The return, oh joy, to suit and tie

Posted: Aug 28, 2002 12:00 AM
Oh, if we could just believe it -- the news, duly relayed by organs like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, that this fall suits are back in the business world. Because if we could believe it, and if it turned out to be gospel truth, it would constitute a victory for ... well, might we say, common sense? Lordy, lordy: blue jeans at the office? Those wretched gray and brown and who-knows-what-else long-sleeved shirts worn tieless and generally with no coat? The Era of the Slob has held sway over America these past few years. But, O frabjous day, that would all seem to be ending. Lousy dressing has been passed off to us since the '90s as stylish dressing. During the bull market, as the Times puts it, "Corporate officers dressed for work in gym sweats. Bankers turned up at the office dressed for golf. Even presidential candidates lost track of the symbolism that used to come in every politician's starter kit and began campaigning dressed like the guy who mows your lawn." A few of us -- a valiant handful -- soldiered on in our seersucker suits and button-down collars and neckties purchased for $13.99 at Syms. The corporate officers and candidates could go their own way, but we knew in our heart what would befall them. They would, as the English say, come a cropper. And, behold, they did. "(T)ough times," according to the Times, "call for legible dressing. Tie sales are now stronger than they have been in years. The suit is back for men ... " The question that bankers dressed for golf could never answer -- to the extent they ever tried -- was why anyone would want to do business with a banker dressed for golf. Where were we to suppose his mind was? On the golf course, of course. He was dying to get there. His foursome partners were awaiting him. He had just a few minutes to spare for you. Talk fast, talk fast. Here was a man with matters other than banking on his mind, not uncertain loans to Enron or Dynegy or WorldCom. Golf was the game. Eighteen holes plus a few quick ones at the 19th, then home again, home again. With the dough rolling in at torrential speed, all that men in the know had to do, presumably, was relax and wait for the torrent to abate so that the day's take might be counted. Might as well dress to fit the occasion, hmmm? First came the moral abomination of Casual Fridays, resisted by only the brave and the cantankerous. Over time, dressing down got to be so much fun the beneficiaries decided to carry on the same way every day. Consequences were easy enough to predict. Mental sloppiness goes with sartorial sloppiness. Haven't public school administrators often enough advised us of this semi-scientific principle? The proliferation of school uniforms -- sometimes, sadly, over voluble parental protest -- stems from the perception that "D" dressing makes for "D" achieving on report cards. You just plain don't care: Such is the message slovenliness always sends. Slovenliness is -- woe and alas -- a human affliction deeply rooted in the desire for an easy way out. Naturally, we humans need only the most minimal excuse to practice slovenliness, whereas moderately decent dressing requires some care and exertion. You have to tie your shoelaces. That done, you have to keep your shoes shined and your heels from running down. Maybe, as a slovenly society, we got what was coming to us. We proved unable to give cupidity and stupidity any graver attention than we might have bestowed on scuffed wingtips -- had we owned any wingtips to scuff. In no time, if the rumored return to suits proves accurate, we could be sitting once more atop the economic world, with cufflinks and puffed-up handkerchiefs. Let us not forget -- this time -- how bewitching is the call to ease and flipflops. Gentlemen, polish your wingtips.