The business suit
As the days of the business suit die out and we move to less formal clothing, it is important to document why the suit existed. The business suit is a long tradition in the United States and its influence is felt around the world. You will read many articles about the companies and people who wore them, but there are not many places you can find out why it existed in the first place.
The business suit in America became commmonplace among businessmen because of one reason. Business suits sold things. The business suit was more a style based on revenue potential rather than taste or fashion. America was the land of expansion. The vast majority of Americans worked to build things or to grow things. They wore clothing that would last. The rapid growth and sales of denim material used in jeans, and overalls, was the clothing worn by most American men. If you wanted to show that you had a superior product, you would differentiate yourself by wearing superior clothing. Thus the business suit was adopted by salesmen across the United States.
Everyone thinks that Americans were more honest and trustworthy in the days of the pioneers. The western tales of the men in English suits who came and stole money by selling inferior or make believe products is based in fact. Most people would trust a stranger in an English suit more than they would trust their own neighbors.
In the days after the Civil War, traveling businessmen dressed in suits, went down to the Southern states in America and repeated the scams of their pioneer salesmen predecessors. These were called “carpet baggers” because they came with large bags made of carpet like materials. They kept their snake oil products in those bags.
Move forward to the IBM generation. This is the men of the “Greatest Generation” after the period of WWII. IBM came to symbolize the suit. Instead of snake oil, they were selling a quality product. What they realized though is that thoughout American history, people tended to trust, and buy product from strangers when they were wearing suits. Thus it became a mandate at IBM to always wear suits. This choice was just as important as the quality of the design engineers in creating the success of IBM as we know it today.
So here is to the American business suit. One of the historic articles of clothing that is based on cash flow rather than style. An article of clothing that proves that if you dress a criminal up to look more wealthy and successful than your common man, people will trust him more than the common man.