Friday, February 23, 2007

Why People Wear Suits

Blog Maverick Mark Cuban has hit a nerve with his post "Why I Don't Wear a Suit and Can't Figure Out Why Anyone Does!" I know I couldn't help but respond but I was shocked to see that I was comment number 328... So I thought I'd post my comment here as well:

A few years ago, after the dot com bubble burst, I was in New York City and someone there said to me "I hear that people are wearing suits in Silicon Valley again." He said it in a very smug superior way, as if this was proof that some deviant culture (Internet, Silicon Valley, tech folks, etc) had been entirely wiped out by the civilized world. So I think you are dead-on that wearing a suit has become, for some of those that wear them, a symbol of superiority.

But there is another simpler explanation -- inertia. Suit wearing evolved in an age when most people had to do hard physical labor that would destroy nice clothes -- so people that wore them were saying "I don't have to do hard physical labor." Clothes as an indicator of class. Over time, suits became the uniform for office workers and as these ranks grew, the reason changed from the initial objective of differentiation to one of assimilation.

What is interesting is that in whatever culture you visit, people tend to dress alike -- Its what the anthrophologist Victor Turner calls liminality. Human beings want to be included. There is safety in being part of the pack. So we dress alike (speak alike, eat alike...) in order to show that we belong and are not dangerous outsiders.

I bet your employees dress like you.

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