Rethinking What to Wear for Goldman Sachs’s Flexible Dress Code

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goldman sachs what to wear

(Bloomberg) — Is this the nail in the business suit’s coffin? In a memo circulated internally to Goldman Sachs employees on Tuesday, the financial firm said that it was loosening its approach to office attire, moving to “a firmwide flexible dress code” and asking employees to “dress in a manner that is consistent with your clients’ expectations.” Two years after J.P. Morgan made a similar announcement, the time-honored banking uniform of suit and tie is beginning take a back seat to business casual.

Technically, according to Bloomberg columnist Matt Levine, the official dress code at Goldman has been business casual since at least the early 2000s. But the secret to these vague and shifting rules, writes Levine, is that there is only one: “Goldman’s dress code is that you should dress the way you’re supposed to dress at Goldman.”

This demotion-of-suits development may be celebrated by some, and it is seen generally as a PR tactic to lure younger talent that has been raised on a sweats-and-hoodie Silicon Valley-style ethos. For most people, however, it makes the morning trawl of one’s closet that much more perplexing. Since the term “business casual” was popularized in the 1990s, its opaque nature has confused people of all levels of fashion expertise. Picking a suit every day is just simpler.

But a new dress code brings new opportunities, too—new ways for men and women to display their wealth in less traditional forms of sartorial one-upmanship. There will be new ways to flaunt status and express personality than the old signifiers—a Brioni suit, that hard-to-get Rolex, or Ferragamo loafers.

Here, we dissect some potential work scenarios the Goldman employee is likely to encounter—and how to dress for them. Either way, as the boss said, we trust you will consistently exercise good judgment in this regard.

Situation No. 1: Your first day at Goldman Sachs

Congrats! You’ve been hired for your fancy (well, until recently fancy) new gig. Most would suggest wearing a suit to your first day on the job, just to get the lay of the land from a safe vantage point. But if you want to take advantage of your looser dress code and begin testing your theory as to whether not wearing a suit is the new power suit, consider a subtly understated power combo. Those in the know will recognize the red, white, and blue piping on the Thom Browne Oxford. Finish it off with a high-performance pair of slacks (fresh from the tailor) and a classic pair of shoes.

(For more tips for men on how to upgrade your wardrobe all at once, look to our recent time-saving style guide.)

Situation No. 2: Testifying to the House Financial Services Committee

Suffragette white is always a good color in the halls of Congress—but the Gucci embellishments won’t let them forget who is paying the bills. Matching shoes from Paul Andrew, who has put his eponymous line on hold to focus on Ferragamo, are an understated complement to the square-shaped Mark Cross bag. An 18-carat gold Cartier Tank Française should jangle satisfyingly on your wrist as you point back at your interlocutors.

Situation No. 3: Meeting with a 19-year-old tech billionaire

The key here is to not try to ingratiate yourself too much with their millennial touchstones. No slouchy streetwear or ironic dad sneakers. A laid-back but authoritative move is a pair of simple jeans and white sneakers. The polo shirt, though, is what holds this ensemble together: It’s not a button up (read: cool), but it still has a collar (read: commanding). A long-sleeve Prada option works well because it’s a bit more formal, but it’s all executed with a minimalist attitude that has money to burn.

Situation No. 4: Flying to Salt Lake City to rally the back office 

Ah, yes, the perfect travel outfit. There was a time when people actually dressed up to go on a plane, rather than wear pajamas or gym clothes. Today, we think it better to err on the pragmatic side. You need layers (hence one of these comfortable vests), as well as something you won’t be embarrassed to wear next to a Fortune 500 C-suite executive up in business class. A custom Drake’s shirt (with a monogram, because why not?) will upgrade a ready-to-hit-the-ground-running pair of chinos and desert boots, while planning for a worst-case scenario in which you get called to an emergency meeting straight from the tarmac.

Situation No. 5: Traveling to Libya to calm the sovereign wealth fund

Leave it to Victoria Beckham to offer stylish office-appropriate clothing for women that travels well, too. Whether you’re actually in Libya or simply headed to the Left Coast, it’s hard to hate on a comfortable pair of pants with a high-rise waist and a matching pair of mules. A Chloé bag in suede brings it all together nicely.

Situation No. 6: Prodding coders to speed up stock trades

Channel your inner Steve Jobs when you’re called in to be the muscle that gets those times down from from .000002 seconds to .000001 seconds. Give it your own personality with a Celine turtleneck, no-frills straight-leg jeans, and the latest New Balance sneakers.

Situation No. 7: The summer rental in Bridgehampton, N.Y.

A weekend in the Hamptons is still a place where wheeling and dealing can get done—which means that even though a visit there should be relaxing, it can be full of tension and unease. But you can look comfortable with a textural knit Armani polo, some trim khakis, and a high-end pair of suede slides. (Just get a pedicure first).

Situation No. 8: The business lunch with an IPO client

The trench coat sets it apart, with its notched lapel style collar, double breasted buttons, and a removable waist belt. Pair it underneath with an understated top and Jimmy Choo slingback flats offset by a riotous, flower-patterned skirt. A geometric red top-handle bag helps to stand out more, if you need it.

Situation No. 9: Meeting with client/shareholder/rival Blackstone at a neutral location 

Now that the suit is officially on the dress code back burner, consider wearing one to keep frenemies on their heels. There’s no better way to immediately convey that you mean serious business than by wearing the serious business standby. Instead of navy, though, now you can pick something with a little European élan; it shows you like to look good while playing hardball.

Situation No. 10: Saturday night dance party in Tribeca, hosted by DJ D-Sol 

It’s always nice to support your colleagues in their extracurricular endeavors. Pick something appropriately slick for a downtown nightclub, but keep in mind that your, uh, boss will be there. You don’t want to dress with so much “personality” that you’ll regret it on Monday. (Also, cool it on the tequila shots.)

Situation No. 11: Last day of work at Goldman Sachs 

If there’s one way to go out with a bang while demonstrating how much rest you’ll soon be getting, this is it. After all, you made your money the old-fashioned way: You earned it. Maybe.

—with assistance from Max Abelson, Michael Moore, and Paula Knight