I have generated a lot of “content” since I started this thing about a month and a half ago: some were hard-hitting, well-researched thought pieces that will likely be relevant for your children’s children. And some was idiotic blather. But its crystal clear what are the two most important issues to my readership, creating striations along racial, gender and political spectrum: ties and candy bars. Just as I didn’t think my Wall Street legacy would be receiving a phallic deal toy design, I didn’t think my contribution to the internet would be candy bar and tie rankings. But you’ve got to play the cards you’re dealt, right? (In this case I also dealt the cards, but you get the picture)
So since it is finally spring, and the young uns will be going clothes shopping soon enough for their summer jobs (and later in the summer, for full time work gear), I thought I’d offer a little more insight into the Wall Street tie scene. Maybe this will be helpful for the newbies (and for you all who live in the sticks and think Bon Marche gear is top of the line).
The Newcomer (Brooks Brothers, $75-$115) Brooks Brothers is a fine store and makes a great starter suit (in fact, I kept buying those starter suits as they generally got beat to shit). Ties? Not so much. But generally folks new to the Wall Street gig are looking for a one stop shop for their first true batch of work gear, so they’ll stop by the Brothers and pick up two suits, five shirts, a sportcoat, two pairs of slacks and three ties. It’s as predictable as the swallows returning to Capistrano.
These eager beavers are generally given a break on the BB ties; there’s essentially a two year grace period when you start out. And please note this guidance is for investment banking – people in capital markets and sales & trading tend to give less of a shit about this crap (it enhances their quant/market cred to brag about buying their ill-fitting attire on sale at Jos. A. Bank). BB is fine for starting out, you won’t be an outright embarassment to other members of your deal (but most likely pitch) teams. But keep in the back of your mind – you’ll need to move up soon.
Other Newcomer brands: Polo, Calvin Klein (ie stuff you wore in college that you thought was the shit then)
Eurotrash (Armani, D&G, Gucci, Prada, Zegna, untold others) When starting out, you’ll feel the heat to improve your tie collection – this will be an internal pressure, as if you’ve had some bad carnitas. But you don’t know anything at this point (unless you have an unseen internet sage providing Yoda-like advice from the ether). What did I do when I was at the point where I knew I was going to have to improve my tie situation? I went to eBay. I do not recommend this route. For one, you don’t really know what you’re getting; you could be buying used auto-erotic asphyxiation gear. For another, you can’t accurately judge the shininess of a tie on eBay. I’ve got a couple of ties that looked awesome online but turned out to be so lustrous that Craig Sager would deem them too excessive.
The actual path of least resistance for those at this tie-acquiring juncture, at least in NYC, is to head for Century 21. No, it’s not the real estate place with the red jackets. It’s like a TJ Maxx or Marshall’s, only with the added benefit of having approximately as many pushing, screaming lunatics as a Jonas Brothers concert. But instead of screaming 12 year olds, you have bloodthirsty 40 year olds who would rather cut you than have you in their way as they peruse the massive heaps of crap that get shoveled around there. A working knowledge of prison survival (how to spot a shank, where to go in a melee) is needed to get through ten minutes at that place. I went in once to get some socks and I’m still scarred from the experience (and I left after three minutes).
But invariably young but broke Streeters who are looking to impress will head to C21. They will have a dazzling array of Armani, Prada, Gucci ties (generally laying in a huge pile adjacent to another huge pile of chicken bones or garbage) at rock bottom prices. This sounds good, right? Those are high end sounding brands and the regular clothes they make are tres expensive. But those are not ties for Wall Street, bud. To bankers, those are gauche New Money brands that doesn’t pack half the “prestige” of the more venerable brands.
Do some senior folks wear this gear? Yes, typically your Asian metrosexuals or your globetrotting Eurotrash bare-chest and gold chain enthusiasts. And people from Jersey. And, yes, I picked up some Armani ties from Bluefly (I am disgusting) when I was new on the scene. Armani – I will be the envy of men! Not so much, and the Armani ties remain about as far back in the rotation as the black cotton tie provided by the U.S. Navy.
