The Power Suit is Out of Juice
October 3, 2019 10:37 AM   Subscribe

The suit was once the uniform of the powerful and a requirement for every man. Now, people mostly wear suits when they’re in trouble.
posted by COD (131 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
A friend and I were just noticing and commenting on this. In the old days, the top execs were the ones who wore the full suits. Now if you see someone walking the streets in a suit, they are likely the business trainee, often also carrying a faux-leather portfolio and taking notes for their more casually attired boss.
posted by PhineasGage at 10:44 AM on October 3 [9 favorites]


In all the world, is there a more piteous sight than a man in an ill-fitting suit walking outside on a hot day?

(I mean yes, lots of things, but still)
posted by prize bull octorok at 10:48 AM on October 3 [22 favorites]


Wearing a suit is still a tried-and-true way to look really good as a guy at a party. I love wearing a well-tailored suit to a wedding.

Honestly, I do poorly at the in-betweens. I can feel comfortable and fashionable in jeans and a shirt. I feel comfortable and stylish in a suit. Polos and khakis make me feel dowdy and shlubby and I just hate it.

I suppose it's worth noting that I live in Boston, and the East Coast is notably more conservative in fashion than the West Coast. The suit isn't past its prime like implied in the article as far as I can tell.
posted by explosion at 10:53 AM on October 3 [24 favorites]


Global warming killed the business suit.
posted by tobascodagama at 10:53 AM on October 3 [9 favorites]


Moths ate my last suit and I haven't bothered to replace it yet. Frankly I'm not even sure where to buy one these days.
posted by octothorpe at 10:54 AM on October 3 [1 favorite]


I've had this discussion a few times. My management has asked me to wear a suit when I meet with engineers, as a show of respect. I keep pushing back that it is the opposite effect, it makes the engineers think I'm selling something insincere.
posted by BeeDo at 10:55 AM on October 3 [42 favorites]


There used to be a joke out this way that went "What do you call a guy wearing a suit in Surrey*?. The defendant."

*One time rough and tumble suburb of Vancouver Canada.
posted by Zedcaster at 10:57 AM on October 3 [14 favorites]


Eh, give me a proper powered suit.
posted by bouvin at 10:58 AM on October 3 [1 favorite]


oh cool Fizz made a post about Metroid, I—wait what
posted by cortex at 10:59 AM on October 3 [24 favorites]


They're expensive, fragile clothes that look like shit unless they're perfectly tailored and are worn almost exclusively as a class signal. I never trust anybody wearing one and the fewer there are in the world the better.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:01 AM on October 3 [39 favorites]


I've had this discussion a few times. My management has asked me to wear a suit when I meet with engineers, as a show of respect. I keep pushing back that it is the opposite effect, it makes the engineers think I'm selling something insincere.

If one rando on the Internet is a helpful data point: I am a (former) engineer, and I work closely with engineers all day, and I can assure you, suits are for salespeople who are selling things and not anybody who actually has useful things to say or do. There is no respect offered because the engineers themselves do not wear suits.

(Meanwhile, I am terribly excited about the extremely good suit I just had made for my wedding. I really wish menswear was a little more... flexible than the all-casual-all-the-time it's moving toward. I look much better dressed formally than I do dressed down. But I also live in the real world.)
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:02 AM on October 3 [15 favorites]


Suits are formalwear. People still wear them to funerals and weddings. Their status as a class signifier is precisely why the rich tech people of the West don't wear them - they feel less likely to be eaten.

IMO a suit doesn't need to be perfectly tailored to look great. If anything it neutralizes the body shape and draws the focus up the tie to the face, where much more can be done in the temporary gussying-up department. I love ties - love them - and would be happy to wear a suit every day if I weren't the only person at my coworking space doing it. Then again, maybe this is a signal to bring the suit back as an act of fashion rebellion?
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:06 AM on October 3 [7 favorites]


I wear a tuxedo everywhere I go.

a Canadian tuxedo
posted by chuntered inelegantly from a sedentary position at 11:07 AM on October 3 [18 favorites]


I do own a tuxedo but I don't count that as a suit.
posted by octothorpe at 11:09 AM on October 3 [1 favorite]


grumpybear69, I've been to a couple of funerals in the past couple of years and no one was wearing a suit. Some people were wearing football jerseys and sweatpants. Is this a class thing? I'm not sure.
posted by Automocar at 11:09 AM on October 3 [3 favorites]


That said, I like suits fine, although I always feel like if I move wrong I'm going to rip it.

Ties are the real problem. Ties are stupid. They are fiddly to put on, they are uncomfortable, and you need specialized hardware to keep them in place so they don't get in your way when you're doing normal human activities. And they're impossible to clean. Down with ties!
posted by Automocar at 11:10 AM on October 3 [12 favorites]


My dad is a lawyer, and he wore suits every day. When I had occasion to go to court I wore a suit, because court = suit, right? Several people approached me thinking I was a lawyer. I'm sorry to report that some people go to court in bib overalls and flip flops.
posted by corvikate at 11:15 AM on October 3 [18 favorites]


While it happens more slowly than for women's wear, suit styles do change over time (cuffs/no cuffs, pleats/no pleats, three button/two button, slim/baggy, etc.). I went to a family wedding recently and hadn't worn a suit in years and years. The old ones in my closet at least fit (sort of), but none looked even close to the contemporary style for suits. Luckily I'm in one of the older family generations, so no one cared a bit what I looked like...
posted by PhineasGage at 11:18 AM on October 3 [2 favorites]


oh cool Fizz made a post about Metroid, I—wait what
posted by cortex


Challenge accepted.
posted by Fizz at 11:24 AM on October 3 [14 favorites]


According to Karen Pine, a fashion psychologist at Hertfordshire University in England, "In the past, women had to dress like men to reach senior positions in the workplace," she has said. "Now they can dress as they like and assert their individuality through their work attire, without fear of bumping up against the glass ceiling."
Awesome! Is it true that England's really the home of the post-misogynist workplace? I think America's got a long way to go to catch up with the British.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 11:29 AM on October 3 [2 favorites]


I've had this discussion a few times. My management has asked me to wear a suit when I meet with engineers, as a show of respect. I keep pushing back that it is the opposite effect, it makes the engineers think I'm selling something insincere.

to add another internet rando to Tomorrowful's comment, nothing will make an engineer more suspicious than a suit. I'm not sure my team lead even owns shoes that aren't flip flops.
posted by Dr. Twist at 11:33 AM on October 3 [11 favorites]


But middle-class hotel clerks, salespeople, and job candidates cannot decide to ditch their suits the way tech workers, bankers, and lawyers have.

I'm a lawyer, and there is certainly an expectation in my firm that I wear a suit. I wouldn't agree that lawyers have ditched them at all.

I see my suit as work clothes. They're the clothes I do this job in. I have no affinity for it, but I'm also not bothered by it. If anything, it makes dressing easy, like a school uniform, in that you don't need to think about any of it. I am comfortable in it (and it's that familiar comfort more than the fit that makes a suit look decent), but when I get home I don't stay in my work clothes, either.

As more people ditch the suit, the more noticeable mine becomes. There is absolutely a class-ist reaction to someone wearing a suit, that the wearer is someone important and not to be disregarded. I am absolutely treated better when wearing a suit than when I'm not. Of course I then make sure I'm still in my suit when I need to talk to someone at the bank, for example.

Having a suit and being comfortable in wearing it, it's easy to slap it on when I have to go to a wedding, funeral, high-end concert, etc. It's there and available, and it makes me look decent in the easiest possible way. There's absolutely nothing wrong with dressing up for an occasion.

A suit makes it so easy for a man to look proper in a traditional way -- which may explain its past universality. It's so easy that I don't understand why a suit is not a staple of any man's closet, but I'm perfectly willing to reap the rewards of everyone else giving it up.
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:37 AM on October 3 [19 favorites]


See, now I don't trust people who wear flipflops all the time. You're that confident you'll never have to run for your life or deliver a roundhouse kick in the course of your day? Huh.
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:37 AM on October 3 [41 favorites]


better flipflops than toe shoes
posted by Dr. Twist at 11:42 AM on October 3 [7 favorites]


One other benefit of me wearing my suit: women think I'm much hotter than I actually am. I don't know why my suit has that effect, but it totally, totally works.
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:45 AM on October 3 [14 favorites]


A twitter thread on "BEAU FUCKING BRUMMELL" and his influence on the modern suit.
posted by dhruva at 11:46 AM on October 3 [8 favorites]


Suits, previously: The Plural Noun For Tailors is a "Disguisery"
posted by Lexica at 11:49 AM on October 3 [2 favorites]


A suit makes it so easy for a man to look proper in a traditional way -- which may explain its past universality. It's so easy that I don't understand why a suit is not a staple of any man's closet, but I'm perfectly willing to reap the rewards of everyone else giving it up.

I would also point out that if you can only afford one suit, it's less noteworthy that you're wearing the same thing every day (because it's already a kind of "uniform") than a casual or business casual dress code where you're expected to "express individuality" (for certain narrow, unspoken definitions of "individuality") and therefore vary your look from day to day if not week to week.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:52 AM on October 3 [10 favorites]


I thought the Beau Brummell thing was wildly inaccurate or at least overblown. but my google-fu is failing me
posted by Dr. Twist at 11:56 AM on October 3 [3 favorites]


Down with ties!

