Get out the bugle and play “Taps.” A Bloomberg article from March 5, 2019 revealed that titan Wall Street investment banking firm Goldman Sachs is relaxing its dress code. Has the flag of formality fallen on Wall Street? Well, maybe. But, evidence suggests there is a changing of the guard in terms of long held dress codes. It seems now that Silicon Valley style dominates Wall Street policy’s executive style.

Honestly, this is not exactly a major newsflash. For many years Goldman has allowed its engineers to dress in a more relaxed mode. Considered a perk to attract younger high-tech employees in a highly competitive job market, casual dress stylist strategies were already an incentive. The newsworthiness is that the three topmost Goldman Sachs leaders issued a firm-wide missive announcing an expansion of this policy.

Is this becoming a trend in corporate America? Mary Barra, General Motors CEO, recently reduced their 10-page dress code into two words: Dress Appropriately. It’s one of the reasons I wrote a white paper on the subject of dress codes for Lawyers and C-Suite executives, Comprehensive Dress Style.

The actual Goldman Sachs email from its top three leaders.

What Does It Mean, “Dress Appropriately?

The intention behind Goldman Sachs’ new sartorial initiative is to offer employees more flexibility to create a “welcoming environment for all.” Certainly the top leaders want clients to feel more comfortable with the firm’s employees and to deepen confidence within their relationships. So, between wanting to attract top talent and improving client relations, Goldman Sachs formalized an executive style policy of informality.  This shift cements how Silicon Valley style dominates Wall Street and changes the sartorial landscape going forward.

Still, re-setting dress standards at Goldman Sachs, or any corporation, doesn’t mean the casual approach always works. Instead of enforcing a strict policy, firm leaders expect associates to exercise good judgement and to know their clients’ expectations. Further, on-the-go investment bankers, curating the new ideal wardrobe now requires more thought, research, planning, and time, challenging their bandwidth.

Now that business casual Silicon Valley style dominates Wall Street, the investment firm set shares in the tech community’s sartorial confusion. Is this something the investment banking community wants to take on? The answer will eventually fully reveal itself. In the meantime, this is path Goldman Sachs has chosen.

The Changing Executive Style of Silicon Valley & Wall Street

Reevaluating the value of dress codes towards greater democratization at Wall Street workplaces is fully warranted. And yet, setting new guidelines around losing some of the old guidelines is risky. The notion that everyone inherently understands how to dress appropriately is unrealistic. The uniformity of dress clothes made it easier for corporate employees to fall in line with their firm’s values. I do believe this new form of sartorial conduct will work itself out. To make the transition easier and more successful, Goldman Sachs would benefit a lot more from trusted professional advice rather than from a style editorial in Bloomberg.

The biggest challenge Goldman Sachs faces with its new business casual concept is that it has not reframed the language of “how to show up” for work. As I have written about and advised business leaders over many years, the word “casual” has pretty negative connotations especially for executive style. It means to leave things to chance. There’s a chance you’ll get it right, and there’s a chance you’ll get it wrong. Chance? If I ran a company that could hire Goldman Sachs, I wouldn’t want them leaving anything to chance. Moreover, the notion of dressing appropriately without providing a depth of context is a risky move. Employees need to study the ethos of their workplace and understand the core values of the company and their personal style.

All Business is Personal

The Bloomberg style editorial piece humorously lays out a number of scenarios with outfit suggestions for men and women. But, it essentially falls short of accomplishing what the misfired companywide missive also fails to address. Most importantly though Goldman Sachs employees work within its corporate culture, connecting its values to its sartorial allowance is crucial.

As their website cites, it “brings people, capital and ideas together to help our clients and the communities we serve.” This statement offers clear clues as to how to dress appropriately at Goldman Sachs.

Pertaining to “people,” this expanded business casual policy intends to make clients feel more comfortable. This requires bankers to study and learn about the clients they serve and their relative business cultures. This can actually be an advantage because it offers a different perspective on investigating a culture. When a consultant capably mirrors their clients, it demonstrates empathy and understanding. I do this with my clients all the time because I want them to feel unintimidated.

Style Is More Than The Cloths You Wear

The notion of “capital” has to do a business’s long-term net worth. When it comes to money and non-human assets, business leaders want every assurance that their asset managers are responsible and trustworthy. When wearing less formal business attire, Goldman Sachs associates must communicate the right sartorial balance in the presence of clients.

The statement’s reference to “ideas” is interesting and exciting to think about. In this context, ideas are possible solutions to business problems, which requires a balance of knowledge and creativity. On top of that, such knowledge and creativity are relative to each different client company. Not all of Goldman Sachs’ client companies face the same challenges and opportunities. So, client-facing consultants would do well to sartorially reflect the knowledge and creative thought that each client company needs. These are some considerations I make when creating individual stylist strategies and experiences for my clients. 

Your Personal Style Tells Your Story Without Saying A Word

To summarize, Goldman Sachs associates need to think about the people they serve. And to consider the capital they manage, and the ideas they provide to their clients. To do this, Goldman Sachs employees need to understand the core values and ethos of their employer and their client companies. Sometimes, this requires less formal clothing, and at other times, more formal clothes are the right way to go.

As you can see, it requires a lot of thought just to come to an understanding of what will best serve an investment banker’s wardrobe needs. And that’s before even curating the look, which requires even more time and energy. When an employer shifts the burden of determining appropriate dress to its employees it creates boundless challenges and opportunities.

This is why I proudly offer my expertise in a comprehensive series of experiences to help individuals and businesses alike. My private one-on-one experiences save clients huge amounts of time and help to get their look right in the shortest amount of time possible. And my talks and workshops for businesses help get teams on the same page about what these new business codes of dress and conduct mean for the bottom line.