Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Great Suit Debate

Software entrepreneur Mark Cuban explains "Why I Don't Wear a Suit and Can't Figure Out Why Anyone Does!" He started out with a bad attitude:

I bought both of those polyester wonders, one Grey pinstripe, the other blue pinstripe for a total of $99 dollars plus tax. To go with those fashion forward wonders, I had several white polo button downs that I had purchased used from a re-sale shop, and a couple ties that I had bought on sale or had gotten as hand me downs from friends.


Cuban's bank account got a lot better, but his view toward suits only got a whole lot worse.

After I sold MicroSolutions I decided that I never would wear a suit again. I was able to hold true to that while I was making a lot of money trading stocks for the next 5 years, but then Todd and I started AudioNet which would morph into Broadcast.com.

With our new business, I decided that I would have to wear a suit, but would modify the rule so that I would only wear a suit when someone I was selling to was wearing a suit. If they were selling to me, I didn't care if they were wearing a tux. I was going to go comfortable and not wear a suit.

When Broadcast.com was sold, the suit went out the window completely. I vowed to never wear one again other than weddings and funerals, and only then because it wasn't worth the hassle to deal with people asking why you didn't wear a suit. I'm certain the people getting married dint care, and I don't think anyone is going to be looking down at me wondering why I showed up at their funeral without a suit. Suits make no sense whatsoever.

One problem with suits that Mark Cuban never really discusses, probably because he now has so much money the difficulty never occurs, is the utility of wearing a suit as a function of your available budget. Because if there's one thing everyone agrees is worse than a suit, it's a cheap suit. Here's an Australian realtor warning customers against doing business with people attired by the sort of tailor I can afford. Now if an Australian real estate agent can look down his nose at you then it is proof you are in real trouble. "Home sellers should be careful and expect to receive what they pay for, because let's face it, if you pay peanuts you can expect to receive the service from a suitably qualified monkey dressed in a cheap suit." Ouch.

The other thing that Mark Cuban missed is that some people naturally look good in a suit, while for others, it never works, no matter how much it costs. To see what I mean, imagine Daniel Craig and Danny de Vito. But it's more than just a matter of bone structure. I've noticed that most people who look good in suits are actually comfortable wearing them. Like they grew up in a family where you put them on like t-shirts. So should you hate them? I guess it depends on what kind of person you think you are.

22 Comments:

Blogger Barzai said...

"...some people naturally look good in a suit, while for others, it never works, no matter how much it costs. To see what I mean, imagine Daniel Craig and Danny de Vito."

Um...which is which, in your opinion? In Casino Royale, Daniel Craig struck me as looking a bit...bulky...for all those elegant clothes, while I've seen DeVito in any number of films where he looks perfectly natural in a well-tailored suit.

5/13/2007 05:45:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

barzai,

You're probably right. I am a fashion moron and my only defense is that I know it.

5/13/2007 07:45:00 PM  
Blogger RDS said...

Cuban is a philistine who never had a good suit.

I didn't like suits until I stumbled across a dynamic young salesman who had been a male model and knew how to fit someone and what looked good. I was always hard to fit right because I have a nonstandard combination of measurements, and the annoyance of a bad fit and bad patterns & colors made me hate suits and ties.

It's hard work finding good tailors, but now all my dress shirts are made-to-measure, and I feel great wearing them and choosing fabrics and colors.

I've even now graduated from made-to-measure Ralph Lauren suits, to having a true hand-made "bespoke" suit from a Savile-row English tailor (a "cutter", actually) who visits the US 4 times a year. I had my second fitting last month of the half-completed suit.

You only live once and you might as well have clothes that fit!

See here for his fascinating blog:
http://www.englishcut.com

If you can't afford bespoke:
http://www.englishcut.com/archives/000016.html

What is bespoke?
http://www.englishcut.com/archives/000004.html

5/13/2007 09:33:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Dunbar said...

"... can't figure out why anyone does."

Because showing up at a function where a suit is expected deducts points. No matter how good you are the first thing noticed is that you're in the uniform of the day. This detracts from who you are and what you can there to do.

Granted, guys who run a place like Broadcast.com get to bend the rules. But not many of us get to be in that position.

Which is why we wear suits.

I've noticed that most people who look good in suits are actually comfortable wearing them.

There is not magic to this. Wear the suit a few times before you actually need to use it. You're now used to wearing a suit and can get on with the business at hand when you are.

