Switzerland-based banking giant UBS has issued a new dress code for employees that is as precise as the movements of a Swiss watch in telling them how to dress, style their hair and even what they should smell like.
The investment banking firm’s 43-page edict is being tested in five of its Swiss branches. The 154-year-old company is thought to be trying to burnish its conservative credo in the wake of legal troubles in the U.S. and financial woes that led to the U.S. Federal Reserve Board bailing out the bank to the tune of $74.5 billion.
And the stern new rules are enough to have Victoria’s Secret execs wiping their tears with frilly lingerie: Female employees are instructed to wear flesh-colored underwear, keep their skirt length to mid-knee, and steer a wide berth around ankle chains and body piercings.
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Nor are male employees exempt from potential disapproval over their dress: UBS wants them in classic-cut two-button jackets and forbids them to wear the same ties or shoes on consecutive days. They must also resist the temptation to turn back the clock by using hair dye.
So detailed and precise is the UBS rulebook that its style recommendations wouldn’t look out of place in GQ or Glamour magazine. For women:
- “Light makeup consisting of a foundation, mascara and discreet lipstick will enhance your personality.”
- “Women should not wear shoes that are too tight-fitting as there is nothing worse than a strained smile.”
- “A flawless appearance can bring inner peace and a sense of security.”
- “The ideal time to apply perfume is directly after you take a hot shower, when your pores are still open.”
- “Three days of stubble is not permitted and a visit to the barber is recommended once every four weeks.”
- “Wear only ties that match the bone structure of the face and do not wear socks with cartoon motifs.”
- “If you wear a watch, it suggests reliability and that punctuality is a great concern to you.”
- “Underwear is among the most intimate parts of our clothing … your underwear must not be visible through your clothes, or stand out … your figure should not suffer from the way you wear your underwear.”
Both sexes get a lesson in olfactory pleasantness in the UBS code, which states, “Our body odor cannot be changed. However, we can ensure that it produces only pleasant scents. Strong breath (garlic, onions, cigarettes) can have a significant impact on communication.”
The stringent Swiss standards come as UBS launches an ad campaign to shore up its image and consumer confidence in the wake of public relations hits that have damaged the company. In 2008, a U.S. Senate panel accused UBS of helping rich Americans avoid taxes through offshore bank accounts. When criminal charges were threatened, the bank paid a $780 million fine to stave off prosecution for defrauding the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.
Also in 2008, UBS received the highest amount of bailout money the U.S. supplied any international firm in the wake of the global financial meltdown.
While nearly a third of UBS’ 64,000 employees are located in North America, UBS spokesman Jean-Raphael Fontannaz told the Wall Street Journal that the new dress and style code is in effect only among Switzerland-based employees, and even then, only covers 10 percent of those workers. But if it proves successful, it may be extended to other Swiss employees.
But at least one U.S.-based bank may be as finicky as the Swiss when it comes to their employees’ appearance: Last June, Debrahlee Lorenzana, 33, sued Citibank for gender discrimination, claiming she was dismissed for being too attractive.
“The goal is for clients to immediately know that they are at UBS when they are entering the bank,” Fontannaz said. “After the test phase, we may implement the dress code, or adapt it, or not use it at all.”
Though the bank issued a statement declaring the bank’s “reputation makes up our most precious asset ... and so adopting irreproachable behavior implies having an impeccable presentation,” some are casting a less than reverent eye on the fussy new rules.
Noting the shaky state of the banking industry in light of financial abuses, one poster wrote on the U.K. Daily Mail website: “To some top bankers around the world, here’s some good advice: please be careful, not to end up having this dress code = prison stripes.”