While I am a big fan of the suit, it occurred to me that although a return to formality is now a general trend in many workplaces, the implied requirement of a suit is no longer the rule.
Suits are still very much a vital part of any man’s wardrobe, more so in this capitol city where the gray sack suit is as ubiquitous as a policy position. Nonetheless, the need for an actual suit to achieve the relative standard of “professional dress” is far less prominent than in the past. When did this happen?
Remember the heady dress down days of 1999? The Internet bubble was fast expanding and with it came the Californication of workplace clothing. Jeans, khakis and polo shirts replaced suits and ties. Office dress codes were turned on their heads, and frankly this sartorial purging was desperately needed. Prior to the Internet culture taking hold on both coasts, men’s clothing for the workplace was in a bad place.
It may be hard to remember now, but most off the rack suits were boxy, ill fitted, identical, boring, and of poor quality. The suit itself had lost any real sense of occasion and been relegated to the role of anonymous uniform. A few bastions of classic loathing like Brooks Brothers and to a lesser degree, Jos.A. Banks, provided professionals with good quality suits. Other than that, the choices were widely divided. Either cheap mass produced articles devoid of character or even quality, or very high-end brands that were out of most working stiff’s reach.
At the same time, most offices had established suits as the de riggur uniform for it’s employees. What was missing of course was the ability to express personality or individual style; within corporate bounds of course. As the Internet culture took hold in all sorts of workplaces – because if it worked in California, of course, it should work everywhere else – workers starved for sartorial freedom embraced corporate casual to varying degrees.
After a while it dawned on many of us that, when you got down to brass tacks, the “movement” was really just a gambit that allowed college whiz kids to avoid doing the laundry now that they had jobs. By the time the internet revolution came crashing down in the latter half of 2001, the emerging need to appear professional and trustworthy helped claw back some workplace decorum. I mean, how confident would you be, faced with a bunch of angry antitrust layers, if you attorney walked in wearing ripped jeans, Chuck Taylors, and a College sweatshirt. Yes, there are some super archivers who wear whatever the hell they want, but the’re earned that right. A 24 year-old just out of school has not.
So, here we are in the midst of what can be described as a legitimate menswear renaissance. Guys of all ages are now interested in dressing well and expressing their personas through clothing and high quality accessories. Not since the golden age of menswear of the 1930s has there been so much opportunity when it comes to what men can wear on a given day.
In today’s world, the role of the suit is still very secure. Where once there were one or two chain stores at which to suit up, men now have numerous options from which to choose. Bespoke tailoring has enjoyed a sartorial resurgence and the whole idea of classic clothing is front and center.
This time however, suits are not alone. Separates like sports jackets and blazers paired with flannels and dress trousers have enjoyed renewed popularity as well. But the suit is still king, and for the first time in a long time pretty much every style is a go. From two to three buttons, single breasted to double, suits are back in the office and strolling the street.