Important fashion tip from the Wall Street Journal!
This is a great reference article I found in the Wall Street Journal about the need to dress well at work. Even if you don’t work in the hedge-fund industry, this article really highlights how important it is to have an image that works FOR you, not against you – especially in the current conditions.
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APRIL 2, 2009
Cracking the Hedge-Fund Dress Code for Women - Hard-Driving Executives Worry Wrong Choices Can Still Trip Them Up; the Symbolism of an Hermès Scarf
Like Hollywood executives, hedge-fund chieftains are often the most casually dressed guys in the room (though their Seven jeans and untucked Lacostes cost as much as some suits). But those dress codes don't apply to their female colleagues. It's a measure of the tremendous scrutiny that hedge-fund women face that they can't confidently imitate the men's "power casual" style. "You're neither here nor there," says Kay Garkusha, who worked at a small Connecticut hedge fund until December. "You can't dress like the guys and you can't dress like the other women who are in support roles."
The intense pressure on women executives these days came into focus last week at a meeting of the 100 Women in Hedge Funds group. Double standards show up in many fields all over the country, but none more than the testosterone-charged world of Wall Street. There, women are still fighting for access to executive levels in an atmosphere where men also dissect each others' wardrobes for minute suggestions of power or weakness.
At this moment, the risks of missteps seem higher to many people, with thousands of financiers interviewing for a shrinking number of jobs. Indeed, Amanda Cain, head of institutional sales at Newedge USA in New York and an organizer of the women's event, noted that "a sizable percentage of the women here are 'in transition,' " -- the new euphemism for "downsized." Some of the women who have lost their jobs find themselves second-guessing any sartorial liberties they did take.
Ms. Garkusha sums up the hedge-fund dress code for men as the attitude that "we can dress like this because we make a lot of money." Yet, looking back on her six years at the hedge fund, which she declines to name, she wishes she'd worn more jackets to work. She now works as head of client relations at Synergy Graphix, a former client, where she says she accepted a salary cut. While she is too busy to spend much time pondering her clothes, she has wondered if a sharper wardrobe could have made a difference. "I've thought a lot about that," she says. Of course, in the hard-driving, norm-busting world of hedge funds, there have been few rules to bank on. Yet power can shift based on subtle messages. That was the topic many women reiterated last week.
Some people, upon hearing of 100 Women In Hedge Funds, suggest that they didn't know there were 100 women employed in hedge funds. But on a Tuesday evening at the Thomas Pink store on Madison Avenue in New York, 150 women -- each of whom knows her way around a spreadsheet -- discussed concerns they probably wouldn't raise in other settings. Are stockings necessary? What about out-dressing the managing partner?
It's trickier than ever to look sharp without relying on obvious symbols of wealth. An Hermès scarf -- to some the equivalent of a power tie -- could seem to be a metaphor for excess in the current environment. One young woman described an unmarried colleague who wears a wedding ring to seem more mature and less available to the men she works with. Later, another attendee said that her diamond engagement ring -- from a real fiancé -- has improved her professional relationships with male colleagues. Clearly, clothes and accessories are powerful symbols in the workplace. They are seen before our words are heard in a board meeting, and they are remembered long after, like perfume that hangs in a room.
Clothes signal our position at the table. For instance, buy-side executives, as Wall Street's consumers, can afford to under-dress the sell-siders, who are more often expected to suit up to help close a sale. For women, who have more clothing choices than men, the risk of a mistake is magnified. Just ask Michelle Obama about the peril of bare arms. There's a steady debate about whether former Lehman executive Erin Callan's heels were too sexy.
Still, it's possible to reduce such risks by considering what clothes mean to the people around us. Our clothes at work needn't express our true inner selves. Instead, they can express our ability to contribute or take charge. Collars on a shirt or jacket convey authority. Flat shoes can suggest a girlish lack of authority; if you wear them, choose flats with some hardware and avoid the ballet look. As for stockings, the debate rages on, but if your primary audience is over 50, they may feel more comfortable with them.
One experienced hedge-fund executive, sharply dressed in a Brioni suit the other night, related her experience interviewing for jobs in a suit paired with boots rather than pumps. She didn't get a single call back to a second interview when she wore the boots. If you consider clothes as symbols, a possible explanation emerges: Boots with heels are sexy, with a hint of dominatrix. While that message might be subtle enough for everyday work, our antennae are more sensitive in job interviews, where there's no room for risk.
In an era when most women prefer to focus on their skills, it's a sobering idea. "We focus so much on gaining that elusive informational edge on our jobs that we tend to forget that our appearance can help put us over the edge of that promotion, job offer, etc.," says Diana Sonis, who worked until recently at a New York hedge fund.