Dec 27, 2019

Are Suits an Endangered Species?

By Ed Goldman

Costumed in my customary semi-bespoke, big-boy suit, I attended a few semi-formal, semi-sassiety events this holiday season. When a Chablis-infused old guy staggered up to me and said—with what I’m sure he considered jocular, possibly even urbane wit—“Hey, tomorrow I’ll treat you to a tie”—it reminded me of an interview Kai Ryssdal did on his “Marketplace” radio show a couple of months ago about an apparently endangered species: not necessarily men’s ties but definitely men’s suits.

Ryssdal was yakking with Mark Dent, who’d just written for Vox, the nearly five-year-old media/opinion news site, about the fall of the power suit (which sounds like the title of a fashion article whose subheads would include “Is Tweed too Twee for Autumn? Are You?”). Dent said that in the computer world, where the workplace ensemble for overnight billionaires often consists of hoodies, cutoffs and flipflops, someone who shows up that day wearing a suit probably has a job interview scheduled for his lunch hour.

In short, the power suit, as we’ve come to call it, may soon symbolize just the opposite. Just like that, a captain of industry will be seen as a stevedore with aspirations.
As you know, this changes from era to era. A century ago (or earlier), a man’s being slightly portly and pasty telegraphed that he was prosperous. He ate rich foods, took no exercise and didn’t have to toil in the sun, like a ditchdigger.
But by the 1970s (or earlier), a guy’s being tan and trim suggested success: He could afford to go on tropical vacations and had the leisure and means to employ a personal trainer.
Ryssdal and I agree (we’ve never met, of course) that when we put on a suit, it makes a difference in our self-esteem. We stand a little more erect, stride rather than stagger and speak with more confidence, even though the shoes may be pinching. I guess there’s something about being slightly physically uncomfortable at a soiree that ups your conversational game. If you don’t believe me, just ask women who wear high heels pitched so dramatically that their toes look like ten little drills about to burrow into the floor.
The power suit, as we’ve come to call it, may soon symbolize just the opposite.
In conclusion, I have to tell you I enjoy listening to Ryssdal not only because of his knowledge and cockiness but also because it’s fun to hear how casual his guests try to sound in order to climb into his groove. So you get a lot of exchanges like this:
GUEST: Hi, Ky.

RYSSDAL: I’m surprised you made it here!

GUEST: Why, Ky?

RYSSDAL: Because I just heard you testifying on The Hill earlier in the day about—

GUEST: Not I, Ky.

RYSSDAL: You mean that wasn’t you testifying about misappropriating—

GUEST: Oh my, Ky. (Begins to sob)

RYSSDAL: Oh, geez, I’ve upset you—

GUEST: You made me cry, Ky.

RYSSDAL: Cry? I? Why?

GUEST: (Sigh)

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go climb into my soon-to-be-extinct suit and possibly prepare for one—for defamation. Bye-bye, Ky.

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Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).