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NextGen Magazine


Power Suits Not So Powerful Anymore

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Oct 7, 2019

Wearing a suit, once a staple of the business world, is losing its allure, with data showing that the number of suits people own and wear has collapsed since the 1940s, amid the proliferation of more casual dress codes as a reflection of larger changes in cultural norms, according to Vox

In 2018, about 8.6 million men's suit were sold, which averages out to about .07 suits per man. After you've finished envisioning what exactly seven-hundredths of a suit looks like (one may imagine a fragment of a sleeve), consider that in the 1940s, suit sales averaged about 25 million per year, or roughly half a suit per man in the country (so, perhaps, full pants, no shirt, a jacket with one sleeve half as long as the other, and fifty percent of a tie). 

This has to do partially with changing dress norms in both the American workplace and life in general. An article in the Fall 2018 issue of the NYSSCPA's NextGen magazine (page 23) found that the CPA profession was no exception: 

"One manifestation of this conventional attitude, according to Neil A. Gibgot, managing partner at Gibgot Willenbacher & Co., was an insistence on strict uniformity. Recalling the start of his career in the late ’60s, he said that absolutely nothing could be different—from dress to personal grooming— with anyone straying from the path expected to correct himself right away. He said that men—and CPAs were mostly men—wore a suit and tie every day.

“If your hair was long, your boss said, ‘Get a haircut!’ And guys back then would run out of the office and get a haircut!” he said." 

Vox argues, however, that this changing trend is more than just a reflection of more relaxed work wear, as another major factor is that the suit is not as associated with the rich and powerful as it used to be. Mark Zuckerberg, for instance, is more known for wearing jeans and a hoodie. Not having to wear a suit, Vox argues, has become a new status symbol for powerful people, as compared with their subordinates, who are required to do so regardless of how they feel about it. Therefore, the suit is now associated not with being the boss but being the guy the boss harangues and orders about. Further, Vox points out that the occasions that demand a suit tend to be either when something has gone wrong, such as at a court date or congressional hearing, or when you want something, such as at a job interview or a sales meeting. 

It is unknown, however, whether this current moment is just an aberration in the grand scheme of things, or whether suits will eventually go the way of compulsory hats.