The Suit Is Not Dead. Stop Planning Its Funeral.
We didn’t exactly need a leaked memo from Goldman Sachs announcing a new, more relaxed dress code at the bank to know that the chicken littles of menswear would use this as an opportunity to once again declare the death of the suit, a thing that squarely cuts against the Brooklyn School, which has made normcore with a touch of lumberjack the look of choice on the F train. For those of us who pay attention to style trends as minutely as those who study the markets, it’s a prediction about as accurate as when Paul Krugman said Donald Trump’s election would trigger a recession in perpetuity.
The occasion for a suit may get redefined, the number of times you wear one in a week may change, but the suit is not the fedora or the undershirt or the cigarette or the typewriter or the Dodo. It is the warhorse of a well-rounded wardrobe, unless you want to one day dress like Captain Kirk.
Do you still think this is the suit’s funeral? Besides the fact that you’d need one to attend, here are five other reasons why it’s not.
1| A Suit Is More Than One Thing
From the second some guy in London put on a matching jacket and trousers in the late 19th century, the suit, as it came to be called, has been constantly evolving, waxing and waning, in step with—or slightly behind—popular culture, from the small jacket and floppy trousers of the thirties to the zoot-suit of the forties; from the Beat suits of the Beatles to JFK’s hopsack; from the Disco-flared suits of the seventies to the big-shouldered designer look of the eighties and nineties. To think a suit is one thing, in other words, is to misunderstand what a suit is. Like a Swiss Army Knife, it’s a multi-purpose tool: wear the jacket with a pair of jeans, the trousers with a t-shirt and a denim jacket. All it depends on is your imagination and self-confidence.
2| What’s Dead is Your Dad’s Suit
What the Goldman Sachs memo indicates, if you consider the context of these millennial-obsessed times, is that what’s officially being eulogized here is not the suit but a type of suit: that blousy, droop-shouldered, floppy-legged, body-swallowing blue mass of fabric thing, which has, for almost two decades, been the obligatory uniform of bank managers, D.C. pols, and C.E.O.s. What this look said on behalf of its wearer is, “Whatever you do, don’t look at me.” Why a suit cut to make even fit men look like block-bodied Lego figurines persisted for so long is, perhaps, a mystery better left for another time. The point is, it’s not cool. The look reeks of a dadular, Baby-Boom aesthetic. And when you’re a place like Goldman Sachs, sending your top drones out to Silicon Valley to woo Birkenstock-wearing child billionaires, you’ve got to give your army a little sartorial slack.
And how about those recruitment efforts among the generation that carries around its own refillable water bottles? Hey, top-shelf talent at Harvard Business School that thinks Wall Street is full of dinosaurs, want to come dress like your grandad at Goldman when you could be wearing a James Perse t-shirt with a Cucinelli sportcoat and that pair of Stan Smith’s you take on and off without even having to untie the laces while incubating the next big thing in the laidback office Utopia that is WeWork? I don’t think so.
3| The Fall Men’s Shows Were Crawling With Suits
The millennial herd might have started out collecting sneakers, but then widened their scope, first to street-style brands like Supreme and Off-White and now to bona fide fashion. (According to Kering, men between 25 and 35 are the main drivers that have made Balenciaga its fastest growing brand.) When Vuitton, under Kim Jones, did a collab with Supreme two years ago, they noticed. Then Kim went to Dior, and Virgil Abloh of Off-White replaced him at Vuitton. They noticed that, too. So, what did the two poppiest designers of the moment choose to open their shows with last January? Suits! And not just one, but a lot of them. Suit, suit, and more suits. Prada, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Berluti, and Celine, now helmed by the I’m-the-coolest-or-kill-me Hedi Slimane, also showed suits in a wide variety of interpretations: oversize and fluid or tourniquet tight, pitch black or rainbow bright. And almost all these looks were styled with...wait for it...ties! I guess we don’t have to get the bagpipes out for those either.
4| As Bezos Goes, So Goes the Rest of the Forbes 400
Meanwhile, Goldman’s billionaire clients have upped their own style game; ergo, those who advise them should look like they’re shopping somewhere in the same decade.
At a recent annual summit of one of New York’s top banks I attended, I was pleasently surprised by the level of fashion sophistication among the big names invited: Charvet ties, Berluti shoes, Tom Ford sport coats. A few weeks later, I felt certain the plutocrat-in-Old-Navy look perfected so well at Herb Allen’s Sun Valley Conference had genuinely bit the dust when I saw Jeff Bezos attending Barry Diller’s pre-Oscar picnic in a monochromatic black ensemble topped off with what appeared to be one of those ultra-light down vests from Hermes or Loro Piana. The formal suit spectacle that transpired a few hours later at the Academy Awards—Jason Momoa in a dusty pink Fendi tux; Chris Evans in an emerald velvet smoking jacket; Henry Golding in white tie—confirmed the obvious once again: the suit is not dead.
5| What About LeBron?
Do you want to tell LeBron James, who rocked Thom Browne bespoke all last year during the playoffs, that the suit is dead? LeBron and a host of guys across the decades have the brains to know that there are suits—and then there is looking like a suit. The point of all this is: You can wear a suit, but not look like one.
6| Brunello Cucinelli, the Oracle of Menswear, Agrees
When I saw Brunello recently in Milan, where he was showing plenty of suits and was wearing one in white, wide-wale corduroy himself, I put a question to him about all this idle talk.“There’s nothing more elegant than a young man in a suit,” he replied. “Of course he will do it his way, and that only makes it more charming.”
And there it was, summed up succinctly in an elegantly brief thought: the suit lives, and will live, because each generation gives it new life by making it something fresh again.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.