MBA NYU Grad, tech enthusiast, female entrepreneurship obsessed, with a love for fashion and how clothes can transform women into more confident, cool and collected employees in the workforce in any industry.
I recently caught up with a friend of mine over mani/pedis who agreed to speak to me anonymously about her fashion opinions within finance. She has a myriad of finance experience from small shop to bulge bracket to hedge fund and has observed over the years the mistakes women make in the workplace especially the emerging guard of younger women and has some strong opinions, some common and some not so well known, about what is appropriate in the workplace. She has a quiet chicness about her that I always admire and somehow still manages to inject a small amount of personality and flavor to her wardrobe even though she has been constrained over the years by the industry she is passionate about. Currently, at a hedge fund, it allows her to explore some color and different styling (as oppose to pure investment banking) but still within a very strict realm that she has set for herself as had the world of finance.
Tonight she was sporting a DVF pencil skirt to right below the knee and Yumi Kim top with a graceful gold necklace with small pearls and matching earrings. She had changed out of her heels but remarked that she always wears some form of heel to work. As we started to talk about work attire, she grew passionate in her views with an almost are you ready for this attitude that I, of course, ate up with eyes widen as she started in…She stated “I like getting dressed for work because then I feel like I’m going to work and putting on the appropriate clothes is how I’m going to convey my part and allow me to put my game face on for the day.” It clearly provides her a sense of confidence and that she fits. She says in any work environment in finance she has experienced (and each has nuances from i-banking to hedge fund), she immediately picks out a woman she admires and tries to emulate her while still defining her own voice through clothing. Some of her advice to women in general is “fewer clothes but love what you do have” and her list of no’s is long. This includes:
No open toe shoes,
No stripper shoes,
and if you think it’s too tight, it probably is…
When I followed up about open-toed shoes this includes peep-toe, sandals and all of the above, the bottom line in her mind is “Why do I need to be starring at your pedicure, when we are discussing multi-million dollar deals?” I laughed but the reality is, she has a point and it’s probably not something young women are being told on a regular basis, nor is someone with experience being pulled aside and warned that these small things are unnecessary distractions. Some other guidelines include hair and make-up tastefully done every morning, smallish jewelry. The bottom line she said was ‘it’s about polish’. And my friend’s ‘polish’ does include some beautiful color in her silk top and button detailing in the skirt, with at least some small sense of her more fashion-forward weekend fare. Given her guidelines, I really wanted to know what was the worst offense though, and that was the length of skirts. She proclaimed that last summer, she saw too many short skirts, mostly from younger interns starting that “they sent a very clear message to the company… and I don’t think it’s the message you want to send.” The bottom line is, “I support all professional women — and I think that that’s mostly a mistake that’s just a result of lack of experience/knowledge.”
So some old mantras to go by are “dress for the job you want” and the famous Edith Wharton quote “Genius is of small use to a woman who does not know how to do her hair.” As well as, a reference to the movie Working Girl when the female investment banker character, Katherine Parker, channels Chanel by saying “Dress shabbily, they notice the dress. Dress impeccably, they notice the woman - Coco Chanel!” Each statement in their own right still hangs true and might send these young professional women on the right track.
My friend has clearly put a lot of thought into what she wears and her success and current role is a reflection of it. She had a little bit of guidance when she was young but clearly honed this guidance to develop her own style within the rigid means of finance. She actually noted she was curious to see how different industries were and assumed they actually required probably a bit more flair. As my first finance interview, I am certainly curious myself. She finally remarked that she loved the color of my nails which were a bit more bold because frankly, she had to opt for the a fairly nude color which was, of course, part of her ‘polished’ look.
Check out related article by Christina Binkley “Cracking the Hedge-Fund Dress Code for Women” http://on.wsj.com/nGurBq