Other Eurotrash brands (All the brands you see in men’s fashion mags that aren’t listed below)
Euroacceptable (Thomas Pink, $100) Pink shirts are probably the most worn on the Street, there’s no shame in picking up a tie or two while you’re there. Pink was my first legitimate move up the ladder, paid straight cash for a couple ties, homey. Unfortunately they tied terrible knots. And got wrinkled as shit. And one of my VPs stole one of them from me – thanks, DD!
My bigger beef with Pink, though, is that their men’s shirts are built for Kate Moss (after a long weekend in Amsterdam with Pete Doherty). For a fatish guy like myself, they don’t really work, unless you are a fan of the shirt gaping open around the buttons. That works well for girls in the breastal area, not so much for guys in the gut area.
Other Euroacceptable brands (I’m gonna take some heat for this, but I always thought Charles Tyrwhitt made some okay shirts and that the ties at least looked acceptable. And the label has that English-looking font that really classes things up. And if you order from them they will give you something like 85% off. Disclaimer: I never actually owned any CT ties, they could actually be shitty)
Elegance (Charvet, Brioni $165ish) These were my favorite brands, for a couple of reasons. For Charvet, I remembered reading an article in GQ (ghey alert!) several years before I even went to B-school about the awesomeness of their shirts. Their ties are also steeped in excellence. For Brioni, back when I was just starting in the tie game, their ties had gold chains on the back of them – how fuckin baller is that! Unfortunately the legendary Brioni I picked up on the Bay didn’t have the gold chain on it. The specimen shown below is not the best example, but you get the idea of how bad ass the gold chain was (sadly they no longer have this). There is probably a faction that would lump Brioni in with Eurotrash. Fuck em, I’m writing this so I say Elegance.
If you go to Saks or Bergdorf Goodman, you’ll find a massive selection of these bad boys. If you are going the budget route, be wary. My biggest “extra shiny” misfires were actually Charvets. One turned out to be light neon purple – I could really only wear it during Easter week. I should have worn it last week with my Old Navy tee shirts.
VP All-Star (Salvatore Ferragamo, $160ish) Ferragamo has done a fantastic job marketing themselves to bankers – the shoes are a must-have at all levels. The ties are really a springboard for folks who realize they have to step up their game if they want to make Principal, Director, Managing Director, etc. I got my first Ferragamo on eBay – it was badass then, and is badass now (although some have claimed it is ugly as shit, but they are most likely jealous haters). Ties a tremendous knot, every time. Sometimes a little tricky to gauge the length, so despite the impeccable knot, you may be retying as the zoot suit tie lengths are no longer socially acceptable and are urinal hazards.
I remember my first real in-store Ferragamo purchase vividly: Heathrow, 2004. Got a bit of a deal, even though the exchange rate wasn’t great. Went three deep. Classic patterns: green with little dogs, blue with pink peppers, red with teal velociraptors. They instantly leapt to the top of my tie leader board, and stayed there for a solid three years.
The Prestige (Hermes, $165ish) This is your big boy. Classic horse and carriage label. French. Practically the only brand worn by the real players in banking. A little over the top when the pattern has the Hermes “H” all over it, but that’s just me. I’d estimate that 70% of the Managing Directors on the Street sport only the big H.
Ironically, the only Hermes tie I ever owned I bought on eBay. I’m pretty sure, in hindsight, that it was a fake. But it was a badass blue number with some kind of blue shit on it. I’m pretty sure another VP stole this one, as he once offered to trade me a Ferragamo for it – thanks VG! I should’ve arbed that counterfeit shit all day long. I walked into the Hermes store several times ready to pick some up – but the store in NYC with the big fucking saddle (how many cowboys have an Hermes saddle?) never really had anything I liked. When I got to Saks or BG, I always gravitated to the Charvet/Brioni layouts.
One final helpful hint: keep several ties at your cube/office once you’re there. Even if you are business casual; you never know when the Big Guy is going to have you down to the executive dining room.