From Finance to Fashion

I found my old Lehman Brothers card this morning, it’s 10 years old now.  Working as an investment banking analyst at Lehman Brothers was my first job after college.  Many people ask where or how then did I get my interest in fashion.  Well, my interest in fashion came the first day I started working at Lehman Brothers.  I remember walking inside the global headquarters and saying to myself wow, everyone looks the same, talks the same, and dresses the same – it was my first taste of corporate culture.  I felt like I needed to do something different – for me, fitting in was not fitting for me.  At the time Lehman Brothers had the most conservative dress code on Wall Street. I noticed some people broke this trend by wearing bright, pop-colored cuff links, or exposing the Hermès or Ferragamo logo on their designer tie, but this seemed weak, and not edgy enough for me.

lehman

So, like a good investment banker, I did my diligence.  I researched all aspects
of men’s formal dress – it was the first time I ever strategically thought about dressing, and discovered that as an alternative to wearing a belt, I could wear suspenders.  The only other person at Lehman Brothers’ headquarters (over 5,000+ employees), to wear suspenders was the 60+ year old overweight Vice Chairman, a very senior Wall Street veteran, who needed them to keep his pants on.  I thought about it, and I said to myself I’m going to wear suspenders too.  I took a big risk, you never not want to fit into a culture, but at the same time, I felt that it was the right thing for me.  I also had a back-up plan, if I ever got in trouble and called into HR, I would educate them about how suspenders are technically part of the formal dress code, and it’s not my fault everyone else isn’t taking advantage of suspenders like I am.  After I made the decision, I then spent a few more months waiting to wear suspenders to celebrate the first day of my second year on the job.

The offices of all the senior bankers are laid out along the outside perimeter of each floor (the building is now headquarters of Barclays on 49th street and 7th avenue), and the insides of each floor are cubicals where all the junior bankers worked.  In order to move around the each floor you would have to pass along the perimeter where all the senior bankers offices were.  I remember the first week I wore suspenders, I got called into every single senior banker’s office as I walked around the building.  These bankers were constantly on the phone talking to clients and working on securing multi-million and multi-billion dollar deals, for many of them it was the first real time they ever noticed me.  Every single one would call me into their office, half of them would say things like “what are you wearing”, “you look aggressive”, and other half would say “you look awesome”, “keep doing what you’re doing”.   I said to myself wow, fashion is powerful.  I wore one thing, and it generated so much attention – I could only imagine the collective brainpower, energy, and cost of hundreds of bankers all spending time thinking about what I was wearing vs. doing their work. I also said to myself fashion is untapped, as a business student in college and investment banker at Lehman Brothers, no one provided even five minutes of an education about dress code skills, color skills, textiles, fit, it’s as if no one is educated on how to dress effectively.  I then thought about all those bankers trying to secure multi-million and multi-billion dollar deals and all the time they spent doing analysis and fact checking their research to secure those deals, meanwhile no one was there from the company to check the most important thing, making sure they looked good.

Corporates should think about having Chief Fashion Officers to champion and motivate and provide guidance to their staff to always look their best.  The ROI could be huge.  In finance you’re always looking for investing in untapped opportunities, in fashion it’s always there.

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