Corporate Power Dressing (Interns Beware)

January 19th, 2016

We got an interesting reader question that got us talking about the unspoken rules of corporate attire. I was reminded of my brief days on Wall Street, and the psychological effect that menswear can have on big-business culture.

You see, I was the Wall Street summer intern wearing all the wrong items. Items that represent rank and experience. I was buying Gucci monkstraps and Italian spread collar shirts on eBay; with french cuffs, contrast collars, and all that. I was standing out in the wrong way. It would’ve been one thing if I could’ve backed it up with real industry knowledge and expertise, but I couldn’t. I was more into studying the menswear than the trading.

I learned many lessons that summer, including which menswear items and accessories are reserved for bosses. So, with that said, here are some items that are often considered earned in serious corporate environments (think big banks, formal law firms, etc) and thus should be avoided if you’re an intern or a rookie.

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    The wider and more pronounced the stripe, the bolder the power statement. A wide chalkstripe, like this flannel, projects confidence, professionalism, and importantly, experience.

    Double-Breasted Suits

    A double-breasted suit is a mature look. Metaphorically, and psychologically, it puts another layer of cloth, and separation, between you and the next man. Most of the time a good double-breasted suit is custom-made, as well, so it can also be a sign that yes, your suit is bespoke. You could say something similar about 3-piece suits, although in my opinion they lean more toward professional than cocky.

    Contrast Collar Shirts (Banker Collar)

    The Gordon Gekko collar (all white, typically on a striped shirt) is a bold move. The original white collar was detachable; at the time it was seen as a sign of wealth that you could afford to wash and wear clean white collars every day. This hundred year old perception has not quite wore off.

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    Cufflinks & Collar Pins

    Wearing unnecessary precious metals is in-your-face expensive, and could give off the wrong impression if you’re not in an in-your-face position.

    A Gold Watch

    Watch culture is a whole other beast. In some big-money offices there is a timepiece arms race happening out in the open that nobody is talking about. Chances are you’re not going to have the nicest watch in the office, so don’t even think about some faux-luxury stuff that is meant to “look expensive”. Keep it humble, or keep it 100.

    Exotic Leathers

    Nothing says “I got money” more than a pair of exotic leather shoes. As beautiful as they are, don’t go asking for a discount, or a tip, wearing a pair of alligator skins.

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    Thanks, as always, for reading.

    Yours in style,

    Dan Trepanier

    Photography by Alex Crawford.

    • Hamed Adefuwa

      I love it all, except those shoes man, ugh.

    • Tery Jaye Yazze

      killer captoe laceups! Excellent suit!

    • Guccio1971

      The footing of a home, where it meets the soil and carries the weight is the most important integral part of what’s being created. With a solid foundation you have confidence in what you are presenting to the world.
      In my opinion, so are exceptionally made shoes. High quality shoes are
      all about construction, just like a home. Go cheap on them and people will
      remember you but not for the right reasons. Invest in them and people will
      remember you for ALL the right reasons. We tend to only get 7 seconds before we’re sized up….make it worthwhile and rise the corporate ladder.
      Thanks Dan and team!

    • Theo

      jesus… Comparing this outfit to an entree, the filet mignon are the shoes. Everything else is just the perfect amount of garnish. WOW!! I could never wear this at the office. It would garner the wrong attention. A night out or any formal event?! Definite yes!

    • AFH

      I remember working at American Express a few years ago in Victoria, London (we shared the building with Google) – dress pants and a shirt were required Mon-Thu. I went in three-pieced up once in my first week, the comments were mostly positive – but I realised I was drawing too much attention to myself and didn’t do it again.

      I asked my boss (nice lady) if smart tailored chino pants were okay, she told me ‘maybe on a Thursday, but wait a few weeks at least’. I heeded the advice, but noticed some of the more senior guys did not take the dress code too seriously – one wore black Levi jeans most days. The games are interesting.

      I work in Mayfair at the moment in a fairly casual place; quite a lot of suited types in the streets though. What I notice though is way too many suits in a blue that ain’t navy – royal blue, french blue, electric blue, airforce blue. In January, it looks pretty foolish I think.

    • Miguel

      This is great stuff, I’m always felt that way about the contrast white neck shirts, I think I would only wear those if I’m the president of a company and the occasion is right, same thing with the Exotic Leathers.

    • Simon

      Wow ! You guys are mind reader ! I’m about to start my internship in a law firm and I was asking myself these exact questions. I want to look sharp but not come across as a poser or as a would-be boss. I want to stand out but positively.

      I have a hard time making my mind on 3-pieces suits. I find it looks fabulous in the pages of magazines (or on AoS blog posts) but I feel it makes me look like I’m trying too hard. Is it something more reserved for senior partners than interns/associates ? Or is it more about confidence/state of mind ? Or even just about body type ?

