Definition of white shoe company

What is a white shoe firm?

A “white shoe company” is an old-fashioned term for the most prestigious and well-established companies and companies in elite professions. The term was originally used only to refer to legal practices (“white shoe law firm” was a common variation), but can now be used to describe those in other fields, such as investment banking and management consulting.

White shoe firms typically have a venerable history, preferably (but not necessarily) a century or so, in business and a first-class clientele acquired over generations. They are usually based on the east coast (they take up considerable space in exclusive addresses) and, although they are leaders in their field, they often have a reputation for being traditional and conservative.

Key takeaways

  • A “white shoe company” is an old-fashioned term for the most prestigious and established companies and businesses.
  • White shoe firms focus on certain professions, especially law, banking and finance.
  • White shoe firms have also been associated with Ivy League / WASP exclusivity and a conservative and cautious way of operating.
  • The term “white shoe” derives from white oxfords, a very popular men’s shoe among Ivy League students in the 1950s. The term “white shoe company” emerged in the 1970s.
  • Over the years, several white shoe companies have been acquired by larger rivals or have closed.

Understanding a White Shoe Company

The term “signature white shoe” is believed to have originated in reference to a very tasteful style of footwear: white suede shoes, specifically oxfords. Introduced around 1910, light-colored oxfords became popular at Princeton University, generally considered the home of the country’s best-dressed students, and other male fashionistas of the time. The rubber soled versions were also adopted by tennis and golf players.

The white suede (or suede) version of the Oxfords became the “fashionable” shoe at Yale University and other Ivy League colleges during the 1950s and, thanks to the power of advertising, reached others. institutions. “The Ivy Buck: For the comfort of the upper class on campus,” proclaimed an advertisement from the 1950s. Between its popularity in prestigious schools, its association with aristocratic sports and its white color, always difficult to keep clean, especially in suede, the white shoe came to connote the disposable elegance of the elite and, finally, the elite itself; old money types whose work wouldn’t mud or scratch their shoes.

So a “white shoe firm” is one that is filled with such “white shoe men” (and more and more women). The New York Times Columnist William Safire was able to “trace it back in print to the mid-1970s,” citing articles published in Forbes Y Business week.

Originally, most white shoe law firms were based in New York City, although other historic Northeast metropolises, such as Boston or Philadelphia, were also acceptable locations, and even some southern cities, such as Washington DC or Charleston.

Although shoes themselves have long been out of fashion, the term is still used to refer to leading American companies like JPMorgan Chase & Co. or Goldman Sachs in banking; Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP and Shearman & Sterling at Law; Ernst & Young in accounting and McKinsey & Company in management consulting. It has even expanded to denote top-tier companies in other countries.

Negative connotations of a white shoe company

While connoting a well-established and well-regarded company, the term “white shoe company” once had negative connotations as well. Some people felt that white shoe firms were the preserve of the East Coast WASP elite and no one else needed to apply. The employees of these firms were as white as the shoes they wore on weekends at their country clubs, many of which refused to admit Jews, Catholics, or people of color.

Irwin M. Stelzer, director of the Economic Policy Studies Group at the Hudson Institute and a columnist for The Sunday Times from London, he recalled how he and his partner at a fledgling economic consulting firm didn’t even bother to do business with white shoe firms when they started out in the 1960s.

Because Stelzer and his partner were Jewish, “‘white shoe’ signatures were prohibited,” he noted. “We identified them by adding the Roman numerals after the names of the partners (I, II, III, etc.), adding to that the partners with names and surnames that were interchangeable and dividing them by the total number of partners. A high result meant that we had no chance. “

Prejudice aside, the term “white shoe signature” also sometimes serves as “a passionate abrogation of old Phogeyism,” as Safire wrote, indicating an ensemble where caution and conservatism prevail; sometimes to a damaging degree. His Workweek The reference used the phrase this way: “First, Boston had let its white shoe image and its list of big-name clients go to its head. They were just vegetating.”

White shoe companies today

Today, a white shoe company can be almost any company that has been in business for a long time and has a large presence, both in literal size and a leader in its field. The term implies quality, stability and longevity. What blue-chip companies are to stocks, white shoe companies are to business.

Examples of contemporary white shoe firms

Some contemporary brands of white footwear, identified by Market business news, include:

Accounting / Advice

  • Deloitte
  • Ernst & Young
  • KPMG
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers


  • Cahill Gordon and Reindel
  • Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen and Hamilton
  • Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver and Jacobson
  • Greenberg Traurig
  • Jones day
  • Kramer Levin Naftalis and Frankel
  • O’Melveny and Myers
  • Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison
  • Proskauer Rose
  • Quinn Emanuel Urquhart and Sullivan
  • Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom
  • Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen and Katz
  • Weil, Gotshal and Manges


  • Goldman sachs
  • Lazard Ltd
  • UBS
  • German bank
  • William Blair and company

Troubled white shoe companies

But even blue chips are not immune from economic downturns, business disruption, and internal pressures.

While American white shoe firms in relatively stable professions like law and management consulting have thrived, those in the finance industry have struggled to maintain their independence in the face of radical change and challenges.

The 2008 global financial crisis claimed several white shoe firms in investment banking and financial services. A prominent victim was Lehman Brothers, founded in 1844, and the fourth largest investment bank in the US At the time, it was forced to file for bankruptcy, due to its $ 600 + billion in losses on related instruments. with mortgages.

Lehman’s troubles were due in part to its investments in funds managed by Bear Stearns. Although younger than Lehman (only dating back to 1923), it was also one of the nation’s leading investment banks, until its leverage techniques and heavy involvement in secured debt obligations (CDOs) led to massive losses. Bear Stearns was dissolved and sold to JPMorgan Chase, the product of a merger between two white shoe firms: Chase Manhattan Corporation and JP Morgan & Co.

However, another venerable brokerage firm, Merrill Lynch, was sold to Bank of America in the wake of the financial crisis.

Over the years, several white shoe companies have been acquired by larger rivals or have closed. For example, for much of the 20th century, the American accounting profession talked about the eight big firms that handled the books of Fortune 500 companies. Today, they refer to the Big Four. Closures and mergers have narrowed the ranks, such as Price Waterhouse (founded in 1894) merging with Coopers & Lybrand (whose roots date back to 1854) to form PricewaterhouseCoopers in 1998.

Frequently asked questions about signing white shoes

What is a Silk Stocking Law Firm?

A law firm specializing in silk stockings is usually based in a large city and is itself quite large, like a company with hundreds of lawyers. Catering to a well-to-do or “silk socks” clientele, it often charges high fees. He pays big salaries, but he also expects many billable hours from employees, who are often graduates of top law schools. It is similar to a white shoe law firm, although not necessarily that old or established.

How can I enter a white shoe firm?

One time, the answer would have been a WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) man, preferably one raised in the Northeast, with an Ivy League education. White shoe companies are considerably more diverse today and continue to work to be more so.

But, as prestigious leaders in their industry, they can demand the best from candidates. So for entry-level jobs, good grades from a prestigious educational institution are important. For higher-level positions, considerable related experience is required, especially in a company of similar size.

And, although connections alone will not allow you to enter without credentials and experience, meet someone, or someone who knows someone and can recommend you, it does not hurt either.

Do white shoe companies pay well?

Although some may expect you to consider the prestige of working there as part of your compensation, most white shoe companies pay well. Best dollar, actually. But they also demand a lot from employees, wait long hours, and impose tight deadlines.

READ ALSO:  Mexican Stock Exchange (BMV) .MX Definition
About the author

Mark Holland

Leave a comment: