How to negotiate a ‘flexible’ office dress code (like Goldman Sachs…)

Goldman Sachs' announcement that its office dress code is now ‘flexible’ has opened the dress code version of a Pandora’s box. Confusing, perhaps, but not necessarily a bad thing

Let’s start with a confession that might surprise regular readers. Contrary to my usual curmudgeonly, stiff-upper-lipped, pokey middle-English attitude when it comes to men’s style, I actually approve of Goldman Sachs’ announcement to relax its previously formal dress code to a ‘firm-wide flexible dress code’.

It’s easy to be reactionary with these things, and to assume that in relaxing their dress code, Goldman’s is signalling the death of the tailored jacket and tie. This needn’t be the case. I’ve no doubt that when the dinner jacket replaced white tie and tails in the 1910s, an entire generation wrung their hands and lamented the passing of their old ways. That’s human nature. Goldman Sachs, though, hasn’t destroyed all that suit-wearers hold dear, because this announcement (well, internal memo) comes with a few eminently sensible caveats.

The first is that staff are expected to exercise ‘good judgement’ in their fashion choices, and the second hammers the point home, stating: ‘casual dress is not appropriate every day and for every interaction, and we trust you will consistently exercise good judgement in this regard.’ In other words: don’t turn up to a client meeting dressed like Rab C Nesbitt.

So, while the dress code is ‘flexible’ it’s not without guidelines. In fact, it is ‘Smart-Casual’ in all but name, and that’s no bad thing. It offers more room for employees to be comfortable, stylish and dare I say express themselves. In fact, it’s probably trickier to look put-together in a smart-casual framework than a formal one; a suit and tie gives you a clear set of rules to work with – it’s conventional and it’s safe. If you can turn heads in the office without such a stiff framework in place (while still looking smart) you’ve nailed it. The only danger is that many of Goldman’s employees will be tired, stressed and generally doing too much maths to care about their appearance, now the fog of a tailored uniform has been lifted.

This would be a shame, and I very much hope it doesn’t happen. In theory, if Goldman’s employees associate business dress with a restrictive uniform, their employer has now unleashed the reigns for staff to come to work appropriately dressed, but not looking staid or stuffy.

Of course, with a giant of the financial world changing tack like this, it’s likely that other offices will soon follow suit – yours could be among them. With that in mind, here’s a few tips to negotiate a ‘flexible’ office dress code. Hope they help.

1. A well-cut navy blazer will take you anywhere

It really will. Whether structured or unstructured, single or double-breasted, a jacket like this should be the backbone of your wardrobe – if it isn’t already. It’ll work well with smart grey tailored trousers, a blue poplin dress shirt and tie for formal meetings, and you can throw it over a timeless white crewneck T-shirt and a pair of pleated chinos. The danger is that some blazers can look and feel a little old-mannish, no danger of that here – this Polo Ralph Lauren blazer is pin-sharp.


2. An overshirt can look pretty sharp

That said, when you don’t need to dress up at work but still want to look put-together, there’s no shortage of sharp-looking overshirts out there right now, including this one from Japanese maker, Beams F. The beauty of an overshirt (as the name suggests) is that it sits comfortably over everything from an Oxford-button-down shirt to a rollneck – both good choices for smart casual office dress. Another tip; if you’re keeping your top-half casual, try some smart tailored trousers to create a subtle contrast; something with a decent rise and pleats.


3. Scuffed footwear is inexcusable

This, perhaps more than anything, is my line in the sand. Well maintained shoes are a sign of self-respect – and they’ll make and break and outfit. You can have the sharpest suit on in the world, but messy shoes will ruin its impact. If you’re in your professional environment – even a creative environment – your shoes should be spick and span. This should apply even if you wear sneakers to work; choose something sophisticated and  sleek like these lo-tops from C.QP, and it’s probably best to avoid plain white.

€300 (£257 at current rates),