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.

The_suit_2 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 . . .

Posted at 06:03 AM in Shopping | Permalink


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hey! was it the commercial..

Where the waiter at the fish and chips place dressed as a pirate sings the song that says "you should always dress for the job you want!"

Was that what made you think about mark and suits?

Posted by: Eric Davis | Jan 9, 2008 1:33:33 PM

> Ever see two guys meet, and one flips back the others neck tie to see the label/designer?

Quite happy to say I have not only never seen that, but this is the first I've even heard of it.

Posted by: Brian | Jan 9, 2008 3:50:28 PM

well, some of it is well described by T. Veblen, "The Leisure Class". 1890s book, but still a great read!

the Lehman Handshake - never heard of it either. says something about Lehman people not being able to tell a nice tie from an ugly one?

Posted by: Fiuman | Jan 10, 2008 3:31:33 AM

I am pretty sure Lehman Handshake is a joke. Not only have I not heard of it, I can't imagine anyone having the degree of rudeness required to do it.

Posted by: MI | Jan 10, 2008 8:55:19 AM

those poor farmers, nothing but overalls.

with wheat & beans prices where they are maybe they will start going to Brooks Brothers

I think I would chose the farm belt over wall street. But hey, nice tie.

Posted by: Steve | Jan 10, 2008 9:03:16 AM

Similar to the Lehman Handshake, the younger generation (primarily early-teens) use a process we coined "Pod Sniffing." Countless times I've seen two teens meet for the first time and exchange iPods. They each thumb through the playlists and listen to various songs to size up if they can be friends based on the music on the iPod.

Posted by: Rob | Jan 10, 2008 2:25:40 PM

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.

Status-consciousness sycophants remind me of dogs sniffing each other's butts. No wonder these organizations are so stuffed with dull-witted sheep and stumble into disaster again and again. So glad I don't work in such an environment.

Posted by: Mike G | Jan 10, 2008 11:33:08 PM

Re: "The Lehman Handshake"

Immediately after I graduated from college I went to work at Olde Discount Stockbrokers (where I stayed all of 2 months), where I was subjected to "The Lehman Handshake" by one of the stockbrokers there. I still remember the guy who did it, and not fondly.

Posted by: Brent | Jan 12, 2008 3:43:34 PM

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