Why Goldman Sachs' Dress Code Decision Is the Right Call
You may have heard that Goldman Sachs is loosening its dress code, letting guys ditch the suit and tie in favor of…well, that’s actually unclear. The new “dress code,” as detailed in an internal memo, doesn’t give much direction. And while I’m pretty sure in this instance and industry it’ll just lead to a bunch of banker bros wearing vests en masse, not codifying the new expectations might have been the smartest move Goldman Sachs could make.
Let's be clear from the start: when I talk about corporate dress codes, I'm talking about the ones in the vein of Goldman Sachs' own abandoned fashion dictates. I'm not talking about uniforms, here. Nor am I going to delve into the thorny business of how customer-facing employees who don't have official uniforms should dress.
Instead, I've got my eye firmly trained on the guy in the office building, who might have a client meeting, depending on the day. The guy who might've been told that he has to wear a full suit and a tie every day. Or that he specifically can't wear jeans. Or that his shirt has to have a collar. You know what I'm getting at here.
The 1999 movie ’Office Space’ parodied everything from workplace politics to printer jams. The clothes stand out for, well, not standing out.
And what I'm ultimately getting at is that these Office Space-y codes do exactly zero favors to anyone. On one hand, they tend to make adults feel infantilized, in the "What, I can't dress myself?" sense. On the other, they encourage our worst sartorial instincts.
Consider the guy who works at an office where collared shirts are required and jeans are verboten. I have been this guy. And I have seen what this sort of mandate can do: Inspire a whole lot of guys to do the bare minimum. I've seen men in threadbare, baggy chinos and promotional-logo polo shirts walk around the workplace unscathed. And I've seen other guys—in, say, nicely fitted dark jeans and a polished-looking crewneck sweater—catch flack for being on the wrong side of the dress code.
Hitting just high enough to avoid detection by the brass shouldn't be a good thing—whether with your actual work, or what you wear to do it.
Full disclosure: I was the guy in the jeans on many occasions. Maybe I'm too close to this. Regardless, I'd challenge you to consider who looks more professional: The man wearing a shiny-at-the elbows suit and a worst-of-the-'70s tie, or the one wearing clean, modern clothes that might not have a collar, or (gasp!) are made from denim. Hitting just high enough to avoid detection by the brass shouldn't be a good thing—whether with your actual work, or what you wear to do it.
On the flip side, you've got the guys who want to stunt. I'm sure, in the power-broker ranks of Goldman Sachs, there are more than a few of them. These are the guys that want to show off, even within the confines of a suit-and-tie dress code. So the suit, the tie, the shoes—everything becomes game for one-upmanship.
His tie costs $200? I'm getting one that costs $500!
His suit costs as much as a car off the rack? I'm going for the same brand—and I'm going bespoke.
A production shot from the 2000 film American Psycho, which darkly parodied the kind of fashion one-upmanship that still exists in corporate culture today.
Granted, these displays might lead to something more aesthetically pleasing than those of the dudes just trying to avoid the bottom of the barrel. But they're not something to be celebrated, either. Unless, of course, you look at American Psycho and think, "Yep, that seems like a pretty cool way to be, and definitely not an arch cautionary tale about excess and conspicuous consumption!"
I've said this time and again, and I realize it can seem a little hokey in the context of very real concerns about maintaining one's livelihood and (hopefully) thriving in a professional environment. But still: Style should be about expression. It should be about sending a message to the world, and one of your choosing.
If you erase the dress code and Roy from accounts is still wearing a beat-up polo shirt with a failed tech start-up's logo on the chest, you can be pretty sure he's fine with projecting that image. If the suit-and-tie requirements go out the window and Chad and Dave are still dressing up in three-pieces and trying to out-neckwear one another, you can rest easy knowing that those two hyper-competitive guys are...well, they might be dicks. Or they might just like the competition.
What matters is the agency involved in those decisions. The dress code, in the modern corporate office, should be a thing of the past. That's not to say we should all dress like slobs, or that we all need to buy new wardrobes just to keep up with our own set of professional Joneses. It's just a reminder that the decision to pull it together—or not—should be our own.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.