So it seems my post last week touched off a little a lot of controversy and some many did not agree with the recommendations within.
I take feedback very seriously, so this post is a re-write of the original and hopefully gives better advice specific to banking rather than just listing business casual items to buy.
The most important point to keep in mind is also the most obvious: don’t do anything that’s egregiously bad. If suits are required, wear a suit. Don’t show up in shorts and a t-shirt unless it’s the weekend and other people do that.
You can debate endlessly where to buy clothes, how much to spend on shirts/suits and how many shirts/suits are needed, but unless you screw up on a consistent basis, your fashion choices are not going to affect your reviews, your bonus, or your future potential (at least until you get more senior).
When To Shop
I would suggest buying most of your wardrobe before your investment banking summer internship starts. If you’re coming in as a full-time hire, I would suggest shopping during or just before training due to 1) the sheer number of fashion choices in New York City and 2) your plethora of free time before the job really starts.
You may not appreciate it now but your time will be extremely limited later on so it’s better to front-load as much as you can.
I would keep an eye out for sales, especially at higher-end stores, and try to time your shopping to coincide with those as well.
But if you have to choose, it’s better to get the clothes you need and pay a little extra rather than wait for that amazing sale that happens 2 months after you start when you really want to go shopping but get called into the office at 8 AM on a Saturday morning for a pitch needed by Monday.
If you’re a full-time Analyst I would allot around $3,000 for your wardrobe. Since you have a 2-year commitment, you need a decent amount of clothes to start with.
As a summer analyst you can get by with less than that, especially if the dress code is business casual.
Suits will be the most expensive item in your wardrobe so you need to figure out what the dress code is before you start. The number of suits required determines your budget.
Where To Shop
I would stick to outlets for most of your shopping needs, especially if you’re an intern.
The specific outlets to go to depend on where you’re working – when I was in New York for training I went to an outlet mall just outside the city and did some shopping there.
There are plenty in the city as well - I just went to Premium Outlets because I had shopped there before. They have locations near SF, LA, Chicago and throughout Texas as well so no matter where you’re working you can probably find a nearby location.
Even though Leveraged Sellout pokes fun at bankers doing all their shopping at Brooks Brothers, in general I think it is a good choice so long as you go there during a sale.
Brooks Brothers works well for dress shirts, slacks and belts; you could conceivably get your entire wardrobe there, but for suits you will be able to find better deals at major department stores such as Saks and Lord & Taylor.
What Do You Actually Need To Buy?
If you do not need to wear a suit every day, I would suggest 2 suits, 5-10 dress shirts, 2-3 pairs of shoes, 3-4 ties, 5-10 dress socks, 3-4 dress slacks and 2-3 belts. If the dress code is business formal, you’ll probably want 3-4 suits rather than 2.
I had some questions on how you can possibly survive with only a few suits if you have to wear one every day – the answer is quite simple: you do not dry clean a suit after wearing it just once.
In fact, too much dry cleaning actually damages your suits. Once every 3 months is a better frequency (obviously if you get a stain, get it removed as soon as possible).
If you can’t wash your clothes every 2 weeks you might need more than what I recommend above, but I would take a wait-and-see approach with this.
I took a quick poll of Analysts in my office and no one had significantly more clothes than what I suggest above (well, one guy did but he’s worth a couple million and no one here knows why he’s even in banking to begin with…).
What To Pay
I would spend between $500 and $1,000 on a new suit and make sure it’s tailored to fit you properly. It’s better to pick a non-brand-name suit that fits you well rather than dropping $5,000 and getting a high-priced suit with sleeves that are 2 inches too long.
This is one reason it’s better to go to a department store for a suit – you can get a tailor to customize it properly and end up paying about the same since the suit itself is less expensive.
For dress shirts you can expect to pay in the $40-$60 range assuming you are buying during a sale and/or have gone to an outlet. Try to pay less than $100 per pair of slacks.
People have a wide range of views on shoes; if you want something that is classy and lasts several years, expect to pay close to $300, but you could get away with a pair for $100 – they probably won’t last too long though. In the $300+ range, Allen Edmonds and Alden are popular choices.
For ties I would try for less than $100 each; belts should be around $50 each. And you’re crazy if you spend more than $10 per pair of dress socks. :)
These quotes represent sales/outlet prices – you could go even more budget, or you could pay a lot more as well. I’m just sticking to the middle of the road here with the assumption that you want to look nice without spending more than $3,000 on a new wardrobe.
What NOT To Do
It’s almost easier to give advice on what NOT to do since that is pretty well-established.
Avoid pure black suits. The logic here is that they are more appropriate for formal settings like dinners or for religious functions like funerals – not business.
I have worn black suits to interviews and meetings before and nothing happened. In fact, I received offers from every interview I wore a black suit to.
I’m sure more fashion-conscious people thought I was an idiot, but it didn’t prevent me from getting top bonus last year, so it’s not the end of the world if you’ve worn or own a black suit.
Still, if you are just starting out I would stick to charcoal, grey and navy blue instead. It’s just the safer and more acceptable practice. Only buy a black suit if you have a series of funerals coming up.
In terms of other colors, don’t go crazy with shirts and ties – light blue and white are usually the safest bets, especially in terms of matching with a suit. I would avoid larger/crazy patterns and stick with either solid colors or very small patterns.
This may seem “boring” but it’s better to be on the conservative side when you first start and adapt as you see what other people in your office are doing.
Do not buy cufflinks, especially if you’re an intern. One summer analyst last year wore these to work his first day and we laughed at him for the next week or so. When you get promoted to VP and start making more on an hourly basis than a McDonald’s worker you can consider buying these items. :)
For shoes, just stay away from anything with square toes and make sure they have leather soles (e.g. they are actually high-quality shoes).
Ok, But How Important Is Fashion In Investment Banking?
Even though I tend to be a minimalist, I’m not going to lie and say fashion is irrelevant. However, it matters more at the senior levels when you’re meeting with clients every day and are judged on how presentable and polished you are.
As an Analyst or Associate, you won’t have enough client contact to justify spending a fortune on clothes. This is the dirty little secret that those glossy career fair brochures don’t reveal.
You will be judged on the quality of your work rather than the quality of your wardrobe. It helps to make a good first impression, but it doesn’t matter if someone is wearing a $1,000 suit and yours is only $500.
90% of the conversations between Analysts at a bank are dominated by 2 topics: 1) complaining about work/life and 2) gossiping about co-workers.
Fashion rarely comes up unless you do something laughably out of place (cufflinks as an intern on the first day).
More Resources And Questions I Can’t Answer
Some readers have also asked how to decide whether or not a suit is a good fit and how to evaluate different items for quality. This is extremely difficult to describe in writing and I am not an expert – I just know what generally looks right and what doesn’t.
A good book on these topics is Dressing The Man, by Alan Flusser. It’s focused almost entirely on business and formal wear, and is known as the gold standard in terms of professional attire for men.