How to build an investment banking wardrobe from scratch
To build an investment banking wardrobe from scratch can be hard. Find a complete shopping list of all you need when starting out as an intern or analyst here.
- First, see the investment banking dress code guide for women to find inspiration, as well as definite, do’s and don’ts.
Don’t go in with a huge budget
Building an investment banking wardrobe from scratch when you start as a summer intern or analyst takes time. And it can be expensive when you’re coming straight from school without a huge shopping budget.
You want to spend a lot less money than a VP who is just adding some more fashionable staples to her wardrobe.
You also don’t want to stand out or send the wrong signals. And by “wrong signals” I mean signaling that you’re not serious, or that you don’t understand the code.
More fashionable and expensive outfits come later in your career. This statement is true for both men and women in banking.
That’s why most of the suggested pieces here are on the cheaper end of the scale. Although “cheaper” in banking doesn’t really mean cheap at all.
You need at least two full suits. Choose between pants or skirt. Or you could do both.
Choose one gray and one black or dark blue. Stay away from bright colors. You will be using these suits frequently the next few months, and it’s harder to notice that you’re recycling them if they don’t stand out that much.
Women can get away with a black suit, while it would stand out more on a guy. Just make sure you combine it with tops that are brighter.
And as a new analyst or intern, you’re not supposed to stand out anyways. At least not for your fashion choices.
You probably already have a suit from your interview rounds, so try to use this.
Oh, and make sure your suits fit. If you just picked one in the store without having it tailored, it doesn’t fit. I walked around in a suit with way too long legs for several months. A guide on how to fit a suit for a woman will be posted here shortly.
1. Gray jacket from Ann Talor, 2. Gray skirt from Ann Taylor, 3. Gray pants from Ann Taylor, 4. Black jacket from Reiss, 5. Black skirt from Reiss, 6. Black pants from Reiss.
If you don’t already love dresses, you will
I never used to wear a lot of skirts or dresses before I started building an investment banking wardrobe. Now I wear them all the time.
It was never about being feminine for me, just about comfort. Sitting in a dress 20 hours straight is surprisingly more comfortable than doing the same in a full suit with pants.
Find a few soft dresses and always have something to wear that demands extremely little effort from you.
Choose two to three dresses. Go for conservative colors like dark blue, gray or black. Make sure they can all be combined with the jackets from the suits.
Check that the dresses have shoulders and no visible cleavage. They should also be relatively fitted. A-line dresses will usually look too girly and unprofessional, while sheath dresses are perfect.
Also, watch out for splits, and dresses that get too short when you sit down. Follow the same rules as with skirts. They should end just above or at your knees. Forget all about the fingertip rule. Banking doesn’t work like that.
Tops, blouses, and sweaters
Tops are your way of mixing up your outfits. Get at least five, but optimally closer to ten pieces.
They don’t have to be expensive at all, just choose a fabric that looks sleek. This is where you usually can save some money by using pieces you already own.
If you have breasts at all, stay away from the button downs, and go for closed tops instead. All of them need to cover the shoulders, otherwise, you can’t take off your jacket.
My shopping list for tops would start like this:
Two white, one blue, one nude, one black, one dark green, one pink or purple, then add additional pieces. Choose tones that work with all of your jackets, and mix length of arms and shapes.
Obviously, you can use a different color scheme if you prefer, but this is one I have found to be both suitable and versatile.
I haven’t seen a lot of bright reds or yellows around. If you need to ask if a color is ok or not, try to remember if you have ever seen a man wearing a color in that shirt in the office. As a woman, you usually have more freedom to mix it up though.
16. White sweater from Reiss, 17. Nude sweater from Reiss, 18. Pinstripe shirt from By Malene Birger, 19. Black sweater from Vince Camuto, 20. Olive green top from Cece, 21. White peplum top from By Malene Birger, 22. Rose top from Vince Camuto, 23. Cream top from By Malene Birger, 24. Black top from Vince Camuto, 25. Blue top from Vince Camuto.
For some additional fun, but something you can manage without, buy an additional set of a skirt and a jacket with a different cut.
I find it works well when combining dresses with other types of shorter jackets, and the skirt can be used with one of the standard suit jackets.
Also get a cardigan for cold offices, or for casual Fridays. You can choose sweaters for this as well, but find one that is fitted and not too big, so you can put a jacket over it.
7. Cropped gray jacket from Hugo Boss, 8. Black peplum jacket from Ann Taylor, 9. Black cardigan from Vince Camuto.
Playful accessories up to a certain point
If you’re on a budget, definitely don’t spend your money here. Use pieces of jewelry you already own so you don’t need to buy anything new. No jewelry is also fine, but it helps to brighten up a dark outfit.
You can use simple pieces or a bit more elaborate ones. You can wear rings, bracelets, earrings or necklaces, but stay away from huge and colorful plastic pieces.
Don’t ask me if you can wear other types of visible piercings. You can’t.
29. Necklace from BP., 30. Blue earrings from Sorrelli, 31. Pearl earrings from Tory Burch, 32. Zirconia earrings from Nordstrom, 33. Green earrings from Kate Spade, 34. Necklace from Panacea, 35. Zirconia necklace from Nadri, 36. Green cocktail ring from Asa Kaftans, 37. Red cocktail ring from Anna Beck.
Bags, bags, and more bags
The safest way to go with just one bag is either a simple tote from any kind of brand you already own or the bags from Longchamp.
I see plenty of analysts with more expensive bags, but no one expects you to have that at all. There’s no need to throw away a nice Mulberry bag if you already have one, but don’t buy one for this. Wait until you’ve earned your bonus. It’s much more fun that way, and people won’t scowl at you for flaunting money early on.
I want to repeat what I wrote in this article about bags with huge logos. Don’t bring them to work. Don’t be the girl (or guy) with a huge LV bag at your desk. It’s just in poor taste.
Maybe it’s hypocritical to say it’s ok to carry an expensive bag if it’s not flashy, but that’s how finance is nowadays.
People think it’s awkward if you bring an insanely expensive watch or bag that’s just there to show off how much you spent on it.
26. Leather tote from Longchamp in tobacco, 27. Leather tote from Saint Laurent in marine blue, 28. Black tote from Longchamp.
Shoes and pantyhose
You don’t need more than 2 pairs of shoes if you’re really on a tight budget. Choose one black and one nude pair. Either pumps or flats.
I would personally choose pumps, and then maybe add an additional pair of flats for when you need to run somewhere with your team.If you want to spend a bit more, take two pairs of high heels and one pair of flats.
The basic rules are simple. Not over 3 inches. No open toes. No plastic, and no bling. If you want more extensive tips on shoes to wear in the office, a shoe guide is coming up soon.
Buy as many tights or pantyhose that you think you will go through in the summer, or a few months. Yes, people wear them, even the ugly “skin colored” ones.
The only thing you can’t be without is the suits, so always start with them if you don’t want to spend too much. The suits are also where you should spend the most money, as you will be wearing them a lot.
You won’t be expected to have a huge wardrobe just for the summer, and dress codes are also often slightly more relaxed during the holiday season.
Don’t let a clothing crisis distract you from performing at your best during the first months at work, and good luck!