Before the mid-60s, every man was required to own a suit. If he worked in an office, as opposed to a factory, he had to wear a suit to work, daily. Every TV sitcom pictured men coming home from work in their suits. Boomers will remember their fathers wearing suits to church every Sunday. On holidays, whether attending church, visiting relatives or taking the family to dinner at a restaurant, it was an occasion for wearing a suit. This was the order of the day for men’s fashion for decades, before the Boomer Generation.
Come the 1960s, while parents were yelling about the Generation Gap, boomers were on the way to creating a new fashion industry. Even more, this new industry, meant for a younger generation, had no room for the neutral colors and “acceptable” cuts of the previous generation. They reinvented the suit in a mod way.
Ultimately, jeans became the new sartorial requirement for boomers. Mister B has written in the past about the first time he saw teens wearing jeans in church, and the not-so-silent whispers of disapproval that pulsed through the congregation like the fan wave in a sports stadium. Boomers did not want to be told what to wear.
As the 1970s came in, suits for both men and women were reborn in fabrics, shapes and colors that were previously considered too loud or had too much personality than what was worn and accepted by earlier generations.
The slow downturn of suits, initiated by boomers in the 1960s (in Mister B’s humble opinion), continued as the idea of Casual Fridays took hold in Corporate America in the 1980s. One day a week, companies that participated in this culture shift allowed their employees to wear pants and shirts instead of suits. The more adventurous were tie-free as well.
Kids today did not grow up watching their fathers wear suits the way boomers did. In most households in the past couple of decades, by Mister B’s anecdotal polling, men had suits in their closet for weddings, funerals and job interviews. These days, it may not be necessary for the job interview, either, especially if the interview is conducted by video chat.
So it should come as no surprise that national retailers including Brooks Brothers, Neiman-Marcus, J. Crew, Lord & Taylor and Tailored Brands, the parent company of Men’s Wearhouse and Joseph A Banks, have filed for bankruptcy. Men’s suits made up two-thirds of their annual sales, which have dropped by a billion dollars from the figures of five years ago. Now with the appearance of Covid-19, sales seriously dropped again as men and women are working remotely from home, and have no need to buy new suits.
It remains to be seen what will happen once the virus is controlled by treatment or vaccine. Will suit-wearing people pick up where they left off, or will the echo of 1960s fashion-follows-comfort spell the end of the suit?
How about you, boomers? If you are retired, is there a suit in your closet waiting for weddings and funerals? If you are still working, did you wear a suit daily before the coronavirus, and if so, do you anticipate going back to it when you can return to your workplace?