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Respect a guy in sweatpants? Gimme a break

As a Wall Street trader-turned-stand-up comic and fashion icon in my own mind, I know a lot about non-conformity. Dare I say, I'm a bit of an expert. And that's why I'm calling BS on the Wall Street Journal article this week about a Harvard study on the "power of sweatpants."

The study found that odd fashion choices tend to garner more respect from people. For example, a person walking into a luxury store in sweatpants was perceived by associates as having more money/status to buy things. And "students afforded more respect to a fictitious bearded professor who wore a T-shirt than to a clean-shaven one who wore a tie."



Jamie Grill | Getty Images

First, I find it ironic that the study about non-conformity came from Harvard students, whose most famous living alumni are Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Matt Damon — all Harvard dropouts.

(Read more: Ageism: Confessions of a young trader)

But what's really disappointing about this appearing in the Wall Street Journal is that this advice would never fly on Wall Street. It is especially bad to the younger more impressionable types who are looking to stand out.

Consider the example of the hipster professor making a better impression than the clean-shaven guy. Of course, kids in college want to be hipsters. Hipsters all want to fashion themselves as free thinkers but they all dress the same and now live in Brooklyn so there goes their individulaity. The hipster professor seemed cooler but that was in academia — but that doesn't fly in the real world. Wall Street isn't the Dead Poets Society. And tell me, in the real world, if you went to the doctor for something major, would you trust one that looks like a hipster?

On Wall Street, you don't want to stand out for what you wear or your "look." You want to stand out because you are good at your job. You want to stand out for going the extra mile not for going to the extra mile shopping for the right ascot.

(Read more: 10 tips for young Wall Street: Turney Duff)

If you are exceptional at your job you can get away with anything. Mark Zuckerberg can wear a hoodie all he wants. Jim Rogers can wear a bowtie and we give him respect because of his track record and the fact that he's worth $300 million.

But you need to know with conviction that you are a Mark Zuckerberg or a Jim Rogers before you go making a fashion throwdown like that. The first sign that you are not performing up to par you will get a criticism like, "Maybe if he spent half as much thought into his long emerging-markets position as he did into his outfit, we wouldn't be losing so much money."

Fair or not, that is reality. Dress accordingly.

(Read more: Strippers, dwarfs & coke: The real Wall Street)

I remember back when I was a trader, a young guy came in wearing loud suspenders thinking he was the next Gordon Gekko. He had a belt buckle with the letter "F " for Fendi on it but that's not the word we used for it. I told him, "Nice belt, cowboy. Are you trying to dress like Lane Frost and ride Red Rock?" (Lane Frost was a famous bull rider and Red Rock was a notorious bull who bucked every rider within 8 seconds during his pro rodeo career.)

I believe someone talked to him and told him to tone it down. But suffice to say, young Gordon Gekko wasn't successful on Wall Street. His absurd fashion choices reflected the fact that he was so cocky he didn't understand you have to humble. I'm not sure what he does now but I don't think he lasted too long on Wall Street.

One of the article's key points is that "Conforming to norms is an easy and safe spot to be in. If we are willing to deviate, there are upsides." That is true in investing, no doubt. But when it comes to professional attire? Not so much.

The idea that wearing sweatpants in a luxury-goods store means you are more likely to spend more money is stupid. Is there is any actual data of the sweatpants-wearing guy actually spending a dime in that Prada store?

Oh, and if you see a well-dressed guy mulling around the store not spending money — he's probably just killing time waiting for his friend before a three-martini lunch.

Sorry sweatpants guy — no respect from me.

— By Raj Mahal

Raj Mahal (that's his stage name) is a former Bank of America trader-turned-comedian. Follow him on Twitter @RajMahalTweets.

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