Choosing to be suitless

from Jeremy

My very first suit was a dark blue pin-stripe tailor made for someone else. It didn't quite fit, even after a few attempts at adjusting it to my adolescent frame. I wanted to wear a suit. I liked the idea of a suit. I felt I should look good in a suit. Before heading off to college I bought a suit, trench coat, gold tie chain, and dress shoes. I was setting out for the nation's capital, and I was going to look the part. More than twenty years later I'm now back down to just one suit, and I'm looking forward to getting rid of it as soon as I can. What's the deal? What changed? 

I'll tell you what changed, I did. I grew up and realized I don't want to wear a suit. I don't actually like suits. Therefore, I'm choosing to be suitless. 

History of the Suit 

Few of us have taken the time to research the history of standard western business attire. Lucky for you, I'm one of the few. Suits come from military uniforms of the 15th through 19th centuries. They were an attempt for courtiers who were not in the military to look good next to all of the bedazzled military uniforms of royal courts across Europe. The suit, if you'll notice, is cut just like a military uniform. From head to polished shoes, the suit is an attempt by civilians to look and feel like the military. Just one example to demonstrate how goofy a suit is, think of the sleeve buttons. What are those for? They serve no purpose other than to get caught on things as my arm moves from one place to another. These buttons come from the sleeves of 19th century French Generals in Napoleon's Army. Why are they still there? Why are suits still here? 

A second silly example is the Tie. Would you really choose to wrap a piece of cloth tightly around your neck five days a week if you had a choice? You know what, you do have a choice. You can get rid of Louis 14th desire for his soldiers to look like Dalmatian Musketeers who wore cloth on their necks to wipe their faces because of the heat and smoke discharged from their explosive weapons. That is where ties come from: A French King who died hundreds of years ago liked them on a unit from what is now Croatia. Why should we wear them today? 

Why we still have suits? 

Suits still exist because the people who wear them don't question why they should exist. Wearing a suit, just like a military uniform, makes everyone look very similar. It's great to fit in. If you want to be average, even in the most expensive thing you can find, then wear a suit. A suit supports an industrial society by creating the sense of masses. We all fit in, we all work, and we all look alike. If you want that for your life then great, wear a suit. 

Choosing to be Suitless 

On the other hand, if you have creative thoughts, ever ask why something happens rather than accept that it does, or simply don't want to look like everyone else, consider going suitless. Yes, it's a lifestyle choice, and it comes with both positive and negative consequences. On the positive side, you get to wear more comfortable things. (Again with the Tie: I have to choke myself to work for someone else? Seriously!?!) On the negative side, the rest of society has not caught on yet, and many people will look at you as being less than worthy of being in the room. The good thing is, that's their problem, not yours. 

An example of this stems from a past work experience. I used to work at the U.S. Department of State where suits were expected every day. I would wear the foundations of a suit, and have a tie and jacket ready in my office for when an occasion called for it. One day I was going to meet the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for something or other, and my boss pulled me aside. "You're not putting on a tie for the Deputy Assistant Secretary?" He asked me. I thought for a moment, and said "Nope" before continuing to the meeting. My boss didn't like that response and let me know later, as well as in my performance review several months following the event. I left that office, and eventually left the State Department. I didn't fit, and that's ok. 

A bigger lesson 

Often times we do things without questioning why, where they came from, and what they mean. We do them because society tells us they are what is expected. Not wearing a suit is simply an example of choosing to follow my own path, after thinking it through for myself, rather than following the path laid down by others for me. If you love to wear suits then great, wear a suit! If you don't like it, but do it because that's all there is, then take a moment to think through why you're doing it. Do you have to? Chances are you probably don't? It may be expected for your job or those with whom you socialize, but if it's not your thing then feel free to choose to be suitless 

The same lesson applies for anything else in life. If you're doing something you don't care for, ask yourself why. If you can't figure it out, or the reason doesn't satisfy you, then make a new choice. We don't have to live with decisions made by others, especially French kings and Emperors long-since dead!