In the last few months, I’ve noticed a focus on dressing nicely for work. The female CEO character in “The Intern” admonished her tech employees to leave the tank tops and jeans at home. Ad campaigns of handsome men in tailored suits appeared in volume after “Fifty Shades of Grey” hit the big screen. Even in the small town where I live, a local restaurateur posted a sign on the door that puts hungry persons on notice – “No backward baseball caps or excessively baggy pants are allowed.” When I acknowledged the sign to the owner, he launched into a diatribe about sloppiness and his goal to promote a certain ambiance. A week later, in response to a friend who mentioned that many of her students are getting tattoos, I remarked that plentiful body ink might be a deterrent to getting a job in finance. While she disagreed with me, several career experts recommend a clothing cover-up if applying for a position in a “typically conservative industry such as accounting or banking…”
I know about clothing rules firsthand. When I first began my career in financial services, the head of the bank credit training program pulled me aside and told me that wearing brightly colored tights would keep me from having a successful career. She strongly suggested that I stick to beige stockings instead. During my tenure with a Fortune 50 company, working as part of a risk management compliance team, the Treasurer gave me the task of telling the outside technology consultant not to return until he purchased (and wore) socks.
In contrast to sartorial trendsetters, there are those who go to the opposite extreme by dressing as if everyday is Casual Friday writ large, much to the chagrin of managers who are trying to set a more disciplined tone. While each industry has its own unique standards for what constitutes an “appropriate” wardrobe, some suggest that client-interfacing professionals in the investment management industry should dress to impress. Outside of recreational events such as golf outings or meetings with venture capitalists who live in khaki, how many investment committees want their asset manager, banker, consultant or advisor to arrive for a presentation wearing gym pants and a tee shirt? The other perspective is that someone who shows up with a Rolex or high-price outfit could discourage a sale with a would-be institutional buyer who gets paid a modest salary and buys off the rack.
Some individuals look beyond the visuals, asserting that slovenly or slapdash costuming can lead to sloppy thinking at work. As a result, promotions and getting new clients may be slow to come about. According to the Ladders career website, one needs to “appear polished and ready for the next challenge.” A Psychology Today article goes further, with its author, Dr. Ben Fletcher, writing that “our clothes say a great deal about who we are and can signal a great deal of socially important things to others, even if the impression if actually unfounded.”
Aside from legal issues relating to allowable clothing, a topic I leave to attorneys, I hope I’m right that a trend towards formality is emerging with regard to both dress and courtesy. Reuters is not singular in its message that “good manners will open doors that the best education cannot.” Did you know about the annual celebration called “Bring Your Manners to Work Day?”
Even as research about protocol and appearance continues, those in the investment management industry should embrace opportunities to be seen as professional and competent. There is a certain intimacy about decisions that involve money and investors want to feel good about their service providers, especially now. According to the 2015 Edelman Financial Services Trust Barometer, there is a keen need for more assurances about the integrity of this industry. When buyers don’t trust, they don’t buy.
Said differently, don’t be a “pajama head” when it comes to wardrobe and demeanor.