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Suit Up
I've been thinking a lot about suits lately, and how their meaning has changed--from something men wore more or less every day and kind of secretly hated to Barney from How I Met Your Mother rhapsodizing about how a suit makes you special and beautiful and interesting and desirable. I super-want one of my own.

Because these days it really does. A nice suit on a man (or woman, the power of a woman in a man's suit is not to be denied) is a pretty rare thing. Most of the men in my life, historically, would have been happy forever in geek-slogan t shirts and denim shorts and never seemed to give it much thought whether girls liked that look. I mean, there's so much free-range privilege wrapped up in this it's scary--suits are the uniform of privilege, the very symbol of it. See Draper, Don. But since hardly anyone but the upper-upper crust of business men wear them regularly, for my generation they are special-occasion only. And of course women are meant to obsess about their own fashion but look beneath the total lack of care about personal appearance and see the Adonis beneath when any man approaches.

There's video of my fourth birthday party, and all the men in my family are in suits and ties. Not because we were super formal, but in 1983, that's what you wore.

I'm not going to lie. I find suits hot. Amazingly so, on both genders. It approaches the level of a fetish. (And can we stop calling them pantsuits on women and making fun of Hillary Clinton? Because they are the same freaking outfit.) I know in my head that's because it's a signifier, and that's what Barney is talking about. Suits mean you have it together in some way, that you are strong and powerful. That you make an effort. They wouldn't mean that if they were as ubiquitous as they once were, when they merely meant conformity, privilege, man in the grey flannel suit blah blah blah. That's almost dada-levels of meaningless now, especially in the geekier professions. Many of us who work at home on the computer are lucky to make it out of PJs on any given day. When you have to wear it all the time it's not the same--my Navy ex-husband hated wearing his uniform, no matter how hot I found it because I was raised on Top Gun.

So now it's this free-floating symbol, and anyone can put it on, suit up, as Barney would say, and take advantage of the hindbrain association with power without the overtones of conformity.

And yet. Still pretty rare. I don't think, baring junior prom, I have ever even had a guy show up for a date in one--let alone a girl, which, saints preserve us, would we even make it to dinner?

So I guess I'm advocating for suit-wearing. Adult cosplay, so to speak. Cosplaying as adults. But more I'm just thinking about it, a lot, how clothes and fashion still shape us so profoundly, but how we love to pretend it doesn't, that we're beyond it. Bragging about how few shoes we have, and disdaining khakis. But we still react to it in everyone around us, and in ourselves, how we feel in one outfit versus another, how we choose to present ourselves. It's oh-so-common to pretend fashion is an exclusively female sport, but those geek-slogan shirts are very carefully chosen to represent the culture of the wearer and advertise it, and the refusal to wear suits or any quality clothing is probably more a refusal to participate in last generation's memesphere than that oh-so-chic mainstream-male affectation of not even knowing what color is.

We are what we wear, or we wouldn't choose, and pay, to wear it.

I forget, sometimes, just how much our clothes actually *do* say about us. I think it's why school uniforms, in theory, make a lot of sense as an equalizer, although children and youth will always find something by which to judge each other. It is not as if they learn any different from most adults in their lives.

And of course women are meant to obsess about their own fashion but look beneath the total lack of care about personal appearance and see the Adonis beneath when any man approaches.

This, this this, this, oh, sweet baby Jesus in the morning, THIS.

(And can we stop calling them pantsuits on women and making fun of Hillary Clinton? Because they are the same freaking outfit.)

This too.

Lord, it is one of my least favorite dude-behaviors. Some try to defend it in this I reject the physical shallow world bullshit, but none of them would date a girl who dressed like that.

Hmm. I may have to actually dress up for the dessert reception/GoH speeches at next Wiscon....

you should--that's what they're for! The men at the Nebulas were so proud of their suits, it was adorable. Also hot.

You obviously need to date Peter Straub more often.

Well, that's obviously true. A genius in a suit? Sold.

I'm with you on that. Suits are awesome. Give me a good opportunity to wear one (and AC during the summer) and I am *so* there.

The suit is not just special-occasion wear for me. Or at least the suit jacket isn't. I'll usually do parts of a suit -- jacket, tie or pants, jacket -- before I'll do the whole thing, because I like the variety.