You can pry my tie from my cold, bloated, purple-bruised neck, right after you strangle me with it!
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:57 AM on October 3 [8 favorites]


As for the reaction of engineers to people wearing suits: it is jargon of long standing to refer to the suit-wearer himself as "a suit," reducing the person entirely to the costume. This is not a reaction having anything to do with "respect." See for example sense 2 below, from the jargon file.
suit: n.

1. Ugly and uncomfortable ‘business clothing’ often worn by non-hackers. Invariably worn with a ‘tie’, a strangulation device that partially cuts off the blood supply to the brain. It is thought that this explains much about the behavior of suit-wearers. Compare droid.

2. A person who habitually wears suits, as distinct from a techie or hacker. See pointy-haired, burble, management, Stupids, SNAFU principle, PHB, and brain-damaged.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 12:03 PM on October 3 [11 favorites]


[Folks, taking the conversation to "but here are some hot women I'd like to fuck" is... not good. Don't do that. ]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 12:05 PM on October 3 [13 favorites]


That stupid jargon file is probably why developers are always put in the basement and fed pizza and soda.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:06 PM on October 3 [14 favorites]


I've always absolutely hated wearing a suit and tie; they're restrictive, fragile, pompous, and as they're inevitably made of some combination of wool and/or man-made fibers they make me sweat and stink something awful (making the "you clean up nice!" comments especially aggrieving). And as others have said, I don't trust anyone who wears one. I've been a best man or "patron of honor" 3 times for various friends' weddings, which would have been fine except I had to rent and wear a goddamn tux every time (when my wife and I got married we went a more...hippyish route). I have now sworn to all my friends and family that I will never ever again wear another fucking monkey suit - until possibly my own funeral, at which point I'll no longer be in a position to suffer (or object, for that matter).

...I could continue ranting long and bitterly about my animosity toward the whole suit business, but I'll spare everyone from further suffering.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:10 PM on October 3 [4 favorites]


I used to work at a bank, and eventhough I worked in tech, I was expected to have a suit if I was ever in meetings on "the floor" or in other spaces that were open to our clients. Then later, when I worked in consulting, I had suits for client meetings. So, that's another data point about how it's all about presenting yourself to customers as a Serious Professional; and is consistent with the idea that people in power can dress however they want. People not in power who have to impress others wear suits as one way of bidding to be taken seriously.

My last few jobs have not needed suits and don't miss having to put one on for work; and furthermore I don't miss all of the inane rules about how your belt needs to match the color of your shoes, or whether the stripes in your shirt clash with the pattern of your tie. I do like wearing suits when I go out, as I like how I look in them, and in general I like wearing layers and having different ways to play with color in my outfit. Now that it's fall, my mind is turning to thrifting for a nice tweed jacket -- 20 year old me would be perplexed that 45 year old me is into this.

What I hope we don't slide into is some other coded language about whether your jeans say anything about the person that you are. It's one thing I find tiresome about menswear blogs and male fashion advice fora are all of the various rules and ways folks can tell each other about how someone else is doing it wrong.

A prior workplace had Tie Day Fridays as an excuse for some of us to wear ties or button down shirts to work and give ourselves a break from t-shirts and sweats; and that was nice because it was loose and non-judgemental.
posted by bl1nk at 12:11 PM on October 3 [6 favorites]


IMO a suit doesn't need to be perfectly tailored to look great.

This is only true if you have the exact type of body that a standard-issue American suit is made for.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:13 PM on October 3 [26 favorites]


It's one thing I find tiresome about menswear blogs and male fashion advice fora are all of the various rules and ways folks can tell each other about how someone else is doing it wrong.

I've found it most useful to ignore all of such rules, thereby pissing off everyone equally.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:13 PM on October 3 [4 favorites]


I did once split a suit jacket. A nephew threw me a ball and when I lifted my arms to catch it, riiiiiiiiip right up the middle of my back. I think I may have gone around quoting Bruce Banner for a bit after that.
posted by BeeDo at 12:14 PM on October 3 [7 favorites]


In the past, women had to dress like men to reach senior positions in the workplace," she has said. "Now they can dress as they like and assert their individuality through their work attire, without fear of bumping up against the glass ceiling.”

WTF, no one told me?!
posted by sallybrown at 12:17 PM on October 3 [20 favorites]


I used to wear a suit, or at least sport coat and tie, pretty frequently when I was a Patron Services Manager for a ballet. I still joke that our real job is making rich people feel rich. I'm pretty scruffy in my state of nature so it was a reach for me at first, but after a few events I found I really liked it. As somebody who struggles with focus and staying on-task, I find I do a lot better when my clothes feel different and slightly restrictive in a way that reminds me, "You are at work and need to behave like it."

I help out at the local Opera and as well. Despite taking pains to have no formal dress code, we've found there's a not-small number of people (particularly in the 30-ish set) who mostly come because they're actively seeking something fun and formal-ish to do. I think once you've settled into a flavors of casual dress for both work and social stuff, having an opportunity to switch modes is fun provided there's nobody pressuring you to do it.

That's still hella class coded, though. We had a lot of conversations about how to keep the "fanciness is part of the fun!" vibe while also making it clear to everyone they were welcome. Ultimately everywhere I've worked is deciding alienating people isn't worth it, which is correct. The local arts community seems to be almost entirely off of formal events at this point. Probably for the best.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 12:19 PM on October 3 [5 favorites]


Reminds me of how in period dramas you always see the male servants wearing immaculate versions of what their employers were wearing some time ago, to signify that their employers are rich enough to dress them well but their dress is differentiated from how their employers dress. This seems like an extension of that. In the future the working class will be wearing whatever executives wear now and the executives will be upgraded to Star Trek style body suits.
posted by bleep at 12:31 PM on October 3 [8 favorites]


It's probably because I've mostly lived in hot climates, but I've never owned a suit in my life. Always had a blazer for weddings and funerals though.
posted by Bee'sWing at 12:32 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]


Honestly the main reason I don’t own a suit is not that I can’t afford one per se, but more that I can’t afford to look good in one. The funny thing is that these days I have no trouble finding casual shirts and pants that fit my frame and budget decently, but suits and jackets need so much extra expensive work just to be merely asflattering as a $30 casual button-down one can get from literally TJ Maxx that the whole endeavor is kind of absurd for someone in my income bracket. I’ve tried thrifting and that’s a nightmare because suits from the 80s and 90s fit me even worse. Not even talking durability or comfort here, just sheer schlubbiness.

(Some of this is probably the relentless march of fast fashion and clothes that can be made as simply as possible versus the poorly-scaling intricacy of suiting and tailoring, also.)
posted by en forme de poire at 12:36 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]


The sooner we get to the universal, unisex, government-issued coverall, the better.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:44 PM on October 3 [11 favorites]


After going most of my life without owning a suit and occasionally needing one, I finally bought three well-tailored but sanely-priced suits several years ago...of which I have needed to wear exactly one, once, for a wedding. Yet somehow, on some level, having them in my closet does make me feel more like a grown-up. Which is an odd thing to say at almost 50, but I feel how I feel.

As for techs and suits, I like the balance historically struck by front-end web developers; fashionable enough to lean towards what the designers wear, practical enough to lean towards what the back-end engineers wear. In the last six years, however, that's changed as more back-end developers move into the front-end space. Still, looking at someone's clothes, I have a good track record for guessing whether their core competencies includes HTML/CSS or not.
posted by davejay at 12:48 PM on October 3 [3 favorites]


I hate hate hate suits and I hate wearing a tie even more. My career choices have definitely been affected by avoiding jobs that require the damn things.
posted by fimbulvetr at 12:56 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]


The sooner we get to the universal, unisex, government-issued coverall, the better.

I vote Logan's Run togas. I'm not a hard no on the Carousel either.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 12:59 PM on October 3 [17 favorites]


I'm firmly white collar (engineer by traning, DBA/IT project manager by necessity) and I have never worn a suit except to elderly family member's funerals while I was in my pre-teen years. The older execs certainly rock them but I can get by with business casual and/or a blazer on even the most dressy occasions, when I'm not working from home.

Privileged, yes. But, well, I hate suits so I doubt I'd have it any other way.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:59 PM on October 3


I like the balance historically struck by front-end web developers; fashionable enough to lean towards what the designers wear, practical enough to lean towards what the back-end engineers wear. In the last six years, however, that's changed as more back-end developers move into the front-end space. Still, looking at someone's clothes, I have a good track record for guessing whether their core competencies includes HTML/CSS or not.
yeah, so these sort of coded inferences were common with what sort of suits a person would wear into the office, and it'd be great if we just stopped. Thanks.

If you want to be fashionable. Be fashionable. If you want to be a schlub, be a schlub. Equating, x clothes prime one to believe you belong in y tribe? Let's not.
posted by bl1nk at 1:01 PM on October 3 [15 favorites]


I have to attend medical conferences for work (IANAD), and the suit is still alive and well in that world. I usually bring one suit, two or three shirts and a pair of ties to give me enough variety over a four or five day period.

