Tips for dress code for Wall Street women: Black dress from Patrizia Pepe, nude pumps from Karen Millen, gray jacket from Theory, earrings from Elle Filigree and red Sac de Jour from Saint Laurent.
It’s not hard to find tips on how to dress for Wall Street if you’re a guy. Besides, how difficult is it to get a dark suit right? Dress codes for Wall Street women are not as strict, and you can get away with a lot more than your male peers. Trust me, you don’t need to hide that you are female.
On the flip side, you are also more easily noticed if you get it wrong. And having more choices makes it harder to find something to wear. Read on to get some great tips on the dress code for Wall Street women.
Use pants or skirts; do whatever makes you feel more comfortable. Mix and match tops and bottoms as you wich. Just make sure the colors don’t clash. You can even try patterned skirts in different fabrics.
I hesitate to give recommendations on brands since I have found the fit of different suits to be hard to generalize for women of different shapes. Of the bigger brands, Hugo Boss has some good suits. Many women also love Theory, Elie Tahari, Reiss and Ann Taylor for relatively reasonable prices.
A new suit should always be altered. Either use the tailor where you’re shopping, or you can find a personal favorite and stick to him or her.
There are a few guidelines you want to follow when altering your suit:
- Shoulders are too difficult for the tailor to change, so make sure this is the one place the suit fits perfectly.
- You generally want to take in the lower back to get a better fit. Make sure you can bend and turn slightly.
- Definitely also shorten the arms. You can get away with somewhat longer arms than men can for their suits, but don’t let them cover up your entire hand.
- Always get the hemline of pants and skirts tailored. You shouldn’t need a belt.
- Pants are mostly too long and too wide at the bottom. Get them fitted to the type of shoes you will wear at the office.
Sheath dresses are a popular choice. They’re often more comfortable than suits, and just as stylish to wear with a jacket. Try Theory, Versace Collection, Lauren by Ralph Lauren and Eliza J. All the suit brands above are also good choices for dresses.
When I wear a dress, I like to use a jacket with a slightly different color or cut. Wearing a matching set can look a bit off sometimes.
Dresses, as skirts, should end just above the knees. To the knees or under will look like an old teacher. And following the “fingertip rule” will make you look like a porn star secretary. Try to avoid cleavage and high splits.
On Fridays, cardigans are a safe way to go. For the rest of the week, I would say they can come across as a bit unprofessional, as they tend to look somewhat big and shapeless. At least start with a normally fitted jacket until you get a feel for the particular dress code at your bank.
Shirts and tops
My first big mistake in the clothing department as a new analyst was to buy heaps of traditional button down shirts.
I paired them with the classical pant suits and low heels to try to blend in. Big mistake. Even with tight sports bras under, the shirts would still have a wide gap between the buttons in front. If you’re more flat chested, you may find that these shirts are a good alternative. Otherwise, I would definitely try to look for blouses and tops without buttons.
You find plenty of classical silk tops that look much better than their shirt counterparts. Remember to find one that covers your shoulders so you can take off your jacket in the office if it’s too hot.
Plus points if you find something that doesn’t need to be ironed each time you put it on.
Shoes and stockings
Are high heels a must? No, not necessarily, but most women wear them. Keep your heels under 10cm and you’re good to go. Oh, and no open toes or sandals. Find classic pumps that don’t look like they can be worn by a Paris escort.
Good brands for shoes are some of the designers like Jimmy Choo, Valentino and Christian Louboutin of course, but it may feel like a waste to buy conservative shoes there. Besides, if you’re starting out as an analyst or summer intern, I would not go for shoes that expensive. Try Karen Millen, Michael Kors, Vince Camuto, Cole Haan or Steve Madden.
For flats, make sure they don’t look like those pink ballerinas in a soft and crinkly fabric. Good places to go for flats are Longchamp, Vince Camuto, Chanel, Salvatore Ferragamo or Tory Burch.
I have only one thing to say about stockings: Jus wear them, black or nude. It helps you avoid blisters, and it looks more professional.
Now the fun begins! Stay away from flashy bags with logos. That’s actually an advice more people should follow for life in general, and not just to please investment banking dress codes.
Bring a large tote, you will have to carry a lot of pitch books. Smaller bags are for the more senior bankers.
If you have worked a few years, earned your bonus, and are passionate about bags, I find that popular brands among bankers today are Saint Laurent, Fendi, Givenchy and Celine.
- Click here to read a guide on office bags for fall.
If you don’t want to spend that kind of money, some more affordable brands (but still far from cheap) are Philip Lim, Tory Burch, Chloé, and Ted Baker. And you can basically never go wrong with anything from Mulberry. Longchamps are popular beginner bags, and they fit excellently as gym bags as well.
As a final note on bags, no one will care if your bag doesn’t have a designer brand, but they will judge if it’s flashy. Find something nice in a good leather that has comfortable shoulder straps and you’re good to go.
Watches and jewelry
I have never seen anyone do jewelry wrong. You can wear big cocktail rings, long earrings, and colorful necklaces, as long as it goes with the rest of the outfit. No weird piercings, but I shouldn’t have to say that.
I feel that watches used to be a statement piece (at least for the men). Now it’s a bigger statement not to wear a watch, and flashy models are considered a bit passé.
Colors and patterns
Suits for women can be black, dark blue, all tones of gray, beige, and you can get away with shades of white and pink.
I find that you can play with more colors for dresses as long as the jacket is neutral. Especially when you have worked for a few years, and I see several women in top management positions that pull this off really well.
Tops can be basically any color since only a small part of them will be visible under your jacket. Just avoid crazy patterns.
Colors on shoes and jewelry can also be chosen freely as long as the rest of the outfit is neutral.
Hair and make-up
Do something that looks put together and clean. No excessive sun powder, dark lipsticks or neon colored nails. Keep your hair in normal and neutral colors, and keep perfume to a minimum.
How conservative do you need to be?
Some banks are more conservative, so you should, of course, try to look to other employees at your level in your department to see what is generally acceptable. Most banks do business formal, but a few have started to opt for a more business casual look.
Several banks have a “casual Friday” policy, but you shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking that Fridays are fair game just because of that. Some banks will let people wear jeans, but I wouldn’t do that if I was you.
If you have a client meeting on a Friday, your normal dress code should still apply. And the truth is, that you never know when a superior may decide that it’s time to send you into an unexpected meeting. Approach casual Friday with caution.
A-line skirts and dresses from Diane von Furstenberg are always a hit, and you can safely play up some more colorful choices than you would normally do. Bring a jacket just in case, and choose a dress with long arms or at least covered shoulders.
Look to your peers
It’s always a good choice to look to your peers, but as women, we’re more than often the only one in our department. Try noticing the clothes of female clients, and always opt for something a bit more conservative.
Don’t lose your feminine touch
You don’t have to hide that you’re a woman. Looking feminine and put together will only make you come across as more professional.