The Death of the Business Suit Can’t Come Soon Enough (Blog Post)September 13, 2018
Women Changed. Men Can, Too
We straight businessmen have a problem: we all kind of act, look, and think alike.
We primarily view ourselves as providers for our families, committed more to the paycheck we bring in than to being at home. Each weekday, we put on our suits and commute to an office somewhere; in the meantime, our wives manage the household and nurture our children.
This isn’t surprising; men like us have been playing this role for decades (see Mad Men). And that isn’t innately a bad thing; lots of families have provider husbands/fathers and nurturer wives/mothers, and it works just fine.
It’s only a problem when we’re all like this. There are plenty of men who don’t really want to be the provider for the family, but feel forced into that role. They might prefer the role of nurturer, or maybe there’s something in between or multi-identitied that would suit them best.
Women have done a fantastic job of breaking free of their former constraints. The idea of “women’s work” has diminished; women are powerful athletes, business moguls, venture capitalists, nurses, doctors, teachers, professors, and more.
They’re all things, and their attire reflects that. They wear minimal clothing when it’s hot and layer up when it’s cold. They’ve fought hard for the right to wear—or not wear—what they want.
So what’s up with men? Why haven’t we changed as well? Why the heck do our business leaders send corporate memos to male employees telling them to wear a jacket, shirt, pants, and tie around clients to boost the company’s “market presence”? Is this the only way a man can look professional?
And on a side note: what’s the difference between “formal” attire and “business” attire for a man? It’s the color black. A black suit is formal; a navy or grey suit is business. Everything else is the same (minus some minor details you might find on a tuxedo if you’re attending a fancy wedding or something). Why are we following these arbitrary little rules well into the 21st century?
“Men should insist on wearing more functional, reasonable, and flexible clothing.”
This discussion may seem trivial to some. So what if men wear suits? What’s the big deal? I guess the same could be asked of women in the days when they couldn’t wear pants.
The big deal is that the clothing people choose is the way they represent themselves to the world. If all businessmen walk around in the same, decades-old attire from a bygone era of gender inequality, then how are we supposed to embrace the new and different identities that our changing world demands that men play?
Men should insist on wearing more functional, reasonable, and flexible clothing. Clothes should reflect the broad range of roles men want to play at home and in the workplace.
We should turn down the AC that offices blast in the summer because men are forced to wear layer upon layer upon layer, while women show up in much more weather-appropriate attire (I wore shorts and a t-shirt to the office last week—I was freezing. Turns out that we keep office temperatures so low because of business suits, not because men want women to suffer).
Being “professional” and “formal” isn’t contingent on whether or not we’re wearing a suit; it’s contingent on whether employees take care in their appearance and put in the effort to display themselves to the world in a clean, coordinated, and tailored outfit.
That’s what our corporate leaders should be telling their employees: dress how you want, but do so in a way that shows others that you care, respect them, and put in the effort to look good.
Conscientious. Comfortable. Committed. I’m sure all business people would love their colleagues, partners, and clients to have these attributes. Our clothing should reflect that too, instead of being an easy default that stems from a past of homogeneous adherence to outdated gender roles.
Eric Arthrell is a Manager at Doblin, Deloitte Consulting’s human-centered design innovation practice. He focuses on helping organizations from a wide range of industries create business strategies rooted in deep customer insights. Increasingly, he’s also applying his human-centered design skillset to better understanding the experiences of men in the workforce to help clients create more equal and inclusive work environments. He became a father to a baby girl in March 2018 and lives in Toronto with his wife, daughter, and dog.