I don't mind wearing a suit from time to time, but I am glad that it's no longer absolutely required in the workplace. Hell, business casual isn't even always required.
posted by me3dia at 1:02 PM on October 3


explosion: Polos and khakis make me feel dowdy and shlubby and I just hate it.

One of my coworkers said, "How come you dress like a street person?" I assume she was talking about the khakis.

GrumpyBear69: You can pry my tie from my cold, bloated, purple-bruised neck, right after you strangle me with it!

And now that nobody wants to wear ties you can find some really exotic & expensive ones at Value Village.
posted by sneebler at 1:02 PM on October 3 [4 favorites]


I haven't owned a suit in my entire adult life, lord knows where I'd even find a tie, blue blazer probably doesn't fit me, haven't worn it in forever. The moment I see someone wearing a suit, I instantly trust them less. It's instinctive.
posted by dbiedny at 1:03 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]


so one way i like to fuck with peoples' heads while working in tech- and tech-adjacent jobs is to show up to work wearing:
  1. a suit
  2. a tie
  3. a union pin
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 1:05 PM on October 3 [30 favorites]


Does anyone remember that guy John Malloy? ( Of ‘Dress For Sucess’ infamy) While a man who wears a suit well is esthetically pleasing, I am really alright with the end of suits. In tribute, I will describe the coolest suit I ever saw on a man:
My family used to frequent a Chinese eatery called Yee Jun’s. It was downstairs in Chinatown in San Francisco. They had curtained booths and this made the place popular with the Tong people.
I saw one such person one evening. He had a very well tailored suit. He was heavy-set and balding. It was a hot evening and he’d taken off his jacket. This left a gorgeous vest embroidered with a tiger in silk. The tiger’s face took up the back of his vest and it remains some of the most exquisite work I ever saw in my life. It was obviously done in China, not Hong Kong, possibly it was pre WWII, because trade with the Mainland was then 100% illegal. One did not want to look too long at the man. Even my 7 year old self got that this man was dangerous. This man would have flunked Mr. Malloy’s whole thing, but he would not have cared as he could have bought and sold Malloy and his entire family numerous times over. It was not understated but weirdly it was not gaudy once the jacket was on.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 1:07 PM on October 3 [12 favorites]


The two things I look worst in are polo shirts and those puffy vest things. When I started my new job this year I staked out a space as "blazer, jeans, collared shirt" guy.

I was about 4 months in when I realized I had decided to dress like Andy Travis from WKRP, but I'm in too deep now.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:13 PM on October 3 [12 favorites]


I wear suits to work (lawyer) and I don't mind it - it definitely makes getting ready in the morning easier as I pick a suit I haven't worn that week and then the shirt, tie, and shoes kind of go from there. I was talking with friends about wearing suits not too long ago and their consensus was that if they came to my office as a client and I wasn't wearing a suit they'd feel like something was off.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:19 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]


I realized I had decided to dress like Andy Travis from WKRP

Or Jeremy Clarkson from Top Gear...
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:19 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]


Does this mean that seersucker suits are finally finished? There are perhaps, generously estimated, five men on the planet who look decent in seersucker suits; I think I once saw one. Every other man looks like he put a suit on and then put pajamas over it.
posted by holborne at 1:22 PM on October 3 [5 favorites]


I dunno, I work in regulatory toxicology = I'm in Washington, DC all the time = I'm in a suit, in the middle of humid summer much more than I'd like. Suits are still the uniform of formal government affairs.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 1:37 PM on October 3 [5 favorites]


After a recent North by Northwest viewing, and enchanted all over again by Cary Grant's custom-tailored, well-nigh indestructible suit (requiring a mere sponging after the crop duster scene), I was looking at men's suits online. The pocket business in menswear in general is incredible, but these suits.... Ten, eleven pockets between the jacket and the trousers in some two-piece numbers, and a vest can add two or three more pockets to the total. While you can't load 'em all up at once, it's still astonishing compared to the pocket paucity of women's suits.

[Also, seeing NxNW in a theater meant I finally noticed he's wearing oxblood-colored shoes, which is an interesting choice.]
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:40 PM on October 3 [5 favorites]


Or Jeremy Clarkson from Top Gear...

oh FUCK
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:46 PM on October 3 [10 favorites]


I've been interviewing lately so I've had to wear a suit repeatedly for the first time in years and years. As someone with a bunch of sensory issues who avoids wearing suits it's not been great but I've discovered something amazing: a 20mg CBD capsule cuts way the hell down on those sensory issues. I was out wearing a suit in sunny, 85 degree midtown Manhattan and I wasn't comfortable exactly but it certainly didn't feel like a thousand needles down my spine and hot exhaust on my chest like I usually do wearing layers in humid weather.
posted by griphus at 1:53 PM on October 3 [10 favorites]


On the other hand, if we could rock a suit like the Brooks Brothers one Cary Grant was wearing in North by Northwest, we would all do it.
posted by Bee'sWing at 1:59 PM on October 3 [7 favorites]


My boomer mother once fretted at me why I never wore a tie to work like a respectable man.

I said simply, "Because I do not wear a name tag to work."

I feel bad about the class implications of this now, but it showed a real divide between our generations at the time.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 2:02 PM on October 3 [6 favorites]


The notion that lawyers, in particular, have ditched suits is...interesting. This is certainly true for certain types of lawyers in certain types of organizations. But I assure you that any lawyer whose work involves a courtroom is still very much *required* to wear a suit, at least on the days they're in court.
posted by asnider at 2:13 PM on October 3 [8 favorites]


And there are still judges on the bench who will insist on female lawyers wearing a skirt suit, not just any suit.
posted by sallybrown at 2:19 PM on October 3 [9 favorites]


Honestly, I do poorly at the in-betweens. I can feel comfortable and fashionable in jeans and a shirt. I feel comfortable and stylish in a suit. Polos and khakis make me feel dowdy and shlubby and I just hate it.

No one looks good in polos and khakis except very young people wearing them in a sporty outdoorsy way that deliberately says "I'm not at work". As far as work attire they just signal "I'm not allowed to wear jeans and I have no idea what to do" and they flatter no one but the very thin. Most should all be burned in a fire. Not that I have strong feelings either way.

Suits and the women's equivalent of pant suits and dress and jacket sets are just school uniforms for work, like overalls or carhardt jackets There are people out there who value individuality and love fashion, and then there are those of us who just want to get dressed, look fine and have no one comment on it. Even the maverick, rule breaking tech and science execs all wear the same boots/ tan or grey pants/ polo or button down / fleece vest combo.I think that's why the idea of business attire has persisted for so long.
posted by fshgrl at 2:29 PM on October 3 [6 favorites]


I can assure you, suits are for salespeople who are selling things and not anybody who actually has useful things to say or do

This is certainly a common attitude among engineers, unfortunately, even though it is obviously wrong. In particular, it contributes to hiring bias, as engineers from some parts of the world are likely to wear suits. (It's a belief mostly common among US-born and maybe European engineers).

(I mean, I'm an engineer who wears jeans and T-shirts, but I've worked with some really great engineers who wore suits or formal clothing)

The article is of course talking about the US, and its certainly true in Los Angeles that suits are becoming rare for any profession (we've always been more casual than, say, NYC). Of course, there are still plenty of places in the world where suits are the norm (Tokyo, for example, where I always feel sympathy for all the people in suits in 100 degree weather).
posted by thefoxgod at 2:40 PM on October 3 [6 favorites]


You Americans...
In italy i can tell you, the suit is alive and well. Hell, i can tell what season it is just by the colour of the suit people were at the bar in the morning. ANd what trends there are.
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 2:49 PM on October 3 [20 favorites]


The suit may be disappearing, but you still have to take out a second mortgage to get a decently-fitted suit. I officiated at my son’s wedding and had to get a suit, and was shocked at how crappy an affordable suit is.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:52 PM on October 3 [4 favorites]


Polos don’t even flatter skinny people. They flatter people who don’t need flattering, i.e. athletes of the particular mesomorphic body shape synonymous with American masculinity.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:02 PM on October 3 [7 favorites]


In particular, it contributes to hiring bias
ehh, if somebody shows up to and interview in a suit I don't think anyone counts that against them. I certainly don't.
posted by Dr. Twist at 3:28 PM on October 3


I live in a hot city that’s only going to get hotter: seeing old photographs of 20thC men in suits and hats in pre-air conditioning offices is alarming, seeing Victorian era photos of men in waistcoats, jackets, and high collars—in Sydney summers—makes me feel ill. I’m long on the bandwagon for dress reform of male businesswear, towards Business Shorts or safari suits, or at the very least office polo shirts.* The Fijians absolutely have it down with Male Business Skirts IMO. All that said, if I were to get rich, I would absolutely have myself tailored a white linen suit to wear with a Panama hat, like the bagman in a Graham Greene novel.

* another thing to resent about modern Nazis: getting a polo shirt out, putting it on, then looking in the mirror and seeing a white bloke with short hair, and having to choose something else
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 3:38 PM on October 3 [3 favorites]


As a guy who bought a few hundred thousand suits in a former life...I have thoughts.

My first job out of college was as an Assistant Buyer for Kaufmann's, a regional arm of the larger department store company known as May Company, at the time. I didn't know it in the early aughts, but I was one of the last dinosaurs in that particular line of work, buying Men's Tailored Clothing for that dark, wood-lined, velvet-chaired corner of the department store that housed the racks of these slacks and jackets of power.

