UNI­FORM POWER

Men's Folio (Singapore) - - Features -

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.

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