      • JoeFromTexas

        3 piece suits look great. But as an intern, maybe reserve the third piece for evenings on the town, or even use in a casual look on the weekends.

      • AdamE

        I love my 3 pieces, but I RARELY wear all 3 pieces to the office… (government, not legal setting). I’ll either wear pants and waistcoat, pants and jacket, or wear the waistcoat as an odd vest with contrasting pants or sometimes with dark Jeans on a friday…

        The art to dressing for any office setting is looking put together enough for the level of dress for your workplace, but without looking like you put too much effort into it…

        That said, if you want to do it, go for it. But I certainly wouldn’t do it on the first day, I would build up to rocking a 3 piece… Start with dressing in smart, well-tailored suits, and then once you start to establish that as a bit of a signature, then moving to a 3 piece doesn’t scream out as loudly…

    • AdamE

      While this post is finance focused, and certainly that world is like any other industry on steroids when it comes to over the top dressing and opulence…. Many of the same rules apply in other work places…

      There’s certainly nothing wrong with being well-dressed as a newer, less senior person, and I’ve always been a believer in the saying “dress like you’re the boss until you’re the boss”. But that means dressing well, without rubbing money into people’s faces, or without making yourself into a caricature of the industry.

      Generally when you’re starting out, I’d avoid the blingy (precious metal accents (cufflinks, tie bars, lapel pins, etc.), opulent watches, etc.). I’d avoid the contrast collars as well (I’ve never been a fan of that look anyways), and stick to clean, crisp, well-fitting shirts. As for ties, again I’d avoid the over the top, and make sure that the proportions are spot on (this is one where the caricature can come in…)…

    • JoeFromTexas

      Question – On a well fitting, single breasted coat, there shouldn’t be any (or much) pull at the single fastened button. But on a double breasted, it seems that it’s pretty unavoidable. I can’t imagine anyone saying the fit in the first pic isn’t spot on, though there is some pull at the only fastened button.visible. Is this unavoidable on a DB? Maybe I should go back and review the “How it should fit page”. I ask because, after losing some weight this past year, my DB is fitting a bit loose and needs to get to a tailor. I want to make sure what to look for in a good fit (unrelated question is whether I can even pull off a DB).

      • Esosa

        Hey Joe! Congrats on losing the weight brother…it aint easy.. it is very doable.. I feel you really need to know your body, know how the garment should fit, have a competent tailor and most importantly buy quality..this is my favorite DB that I have below and its as tailored as it will get..there is no pulling (atleast when I am standing still) and the silhouette is exactly what I look for in a DB..dont mean to intrude Dan.. just helping out a fellow forumite! lol

        • JoeFromTexas

          Thanks Esosa, that was very helpful. The weight loss thing is an ongoing years long struggle, it’s going in the right direction, though sometimes not as steeply as I would like. The DB I have is not only loose, but the lapel that get’s tucked in doesn’t fall flush like yours does, as if it’s uneven. Having just moved recently, my challenge is finding a competent tailor (I think there are only a couple in town and the first one I went to didn’t work out). I may have to wait til the next time I get to Houston. I think the fit you showed is pretty ideal and gives me more info on what I should be looking for.

    • Graham’s Ghost

      Power ties (think Hermes), peak lapels and braces could all be added to this list. Its incredibly hard to be well dressed on The Street without drawing unwanted attention to yourself

      • Sri

        Echoing what was mentioned by Graham, I’m surprised ties didn’t get any mention. Hermes is huge in finance and business. It’s almost like a right that the more successful you are, the louder/more outlandish the tie you can wear.

        • TO

          Yea but that doesn’t sound very stylish, so maybe that could be why it wasn’t included if it had been considered…

      • JoeFromTexas

        Good points, though I would think braces would be pretty standard on suits, even for rookies. Disclaimer – I have no insight into the high power world of banking, law, or world running.

        • Graham’s Ghost

          Wearing braces as anything less than a MD is just asking to get a lot of flack. At least in my experience.

          • JoeFromTexas

            Wow never would have thought. As a big dude, braces are the most comfortable thing out there, though I usually wear them when they’ll be less visible (if I’m wearing a vest, sweater, or keeping a coat on all day). When I’m dressed very conservatively, I try to have braces close in color to the shirt as well, so that they don’t stand out as well.

    • cam

      i need that money like the ring i never won, i won

    • edwin


      i know a picture is worth a thousand words. However, i do recommend you explain the pictures you post. lol. im guessing there is a glitch.

      • Dan Trepanier

        Apologies guys. We had a little hiccup this morning. Post now updated!