Our offices were nearly the exact opposite of the opulence the actual store floor of our department promulgated upon hapless shoppers. When one wandered around a bend past the dressing rooms where the store clerks acted as pre-tailors, they'd wind up in the storage closets-cum-buyer's office that we were crammed into. We bought all of the suits, sportcoats, slacks, and outerwear (rain and winter coats) for the modern formal gentleman. For the Ohio/New York/Pennsylvania stores that Kaufmann's covered.

We wore suits and ties every day to work (this was 2000-02 in Pittsburgh), not just us because of what we bought, but everyone wore that to work. When our vendors came to visit us, or us them in New York City, they were all wearing suits as well. It's just what everyone wore, at least in our line of work, the legal profession, and banking/finance...as far as I could tell, at the time. When our vendors would come to visit us, well, they were wealthy Jewish guys from the UES that owned brands like Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Perry Ellis, or Kenneth Cole. To be perfectly accurate they licensed these names from the actual designers and then sourced the fabric and managed the factories that cut them into suits, and then whole-sale sold them to the department stores. But the point is, they'd come to visit us, and it would fall to me, the Assistant Buyer, to call Morton's Steak House and grill (natch) the head chef about how he would keep the kitchen kosher when they took us there for dinner.

My grandfather used to tell me stories of his youth when as a traveling salesman he would visit Pittsburgh in the morning in a white suit and drive back to Cleveland in the evening in a grey one because the soot in the air was so bad in his day. So the suits had been a thing for at least that long at that point.

At the time, there were other Assistant Buyers and Buyers for all of the other regional brands under May Co. Robinson's May in California, Filenes in Boston, or Foleys, Famous-Barr, or Lord & Taylor, depending on where in the US you shopped. And then the other behemoth of the department store era in our lifetime - Macy's. Like May Co., Macy's was a growing, morphing mass of acquired smaller department store chains that were assimilated to the Borg mother ship over time.

I'd see the other me's from all the other May brands when we'd assemble at May's mother ship in St. Louis for annual planning meetings. My first business trip! So luxurious, young me, thought. I'd go out in the morning for a run around downtown SL and marvel at how empty the streets were - like day-after-tomorrow empty. Not like bustling Pittsburgh (ah, young me). Then after a full day in suits sitting in Very Important Meetings about suits, I'd retire to the hotel, change into jeans, and head out to a bar to drink away my per diem. I remember the first night I got hammered on raspberry stoli and cokes, watching a baseball game, and flirting with the cute blonde bartender. When she started closing up for the night, I asked where I could go for dinner. She laughed at me and said "Your hotel? This is downtown St. Louis at 11pm!" But she wouldn't let me pay my tab either. Or give me her number.

We would pick our assortments that would hit the floors in our stores (or "Doors" as they were referred to in industry) in the coming season. Our vendors would inform us what they were making large "cuts" of for our competitors, what trends they were seeing out of Europe (they had the really cool jobs, honestly), and the mother ship would inform us what we would all collectively be buying from their Private Brand to complete the assortment in our stores. We then had pretty much the job of, with our inventory planners, distributing the merchandise we had invested the company's revenue in to the stores in an optimal way - receive it and get it to the stores and sell it as fast as possible at the highest possible price point the customer wouldn't sniff at.

That's a whole book that could be written and probably has been on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price and the art of the discount. Basically a fabricated price that nobody but an idiot (and surprise, there's a lot of them out there) should have ever paid for a suit...at least at the time.

If the suits sold well, you tried to order more of what was selling good as fast as you possibly could. If they didn't sell well, you started marking them down, pricing them to sell. In tandem, you would turn right back around at your vendors, who mind you were thinking about how many tens of thousands of suits they hoped to sell you next season, and ask them for markdown allowances. Basically checks that the vendors would cut back to the department store, out of their lavish margins that they enjoyed while dining at their kosher steak restaurants in NYC. Another world, still, to young me.

Every Monday morning, I'd don a suit and tie, along with a spare tie of another color. You see, quite ironically, I had the one minor disability that made me uniquely unfit to be making the pre-choices on the fashion of the American working man: I was color blind. Am. Anyway, people would laugh when I paired the wrong color tie so I always took a backup. Until a gal pal helped me realize years later that I could memorize suit/shirt/tie combos by their pattern / cut / brand and not have to worry about mis-matching. Clad in the suits I bought for a living, I'd ride the bus to the flagship Kaufmann's in downtown Pittsburgh, and go to work.

This meant hacking away at a keyboard in front of a CRT monitor on custom-built green-screen Enterprise Resource Planning software. Think like a couple decades ago when you'd stand at the ticketing counter at the airport and the agent would have to bounce their way between multiple screen using archaic, customized codes to get to the right screen to find the right info or make the appropriate change. That's how we managed all the suits in all the stores, in my day.

What we needed to know as fast as possible each Monday morning was how many of each Stock Keeping Unit (SKU) sold in the last week. Each suit/slack/sportcoat/jacket had it's own unique SKU, different ones for each color in each style. So you needed to know what your hot SKUs were so you knew what to order more of, and what your crappy ones were so you could price them better and ask for those sweet, sweet markdown dollars. We'd hack through the green screens like jungle explorers with their machetes on a treasure hunt, finding out what last week's sales looked like, by each department. You needed to know 3 key sales figures: Last Week, Month-To-Date (add LW to the weeks so far this month), and Year-To-Date (add LW to everything so far this year). And then you could calculate the equivalent 3 gross margin figures, to see how you were trending against your plans.

This process typically took a given department's Assistant Buyer a solid first day of their week, depending on how fast they could hack the screens and manually port the data over to Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheets (Microsoft's erstwhile early competition). Those spreadsheets got collated with the ones from the other departments in a Division and went up to the Divisional Merchandise Manager, the guy or gal all the Buyers reported too. All of the DMM's reports went up to the GMM's, who reported to the VPs. Huge organizational structures of people, all wearing suits, all buying all of the things you would find in your average department store. It became something of a competition between the Assistant and Associate Buyers - who could finish their weekly spreadsheets the fastest, with the added factor of how many SKU's they had to pull together across their multiple departments. The faster you got good at this, the quicker you rose in the organization.

There were other parts of the job, but they weren't always interesting. People losing their minds over a rounding error or a mis-placed decimal that sold some suits to some lucky customers for HORRORS - a hundred dollars off for a WHOLE WEEK. You're thinking you're going to lose your job and you have to go begging to the evil Pricing Queen Mackenzie, the nasty sorority gal from my alma mater that maintained the pricing system and held sway over all of us plebe assistant buyers. Who wants to hear about that. When your scope is really narrow, tiny little things seem to have great import. Managing advertising and your supply chain ("where's that truck-full of suits?!?") were the other parts.

2 years into it, they held a company all-hands where the CEO emotionlessly read the announcement that we were being merged into the Filene's big-sister in Boston, and all of our jobs would be gone in 8 weeks. Grown men in their suits, breaking down sobbing because that's all they had done for the last 30 years. I was giddy, I was already interviewing elsewhere, and ready to move up in the world. A couple months later I was riding the PATH train from Hoboken to Herald Square - Macy's flagship store and home to 10 floors of department store merchandise and dining facilities propping up another 5 or so floors of corporate buying offices, topped with a dog kennel.

Actually, for the first year and a half I was headed 2 blocks away - to Federated Merchandising Group, the parent org of all of the Macy's brands, across the street from Penn Station. But I was still in Men's Tailored Clothing, and everyone was still wearing suits, while we bought them, and everything else. My smarmy boss' boss came over to my cube early on and recruited me to become a balloon pilot in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. I was one of the few straight men working there and thus fit his target profile of people actually interested in that perk. He was the same guy that had IT scour my computer and find the "bored" folder squirreled away on there with unapproved games to fill my spare time - threatened my job and very existence for that atrocity. Small scope.

I kept putting in to get a transfer out to the Macy's East brand and go back to the buying world, but he kept quashing it. Then one summer when I had used a few of the company-approved early Friday hours to go to an ENT doctor for a hearing disability I have, he smarmed by on a Friday morning and said we'd need to talk Monday about how my absences were affecting my job performance. I came in early that Monday and wrote him a polite email that said how upset I was by his comment before the weekend that he thought that my doctor's visits for my disability, on my own time during the company-approved early hours off, was affecting my job performance. I told him I was very concerned that he thought my disability was affecting my ability to do my job and I looked forward to talking with him as soon as possible about how we could rectify the situation.

We never met, and a month later I was an Associate Buyer for Macy's East. Except, the men's tailored clothing positions were already filled - by friends of mine, so I found myself buying first women's designer denim collections, and finally, the holy of holies: women's swim wear. I was the envy of all the other Associate Buyers - the guy who got to eat catered lunch from his choice of restaurant in the city while he ogledsurveyed swimsuit models in bikinis to make Important Business Decisions. All while wearing a suit.

