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Rules for Anchorites

Letters from Proxima Thule

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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.

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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.

I notice that a LOT with geeky male alpha sorts

How will you know that they're sexually available if you can't see their plumage displays?

See, I think it's displaying to other males, not females. Competitive self-reference.

That too, of course. And it keeps them warm and covers their filthy shameful nakedness. Plumage is multi-purpose!

Now I have Monty Python's Parrot Sketch stuck in my head.

"The plumage don't enter into it!"

huh. I wear interesting geek shirts as a sort of art/humor project regardless of gender. I don't care if someone has a higher status shirt. Status competitions bore me, though. I mean, I enjoy the social notice when I wear a funny/cool t-shirt, but I don't care much if I don't get any, or if other people get more or less.

I don't think you're representative.

I could be if I competed harder!

At many geek workplaces, you'd get more weird looks for showing up in a suit, or even a shirt and tie, than you would for showing up in a stained white T-shirt and cut-off jeans. I bet the same is true of cons.

Just wearing a faded black polo makes people ask me why I'm dressed up.

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