Where did it go wrong?
Uber disrupted the taxi business. Google disrupted advertising. Amazon disrupted retail. As of this writing, Tesla’s in the process of ripping apart the automobile business.
Clearly tech companies are in pursuit of recoding every legacy business model that no longer serves modern society. The result is billions in profit that at one point weren’t even imaginable.
Before the causally dressed tech juggernauts of today, in the late 80’s Microsoft was on the rise and along with companies like eBay and PayPal, business casual attire in the office became their norm.
The suit was disrupted.
Economic stalwarts like IBM, JPMorgan and Boeing resisted the idea of deconstructed work attire. The suit was such a part of IBM’s culture, they were known as the men and women in blue; because of their blue suits.
Today, JPMorgan is struggling to hire tech talent because they’re still clinging to an outdated work environment, but they’re coming around.
I know this intimately because I worked at JPMorgan and it was a real issue of concern.
One of the anecdotes used internally was JPMorgan wanted to hire a tech executive based in San Jose, CA. They planned to fly him to New York headquarters for an interview with senior leaders, which required him to wear a suit.
His response? “I don’t even own a suit and I don’t plan on buying one. Sorry, I’m not your guy.” The salary for this role was well over one million dollars annually, plus several million in bonuses.
From that day forward, JPMorgan decided it was time for a cultural shift.
Another blow to the suit culture.
Let’s take a step back.
The Dot Com bubble bursting in early 2000 didn’t help the cause of Silicon Valley counter-culturalists.
It validated the traditional class’s belief that a bunch of yahoo’s in flip flops and shorts had no business being in business. With billions of dollars evaporated overnight in failed tech ideas, it was once again time for the adults in suits to take over.
From the debris of the Dot Com bust, new tech companies arose from the ashes. Facebook being one of them and in 2012, just a week before Facebook’s IPO launch, Zuck addressed his shareholders wearing a hoodie.
The fallout was loud and clear… the consensus was that investors are handing you billions of dollars to grow Facebook and if you can’t wear a suit, then you don’t have the maturity to lead this company.
How’d that work out?
Silicon Valley showed the rest of the world that wearing a suit to work was no longer a prerequisite to success, in fact, it could stifle it.
Tech billionaires from the early 90’s and even today are the antithesis of the traditional class. They’re youthful, informal and don’t like conformity. It’s this very mindset that leads to the upending of traditional business models.
By the late 90’s the Armani suit was the Rolls Royce of menswear. Today no one cares what you are wearing, its all about what you are doing.
The suit, a fading status symbol?
Asides from tech pros, athletes make millions wearing tennis shoes, musicians make millions wearing anything but a suit, social media stars make millions wearing nothing in particular.
It would seem anyone making any real money is doing it while not wearing a suit. Granted their profession doesn’t require it, but the professions still clinging to the traditional suit and tie aren’t cranking out millions for their operatives.
Banking and insurance seem to be the holdouts. They still rake in billions rocking church clothes.
Granted the climate in the Northeast U.S. is a lot more convenient for wearing a suit, in fact, it can be even practical. Coincedently, banking and insurance companies are highly concentrated in the Northeast corridor.
The same can’t really be said for the Southern & Western U.S. where climate makes it nearly absurd to wear a suit in some months if not year round.
So why wear a suit then?
A suit for work and a suit for style are two different suits. One you have to wear, while the latter you choose to wear.
The suit you choose to wear and how you wear it is an expression of your ideals and rituals. It takes a conscious decision to put on a suit. It also requires careful attention to detail to look good in a suit.
Whether it’s the color combination of your shirt, tie and socks or the cuff links that accent the stripes on your jacket. How you wear your suit says a lot about you. A narrative that you control.
It shows you have some order in your life. If you can back that visual narrative up with substance, then you have made a profound statement about the value of being well dressed.
A person with style who cares about details will never fall out of favor. It’s a mindset that has a place in the chaos we call modern society.
Some people resent the suit because they feel it’s a symbol of male oppression. It represents a life of monotonous work in the fruitless servitude of others. This is the idea behind Silicon Valley doing away with the standard dress code, particularly the suit and tie.
A suit is more than a suit
The moment you make a suit yours by accenting it with a style that is all your own, it becomes an extension of your own personal philosophy.
I have yet to meet a man who dons a tailored suit and feels worse. It doesn’t work that way, if anything it inspires them to be a better version of themselves.
The realization comes with each ritual; tightening the tie, clasping their belt, shining their shoes… it says, “if I put more effort into myself, my potential is limitless.”
It’s this limitless potential that drives men to keep wearing suits. The fact of the matter is we all have money, so how we choose to express ourselves with the money we make is a personal choice.
My bet is that the elevated man will always pick the suit and the accoutrements that come with it, every time.