My counterparts in Men's Tailored would barter their sample suits with me in exchange for invites to vendor fashion shows. I'd in turn hook them up with my own samples for their girlfriends, and they'd invite me to their vendor's annual parties. The rooftop party for Hugo Boss on the West Side Highway was in particular high demand. There was a vitamin water bar for the models and vodka bars for the rest of us, with nude models and fancy dance performances. There were those of us in the Suits, the men running the business, and then there was everyone else. But we got to hob-knob with them. When Phat Pharm released a suit line, Russell Simmons and a few of his crew came to the opening night fashion show in Herald Square, and then we all got bussed down to Jay-Z's club, I think it was the 40/40? It was off Canal Street, I remember that much. Got hammered on Grey Goose in the VIP, got to meet Jay-Z, at some point realized I was flirting with the head of HR for Macy's, then made my way home.

The Assistant and Associate Buyers in the various brands of the Federated company were all doing the same thing everyone at May Company was, assembling the same data from the same systems into the same spreadsheets. It was around that time that I figured out I could hack a Visual Basic macro into scraping the systems automatically and populating my spreadsheet in the push of a button and a spinning wheel for about 15 seconds. For a good 6 months, I didn't let my buyer know that I was getting done the entire first day's worth of work in the push of a button. Used the time to start my next job search. She was a horrid woman who spoke awful to me often, I remember walking out of meetings where I wanted to scream back at her, but was too professional to do so. She'd confront me later and I'd calmly explain to her that I wouldn't put up with her speaking to me that way in public or in private, and if she had a problem with that she could take it to HR or her boss, our DMM. I didn't feel bad about reprioritizing other work with that time gained.

Eventually I was found out, though, and when my DMM got wind I could get the reporting done in seconds, she made me go around to all her other buyers' offices and set up the macro for their departments too. When her GMM started getting her reports early from my DMM, I was teed up to be farmed out across all her other DMMs. But I was already interviewing to make the jump into consulting. I wouldn't make it out before melting down in a stock-room full of bikinis, though - mind you, all of this, in a suit.

I bought a lot of suits, of all kinds. Still have some pretty nice ones in closets in random places. Never personally actually paid for one, at least not while I was in the industry. Learned all kinds of crazy weird things about them, even as they were losing the sway they held over business fashion.

Couldn't tell you the last time I wore one, though. Sure as shit I'm glad I ended up back on the West Coast.
posted by allkindsoftime at 3:43 PM on October 3 [100 favorites]


Former engineer turned director here - the last time I got anywhere close to anything other than jeans and a decent shirt (and slip on chucks for fun) - was when I gave a speech to a corporate gathering of about 1000. I threw a sporty blazer on over my jeans and t-shirt. I did that in NY and got a few head shakes compared to my home office in LA. I never feel comfortable in a suit. I always feel like a kid playing dress up.
posted by drewbage1847 at 3:45 PM on October 3


allkindsoftime, that's a great comment, but you've run afoul of the One True Rule: Waxing nostalgic about lost youth and The Way Things Used to Be when the year(s) the tale takes place start with a "2"...sorry, that is very illegal.

Would you prefer the spaceship to the sun, or to be driven into the sea?
posted by maxwelton at 4:03 PM on October 3 [13 favorites]


I like to ask people if they know what a pirate's favorite letter is and when they snark back "ARR" I let them know that "You would think it would be ARR but me first love is the C!"

I'll take the C please.
posted by allkindsoftime at 4:09 PM on October 3 [12 favorites]


I am a lawyer and so are my parents (retired now). I saw the civil defense firm I grew up around go from suits every day to jeans and polo shirts (and sometime t shirts).

I only wear a suit if I’m going to court, meeting other lawyers who I expect will be wearing suits, or meeting clients that I think prefer it or will be reassured by it (kinda like your doctor doesn’t really need a lab coat, do they?).

And now that I don’t have to wear them all the time they’re more fun to wear and there’s less upkeep and I can buy fewer, nicer more interest ones.

I don’t think they’re going away but that they’re no longer a uniform is good.
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:31 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry to report that some people go to court in bib overalls and flip flops.

A lot of people who wind up in court are poor and don't have the kind of clothes that would be appropriate for court. There is bound to be an element of some people simply not knowing or caring what's appropriate at play too, since poor people tend to be less well educated/cultured, and criminals tend to have poor judgment/attitudes. I mean, yes, almost everyone would have something more appropriate than bib overalls and flip flops in their wardrobes -- even jeans and a t-shirt and running shoes would be better than that. But I remember seeing a true crime TV show years ago about a very young woman in her late teens or early twenties who was tried for murder, and how one of the people who were being interviewed about the course of events saying how the suspect wore a long white dress to court, and she made some comments about how it seemed so odd to her that the suspect would wear such a thing and wondered whether she was trying to indicate innocence with it. My own thought was that it was probably the only thing the young woman, who was working class, had in her closet that seemed to her at all suitable for court.
posted by orange swan at 4:33 PM on October 3 [11 favorites]


allkindsoftime, that brought me back to working boutique retail in the early 2000s, when women’s designer denim ruled all and each brand had 39484 different back pocket designs but no other discernible differences...the SKUs...the SKUs...
posted by sallybrown at 4:46 PM on October 3 [3 favorites]


melting down in a stock-room full of bikinis

But...but...all you did in that comment was the same mention of a meltdown, "which is a story for another time". How long do you plan to avoid telling that story??
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:49 PM on October 3 [8 favorites]


On the other hand, if we could rock a suit like the Brooks Brothers one Cary Grant was wearing in North by Northwest, we would all do it.

Not Brooks Brothers; Grant's usual tailor Arthur Lyons, at Kilgour, French & Stanbury (on Savile Row).
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:31 PM on October 3 [8 favorites]


Word hasn’t gotten to my fashion/techie corner of Toronto. It's still full of young guys who's work and Friday evening wear is a very tight-fitting suit, brown brogues (no socks), extremely high-and-tight haircut and beard.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:58 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]


I'm conflicted. On the one hand, I hate a man (or woman) in a power suit at work. I hate suits at work. I hate power and powerful people at work. I hate CEO's. I want anarchy.

My career choices have definitely been affected by avoiding jobs that require the damn things.

Also, this.

On the other hand:

One other benefit of me wearing my suit: women think I'm much hotter than I actually am. I don't know why my suit has that effect, but it totally, totally works.

I have to say, a guy dressed up for a wedding or formal occasion? Hot.* It reminds me of the movie Clueless when Cher is going on about how all the guys are always wearing greasy baseball caps and generally looking like slobs. When you find a guy who's not at work and dressing nice instead of the Tshirt, shorts and flip flops? Score!

But I also hate ladies' suits. I know we're supposed to like power suits or "dapper" suits for the LBGTQetc. population, but suits were designed for nice flat chests. I think they look absolutely terrible on those of us who are stacked. Every time I have to wear a damn blazer (job interviews and that's usually about it) I look overstuffed and like the boobs are trying to escape. I do not look smart, powerful or professional when the Tits of Doom are trying to make a break for it. I recently was dressing up as Laura Holt** to go to an escape room and I went to many thrift stores trying to find ANY suit I didn't hate. I got one in a nice color, but in the pictures from the neck down I still look like stuffed sausage that happens to be wearing a fedora.

*The object of my affection these days looks damn good every time I see him dressed up. You did not hear that from me.
** Tried to talk him into going as Mr. Steele, but he said he'd have to shave for that and instead went as Eddie Valiant.


Anyway, I enjoyed this article. Down with the work suit! Make it a perp walk suit!
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:04 PM on October 3 [3 favorites]


But I also hate ladies' suits. I know we're supposed to like power suits or "dapper" suits for the LBGTQetc. population, but suits were designed for nice flat chests. I think they look absolutely terrible on those of us who are stacked.

Marlene Dietrich may not have been stacked but she was also not flat-chested.

What you need is tailoring. A suit jacket could look really dramatic and flattering on someone with a hourglass shape and a large bust. But that kind of tailoring is not cheap so it totally makes sense to just skip it unless the suit look really appeals to you.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:21 PM on October 3 [9 favorites]


How long do you plan to avoid telling that story??

I remember being tasked with finding a needle in a haystack sample in a room with literally thousands of bikinis, no two alike. As if it was very important and my job were on the line, also as if it was my fault that it either couldn't be found or wasn't there. I remember it was after business hours on a Friday night at the end of another week where my boss hadn't actually shown up at work 3 days that week because she was "research shopping." And I remember a lot of sentences starting with "God damned mother fucking..."and at some point the realization that the drywall behind the racks made a pleasant popping sound when you put a hole in it with your fist. I'm not clear on much beyond that.
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:34 PM on October 3 [9 favorites]


I was surprised to read once that appropriate business attire is required for MPs in the Canadian House of Commons. Business attire. Made it jump out at me that the modern state is a precisely bourgeois institution. Not a military institution, not a church institution, not a workers' institution, not an aristocratic institution.

When I go to a funeral I dress up like a businessman. Why? Why am I not dressing up like a farmer or a priest or a prince of the royal blood?
posted by clawsoon at 6:42 PM on October 3 [11 favorites]


My first job out of school was with IBM and my dad was so disappointed to find out that I don't wear a suit to work. He was an equipment mechanic and to him, wearing a suit to work meant that you'd made it in life.

