TYREE: Men’s suits: Are they on the endangered list?

Published 9:25 am Monday, April 1, 2019

My octogenarian aunt has spoken wistfully of one of her older relatives who had operated a boarding house and required college students to show up for breakfast wearing suit and necktie.

Slob that I am, I nonetheless take vicarious pleasure in watching footage of crooners such as Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin nattily dressed as they belt out songs with intelligible lyrics.

But according to the recent Wall Street Journal article “Men Ditch Suits, and Retailers Struggle to Adapt,” such images may go from seeming quaint to seeming totally alien. Sports apparel has grown 17 percent since 2015, but the U.S. men’s suit market has shrunk eight percent. Even Goldman Sachs Group Inc. recently loosened its dress code.

Yes, several generations of men have grudgingly accepted traditional blue, gray or black suits as The Way It Has Always Been (“Sweating profusely: it helps take your mind off of being just another cog in the machine!”); but we should step back and look at the longer timeline. Do you realize how many legal codes were written, wildernesses were explored, wars were won, masterpieces were painted, and inventions were brainstormed by men wearing togas, robes, buckskin, knee breeches, kilts, and smocks?

“Sorry, Michelangelo. White out that ceiling and come back when you’re in a more double-breasted phase.”

I mean, when Jesus recruited sibling pairs as some of His apostles, he chose Peter and Andrew and James and John – not the BROOKS BROTHERS!

Diehard defenders of suits insist that we must Dress For Success. As their sales plummet, I must solemnly ask the stuffy executives, “How’s that workin’ for ya, Chuckles?” (“Oh, no – one of the rats leaving the sinking ship unraveled my fabric!”)

I know that old-timers in the garment industry are trying to be the Adults In The Room when they bemoan slovenly dress codes, but they’re embodying the WORST aspects of parents. (“Why should you wear a suit? Because!!! Now stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!”)

Even in work environments with relaxed dress codes, some employees insist on wearing a suit. These are the firebrands who risk inciting brawls in bars by wearing a gray flannel MACA (Make America Conformist Again) cap.

These folks say that a suit just Makes A Statement, doggone it. Yes, a suit really says something about a man, something like, “I will handle your business professionally and conscientiously, just as soon as I pinch my secretary’s derriere, smoke two packs of Marlboros, enjoy a three-martini lunch and make sure only white people have touched my 45 rpm phonograph records.”

Suits are supposed to denote class and dignity; but given the number of morally fluid suit-wearing people in the fields of law, advertising and government, it’s a wonder the clothing companies don’t hire ZZ Top to perform “Every illegal carcinogen dumper’s crazy ’bout a sharp-dressed man.”

Maybe it’s too little too late, but retailers are trying to blend traditional suit elements with plaid patterns, hoodies and sneakers. (“Suits: now roomy enough for fence straddling!”)

It’s hard to have sympathy for the clothing industry when they keep raising the bar and making you jump through hoops for their approval. The snobbiest purists sputter, “He bought it OFF THE RACK” with exactly the same intonation as “He just decapitated the Pope!”

“Yeah, but to his credit, he was SWEATING as he decapitated.”

Danny Tyree is a humor and popular culture columnist.