October 25, 2013, by NUBS Postgraduate Careers

You are what you wear

By Beth Cooper

Although the days of bowler hats with pinstripe suits may have passed, in British society it sometimes seems there is an unofficial uniform requirement for every occasion but how do you know what to wear when you may not have been exposed to such an environment before? Anthropologists have even looked at identifying people working in the City of London purely by what they are wearing and whether or not then take off their jacket!

As a basic rule, for the first meeting or at events when you don’t know who might be there, it is generally always better to over-dress than under-dress. You can’t go far wrong with a dark suit, plain shirt and dark shoes regardless of your gender or role for which you are applying. You want people to notice what you are saying, not what you are wearing.

Many dress codes are driven by who the client or customer of the organisation is. For example, within a consulting firm those working in tech will dress differently to those specialising in financial services or the public sector. It is about feeling comfortable with the people around you, whether inside or outside of the organisation. Equally, there are times when being more formal is appropriate. It can create credibility, recognising that the skills you are bringing are different from those held within the organisation. Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook and famous hoodie wearer, kept his hoodie when he met with his IPO bankers but donned a suit when meeting the Japanese Prime Minister.

Below are some examples that might help.

Investment banking

Typing ‘investment banking wardrobe’ into Google, brings up a plethora of articles advising what to wear and even where to shop. It doesn’t come cheaply and when you are starting out, it can seem an expensive outlay. However, much of it is about creating an image of success – dressing for where you want to be, not where you are. This article gives some good pointers, albeit with a Wall Street focus.

The creative industries

How you present yourself at interview is likely to differ from what you will be wearing day to day but it is important that you are able to convey your personality – literally demonstrating your creativity. That doesn’t mean ripped jeans, a hoodie and scuffed trainers (until you get the job and see how others dress) but relaxing the formal dress code, by perhaps wearing a suit of unusual fabric or changing shoes. The big emphasis is on individuality rather than conformity and how you wish to express yourself. ASOS, the online fashion retailer, have produced a useful guide to help you understand what this might mean in an interviewing setting. You should also consider the role you are applying for with the organisation. If you are applying for a finance role for a fashion house, your technical knowledge and high standards of presentation will be far more important than turning up at interview in the latest fashions. However, if it is a buyer role for which you are being interviewed, you will be expected to be able to express more of your personal style in line with the company for which you will be working.

‘Dress-down’ Friday

Increasingly common, what it means will depend on individual organisations and sometimes it is yet again another form of unofficial uniform. What is acceptable often depends on whether you are in a client-facing role or in a building which clients will visit. Commonly when this is the case, jeans will not be allowed. Chinos with casual shirts or polo shirts will replace the suits and ties, with more casual shoes rather than formal lace-ups. For some places, this will still be too casual as dress down becomes simply that you don’t need to wear your jacket or the tie (if you are male). When Barclays in New York introduced a dress-down policy, it provoked horror in some quarters. In other places, it can mean anything goes with jeans and trainers acceptable. However, you should remain decent so the rules of not exposing too much cleavage, midriffs, excessive jewellery or short shorts remain. If concerned, ask first rather than potentially feeling uncomfortable when dressed differently from others.

Red trousers

Now this is a debate all of its own. For an insight into the British psyche when it comes to dressing, this BBC article outlines the passion this item brings out in others. Who would have thought that 70% of the population polled could disapprove of an item of clothing purely based on its colour! David (Bumble) Lloyd, the former England cricketer and now commentator, actively encourages people to tweet him with examples of others wearing them, accompanied with the hashtag rah-rah. Neither am I innocent. My phone has far too many photos that my friends have shared of the specimens even though I must confess, I do own a pair! After all, what are rules if they aren’t to be broken?



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