by Brian DeChesare

Investment Banking Wardrobe for Women

No, I have not gone crazy and written an article on women’s fashion. Instead, this is a guest post by The Fashion Financier. A former bulge bracket investment banking analyst, she has now entered the world of private equity and writes about finance, fashion, and even appropriate Facebook stalking etiquette at The Fashion Financier.

While there’s plenty of information on how to dress for success in investment banking if you’re male, a women’s guide is not so easy to find.

For women, the rules for looking presentable, stylish and professional are less strict than those of their male cohorts. Just remember: although you work in a world of men, you don’t have to dress or look like one.

Basic Rules and How to Avoid Being Sent Home Because of Your Inappropriate Outfit

First off, don’t wear anything bad (i.e. jeans, sexy tops, sweats, etc.).

Weekends tend to be free game but remember that your colleagues may be there as well – I wouldn’t recommend rolling in with sweats or the like unless you’ve had a VERY rough week.

As a female, you want to look put-together and professional – not sloppy and slutty. It’s actually quite interesting how many female analysts trot down the “sultry secretary” route.

Take it from me: you definitely do not want to develop that sort of reputation. In my junior summer, I watched a classmate get sent home from her bulge bracket internship because her outfit was inappropriate.

As much as we like to think we could pull off the business-type looks from characters in television shows (see: old Cashmere Mafia episodes, Amanda from Ugly Betty, etc.), we can’t.

Unless you’re a high-up female BSD (Erin Callan? Zoe Cruz?), there’s no way an Analyst or Associate can get away with being a fashionista and pulling off outrageous Zac Posen tops and cigarette pants.

Timing Your Shopping

Definitely get your wardrobe before your internship/full-time stint starts. However, the way the female brain is wired, you probably know that and have started planning by now: brands, types (pant suits, skirts, and dresses), where/when to shop, and accessories.

Being Fashionable Without Breaking Your Bank Account

The budget aspect is always a difficult one. Even if your bank is business formal, you can get away with mixing and matching and not always wearing a jacket. I would say anywhere between $2,000 and $3,000 is a safe bet for a full-time Analyst position.

As a summer analyst you can get by with less than that, especially if the dress code is business casual.

Suits and shoes are probably the most expensive items and worth splurging a little on. Having a well-fitted suit that is feminine yet serious can be difficult to find.

Heels – since you’re wearing them for 18+ hours a day – must be comfortable. They’re also a good way to add a little style and flair to your otherwise possibly conservative outfit.

I’m not suggesting that you buy some Sarah Jessica Parker Manolo-esque stilettos but a tasteful patent pump will do.

Favorite Female Fashion Destinations

This depends on your budget and what sort of look you’re going for.

Luckily for us, most large department stores and other mall stores carry a huge array of women’s clothing that can be worn in a business setting. Online shopping is another route you could take, especially if you know the way a certain brand fits and/or what you’re looking for specifically.

Outlets are also a good source to find some high-end designers are very reasonable prices. In New York, the Woodbury Commons and Tanger Outlet are good bets. If you feel daring, you can always rent a Zipcar with a few people and head out into the ‘burbs.

If you’re really into high-end designers but are not looking to spend your life savings, Manhattan also has some really great designer re-sale shops (as long as you’re not skeeved out that they were previously owned).

Recommended Department Stores: Macys, Bloomingdales, Saks, Bergdorf Goodman, Henri Bendel, and Barneys have huge selections of women’s clothing. Even if some of these options are outside your price range, feel free to take a gander, try on a few outfits and order online.

What to Look for: Theory suits are a favorite amongst female bankers for their feminine cuts and conservative colors. Mine have lasted a good 3 years with minimal wear and tear. They also carry great ‘work’ skirts and tops as well. Some recommended brands include Elie Tahari, Lafayette 148, Vince, and Diane von Furstenburg.

Recommended “Mall” Stores: J. Crew, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor Loft, Kenneth Cole, Gap, and Brooks Brothers.

What to Look for: Button-down shirts in flattering colors, camisoles and tees for inside the suit jacket, less-expensive suits, work dresses, work skirts.

