Style Basics

Business casual and the return of the well dressed man

By on January 20th, 2018

If it seems like fewer men are wearing suits today, you’re right. Sort of.

In the mid-century, a man was almost always dressed in a suit or at least a sportcoat and tie when he left the house. Today, the pendulum has swung so far in the opposite direction that may seem to be a bit overly dressed, outside of the law and financial industries.

What I find interesting about studying the history of men’s suiting, is that the style and level of formality is often a direct reflection of the time. For instance, after the Great Depression in the United States (i.e. 1929 – 1939), suits were worn in a wide fit and in very basic colors; there was no desire for flair.

On the other hand, the 1970’s saw a wave of men wearing wide lapels and big knots in their neck ties as a sartorial reflection of the counter culture that was in full swing. Colors were bright and spirits were high. But men were still wearing suits, generally speaking.

It wasn’t until the 1990′s that things started to change that led to where we are today. This is when business casual really kicked in.

I think GQ Magazine said it well:

With less men than ever suiting up for work, an entire generation forgot all the fundamentals. The oversized silhouette of the ‘80s stuck around, but minus the Wall Street swagger and sense of purpose. Pants were wide… but they just pooled around square-toed shoes. Ties were wide… but they were attached to billowing dress shirts…” [1]

However, in the 2000’s, skinny suits started to gain traction as a contemporary update on the classic 1960’s cut and style. Around 2010, I feel like the Internet really served as a bullhorn as an army of bloggers and influencers began to experiment with their own suit style and show the world. In other words, the suit wasn’t just the power suit anymore, it was a vehicle for self-expression.

Today, although most suits are still relatively fitted, there are countless styles available. And our present period of extended economic growth has ushered in an era of extravagant and colorful suits and accessories (who knew that the tie bar and pocket square would make such a comeback!).

Our present period of extended economic growth has ushered in an era of extravagant and colorful suits and accessories

We’ve also seen some interesting combinations that may make your grandfather grimace, but are totally cool for those that can pull it off, such as the sneakers with a suit style.

So, all of that to say this: that yes, many men are no longer wearing suits with the frequency that their father or grandfather may have, but many men are. And those that are still wearing suits, are projecting an image of confidence, style, and charisma in a very modern way.

The suit has made a big comeback and this time, it’s not about projecting power and authority so much as it is about being yourself and having some fun. It’s about enjoying the clothes you’re living in.

fewer men are wearing suits today

For me, dressing up in a suit does two things: it’s a way for me to honor those around me and a means for me to say something about my personal creativity and art.

Addressing the latter, there’s a part of me that likes the fact that when I walk down the street, I might be the only one wearing a sportcoat or suit. I like being a little different and standing out.

Wearing a suit reminds me that I’m making progress and inspires me when I need a little help.

But about honoring those around me…I found this article fascinating on the topic of why men don’t wear suits anymore. It argues that our desire for authenticity and egalitarianism are likely key drivers, but it offers up an interesting point: that our suits and tailored clothing don’t need to be looked upon merely as a means to hide or compensate for something, but that our suits can be vehicles for inspiration and respect:

Those around us deserve our respect simply because they are people. In that way, authenticity and egalitarianism can mean we strive to be not just ourselves and equitable, but better, nobler, kinder and more considerate.”

One of the main reasons that I like to wear a suit and dress sharp is that it’s a reminder to myself to be a better man. I strive to be just a little bit better than I was yesterday. Wearing a suit helps me to feel comfortable and confident. Even just having my shoes shined has an impact. It reminds me that I’m making progress and encourages me when I might feel like I’m not. I’m dressed to respect and honor those that I meet throughout my day, but also, myself.

And then there’s the nostalgia, but that’s a story for another day.

Footnotes and Further Reading, on why fewer men are wearing suits:

[1] The History of the Suit by Decade

By the way, if you’re interested in learning more about the early history of the suit, here’s one of my earlier blog posts on the subject.