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Rules for Anchorites

Letters from Proxima Thule

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Suit Up
monsters
catvalente
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.

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.

I never, ever, ever wore a suit outside of job interviews when I worked in 1950s ish offices that prescribed my fashion choices for me. Loathing khaki and unable to crawl around server rooms in a skirt, old navy black businesswear was a daily uniform for four years.

I am currently a professional programmer in academia. I have long hair, some of which is blue. When I need to present my work, or argue a point, or generally require in-person respect, I *choose to* wear a suit and very tall heeled boots. On occasion, it's jeans, the boots, the blazer, and a geeky t-shirt showing. Either way, I have noticed what you are talking about. It *works*, on a very, very subtle level.

And since no one is directly making me do it based on my employment contract, I don't mind at all.

Hm, it's interesting. As a woman in a technical mostly-male career, I find I get more respect in a geek get-up than a business get-up. (I'm a patent lawyer, which means I talk geek to engineers and law to corporate types).

I also wonder how weight plays into this. I'm quite heavy and tall. I'm rather hard to ignore, and I suspect my billing rate makes the corporate types acknowledge my legal chops. But for male engineers, believing that I'm technically competent appears to be harder.