Coats and Ties

Coats and Ties

Coats and ties may be a thing of the past for some. But there are many that would disagree with that supposition.  You might get a lot of opinions on that.

A day or so back I attended a memorial service for a young man that grew up in my neighborhood. About a month before that I had done the same thing for the son of my cousin. Two young men gone at 36 years old. These were occasions that I felt I should wear a coat and tie to although I have seldom worn either these last few years. Not everyone agrees about the importance of coats and ties anymore.

As I walked across the busy street from the parking lot to the service, along with several men who had gathered there, I could not help but overhear them talking and one guy reached in his coat pocket and pulled out what looked like a church bulletin.

“Well, I know when the last time was I had on this coat,” he said. “It was when I went to a funeral several months ago.”

Another fellow spoke up: “My wife checked the pockets on my coat when she got it out of the closet for me and found the bulletin for my grandfather’s funeral which was about a year ago,” he said. “That was the last time I had it on.”

Another guy commented he did not remember the last time he had a suit on.  And in my case, I would say it is possible I had not had on the coat I was wearing in 5 or 6 years! When my mother died in 2014, I did not have a suit in my closet that I could wear due to closet shrinkage. There were several hanging in the closet unworn since I retired in 2007! So, I had to go buy a suit and shirt to wear. That, after wearing suits and ties to work for more years than I want to say. Now I have a collection of unused suits, ties and white shirts (that will probably be yellow if I look closely) taking up space.

Back in Sandy Point, in the good ole days, I know my grandfathers wore suits to church but I could not tell you today if they had one suit or ten as I never gave it a thought. They dressed up for funerals and important meetings and the kids all had some clothes designated Sunday Clothes and they were not worn except for special occasions and no rough housing was allowed while wearing them. You would hear, “Go take off those Sunday Clothes before you mess them up.” There were also Sunday Shoes and they had to be polished occasionally.

Other families had their own dress codes and it was not uncommon to see a man wearing a white dress shirt and a pair of new or his newest overalls. They did not own, nor would they wear, a dress suit. Those were un-necessary luxuries. A clean, pressed and reasonably new pair of overalls was all a man needed.

When I went to work for IBM I had sport coats and ties and mostly blue button down shirts. I was told that a coat and tie were required for work for what was then the top, or close to it, company in the US. I worked at the office near where Peachtree and West Peachtree split.

I started going in to work and the manager stopped me several mornings and asked me if I was going to be on TV. I, of course, said no. But I did not pick up on the meaning of his question. He was a very nice guy named Bud and he had about ten kids.

I finally asked someone as to why Bud kept mentioning to me about TV and was told that you could only wear a blue shirt at IBM if you were going to be on TV. Apparently a blue shirt worked better on TV than white. Otherwise, white shirts were required. Grease and oil or no grease and oil, I and all the other service guys wore a white shirt. I worked in a coat and tie for the next 40+ years.

Dress was important to the company culture at IBM and many other firms, then and now. One story was that Mr. Watson was on the elevator one morning and a new, young employee was also on the elevator and wanted to catch Mr. Watson’s attention. He was wearing tie with a bright floral design.

The young man extended his hand to Mr. Watson and introduced himself. Mr. Watson is said to have shook his hand and then lifted the young man’s tie to look at it. He then supposedly said, “We have something in common, young man. We have both have gone as far as we can go in this company!”

Companies started having casual days at some point, often on Fridays, and it was not too long before it was casual day every day. Business Casual then became a dress code but that seems to vary from business to business and if you go to Florida in the summer you will find a lot of people in shorts. In Los Angeles, too.  I don’t know if we are better off or not. But khaki pants, blue button down collar and a sport coat (for really important meetings) became the norm. The end of the business suit: Maybe, maybe not.

A friend of mine was a manager with a national company and they closed all of their local offices and the managers started working out of their homes. I called him one day and jokingly said that I pictured him in his fuzzy bedroom slippers and a robe sitting at his desk drinking coffee. He replied that he actually had on a coat and tie and wingtips. “I dressed this way for work so long, I do not feel like I am working if I don’t have my suit on.”

I suppose there are still many places where people wear coats and ties, but they are not seen on trains and airplanes like they used to be. Looking at old pictures of people flying and they all seemed to dress up. Also, suits are not worn at a lot of the companies around here other than the big corporate types and likely not to church and funerals for many, either. And, my friend retired who worked in his basement so I don’t expect he is sitting around in his either. Churches started the contemporary services so people would be at ease dressing down at church.

There was something about setting a business tone and looking like a professional and looking better than the competition. We left coats and ties with some amount of kicking and screaming at my old company and in about 2000 or so we went business casual. Did it make us better or make people happier and were jobs done better? I don’t know. Did it make us any less in any of those areas?  I don’t know. But maybe just changing things around makes things happen.

The good thing about suits: you could have a few suits and wear them a lot. That casual outfit with the Polo logo is easy to spot and people notice when you wear it five days in a row!

So, how do suit companies stay in business? According to a May 15th, 2015 article by Marc Bain in Quartz, the sales of suits doubled between  1998 and 2014 and the increase was attributed to the show Mad Men where all of the men looked dapper in their suits. Tailored clothing sales, according to the article, are about $4.8 Billion! So, I’m glad I have my pin striped suit on hand, in a size that fits and I can spring into action with it when necessary. But, what do I do with the 20 suits in my closest that I can no longer wear? Simple: Lose weight and find some place to go that I need a suit! And as for you: just suit yourself.


JC© 2017







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