Hermes baseball and glove. $8500. Can’t imagine it offers better performance than the Mizuno gear that the pros wear. Can’t imagine that the casual baseball player is actually going to sport this in beer league. Can’t imagine that any guests would look at this on your mantle and go “sweet glove, bro, what’s it worth, like $10,000?” If one wants to impress people, a stack of 85 $100 dollar bills would do the trick just as well. Or, actually, just add another 15 bills and then you’d have a banded stack of hundos. Your friends would be more impressed with the fact that you have $10k liquid just laying around on your mantle.
The $4,800 Louis Vuitton frogskin condoms are also probably not a wise purchase.
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.
Here is the second half of my dissertation on the exciting career of investment banking. This is the point where I rank various attributes of the job (higher score indicates it’s a shittier job).
Attire: Business Dress or Business Casual. TARP I was suits every day – brutal. Opinions vary pretty wildly on suits – I always rocked the basic Brooks Brothers entry level, which on Wall Street was essentially equivalent to shopping at The Salvation Army. I also loved the Brooks Brothers No-Iron shirts – they didn’t fit worth a damn, but you could seriously pull one out of the washer soaking wet, compress into a ball, put in your pants pocket for 2 weeks, and pull it out looking like it just came from the dry cleaner (quite helpful for business travel, although they did fit like shit).
Ties were the big thing, though – everyone could see what kind of tie you were wearing. Hermes and Ferragamo were the two most common Street-worthy brands. Unfortunately I was poor as shit when I started (I had to spread two nights at a Motel 6 onto three credit cards for a wedding during my first few months of work. It was the original Motel 6, so kind of a national landmark, but still). So I bought my first ten or so ties on eBay. “Lightly used Brioni,” “New in Box Hermes,” “Dead Father’s Ferragamo Collection” – I got pretty fired up for those auctions. My favorite tie of all time was one of these eBay dandies – a blue Brioni that tied an absolutely perfect knot on the first attempt, everytime.
Then I moved over to TARP II, which was Business Casual unless you had a client meeting. For guys, Business Casual means slacks and a dress shirt. For girls, it apparently means tank tops and flip flops. I started going a little anti-establishment (no pun intended) at TARP II, favoring Charvet and Brioni over the two prevailing tie standards (my personal “Fuck Tha Police”).
Score: 2 (Full disclosure – I somewhat enjoy tie shopping. Although I once went with a friend who spent literally six hours comparing the color of each potential tie purchase candidate with the shirts he’d just bought. That was horrible)
Prevailing Smell/Aroma: Pedigree, entitlement, SeamlessWeb carnival of aromas
Score: 5 (That’s the median – could be much higher if there was a mass order of Korean or Moroccan food)
Humiliation Factor: Banking was a bit different than the military; military types favor plain old aggression over the more bankerly passive aggression. In banking, sure, there were still screamers who would violently dress down anyone who handed them a piece of paper in what they perceived as an inappropriate manner. At kinder, gentler TARP II, there was generally less outlandish screaming, but more subtle passive agression (“I’m probably going to get here early on Saturday, will you be in on Saturday?”) and a touch more backstabbing.
As I rarely hung out at the Bohemian haunts where working “in finance” was frowned upon, I had little shame/humiliation at my profession at the time. Now, of course, bankers are widely considered a lower life form than even lawyers – with the only benefit being the advent of “a priest, rabbi and banker walked into a bar…” jokes. But in the good old days of 2007, it wasn’t so bad.
Score: 7 (Score bumped due to retroactive humiliation by association)
Co-workers/Culture: The one descriptive word that immediately comes to mind to describe bankers is “douchebag”. Honestly, that’s not totally accurate: there are actually three broad categories of bankers. Sure the D-bag quotient is probably higher in banking than in the general public (unless the polling area is in NJ) but there are plenty of bland, striving Type-As that are too forward-thinking to be complete douches. For every slick-backed Gekko wannabe, there are probably 2 socially inept geniuses who are just frantically trying to position themselves for the next step on the creaky corporate ladder.
The general banker social spectrum something like:
1. Non-social robots (bland folks that soullessly execute their jobs and their personal lives; every attempt at social conversation is converted to streams of binary code)
2. Jargon spewers (bland folks that incorrectly think they are somewhat interesting (in severely delusional cases, maybe even “cool”); every sentence uttered, no matter the context, is peppered with banking lingo (“sorry about your mom, good thing you hit the bid early on that oncologist”)
3. Banker douchebags (somewhat different than conventional d-bags, banker d-bags are typically high-achieving nerds that have evolved a strong (but misguided) sense of self through personal achievement; they typically spend significant time discussing watches, cars and schools that they are trying to get their kids into)
That’s basically it – some people fit into the gray area between categories (I’m douchey with a hint of jargonism) but these are your basic archetypes.
Score: 8 (Of these, jargon spewers are by far the worst. One guy I worked with for four years, every time he saw me, greeted me with imaginary blazing pistols and “Hey, man! You busy? You doing deals?” and then would launch into a spiel about some incredible hypothetical deal he was working on complete with every imaginable buzzword….in print it sounds harmless, but by mid-2008 I was researching NY’s sentencing guidelines for homicide)
Authority Figures: While the screaming has subsided somewhat, the ridiculousness of some senior bankers has not. A few examples:
1. A Director on a pitch requested that the Analyst dropping the books off wait outside his apartment in a car from 4:00 AM to 6:00 AM. This was because he had no vestibule and didn’t want to be awakened before 6:00 AM, but wanted to be sure the books were there in plenty of time.