I've actually been thinking of having one custom-made. It's about time, I think.

I actually really dig that look. There's a guy here in Portland, a friend of D's, who wears jeans, cordouroy blazers, and t shirts. He is always quite smokin.

My husband looks badass in a suit and wears them frequently. That is partly why I married him. :)

My husband plays drums in a moderately successful local swing band, and for most of his gigs, everyone in the band wears a suit. He and the bass player often get by with a shirt and tie, but for everyone up front, it's suits all the way.

Alas...they more often wear zoot suits than not, and I don't know if those adequately convey the message that you're posting about. Any way you slice it, no one looks good in a burnt orange suit with a lime green shirt.

It's a different message, for sure, but at least they aren't afraid of color!

Do women's suits have their own power? I'm talking about suits with skirts, because while 'pants suit' is definitely a stupid title, skirted-suits are sort of their own thing that I'd say is separate from a man's suit. I dunno, not trying to get into a semantics debate, but just curious :)

Well, I think a woman in a skirt suit is hot, but it is different--unless. Is she wearing a button down and tie or not? That's what makes a suit more than a blazer to me.

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I might think it strange if a guy showed up for a date in a full suit, but a waistcoat would be delicious.

Maybe not a first date, but any date.

I am all for this. I love a good suit on anyone, male or female. I would adore to see my girls in suits, waistcoats... there's a reason Garyth David-Lloyd is SO UNBEARABLY HOT to me in Torchwood, but just averagely attractive outside of it.

I desperately want a three-piece suit (and lovely dress shirts) from Duchess Clothier in Portland, because they have gorgeous old-fashioned suits that are quasi-custom-tailored, and they're well-versed in tailoring their suits to fit well on women.

And, randomly, I was just thinking about how a good suit really transforms a person thanks to, of all things, Legally Blonde: The Musical - there's a song called Take it Like a Man where Elle takes Emmett (who has thus far only worn khaki, an oxford, and a ratty corduroy jacket) to get a suit from a department store. My favourite part has to be this:

Emmett: I look like Warner.
Elle: Yeah...
Emmett: But it's just me.
Elle: That's the best part, the outside is new. But now it reflects what's already in you.

Just... There really is something different about a man (or woman) in a suit. There's something confident about it, and it conveys a sense of... dignity, and care about oneself.

I dunno, this had a point and basically got sidetracked into OMG SUITS ARE LOVE, but there you go. Suits are love.

On the one hand, suits are annoying to wear and I hate that I have to wear them to work pretty frequently.

On the other, the one time I wore a suit to a date with another girl, we did indeed completely fail to make it out of the apartment for dinner.

Yeah, I tried to imagine a girl showing up to my door in a suit and my brain short-circuited. I can't even imagine.

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This is one reason I embrace the neo-Victorian/steampunk movement becoming mainstream, and the resurgence of Tom Ford designs (even if they're silly and need to cover the poor boys' ankles). Something about a well-tailored outfit - suit or trousers/shirt/waistcoat - is just clean and thoughtful and delicious.

And I freely admit to being a suit whore. I own several three-piece men's suits and wish I had more occasions to wear them.

One of the peculiar things about living in the Pacific Northwest is how often I'll be the schlub in jeans and a t-shirt being waited on by someone in a suit (the financial planner, the accountant, or even the salesperson at Nordstrom). It's not at all uncommon out here.

Since I work in academia, the dress code (there isn't one, really) is pretty relaxed. Earlier this year I was playing around a lot with clothing and appearance, in part due to my involvement with a certain festival that some of your friends out here are also involved with.

The same people treated me noticeably differently if I was wearing a blazer and heels, as opposed to just a long-sleeved shirt and flat boots. If I came to work in a skirt as opposed to pants. If I had my hair up or down. It was amazing. And I mean, these aren't stupid people, you know? But they don't even realize when they're doing it, even when they claim that appearance doesn't matter. (Professional programs, of which my university has three, know better; the business, education, and nursing students are required to dress their parts, at least when working in consulting, classroom, or clinical environments.)

Folk who claim appearance doesn't matter is usually covering the fact that it matters deeply to them.

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I'm a huge, huge fan of waistcoats. The jacket is superfluous to me if there's a shirt and waistcoat involved. Even the TIE is superfluous, though always a welcome addition. Something about that extra torso-hugging offered by the waistcoat really does it for me.

