The men’s business suit died a few days ago. In hard pressed cities like Boston and New York suits were “passing” quickly, two and three pieces at a time. And, as was the case with so many fatalities during these button-downed times of quarantine, nobody was there to offer comfort. Few tears were shed. The workplace nation Zoomed ahead, oblivious to the passing of yet another of its elderly contributors.
Adíos, Boomer. See you at the Men’s Warehouse liquidation sale.
How did this happen? Some say it all started in a wet market in Wuhan, China; others think the roots of the problem can be traced to the Silicon Valley and the offices of Slack, Skype, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams. What is clear is that it ended in Goodwill bins and experienced clothing stores throughout North America. (Ever considered why that black face mask you just purchased on Etsy was so cheap and had a light pinstriping effect?)
Here in Massachusetts, some even blame the governor. After all, he declared that dry cleaners and tailors were not essential businesses and must remain closed. While Mr. Baker and his fellow governors are popular targets of public scorn, the real villains may be the webcam and the desk. This coordinated duo has eliminated the need for below-the-waist apparel. Even with 1080p resolution, autofocus and sophisticated facial tracking, the best webcams seldom capture more than a glorified portrait view of a video conference participant. The result? Many have decided to stay seated . . . and stay in pajama bottoms. In fact, big box retailers report selling far more shirts and tops than bottoms since early March 2020.
The business suit is dead, long live the shirt.
Dead, however, does not mean forgotten. I’m sure that men’s suits will continue to be dusted off for family occasions, like weddings and (irony intended) funerals. They will also live on as a novelty: Jimmy Kimmel celebrates Formal Fridays, dressing up in pre-pandemic suit and tie once a week. Yet, will business suits ever return to their 9:00 to 5:00 glory days, their smoke scented, Mad Men era apex of style and ubiquity?
Let’s hope not.
Peter has spent the past twenty-plus years as an acting/consulting CFO for a number of small businesses in a wide range of industries. Peter’s prior experience is that of a serial entrepreneur, managing various start-up and turnaround projects. He is a co-founder of Keurig.