Out to fleece you? Why money men love outdoor wear
Why fleece has replaced flannel as the sartorial marker of status in modern finance.
In the YouTube trailer for his latest novel, Lake Success (yes, books have trailers now), Gary Shteyngart enlists the help of Ben Stiller to depict one of the fist-bumping bros at his fictitious hedge fund, Lake Success Capital. “Do you want to learn more about hedge funds?” asks Stiller, leering down the camera, “Or how to get one of these vests?”
Shteyngart and Stiller are wearing grey gilets — “vests”, as Americans call them — over blue button-down shirts. The kind of thing your grandmother would slip under her cagoule before walking the dog. Why? Because that’s what real hedge fund managers, bond traders, stock brokers and seemingly all people in finance now wear. Forget high-end tailoring and Italian shoes, it’s sensible soccer-mom comfort that sets you aside from your fellow wolves of Wall Street in 2019.
Elsewhere on the internet you’ll find @litquidity and @midtownuniform, both finance industry-centric Instagram meme accounts. The former is prolific, churning out niche, self-deprecating monetary lols that mean diddly to people outside the industry, but clink the funny bone of everyone in the biz. A bit like how fashionistas view @dietprada as the great leveller of our times.
Among other motifs of the milieu, @litquidity likes to use the “starter pack” meme construction, simply a collection of things one would need to become something. (For example, a starter pack for a professional footballer would likely feature a sleeve tattoo, a Bugatti Veyron and a super-injunction.)
There’s a starter pack for “Non-Target Bulge Bracket Analysts”, “Pessimistic PE Investment Committee Members” and “Post-MBA Associate Starters”. That last one features Gucci horse bit loafers, an image of a greasy Don Draper parting and, you’ve guessed it, a guy in a mid-gauge gilet. There’s one in the “Old Money Analyst” starter pack, too, alongside horn-rimmed specs, a Patek Philippe dress watch, and a degree from Princeton University. On its stories, @litquidity recently posted shots of bankers wearing gilets to Halloween parties, pretending to be other bankers.
Sleeveless fleece zip-downs make logical sense — they offer warmth without bulk and people can still see your biceps — and by some weird twist of fashion fate, technical mountainwear is seriously cool right now. But why is every bro with a 2:1 in economics wearing one? Well, it would seem Silicon Valley is not just the birthplace of Google,
Tesla and Mark Zuckerberg’s love for “smoking those meats” (YouTube it). Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, Michael Dell: all the big cheeses like a warm torso and chilly arms, and that Palo Alto venture capitalist vibe has gradually seeped out over the past 10 years. Possibly thanks to the vending machine stuffed with Uniqlo quilted gilets in San Francisco airport, which, claims the Daily Mail, has been taking $10,000 (£7,825) a month. The look is now most prevalent on the other seaboard of North America, as illustrated by @midtownuniform, which is much more concerned with reportage than straight memeproduction (shots of “Brads” and “Chads” out for lunch in Boston and New York; as the account says, “Bros who paleo together, stayleo together”.) But these gilets are warming UK-based shoulders, too.
According to sources in the Square Mile, some banks still have a traditional dress code, but overall it has been relaxed heavily throughout the industry, especially for those on the “buy side” such as asset managers. Some old-school seniors still strut about in threepiece Savile Row structure, but the days of tailors on the trading floor measuring up young masters of the universe are gone — most guys wear shirt and chinos, and a tie can make you the subject of suspicion.
Is it this vacuum of formality that has allowed the sleeveless zipdown to flourish? Maybe. But it’s a tribal thing, too. Many (but not all) of them are badged with the logo of the respective bank or fund, and it’s not clear if the companies themselves strike up a deal with the brand, or if the guys buy their own and set about customising. Imagine a huddle of hedge fund managers nestled in the smoky basement of a Mayfair townhouse, nattering, stitching patches onto micro pile fleece. Unlikely, yes. But not to be ruled out.
The most common brands are Patagonia and North Face, but the continentals — Swiss, Scandinavians, Italians — are more erudite and discerning, opting for sleeker, quilted numbers such as Moncler. They wear them between shirt and jacket, which, to be fair, is a Milanese affectation and not exclusive to the arena of private economics.
And what do the gilet-makers think of all this appropriation? Well, Patagonia is famously political. It recently went to war with the White House over Trump’s move to reduce the size of some national parks in the US, launching a campaign stating “The President Stole Your Land”. In response, America’s House Committee on Natural Resources said Patagonia was just trying to sell more product to “wealthy elitist urban dwellers from New York to San Francisco”. Therefore, we can probably assume Patagonia doesn’t adore the association. But you can buy co-branded North Face down jackets at bankofamericastore.com, so perhaps they’re less concerned. Either way, the days of contrast collar shirts, college-colour braces and pinstripe power tailoring are over. Gordon Gekko is dead, long live Ray Mears.
Left: nickel ‘Better Sweater’ polyester vest, £80, by Patagonia @ End Clothing.Top: Ben Stiller and Gary Shteyngart promote the latter’s satirical book Lake Success. Below: actual Wall Street in-vest-ment bankers — or bros