Oh it's all about the blazer to me. The squared shoulders, the way it makes everyone walk taller--a waistcoat is fine but I don't really care unless it's like a full romantic poet look. Then I'm yours.

I love love love suits. Particularly women in the more masculine clothing cuts for it (I have what I consider both feminine and masculine suit pieces). Both in trying to integrate waistcoats and blazers into work wear, which is currently successful, but also party wear.

There's been a few "Old Hollywood" parties where I went Marlene Dietrich style, because her in a suit or a tux is just awesome.

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Hmm.. as I read this my iPod kicked up ZZTop's Sharp Dressed Man.

Personally, I think the only suit I'd want to wear would be something like the one Tony Stark built. *grins*

Not liking suits here, but then I had an English public school education. That'll put you off really quick.

What do you wear when you want to feel special, then?

I love suits also. I keep adding to my collection of them, mostly in wool. I have a lovely camel wool flannel, a grey/taupe wool twill, and a navy blue wool with slacks instead of a skirt. I want to find a nice black, and an olive green.

This touches on something I think about a lot: the semiotics of adornment, from clothing to hairstyles to jewelry. Clothing is a language and we say very specific things to others and about ourselves by means of what we wear.

Or as Zappa put it, "Everybody in this room is wearing a uniform and don't kid yourself."

Oh, you'd better believe it. At cons I notice this so much. There's elaborate cosplayers, but even the t shirt geeks are wearing a uniform, what you wear in that place, what you must wear. Even the guests of honor, sometimes--and I notice that a LOT with geeky male alpha sorts.

This is interesting to me - you're not the first I've seen to conclude that suits have taken on new meaning now that they are no longer "standard business wear".

And yet blkstarsapphire works on a help desk at a company that still requires men to wear suits to work every day, even if you work overnight or weekends.

For him, a suit is still a symbol of conformity.

I'd also go so far as to say it's become a symbol of oppression for him and his co-workers, since they often feel like a subject of ridicule, when clients come in from other businesses wearing business casual or just plain casual, and then make funny faces or giggle to each other as they walk through the office looking at everyone wearing dress clothes.

For him, a suit is still a symbol of conformity.

This. I went to a school that required a jacket and tie every day; to this day, it doesn't matter how much better I look when suited up, I'll still feel trapped when wearing a suit.

And hats, bring back hats while we're dreaming!

I have suits for all occasions...black, brown, grey, tux, business, Zoot...and I wear then for any occasion I can think of, and hats to match (Bowler, homburg, topper and one from Brixton that defies category).

And, since someone up there plugged their tailor, I won't feel bad mentioning mine - Ravi's Custom Tailor (Http://www.ravistailor.com). The stuff I have from Ravi is the best stuff I have.

Re: And hats, bring back hats while we're dreaming!

And doom those things they call "baseball caps" to the dustbin of history.

Your post reminds me that I still want to be Laurie Anderson when I grow up:

I keep finding myself thinking about playing with "fancy" masculine fashions. It might be a place where my "wrong" plus-sized body (boobs are too small, gut is too big) might actually fit into the clothes better than I'm expecting. Maybe I can find something cheap in my size in the Garment District, and embroider it or something.

Goodwill also does pretty well with suits. Though IMHO it's impossible to find a preexisting suit that fits anyone as well as I consider minimum acceptable. Even with a cheap suit, I'd definitely spend some time tailoring it as appropriate to fit you well, rather than Generic 5'6" Male or its previous owner. But I bet a suit would work really well on you, actually -- I think your instincts are right.

I highly agree with this.

I think because the 2000's and now 2010 have never really been assigned a style, people are just kinda 'meh' about dressing. Don't get me wrong, I'll be a lazy bum when I need to be, but I absolutely love seeing a bit of style to everyone's wardrobes.

And yes, thanks to Doctor Who, I saw the full potential of suits. I purposely bought a gray pinstripe vest and pants because it reminded me so much of 10th Doctor. In which case, I attribute the whole Chucks and Suit trend to the wardrobe department of said show.

Sorry, more like 5th Doctor for the whole suit + Chucks trend, it's been a loooong day.

Edited at 2010-06-03 07:56 pm (UTC)


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