Saturday, April 04, 2009
I am pretty sure that the term "the suits" did not come into common usage until I was a young adult.
Now I hear it in a number of contexts, but none of them make me think that it is a good thing to be one of the suits. For example, an office worker might say, "The suits from corporate will be here tomorrow." First thing that would come to my mind in that situation would be, "Crap, now we have to waste a bunch of time showing them around the place (and that means cleaning up)."
Between 1950 and 1970, U.S. and European culture made a pretty radical change. Before that period, male manual laborers and tradesmen wore "work clothes". People who worked in offices, universities, etc. wore suits. What we call a suit today is a dumbed down version of a military uniform. It developed during the 19th century. Before that a man who wanted to display status, pretty much dressed like a peacock, like Henry below.
And, no he is not glad to see you, that is a codpiece. It was de rigueur in Henry's time.
But in recent decades we find our selves in a tough situation. The suits all look alike. How can we know if they are lower level suits or top of the heap suits? Fortunately we still have a few clues. If there is a woman with an important suit, she will also be dressed in a suit, or she will look like a peacock. Another tip would be the car the suits arrive in. If the car is worth more than your house and your children's college education combined, then he is a very important suit. Watches work the same way. I really don't know why, but it is perfectly o.k. for a suit to drive a Rolls Royce or wear a Rolex, but they seem to be shy about looking like a peacock.
I think it would make it easier for everyone if we returned to the sable collars and scarlet capes. We could be a hundred yards away and still tell that it was a guy who believes himself to be important. That would give us more time to clean up our act.
suits photo credit: The CBI
henry viii photo credit: Sleepless in Somerset