For centuries clothes have been used to communicate how well off you were. Or pretending that you are.
When it comes to suits, it’s often emphasised how they make the wearer look more masculine, creating a desirable, powerful silhouette. But it’s not uncommon for the authors of dressing guides to focus on effects other than physical appearance. The clothes can apparently make you look more authoritative, confident, and successful. With the right approach, clothes can communicate all the things about you want communicated and give you an edge in many social interactions.
This is the idea – or at least one of the ideas – behind status symbols in general. Apart from being a message which roughly reads ‘Boy, do I have a lot of money. And that’s nice, you know’, they show that your position is higher than someone else’s – and that should be visible at a glance.
I understand the appeal of it. You are, after all, constantly judged based on the most superficial things, and why shouldn’t you make sure you’re being judged favourably?
There may be environments in which such approach still thrives, or even is taken to the extreme. This article, for example, lists dos and don’ts of dressing like an investment banker. It may be half-joking; this suggests, however, that it’s also half-serious. I’m willing to believe there are places where your appearance really matters so much, and the things you wear must show certain level of luxury for you to even be considered serious. Just like I know that the famous business card scene from American Psycho is not real, but it doesn’t strike me as particularly improbable that there are places, where such things are treated with way more attention and seriousness than they deserve.
So a fact that this kind of places are getting less and less numerous is a relief for me.
The tendency to casualise dress in today’s world is self-evident. You could argue that instead of bespoke suits, expensive streetwear brands are becoming new status symbols, but I’m not convinced this is the case. Or if it is, they are a status symbol just for a selected and rather small group of people, and not a universally recognised one.
This means that people who dress smart and elegant will increasingly do it not out of obligation, or because they want to impress others, but because that’s a choice they’ve made. And therefore they way their dress is treated will become less and less as an overt display of wealth. This is aided by that fact, that expensive, bespoke and handmade suits are not that easy to notice for someone who isn’t really interested in the topic. A handmade milanese buttonhole is after all more discreet than ‘Rolex’ written through the face of your watch.
That’s the thing I like about elegant clothes. They can remain discreet. The tradition of not showing off logos and brands means only people who share your interest in them will be at least gauge the cost of what you’re wearing; for others, a suit will usually remain just a suit.