In the summer of '99 our office moved into a mid-century skyscraper in downtown Pittsburgh that was otherwise full of law offices. I assume that those lawyers had the same old ideas about IBM that my dad did because we got all kinds of hairy eyeballs from them when we showed up wearing shorts and flip-flops.
posted by octothorpe at 6:43 PM on October 3 [4 favorites]


I for one hate suits. I hate ties even more. The only suit I ever saw that I liked was at Apple back in the eighties. This cool tech writer who sat in his cubicle every day listening to Pablo Casal’s Bach Cello Suites, came to work one day wearing a custom tailored three piece suit and tie all made from camouflage cloth. I’ve wanted one like that ever since.
posted by njohnson23 at 6:43 PM on October 3 [3 favorites]


What you need is tailoring. A suit jacket could look really dramatic and flattering on someone with a hourglass shape and a large bust

Yeah, I'm no hourglass, I have a fat middle. I doubt tailoring would make it look much better. But I have a life where I don't usually have to wear suits, so it all works out to not have to wear 'em.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:51 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]


Thank you, allkindsoftime!
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:52 PM on October 3 [3 favorites]


My Dad was a full-bird Colonel in the Air Force. Several times a year there would be fancy events. For my Mom, she had to look stylish on his arm (but not too much, that would be gauche). She was pretty great with fashion, creative yet timeless and for the most part seemed to enjoy the dress up. It was always fun as a kid to see her transform herself. But, one of the best parts was my Dad fretting over his Military Mess Dress - the fanciest of men’s suits in the military. Short coat, cummerbund, starched and pleated shirt, tight bow tie, epaulets and ribbons and very pressed pants. The jacket varied but the short jacket was for men who kept their figure. He’d step up the exercise and diet (and cut back on booze) ahead of the event. And for the events I’d go to, it was not uncommon to hear the men rib each other on how well they fit into their suits and laugh over a needed alteration. I don’t know, it seemed sweet and charming that they fussed and stressed and then showed up looking like goddamn military men!
posted by amanda at 7:00 PM on October 3 [9 favorites]


ehh, if somebody shows up to and interview in a suit I don't think anyone counts that against them. I certainly don't.

I have heard many colleagues at my current and previous employers (especially at the Large Tech Companies) say they judged interviewees for wearing suits. In my experience it is a common sentiment.
posted by thefoxgod at 8:19 PM on October 3 [3 favorites]


it was probably the only thing the young woman, who was working class, had in her closet that seemed to her at all suitable for court

Many PD offices try to maintain some sort of informal wardrobe resource for clients so they don't show up in court in something wildly inappropriate.

I still have strong feelings about Dressing Right but I must admit a certain gratitude to the West Coast techies who made it possible for law firms catering to that market to go business casual or even straight-up casual for non-court appearance days, lest we look too fancy for y'all.
posted by praemunire at 8:42 PM on October 3 [4 favorites]


I haven't ever worn a suit and haven't worn (or owned) a tie in at least 20 years. These days I only see suits worn by low-level sales guys and sometimes hotel staff, as well as high-powered lawyers/business people on the rare occasions I am in the downtown business district during the day. But no one in-between, and I definitely do not associate suits with power or status.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:52 PM on October 3


My corporate lawyer buddy and college professor buddy and I had a discussion about this topic earlier in the summer. Prof to lawyer: "do you wear a suit to work?" "unless i'm in court, no way". prof:"do you wear a tie?" "no, i'm not an Arby's manager". Their conclusion was that ties seemed to have moved to the service sector and increasingly outside of the professional arena (except when dealing with the public, like in court).

I remember stocking bags of dirt at the local KMart in high school with ties as a requirement. Stupid. That said, I don't think much of my nephew who doesn't know how to tie at tie at age 30.
posted by readyfreddy at 9:49 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]


Back in the '90s, I'd just moved to the west coast, working for a company with a substantial computing footprint. I'd showed up for that interview in a silk shirt and dress slacks and been over-dressed; attire was generally casual, but there were some folks from a big hardware company, may have been IBM or DEC touring one day, trying to make a sale. Everyone in identical blue suits, except for one guy in a brown suit. All the blue suits were deferring to him. I realized then that every one of those people aspired to a situation where they could wear whatever they wanted. I'd already accomplished that career goal.

I do have a tux, and tails, and have worn both to work at a place that informally did formal Fridays.

A few years ago I was car shopping, and realized that the Hyundai dealership folks were wearing suits, the people in the BMW dealership were not. So, yeah, I think there's a different class component to suits now. We bought the BMW.
posted by straw at 10:01 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]


Polos don’t even flatter skinny people. They flatter people who don’t need flattering, i.e. athletes of the particular mesomorphic body shape synonymous with American masculinity.

I was thinking of women actaully. Polos only look good on lean women with small boobs.
posted by fshgrl at 10:06 PM on October 3 [6 favorites]


Ahhh, yes, that makes sense — sorry for my gendered assumption!
posted by en forme de poire at 11:16 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]


The decline of the suit has other knock-on effects.

My normal day-to-day uniform is a black t-shirt and black jeans, or joggers and hoodies, depending on weather and can-I-be-arsed-ness. But in anticipation of some upcoming public speaking gigs a couple of months ago I decided I needed a way to raise my game in front of an audience.

Throwing a properly tailored sports jacket over the t-shirt and jeans combo instantly makes it look a lot sharper and more formal, without needing to go the whole hog. But my old jackets were dead of neglect (and girth), so I had to go looking for a new one. But it took me seven shops, including four high street department stores, to find anything that fit the bill of goods for "sports jacket, cotton/linen mix, lightweight summer use".

Slater's, the former go-to shop for buying a work-suit in Edinburgh seemed to have switched half its floor space over to black tie/wedding gear and ... casualwear?!? (This is a store that basically sold one thing: suits. With tuxes occupying a tiny corner.) The other department stores were similar. Marks and Spencer still have a department for cheap office-drone suits, and the other department stores likewise, but intermediate stuff like sports jackets had been squeezed almost completely out of the high street.

Not only is the suit something people only wear if it's compulsory, related-looking stuff has become an endangered species: the whole field of mens' tailoring seems to be in terminal decline (jeans and chinos aside).

As it becomes harder to find a sharp jacket, people will just give up looking for them. And even though I don't have much call for one, this seems to me to be a shame.
posted by cstross at 5:06 AM on October 4 [8 favorites]


I must disagree: I don't see any decline in men's suit wearing for managerial or administrative elites. It is still a status symbol and a defacto requirement for many professions from banking to the law.
posted by mfoight at 5:54 AM on October 4 [1 favorite]


I've always been in to fashion and costume and I love suits. The different cuts and shapes, the tweaks over historical periods, the beautiful silk ties, the variety of fabrics and tailoring styles--it's the only part of traditional menswear that strikes me as even remotely as interesting as what happens in womenswear.

But I am also a person that thinks about a hypothetical future of flip flops and unisex jumpsuits and dies a little inside.
posted by thivaia at 5:59 AM on October 4 [7 favorites]


To clarify, I don't think suits are inherently gendered. Most people, regardless of who they are and how they identify, can look pretty gorgeous in a beautifully arrayed, well tailored, menswear-inspired suit . I think the same thing is probably true of an elegant evening gown. But that, Billy Porter aside, has yet to find the same crossover appeal. Which is, to my mind, a real tragedy.
posted by thivaia at 6:04 AM on October 4 [3 favorites]


I think the same thing is probably true of an elegant evening gown.

Unless we're talking about a gown that comes to the neck and has full arms, a lot of men are too hirsute for that to look good, at least without those aesthetic and social standards changing too.

I'm still mad at myself for passing up the Taylor Stitch Telegraph suit in herringbone when it went on clearance.

Speaking of them, it's worth keeping an eye on their sport coats for people having trouble finding any they like in stores.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:34 AM on October 4 [1 favorite]


I must disagree: I don't see any decline in men's suit wearing for managerial or administrative elites. It is still a status symbol and a defacto requirement

The article is about it still being a requirement sometimes but no longer being a symbol of high status. It's now largely but not exclusively a uniform for male supplicants. Something you wear not to demonstrate or show your high status, but to suck up to someone who is higher-status than you, like a client or judge.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 6:46 AM on October 4 [5 favorites]


I have heard many colleagues at my current and previous employers (especially at the Large Tech Companies) say they judged interviewees for wearing suits. In my experience it is a common sentiment.

Can confirm. Someone showing up for a tech interview wearing a full suit would look very out of place.
posted by octothorpe at 6:54 AM on October 4


Can confirm. Someone showing up for a tech interview wearing a full suit would look very out of place.

I'm in STEM, though not tech. We had an applicant show up in a sports coat and fancy slacks and that was enough for people to make jokes about it (not in front of the applicant, of course). And we hired him, it wasn't a barrier in any way, but even just the sports coat was noticeably more formal than what is typical in my field.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:15 AM on October 4 [1 favorite]


We had an applicant show up in a sports coat and fancy slacks and that was enough for people to make jokes about it (not in front of the applicant, of course). And we hired him, it wasn't a barrier in any way, but even just the sports coat was noticeably more formal than what is typical in my field.

