Brooks Brothers, venerable men’s clothiers, has declared bankruptcy. Let us blame changing societal standards. I do not know if that is really the reason, but I do not know anything about business, so I am going with the “changing standards” theory.
It seems true, right? The department stores are limping. The retail bloodbath of 2020 is shuttering men’s provisioners. Where am I supposed to get a suit? Are we doomed to a future where Amazon sells us home scanners that take our measurements and fabricate a suit that arrives in six hours by drone?
Who wants that?
Well, I do, but at least I want the option of driving to the store and eyeballing the racks of suits that appear utterly indistinguishable except for the price and the designer name sewn on by someone laboring away in an unventilated factory on the other side of the planet. In the store you get personal attention from a harried, stooped, balding guy who does that thing with the tape measure and the inseam — careful there, pal — and makes a few chalk marks that translate to something that feels like a second skin.
You might say, “Actually, one skin seems sufficient these days.” People work from home now, and everyone is content to sit around the house in sweatpants and a shirt stained with breakfast jam. It is the end of office dress.
Well, I for one object to the end of office dress, and not just because I picked up the most darling little number at Ann Taylor. Suits make a man feel upright, capable and more handsome than he actually is. A suit expects something of the wearer, and if you wear one daily, you become what your suit thinks you ought to be. Which is vaguely uncomfortable, when you get down to it, but you are better for the sacrifice.
You wonder: Is he joking? A bit. I do not wear a suit very often, and when I do, it involves removing the last funeral program from the pocket and replacing it with a new one. But I like the old ads that showed an era of ubiquitous suits. In old pictures of a family at dinner, Dad looks like he is going to be leaving the house after the meal to argue before the Supreme Court. You cannot fit a gnat’s wing between his neck and his shirt collar, and his shoes are so shiny you could bounce a flashlight off the polish and project a Batman logo in the clouds.
He might be a $20-a-week bookkeeper at a pencil factory, but he dresses like — well, a $30-a-week bookkeeper.
That was in the ads, anyway. For all we know, Dad really loosened his collar when he got home, undid the tie a little and enjoyed the warm flush of blood running back to his brain. His wife, whose uncovered ankles have not been glimpsed since the Spanish-American War, would scold: “Harold! The children!”
“Aw, Maude, let a man relax.”
“Next thing you know, you will be rolling up your pajama sleeves. It is indecent. Set a good example.”
Now things are different. We do not have to wear hats. We do not have to wear ties. If you work at home, you do not even have to wear pants. Give this another year and half, and the workforce will be nudists who think it is a concession to formality if they show up for a Zoom meeting wearing a lobster bib.
Imagine someone in 1978 writing a sci-fi story about the impossibly distant year of 2020. You would dress all your characters in gray smocks with numbers on the back, because that is what they thought the future would be like. Imagine if you could go back in time and tell them how they were wrong.
(Blinding flash of light. Future man appears.)
“Hey, you are from the future? Cool! So, gray tunics and shaved heads, right?”
“No, men of all ages wear jeans and a ‘Star Wars’ T-shirt.”
“But ... but I am wearing that now. What happened? Did everyone go into suspended animation?”
“Sort of. We ran out of ideas.”
“You are wearing a suit, though — the lapels are at least three-quarters of an inch narrower than we have now. You are telling me that is the extent of 40 years of fashion evolution? Lapels retreat by less than an inch? Oh, well. What do they wear on the moon base?”
“I have to go now.”
In conclusion, because I have puffed up this thin idea beyond its capacity, we will not be better off if the suit goes away. We will not be a smarter, more sophisticated civilization if the president takes the oath of office in a bathrobe. A suit makes a man stand taller, and feel sharper, and a well-tailored suit has no equal. I hope Brooks Brothers survives, and the traditions continue.
Note: This was written while wearing a tie, which is why there are no contractions in the entire article. Contractions are for slobs.