New dress codes at big Wall Street firms present new wardrobe puzzles for men, and new opportunities to get them shopping.
For years, many men have been staying in the fashion safe zone and wearing a suit to work every day. But recent relaxations of dress codes at giant firms J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP has marked the spreading of business casual dressing to the financial services industry. And this time around, it is more challenging than the polo-shirts-and-khakis ensembles of the 1990s.
Saks Fifth Avenue has stepped in with a six-page how-to manual updating business casual, which the luxury retailer will start handing out to customers next week. “A guy can put on a navy suit, a white shirt and a tie and it’s very easy for him. It becomes his work uniform,” said Tom Ott, senior vice president and general merchandise manager at Saks Fifth Avenue. But “dressing business casual really takes a lot of skill to put together.”
Saks began work on the manual in June, shortly after the news of an internal memo at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. giving workers permission to wear business-casual attire on most occasions.
Saks’s guide, titled “The New Office Casual,” features five different recommendations for business-casual looks, with itemized descriptions for each ensemble so men can opt to buy the whole outfit rather than putting it together themselves. The four looks inside highlight one or two of seven items the retailer calls office-casual “essentials.”
Other firms have also recently eased up on their wardrobe requirements. BlackRock, the giant money manager, further relaxed its dress code in June to allow jeans and short-sleeve shirts. The firm has had its business-casual dress code since the 1990s. While top BlackRock executives and people meeting with clients still have to dress for the occasion, others can wear less-formal attire, depending on their location and function.
PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP instituted a “Dress For Your Day” dress code this summer encouraging U.S. employees to wear clothes they feel are appropriate for that day. “As we traveled the country, our people were clear that they wanted to dress the way their clients dress,” said Tim Ryan, U.S. chairman. “In some cases, that’s suit and tie, in some cases that’s jeans. We wanted to listen to our people.” Before, the dress code was office-specific, with more formal dressing in the East and Midwest and casual in northern California, Mr. Ryan said.
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The changes come as the financial sector competes for talent with technology firms known for less buttoned-up work environments. The shift also is an appeal to a younger generation of workers, who bristle at dusty thinking on office dress.
Many of the firms now adopting business-casual policies were holdouts, meaning a potentially new wave of men dressing in a new way for work.
“Business-casual is less of a formula and more open to interpretation than dressing in suits can be, and so many men are concerned that they’ll get it wrong,” said Julie Rath, a men’s style consultant and founder of NextLevelStyle.com, an online course for men. “There’s more room for error.”
Some men will have to shop for a new wardrobe. And some men may find they are spending more or nearly as much for a polished office-casual wardrobe as they did on suits and ties.
A basic wool Saks Fifth Avenue Collection suit on Saks.com costs $1,298, not including dress shirt, tie, shoes and accessories. The Saks Fifth Avenue Collection corduroy blazer, crew neck sweater and pants on the cover of Saks’s manual total $1,224.
The seven new wardrobe essentials in the Saks guide mix dressy and casual. They are the Refined Top, the Perfect Fit Pant, the Dress Shoe Hybrid, the Sporty Suit, the Clean Sneaker, the Easy Layer and the Leather Bag. An Easy Layer is described as something in a neutral color to wear over a shirt, like a vest, cardigan-jacket, lightweight sweater or soft sport coat made of knit or jersey fabrics. A Refined Top “can be a button-down, turtleneck or dressy polo as long as the fit is tailored to your body,” the guide says. Chinos, sweatpants (now called “joggers” in the industry) and cargo pants are OK as long as they are slim-fit and tailored.
The looks in the manual start out conservative and gradually become more daring on each new page. “The tricky thing is that every company has different standards, different dress codes, so we had to be universal enough and specific enough at the same time,” said vice president and fashion director Eric Jennings, who came up with the idea for the manual and led its concept.
The retailer tried to keep the manual simple. “We had one version of this where it was all the don’ts listed on there, and it was like ‘Argh, too much!’ ” Mr. Jennings said. “We don’t want it be information overload.”
In addition to mailing it to customers and distributing it in stores, sales associates also will email the manual to customers. Saks also plans business-casual store displays, with clusters of mannequins. “We’re hoping we become the headquarters for the new office casual,” Mr. Ott said.