Designer Re-Sale Stores: Fisch for the Hip, BIS, and INA.

What to Look for: Everything and anything.

Project Runway: Assembling Your Wardrobe

Women can usually get away with business casual even if your firm is business formal. The trick around this: always keep a suit jacket in your cube, just in case.

Since females have many more options than their male counterparts, I’d suggest mixing a bit of everything. It’s very easy to take a suit jacket and pair it with a black skirt AND black pants. So I’d skip buying a ton of head-to-toe ensembles and look to “pieces” that match in color. You should be set if you can rotate between skirts, pant suits and work dresses.

Accessories: Here’s the time for your girly side (assuming you have one) to shine. Shoes with conservative flair, tasteful jewelry and bags are all ways of adding a bit of style to the otherwise drab outfits of banking.

Jewelry: This is really up to the girl. Have fun with this one because there are few ways you can go wrong! Just stay away from hoop earrings, nose rings/studs, and other piercings that aren’t your ears. Big cocktail rings are okay! Bangles and bracelets, okay! Pearls always add a bit of class, as do chunky necklaces. It’s okay to add a little tasteful “bling” to your outfit but please don’t come out looking like a rapper at the Grammys.

Bags: Many women like totes of some sort. Of course, as you move up the food chain in investment banking, the bags get less practical and more fashionable.

Totes allow you to carry all your personal affects as well as shoes, papers, extra clothing (for the gym), etc. Personally, I favor the darker hued Longchamp bags or the two-toned Herve Chepalier. They are durable, conservative and pretty ubiquitous. However, if you feel like you need a bit more flare, go for something with more hardware (gold, silver) or maybe a patent leather. I like bags that I can just throw things in without worrying about the damage. I would save the fancy bags (YSL, Chloé, Tod’s) for the weekend – unless you’re a VP or MD.

Shoes: Comfort is key, and I like normal pumps and ballet flats for the work place. As mentioned in the infamous “Leveraged Sell-Out”, Hermés ties to male bankers are what Christian Louboutin pumps are to female bankers. They are elegant enough to wear to work (although height might be an issue) but still stylish enough for a nice dinner or classy drinks. I would keep the height of the heel to 0” to 3” (depending on your height, whether you can manage heels, etc). You don’t want to look like a hooker and you also don’t want to fall over while walking.

For flats, anything by Tory Burch is pretty standard. You can play with some fun yet conservative colors here.

I am ashamed to say, however, that one of the best pairs of flats I owned came from the Jessica Simpson line. Take from it what you will.

Other designers to note which make durable, classy and work-type shoes are Cole Haan and Salvatore Ferragamo. I would look to DSW Warehouse for some affordable options on these guys.

Do NOT come into the office wearing strappy sandals, stilettos, clear heels or platforms. While Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo make fabulous shoes, they are generally not appropriate for work (unless you get the conservative pairs, but where’s the fun in that?)

A word to the wise on shoes: If you buy a higher-end pair of shoes that you want to wear for awhile, I suggest getting them rubber-soled to maintain their traction and the leather.

Avoid Being Sent Home, Part 2

As with men, it’s often easier to say what not to do rather than giving exact instructions on how to put together your outfits.

Don’t wear poor fitting clothes.

Don’t wear “clubbing” outfits.

Don’t wear things that are too tight.

Don’t get nuts with colors.

How Important is Fashion in Investment Banking?

Women don’t need to be super-fashionable in banking. However, you want to make sure that people can tell you’re female. This means no baggy outfits, no mismatched colors and no disheveled-ness. You can be stylish and put-together while maintain professional decorum.

This was a guest post by The Fashion Financier. A former bulge bracket investment banking analyst, she has now entered the world of private equity and writes about finance, fashion, and even appropriate Facebook stalking etiquette at The Fashion Financier.

M&I - Brian

About the Author

Brian DeChesare

is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys memorizing obscure Excel functions, editing resumes, obsessing over TV shows, traveling like a drug dealer, and defeating Sauron.

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