I have to say that I find this really obnoxious. At least it is widely, if sometimes dimly, understood that you are supposed to dress better than usual for your job interview to show your respect and seriousness. This can of course be deployed in classist ways, but both the principle and how to execute it are basically out there and basically make sense. Imposing the counter-requirement and expecting people to guess just how informal is not insulting and judging them for it is really childish gatekeeping.
posted by praemunire at 8:28 AM on October 4 [30 favorites]


Absolutely. For each of those "oh, it wasn't a big deal, we hired him anyway" situations, there are certainly just as many if not more situations where the guy in the suit got passed over for not being a good "culture fit", not to mention the situations where the guy didn't wear a suit because it would have been weird at his last job got passed over for not being professional enough.

If you're in a hiring position, you have a responsibility to communicate these expectations before the interview. If you're going to look down on a guy for interviewing in a suit, you had goddamned well better say "business casual dress, please" somewhere in the communication process for setting up the interview.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:34 AM on October 4 [15 favorites]


Thank you for your comment, allkindsoftime. My grandfather sold shoes for Kaufmann's in Youngstown for decades. He has been gone for thirty years, but it was nice to get a little window into part of what his working life might have been like.
posted by Kwine at 9:35 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]


I have a sneaking suspicion the pendulum is going to swing the other way re: suits, at least in the tech industries. I used to work for a software startup in 2012 where the leadership was all men in their late 50s who proudly advertised the casual dress code, and the younger guys collectively implemented "GQ Thursdays" as an excuse to wear suits at least one day a week. The men railing against monkey suits, strangling ties, etc. were all older Gen X or the tail end of Baby Boomers, and had previously worked in a time where professional dress code was strictly enforced. I don't think the corporate dress code will ever again be as strict, but I think as the next generation takes over, suits will be worn by the trailblazers and leaders as a way to differentiate themselves, and this will in turn be adopted by everyone trying to emulate them.

My hunch is that the whole Silicon Valley button down + fleece vest look is going to be seen as very much of its time, like open floor plans, "unlimited" vacation, and insidious surface level "perks" meant to keep you at the office as long as possible (ping pong tables, cereal buffets, nap rooms, etc.) Eventually, just like the suit, it'll come to represent The Man keeping us down. So if the suit makes a comeback along with the livable middle class wages of the 1960s, I'm all for it.
posted by castlebravo at 9:39 AM on October 4 [11 favorites]


In all the world, is there a more piteous sight than a man in an ill-fitting suit walking outside on a hot day?

The time I saw a guy in a gorilla suit apparently doing those sign twirly things in 100+ degree weather. He was walking with the head under his arm in a sweaty mess likely going in to quit after saying "F- this!"
posted by gregjunior at 9:41 AM on October 4 [4 favorites]


("business casual dress" is itself ambiguous, or at least subject to accidental misuse/misinterpretation. Not too long ago, I went to a fancy mid-morning DC lecture event. This was, let us say, outside my usual milieu, so I made sure to ask a well-connected friend what dress was for the event. She was pretty definite about it being "business casual"; I think I was the only guy there without a coat and tie, and something like half the men were in suits. This was ... awkward.)

I tend to take a "understand the system, figure out how to work within the system" approach to questions like the job interview. Dress is fundamentally a matter of situating yourself in a social context [1]; part of the job of a job interview is figuring out what the social context is and presenting yourself well within that context: formal enough to signal that you take the interview seriously; informal enough to signal that you understand the social context and will be able to comfortably navigate all the interpersonal stuff involved in the job.

And I expect a discipline or a field is going to have a pretty consistent understanding of what dress means. We've already seen this in this thread: to a lawyer, a suit typically signals Serious Public-Facing Business; to an engineer, it signals slimy, deceptive sales tactics.

(There can also be an element of countersignalling: if you can pull it off, "I'm smart enough and savvy enough not to have to conform to your unwritten dress code" can go pretty well---but this requires, I don't know, charisma or something.)

tl;dr: "know your audience" applies to dress as well as speech.

(It's amusing to watch this sort of thing in my own field. There's a pretty consistent set of norms, modulated by background: the youngish Israeli is going to come give a talk in a polo shirt and jeans at most, even if he's got a named chair at a really, really well-reputed university; an older American will probably be in nice slacks and a button down, maybe not a jacket. Ties are very rare. Postdoc and faculty job applicants don't always have this sort of thing figured out; I have no idea how that affects hiring decisions.) [2]

[1] This is not the only thing it is---it's also a way of shaping your actual physical image to match how you see yourself, and in turn a way of shaping how you see yourself. This is part of the power of Dressing For Work: it puts you in a work-ish frame of mind. (William Gibson's /The Peripheral/ has a good digression on this.) At the same time, it's part of why expectations around dress can be so frustrating: if the way you see yourself doesn't fit nicely into that social context, then you're trying to squeeze yourself into a box in which you really don't fit.

[2] You'll notice I'm using male examples. The formality ladder for women seems to be much less well defined. Looking from the outside, the few women in my field have all the options men do and more wrt dress, and much more flexibility: I don't recall hearing people comment on women's dress to the extent they do men's (which extent is itself pretty limited).
posted by golwengaud at 10:19 AM on October 4


> The men railing against monkey suits, strangling ties, etc. were all older Gen X or the tail end of Baby Boomers, and had previously worked in a time where professional dress code was strictly enforced. I don't think the corporate dress code will ever again be as strict, but I think as the next generation takes over, suits will be worn by the trailblazers and leaders as a way to differentiate themselves, and this will in turn be adopted by everyone trying to emulate them.

this is correct.

i am by no means a young (hell, i had my first novel published over 50 years ago!) but it seems obvious that the "lol suits are dumb" stuff is only coming from people who are badly out of touch with cultural trends. the dinosaurs — dinosaurs in mindset even when not in age — still walk the earth in their foodstained hoodies, but most of the kids these days, kids of all genders, understand that fashion and style are pleasurable things to play around with, modes of self-expression, and not fripperies that mark one as empty or brainless or whatever. honestly, i read the nascent resurgence in men's fashion as being yet another way that the late millennials and early zoomers are productively disrupting the old 20th century gender binary.

also whatever ties are dope. there's so many knots to learn! it's such a fun game! i bet the folx who say they're dumb never even got past the four-in-hand...
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:25 AM on October 4 [7 favorites]


it's such a fun game!

For some people maybe, but not necessarily for everyone and that should be okay too.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:33 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]


Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon: honestly, i read the nascent resurgence in men's fashion as being yet another way that the late millennials and early zoomers are productively disrupting the old 20th century gender binary.

And I read it as the advertising industry finally figuring out how to tap into men's anxieties in order to move product as well as they've been able to tap into women's anxieties.

That's probably my slacker Gen-X sensibilities speaking, though.
posted by clawsoon at 11:14 AM on October 4 [5 favorites]


honestly, i read the nascent resurgence in men's fashion as being yet another way that the late millennials and early zoomers are productively disrupting the old 20th century gender binary.

I also think (speaking as a Millennial, with a male spouse working in tech who is also passionate about suits) the renewed interest in men's fashion and suits with the younger set came about because so many traditional markers of adulthood are increasingly out of reach for so many of us. The house, the 401(k), the vacations, having children, no debt...

Suits are a more affordable and accessible signal of traditional adulthood and individuality when compared to something like a house, so we focus on mastering Windsor knots and purchasing a fun pocket square, instead of building a new deck or selecting the most stylish kitchen tile.

Now I have no idea if that's actually true, it's just a personal theory. But it kind of reminds me of how women in the 1940s had elaborate curled hairstyles to express themselves, because World War 2 fabric rationing made new or fashionable clothing inaccessible.
posted by castlebravo at 11:52 AM on October 4 [8 favorites]


Snuffleupagus, that is a beautiful suit.
posted by thivaia at 12:59 PM on October 4


...suits are for salespeople who are selling things and not anybody who actually has useful things to say or do.

Such as selling your soul back to you: wear the right costume and the part plays itself.
posted by cenoxo at 1:28 PM on October 4


as someone who has worked in tech at a large company, alongside a massive bunch of millenials and Gen Z folks, and who has a more than passing interest in men's fashion, most of what I have seen for interesting menswear in my past colleagues beyond the bro suit (button down + fleece) are drapey androgynne asymmetrical Japanese influenced layers (like, CdG is having a moment, and Rei, Yohji, et al. are having a mainstream renaissance that feels surprising to me), workwear (Taylor Stitch, Filson, LL Bean), techwear (Ministry of Supply, Outlier, Mission Workshop, bike messenger fetish), and hiphop influenced sneaker nerdery. There are suits and colleagues who work the blazer + t-shirt + jeans + chucks look, but they're still way in the minority.

my take is that suits are going to re-emerge in some way, but the monopoly on it as a uniform for the workplace has been broken and it will be replaced by a diverse array of looks and expressions, all with their own level of sophistication. There are degrees of formality/professionalism in hawaiian shirts. People will nerd out on selvedge and denim lineage, and how dark your jeans should be. Some people will wear suits, but I don't expect it to be so dominant, because it is a vestige of White Anglo Prosperity and our world now defines prosperity more broadly than what White American/British Men Wore in the 50s; and I welcome the Billy Porters and others who can broaden our definition of what nice menswear can be.
posted by bl1nk at 1:31 PM on October 4 [5 favorites]


For over a century now, men’s suits have been soulless straight-jackets topped off with silken nooses. As a post-Beau Brummell alternative, we should reconsider retro menswear as shown in Clothes On Film:
Kind Hearts and Coronets: Decadent Dennis Price
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows: Costume Round Up: Part 1 and Part 2
Then, we might convince The Donald to ditch his plain old commoner suit, and wear something more fitting at G7 summits.
posted by cenoxo at 7:35 PM on October 4 [2 favorites]


SHHHHHHHH!!!! Geez, don't go givin' him ideas, ferchrissake!
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:56 PM on October 4 [1 favorite]


I like suits, I like tailoring, and since I work in a tech company, wearing increasingly out-there suits is what sets me off from the corporate drones. (At our receptionist's request, I'm wearing the brown corduroy on Monday).
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:42 PM on October 4 [1 favorite]


Wonderful thread(s), thanks everyone!

