Visors and digital
sleeve garters

Singer

Sleeve garters may be quaint today, but once they were quite functional.

It’s not hard to pick out the banker in a Western. Just look for someone sporting sleeve garters and a translucent visor.

This is a rare case in which Hollywood actually gets things right. In the late 19th century, sleeve garters served a practical purpose. Back then, you couldn’t walk into Nordstrom and ask for your neck size and sleeve length; if you couldn’t afford your own tailor, you made do with a one-size-fits-nobody. Shirt makers tended to err on the side of making sleeves way too long, so unless you wanted cuffs below your fingertips, you’d don garters to hoist them up where they belonged. This also helped reduce soiling from dragging sleeves over ink, dusty shelves, and musty documents.

Translucent green visors came along a little later on the heels of newfangled incandescent lighting. Clerks donned the visors to protect their eyes from the harsh overhead light of early bulbs. That’s also why green shades sit atop the traditional banker’s lamp.

Fast forward to a few decades ago …

Worsted and flannel suits in navy and charcoal gray had become all but required attire for bankers and other professionals. Suits were dark and somber for two reasons. One was that dark fabrics hide stains better than light ones. The other was that, until dry cleaning came along, the only way to make a stain “disappear” was to dye the whole suit a few shades darker.

Fast forward to today …

A growing number of banks are opting for business casual, having traded the suit and tie for khakis and sport shirts.

Assuming, that is, we’re talking about banks that still bother with physical locations. For all you know, your online banker could be in a T-shirt and blue jeans.

And that has marketing implications. Despite their practical origins, sleeve garters, visors, and, later, dark suits circled around to become symbols of professionalism. You could walk into a bank, see the attire, and—right or wrong—feel some assurance that you were dealing with competence.

table-lamp-485716_1280 retouchedThe new challenge is to convey an aura of competence absent the traditional trappings that once characterized banks. That job increasingly falls to websites and apps. More than function, they must look and feel like the kind of business to whom people would willingly entrust their funds, business and personal information, and more.

Branding isn’t going away. Like everything else, it’s going digital.

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