Sim, Oxford: I was wondering if you could assist me with your experience regarding sartorial issues, the yays or nays, within banking. I have heard from fellow interns that French-cuff shirts and heavy pinstriped suits should never be worn as they depict status, status an intern does not yet have, and are thus considered a faux-pas by people higher up the chain. Any truth in this and if so, any particular things to avoid?
I think the general guidelines on discretion guided by propriety, and to an extent the dignity of business, should be enough here Sim. It’s just that bankers get a bit more snippy and competitive about it.
If you’re going for a job interview, everyone knows you should be well dressed and smart without standing out. The same thing applies to your first job – or in this case your first internship. Dress as smartly or smarter than your superiors and wear nothing that draws attention.
So I would advise you to wear navy and grey suits, shirts that are white, blue or blue stripes, and ties that are solid colours or simple stripes/geometric patterns. Wear expensive suits if you have them, equally nice shirts and ties. But keep them sober, and finish it off with a nice pair of black Oxfords.
Avoid: braces, handkerchiefs, waistcoats, double-breasted jackets, trouser cuffs, bright socks, contrast collar or cuffs, ‘humorous’ ties, ‘humorous’ cufflinks, ‘fashion’ suits, and strong colours and strong stripes everywhere. They will all draw attention to your clothes rather than yourself, which is certainly not the aim of an internship.
The reason that some of these items of clothing become status symbols among bankers is that they are often flash and always competitive. Wearing a big, bold pinstripe suit is a way to demonstrate that you can get away with wearing it. Because you have attained such a level of success that it cannot be dented by wearing tasteless clothes.
While it is true that some of these items of clothing are more traditional and hark back to earlier days of banking, it is unlikely that this is the reason they are being worn. There will be exceptions, but these are often men over 50 who actually remember when most colleagues wore braces and white collars.
I would have thought French cuffs would have been alright, though, if all other advice is followed. It can be your little indulgence.