The history of office wear in the 20th century goes something like this: suits, suits, suits, suits, khakis. Indeed, the formal suit and tie has been quite the tyrant in its time, keeping a death grip on corporate business for decades by having generations of junior executives sedulously following the dress code of their bosses. The sartorially inclined might argue that not all suits are made equal, but they’re just being pedantic; a suit is a suit, no matter the peak of its lapel or the fit of its cut.
While the suit’s provenance is likely too far-flung and complex to trace back, the modern look is said to have come directly from Europe at the turn of the century, where business titans donned custom- made frock coats complete with vest, pocket watch, striped trousers, and top hat. The working class soon seized upon the fashion for work wear, but not before lobbing off the silly tails and shaping the garment into a more leisurely lounge suit. Mercantile tailors then made the suits slightly different every year ( because that’s the best way to get people to buy more clothes), leading to the proliferation of styles through the decades.
The indomitable suit survived the Great Depression and wars, though cloth austerity led to the demise of the double- breasted then. It gained personality with loud patterns when European designers insinuated themselves into business fashion, got cut from brave new synthetic fabrics, and paired up with ties that screamed colour and size (with knots the size of babies’ fists). Then came the 1980s Wall Street boom, the era of conspicuous consumption and flaunting power, where it lined the executive wardrobes of American gigolos and psychos. It became a corporate douchebag with suspenders, and made Armani a boardroom staple. It shrunk and billowed, all the while keeping the same basic shape for the last 100 years – a testament to the strength of its design. Such was the enduring value of the suit, and its monopoly on office dress codes seemed unshakeable.