2. A Managing Director told me to find out where in Chicago the CEO of a media company was staying so we could fax him an (unrequested) daily update of his bond prices. (In banking terms, this is “staying in front of the client”) He suggested I call all the nice hotels and say I was his assistant and needed to send him something. (I refused on the basis that this plan was too much like a Three’s Company plot for my comfort)
3. A VP requested that an Analyst “car” him his calculator from the office. (Investment banks typically have a car service outside to whisk people to the airport or whatnot; this essentially evolved into basically an expensive courier service. It’s a bit of a pain in the ass as you have to go downstairs, fill out all the forms, explain to the driver exactly how/where to go, etc) Angered, the Analyst begrudgingly carred him the calculator. Screams were heard throughout the building 30 minutes later when he requested she car him his favorite mechanical pencil.
Score: 9 (It’s likely that a long banking career causes some kind of mental warping. Career bankers generally have the same psychological trajectory as Colonel Kurtz)
Typical Hours Worked: 60-100 as an Associate, 40-60 as a VP. However, as the hours in the office decrease, the stress level and ridiculous travel requirements go up.
Score: 7 (Honestly not many more hours than your B-school counterparts working at Disney or wherever once you hit VP level. Management consulting is far worse from day one, if you ask me)
Education Required: MBA unless you are hired directly out of Penn, Columbia or Duke as an undergrad.
Score: 3 (MBA = 2 years of drinking and relaxing (although one semester you have to mix in some studying to get a good summer gig). Not a bad thing)
Screaming Obscenities at Top of Lungs Acceptable? Absolutely. I recall an occasion in 2008 where I was asked to provide a receipt from an airline for a ticket change (banks are typically kind enough to reimburse you when your vacation gets scuttled. This was a second consecutive Christmas trip that had been interrupted). Only the airline didn’t provide a receipt, the receipt was the $100 charge on my credit card bill. I had already provided that. So i had the following exchange with our group’s business manager (a great guy, who dealt with this kind of shit all the time):
Him: You will need to provide the receipt to be reimbursed, the credit card bill isn’t enough
Me: But there is no receipt; I spoke to the airline myself, they said that the credit card bill itself is proof.
Him: Well our main office said that’s not good enough.
Me: ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING!! THEY’RE GOING TO MAKE ME PAY FOR INTERRUPTING MY FUCKING VACATION!!! DOES SOMEONE THINK THIS IS AN ELABORATE RUSE TO SWINDLE $100!! FUCK!! (Exit, slam door theatrically).
Later as I dashed into the elevator I was joined by his secretary, only the sweetest 65 year old woman I’ve ever meet. I felt a bit sheepish at my embarassing public display, assuming I’d offended her sensibilities. She said, “I can’t believe those bastards did that to you, it’s just awful.”
Score: 0 (Screaming obscenities – embraced by all!)
Stress Level: Uber-high. Investment banking was all about optimism at the higher levels: even though pitches were 1:100,000 longshots, you had to believe you were going to pull out some of these miracles every year. Combine this constant need to win mandates with the various combustible personalities and you have a stressful environment. I walked around constantly sweating; at some points these pit stains actually met in the middle, effectively creating a sweat half shirt.
Score: 8 (Generally death wasn’t in the cards, at least)
Ridiculous Travel Required? Yep, predictably getting worse as you ascend the ranks. I would regularly travel to Europe on the late afternoon flight on say Tuesday, arriving early Wednesday morning. Have meetings all day, a dinner Wednesday night, and 1-2 meetings Thursday morning. Then get on the return flight with the same flight crew who brought us over. Invariably they would say “what can you possibly get done in 24 hours?” (In hindsight, nothing)
Score: 9 (At least you have phone/internet access most of the time while on the road)
What Kind of Dough was Involved? When I started it was approximately $200k for your first full year after business school – generally in-line with the unheard of riches referenced in Monkey Business. The year before I met my fortunate demise, I think the average for my class was $750-800k. While that is a decent chunk of change, it goes pretty quickly in NYC. Particularly with 1/3 in (now worthless company stock), and 1/2 of the cash component going to taxes. It’s just enough to act like a jackass a good bit of the time, but not nearly enough to act like a jackass all the time.
Score: 10 (Still big dough for a one-time college dropout from down south)
Summary: There are several things about being an investment banker that sound cool the first time: “I’m working on an equity offering for Time Warner,” “I just went to London for 6 hours,” “I have to wear a suit every day.” The coolness quickly wears off from soul-destroying repetition and ominipresent stress (you are effectively on call 24/7, with much of that in-the-office time as an Associate). In honesty, all bankers live for just one day a year: bonus day. Everything you do for an entire year hinges on just that one day. And the bonus itself isn’t really retroactive; they are looking for what you will offer in the years ahead as well as what you just did. You could never actually rest/relax at any point.