Out to fleece you? Why money men love out­door wear

Why fleece has re­placed flan­nel as the sar­to­rial marker of sta­tus in modern fi­nance.

Esquire (UK) - - Contents - By Char­lie Teas­dale

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.

Pho­to­graph by Dan McAlis­ter

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

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