STEM/ Academia:

I interviewed with my PhD PI in dress pants, dress shoes, and a nice dress shirt (no tie). I think she was in hiking pants, a fleece button down, a MEC vest, and Merrel hiking boots. We weren't a field lab, quite the opposite (fluorescent microscopic imaging of primary cultured rodent neurons).

I've met/ sat-in for many grad student and postdoc interviews; most were similar as mine and their interview costume never left more of an impression than the person themselves. Sure, douche/ bro types dressed a certain way/ a little more formal but it was their behaviour, not their dress, that left an impression.

After an industrial postdoc I joined a nascent startup and always felt underdressed/ embarrassed not having an actual suit-suit when meeting with financiers. By the time we were funded well enough that we paid me well enough to afford a cheapish ($500) suit, I've never needed to wear one outside of photoshoots - the finance people come to us now, and I'm dressed in my operational dailies; nice (expensive - I'm a big fan of G-Star) fitted/ tapered cargo pants, ok pullover or a fitted t-shirt, and functional shoes. A hoodie layer as needed and a 20-year old leather 3/4 trench jacket now that its wet season again.

I miss excuses to wear a suit, sometimes.

There's a quote that I can't find/ remember right now, but the gist was that the modern (circa turn of the century 1900) suit was designed to hide the physical properties of "fat cat" bosses/ capitalists and because of the cost/ complexity, inexpensive suits that workers could afford when socially forced to wear suits made them look lumpy and uncomfortable - double so because they were used to wearing clothing with the built-in constraints.
posted by porpoise at 8:54 PM on October 4


Porpoise, that's a claim Alison Lurie makes about the sack suit in The Language of Clothes.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:07 PM on October 4 [1 favorite]


I work in the library world (Land of a Thousand Cardigans) but I often don a very nice black suit jacket when I give talks at conferences. I think it was Nathan Robinson from Current Affairs who once said that if you wear clothes that scream "the man" it gives you a lot more credibility in certain circles when you call for the abolition of capitalism, or at least that's the excuse I give myself because I really just love a good excuse to wear a nice suit jacket.

(I even discovered a wonderful vintage one I had been gifted by a friend had the perfect passport sized chest pocket while I was waiting at an airport. Perfect! Cardigans are nice, but I do not trust them to carry my passport safely on my person)
posted by mostly vowels at 7:12 PM on October 5


I worked as a mainframe computer programmer for Pennzoil and also a bank, both of these jobs downtown Houston. The uniform -- a suit, a nice tie, high quality shoes. It didn't need to be three piece but absolutely a jacket and tie, which was absolutely ridiculous, as we walked to our cubicles, took the jacket off and did our work. Stepping away from your desk? Put that jacket on. Especially for any meetings but also just leaving for lunch.

That carried to my first job here in Austin, 1992, working for a state regulatory agency, which introduced Casual Friday in maybe 1994 which led almost immediately to jackets and ties and fancy shoes being put up. I've let go most of the suits, damn shame for a few of them, one in particular which I really loved, fit me perfectly and still would.

I'm tall and slim and mostly jeans and boots or jeans and Chaco's but I've got a few dark jackets and when I wear one over either a black or white shirt buttoned to the top or almost to the top there are always compliments. I've been thinking recently about wearing a jacket more often, as people seem to see me differently when wearing that uniform rather than jeans and boots, which is more who I feel like I am.

The seeming default mens uniform here is shorts and sandals and t-shirt but my legs are generally torn up from mountain biking so shorts are out except for riding that bicycle or swimming.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:37 PM on October 6


I don't trust anyone who wears one
Just.... wow. Aren't you edgy!

I've spoken before about the super weird and doctrinaire aversion to dressing nicely that exists in some circles. It's not all about power and class, but there's some of that there. I remain baffled by it.

Like, you're still you if your pants fit, and your shirt has a collar.

But hey, if you want to mistrust me because I'm going to put on a suit for a date with my wife tonight, that's on you. But I daresay that says more about you than it does me.
you still have to take out a second mortgage to get a decently-fitted suit
This is not true, unless you think, say, $500 is "take out a second mortgage" territory for a garment that'll last a good long time if you take care of it.

Lower-end suits at joints like Men's Warehouse are, though, incredibly bad -- bad fabric, badly cut, badly sewn. There's a lot to be said about this, but the dipole that now exists -- the very rich and powerful in suits, and also the supplicant class -- is definitely visible when you put someone in a cheap suit next to someone in a well-cut Canali. It's like it's not even the same thing -- like the lower-end one is a suit costume, vs. the real thing.
I must disagree: I don't see any decline in men's suit wearing for managerial or administrative elites. It is still a status symbol and a defacto requirement for many professions from banking to the law.
"From banking to law" is not a very wide range. In fact, those are probably the last two serious holdouts, and as has been noted in this thread lots of lawyers don't wear suits to work every day anymore. I've spent a huge chunk of my career traveling to client offices, and I haven't been in an office full of suit-wearers since the 1990s. (I wore them a lot for a while, though, because the usual rule as an expensive consultant is to dress *slightly* nicer than your client. If they're in dress pants and shirts, but no tie or jacket, we'd wear suits but no ties, for example.)

Re: dancestoblue's experience, yeah. I live in Houston and drive by the Pennzoil building often. You don't see many suits in downtown Houston anymore, and haven't in a long time (20+ years?). Mostly, it's just law and banking that've held on to them. In retrospect it's super funny to me how quickly strict business dress codes were relaxed for the computing folks.

For example, I worked for TeleCheck in 1994. The corporate dress code there was shirt & tie for men, jacket optional. The upwardly mobile wore jackets, and some wore full suits (though never in the summer, because Houston). In software, though, we didn't have to wear ties, and this was an absolute flex / status symbol.
posted by uberchet at 1:41 PM on October 8 [6 favorites]


Well... 40% of Americans can't cover an unexpected expense of $400. And don't forget if you are at a job that requires you to wear a suit every day, you actually need to own at least two suits, preferably three. Add shirts and shoes and $2,000 would not be an unreasonable total for a "professional" work wardrobe that is flattering. If you're making a six-figure income then whatever, but that's a lot to save up for if you're a junior sales rep making $40K/yr.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:21 PM on October 14


The statement was that one needed a second mortgage to cover a suit's cost, implying a cost of thousands of dollars. This is not true, unless you're buying Brioni.

$400 once is not a mortgage, even if you're in a position where you don't have $400. $400 is less than the average car payment (of which there are typically several).

Anyway, you've pivoted to a discussion of ramping up a business wardrobe, which is a different question -- and assumes there exist lots of jobs where one needs several suits to start wherein $400 is still an unattainable amount of money.

This assumes facts (mostly) not in evidence. But I'll answer anyway.

First, if you have a job that requires a suit every day, the odds are you have $400, or will have $400 in reasonably short order. The last bastions of "wear a suit all the time" work in the US are law, banking, and some aspects of government in and around DC.

For the first two, the $400 isn't a problem. There exist ways to get there for the third, but they're not spending $400 on suits, either -- at least not to start.

A new hire at random-agency with a BA is probably a GS-7, and in DC makes about $47K a year. Yeah, in that town, you're not buying a bunch of $400 suits to start. There, you'd make do with cheaper offerings at first, and slowly improve. But nobody is expecting you to be in Brooks Brothers, either.

(I'm also not really sure how many places would expect a GS-7 to be in a suit, but when I deal with agencies in DC I'm typically dealing with more senior people who wear them reflexively, perhaps out of inertia as much as anything else.)
posted by uberchet at 7:48 AM on October 15 [2 favorites]


I'm certainly willing to concede that most people would probably not have to take out a literal, entire second mortgage to pay for a single suit. However, if you can't cover a $400 emergency expense then you are probably living pretty month-to-month, to the point where coming up with $500 for a single suit would likely require some significant rearrangements of your fixed costs or going into additional debt.

I do still think it's important to note that a single suit is not the same thing as the cost of a wardrobe for a job that requires suit-wearing. And whether or not someone "expects" you to be in a nice suit on a five-figure income (and some suit-wearers make five figures for their entire careers), having to look frumpy in a poly "suit costume" on a regular basis is pretty demeaning.
posted by en forme de poire at 6:17 PM on October 15


« Older How To Really Piss Off Your Parents   |   What is the value of thoughts and prayers? Newer »


You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.