TO ACCESSORISE.
Lots of bankers see accessorising with cufflinks, watches, and pocket squares as an opportunity to show off their personal sense of style. If you’re adding accessories like a pocket square, keep it toned down. “Don’t go for a crazy colour or make it into a puff, it should be pretty straight-edged.”
7. DON’T SCRIMP ON YOUR FOOTWEAR.
An old one but an important one, you still “don’t wear brown in town,” unless on a Friday, or if you’re American, according to an employee at a Spanish bank in London. Shoes tend to be black and polished. If you wear brown shoes, your colleagues might assume you’re “back office” or “unsuccessful” adds an HSBC employee. Quality is important as well. “At Citi you don’t buy cheap leather shoes as they will show wrinkles more”. On lower salaries, analysts can be hesitant to spend a lot on shoes, explains an associate “but if you go to Church’s and pay a couple of hundred, the leather will be much stronger from a wear and tear perspective.” Women can wear flats or heels but wearing stilettos is not recommended. They will make you stand out and you don’t want to look like you’re going to a “disco”, said a female analyst.
8. DRESS-DOWN FRIDAY ‘IS NOT REALLY A THING’.
Dress-down Friday is a potential minefield for bankers as it appears each institution has varying degrees of the concept, so make sure you check before rolling in with denim cut offs. Bankers at Citi confess to feeling “a bit shy” about actually taking advantage of dress-down Friday. “Certainly people change their styles, some people wear trainers or chinos instead of suit trousers, and the girls still look professional.” It’s affectionately been termed “Fintech Friday” referring to those at the bank who tend to join in the more relaxed attire. At ING, dress-down Friday means wearing a pink or checked shirt, but jeans are strictly off limits unless for a charity event. A banker at a London-based Spanish institution says “There is always a suit that you can wear on a Friday that can double up as a wedding suit. Think a little more out there navy colour.” There are a few exceptions. Credit Suisse, for example, is known for its slightly more informal dress code. “Every Friday I’d wear skinny trousers and Converse” said a former employee. Most concur that ripped jeans are not acceptable in a bank.