How to read the weird hedge fund dress code
There were a lot of things I disliked about working for an investment bank.
First among them was the pay, or lack thereof (nobody gets into finance for altruistic reasons). But right up there on my very long list of dislikes was the dress code. I worked at one of those stodgy European banks, so I was expected to wear a suit and tie. Every. Single. Day. It didn't matter that I rarely met with clients. Or saw anybody else other than members of my own team. I was expected to look "professional". It didn't matter that I didn't act professional. What was important was that I looked the part.
The investment banking dress code, had one advantage though. It mean that I was treated much better outside the office. Everywhere I went, it was, "Yes, sir. No
sir. How can I help you, sir?" This makes sense. When you watch movies, the rich, successful people are dressed in suits, while the poor people wear t-shirts and shorts. Movies, however, have got it wrong. In the real world, it works back to front.
In finance, everything is a power play. The guy who takes days to respond to you through email? He's not that busy. He just wants you to know that's he's in control. The guy who shows up to a meeting 15 minutes late? He wants you to know that he's more powerful than you. He makes more money than you, has a hotter spouse than you, and also has a bigger d***. Note, women do this too and they're trying to make the same point, except for maybe that last one.
This is why in the world of hedge funds, the worse you dress, the more successful you are. If you see people at a hedge fund dressed in suits, they are at the lowest rung. These people are either interviewing at the firm, or are sellside analysts and salespeople. Next, you have analysts like me, who wear dress shirts and slacks. Banks need us more than we need them, so we can dress more casually to let them know we're in control.
The same dynamic applies at conferences. The CEO and CFOs of companies almost always wear suits because they want your money. I'll wear a suit (but no tie) as a sign of respect. But I remember sitting next to a billionaire for one meeting. Of course, he shows up in jeans. Because when you're that rich, you can do whatever you want.
So if you're interviewing at a hedge fund and you see somebody in a suit, ignore them because they can't do anything for you. But if you see a person walking around in shorts or sweat pants, be really nice to them. Because if they can pull off that look at a hedge fund, there's a good chance he/she owns the place.
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