Then something radical happened in the 1990s. Blame it on the rise of the tech geeks, preceded by a little creative marketing by Gap and Levi’s (via Dockers), but suddenly the suit has succumbed to khakis and jeans as the standard corporate livery.
It all started with a seemingly innocuous workplace trend called Casual Fridays. What HR departments thought would be a fun (and free) employee perk turned out to be the seed that eventually inspired and emboldened office drones to cast off the yoke of their slave-suits. This newfound sartorial freedom left workers slightly stranded at the beginning – many were at a loss without the safety of suits – but with the help of opportunistic brands like Dockers, the new business casual paradigm was established and the (somewhat oxymoronic) relaxed-yet- proper appearance of khaki slacks became de rigueur.
The advent of the Information Age soon gave the traditional business suit its quietus. Technopreneurs liked nothing better than to rant against it (“If you don’t have anything to say, wear a suit,” Bing Gordon, co-founder of Electronic Arts, once told Fortune magazine), while Silicon Valley titans like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Sergey Brin ostensibly rejected the garment as anti-tech, uncreative, and living in the past – in other words, dull. And when you run the world like these guys do, you can wear whatever the hell you want in the office, even hoodies and jeans.
This shift in dress code wasn’t just a matter of comfort or convenience but signified a deeper change in the way people perceived professional success. The intense technological revolution has freed people from the confines of the workplace, leading the new generation of business graduates to believe (and decide) that working in a garage, in jeans, with the potential to make millions via a new startup, is more interesting than working in a glass and steel office at the bottom of a rigid corporate ladder. Suits were neither new nor modern, and companies that required them were thought of likewise; to put on a suit was to trail the bandwagon of self- made billionaires pushing into the future.