Wednesday, January 09, 2008
Why Wear a Suit?
Exactly one year ago, a Mark Cuban declared Why he doesn't wear a suit -- and can't figure out why anyone does !.
It festered for a while, and then I forgot about it. A recent event made me revisit it.
I understand why Mark don't want to wear a suit -- he doesn't have to, having achieved that magic number of dollars that lets you say fuck you to the rest of the world without consequence.
What I can't figure out is why he does not understand why so many other people have to. Perhaps all that lovely lucre obscures one memory of life in the real world.
Suits (in a modern sense of the word) have been worn ever since Louis XIV of France and Charles II, king of Great Britain, so decreed to members of Court in the 17th Century that they must wear them.
Why did the kings so declare? BECAUSE THEY COULD. Like an alpha dog establishing dominance over the rest of the pack, so too, the monarchs established their dominance over their domains and their subjects. Their lessers all competed for survival, significant others, and standard of living. It was, and still is, very Darwinian in nature.
Ever since then, the wearing of a suit has been a social sign of conformity and stature. It is shorthand for your place in the pecking order -- corporate, academic, fraternal or otherwise. Some discussions of this explicitly recognize this (see the book The Suit: A Machiavellian Approach to Men's Style).
Henry David Thoreau once noted "It is an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes."
You wear a suit because you must in order to earn a paycheck, join the team, win a contract, sell a product or service. It is a uniform that can at times declare "I am of lower significance than you, and I humbly wear this suit as a sign of respect and deference, so I may win favor from you, or a contract, a vote, or a raise, and please won't you buy some whole life insurance from me."
Back in the day, IBM was infamous for the blue suits their employees wore, as a sign of total subjugation to the corporate entity over the individual identity. Is it any surprise the mainframe manufacturer failed to adapt well to the era of personal PCs? It was an anathema to them.
Those of independent financial means (like Mark) have little need to subjugate themselves for financial purposes, and thus don't HAVE to wear suits all that often.
Even without the suit, there are ways to judge our betters and lessers by other status cues -- cars, spouses, homes, watches, shoes, etc. Ever see two guys meet, and one flips back the others neck tie to see the label/designer? That's called (I love this expression) "The Lehman Handshake" -- and its little more than a status confirmation.
If you study a little sartorial history, as well as understand how Human Societies have functioned over the past 5 centuries, the Suit makes more and more sense.
Many expressions we hear reflect this: Clothes make the man, time to suit up, put on your Sunday best.
Now about those ugly rep ties . . .
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Why Wear a Suit?:
The comments to this entry are closed.