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March 14, 2019 David Dyck

Wall Street wolves are shedding their pinstripes

Is the image of bankers as one of the most sharply dressed professions going out the window?

This stereotype is personified by Gordon Gekko’s character in the 1987 film Wall Street — the fitted pinstripe suits, stiff collars, and (now a little dated) suspenders, there’s no question he’s a banker.

And yet, that seems to be a stereotype that prestigious firms like JPMorgan Chase and more recently Goldman Sachs have decided to leave behind.

JPMorgan was the first to alter their dress code back in 2016. Their internal memo didn’t exactly give carte blanche for employees to wear whatever they wanted to. Shirts still had to be buttoned, dress shoes worn, and absolutely no jeans allowed.

More recently, Goldman Sachs joined their competitor in announcing a new dress code, but they didn’t get quite as detailed in their ‘dos and don’ts.’ Instead of getting into the specifics, the Goldman Sachs memo simply directs staff to “dress in a manner that is consistent with your clients’ expectations.”

An outdated wardrobe?

Although the memo certainly doesn’t waste any ink, it does touch briefly on the rationale for why they don’t have a more detailed description. “Of course, casual dress is not appropriate every day and for every interaction and we trust you will consistently exercise good judgement in this regard. All of us know what is and is not appropriate for this workplace.”

That’s quite the paragraph. What they’re essentially saying to their employees is: you know your client, so dress appropriately.

As Bloomberg writer (and former Goldman Sachs employee himself) Matt Levine summarizes it:

Goldman’s dress code is that you should dress the way you’re supposed to dress at Goldman. If you have to ask, etc. The difference between a middling banker and a great one is this sort of tacit knowledge, a sense of appropriateness and nuance and savoir-faire, the ability to read and respond to—and shape—the expectations of your internal and external clients. What you wear is the least complicated part of that, and if you need explicit rules for how to dress then you’ll never master the really hard parts.

Why the change?

What’s the rationale behind this adjustment in a famously unchanging industry?

Although the firm turns 150 this year, it probably won’t come as a surprise that the bank’s workforce is considerably younger. Over 75 per cent of Goldman Sach employees were born after 1981, making them members of either the Millenial or Gen Z generations.

Combine that with the fact that their Silicon Valley location, which opened last year, dumped the stuffy dress code for a more West Coast casual look, and, famously, kombucha on tap. They’re obviously aware of the changing expectations of employees for their work environment.

David Dyck

David is the editor-in-chief of Apollo Magazine, and co-founder of Apollo Insurance Solutions. He is an award-winning journalist who also enjoys ping pong and swimming with whale sharks.