As a commenter above noted - having a good suit makes a world of difference. It is, yes, a costly item if you only wear it once in a great while but ... it's worth it to be able to wear the damned thing with confidence to snag a job or impress a client.

5/13/2007 11:27:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

One man I met had an abiding faith in the power of projecting an image. When I first moved to Oz there was a salesman guy I knew who drove a Lotus and always dressed sharply. But he never would accept an invitation to go get a cup of coffee. Then one day some of us asked him whether we had B.O. or something he was avoiding us something powerful and he told us that, after making the payments on the Lotus, etc he had $100 a week to live on. It turned out he just couldn't afford a cup of coffee. But he felt the investment in image was worth it, even if it meant he had to eat cereal out of a box every day. He once said "if you lose your job and have a two thousand bucks in the bank, don't stretch out the money. Blow it all on a good suit and go for a better job. It's the smarter move."

Sometime later I came across the same guy running a company with a whole floor of people working for him. Maybe he was keeping just one step ahead of his creditors. Maybe it was all fluff like his Lotus. Or maybe he was right. At any rate, I left wondering whether he was.

5/14/2007 01:43:00 AM  
Blogger Starko said...

I think Brian Dunbar hit the nail on the head- take an extreme case, such as being prosecuted for a crime. Whenever you see court footage, you almost always see the accused looking neat and tidy and well dressed in a suit, even if the accused is a well-known hip-hopper, etc.

Why? Because when you don a suit and wear it properly you're demonstrating that you have presence of mind and are largely willing to subvert your own personal style and preference for the sake of conforming to the expected norm.

In a business setting it's the same thing. Granted, in some industries and some cultures the expected norm is different, but I for one wouldn't want to have a doctor that wore a t-shirt, shorts and no white coat.

As an aside I did once have a doctor that was also an avid surfer and wore no socks with his boat shoes and wore an ankle bracelet as well as one earring. However, he was one of the smartest docs I ever worked with, and even he wore a button-up shirt and slacks with a white coat.

And as you could probably guess, many of his female patients had major crushes.

5/14/2007 04:31:00 AM  
Blogger Marcus Aurelius said...

The guy who started my company (which was bought out by an entirely different guy) reportedly went to work for himself in his basement wearing his suit.

Sorta along the line of all this is the commentary by Kevin Postner in Bull Durham (yes I know its Costner but after reading a review of one of his movies I have forever referred to him as Postner). He was admonishing Nuke until he made big bucks in "The Show" having dirty & moldy shower shoes was not eccentric but slobbishness.

5/14/2007 04:48:00 AM  
Blogger Marcus Aurelius said...

I do not wear my suit often, business casual is what is typically expected of me.

However, I do relish the chance to wear my suit when the occasion arises.

5/14/2007 04:54:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

While creating the proper impression on others is the most often used justification for wearing a suit, I find that putting on a suit affects the wearer at least as much as it affects the people he is meeting with in terms of attitudes. Inappropriate behavior or anything less than maintaining the proper decorum while wearing a suit would be like engaging in fisticuffs at a Boston Pops concert, to use a purely hypothetical and completely absurd example.

Unfortunately, this works both ways – and perhaps more on the negative side. If I am wearing a suit or even simply a tie, I am much less inclined to get my hands the least bit dirty. Quickly changing into more appropriate attire to deal with unexpected messy situations is unlikely – especially since phone booths have become so rare.

One large 5 sided place where I worked required ties from October through March. In that case, there was no discernable difference in the nature of the work or people’s attitudes between the tie and non-tie periods, but it sure affected my own willingness to dismantle the safe for repair or get waist deep in old files and throw things out. I guess it is lucky that 9/11/01 was during the no-tie period; people were likely more willing to get dirty to save some lives.

5/14/2007 05:16:00 AM  
Blogger jane said...

Some men project image with handsomely tailored suits (status cars, homes, watches, alma maters, clubs, boats, portfolios, children’s schools and other fool’s gold plated armor), and others make their off-the-rack ill-fitted ones an inconsequence. There are men of such manner, competency and character that they make the suit.

I think a nice suit shouldn’t be so noticed, anyway- done right, it’s a seamless extension of the man in it who should just look good and appropriate, somehow. Showing too much sartorial and other image concerns makes a man look snobbish, insecure or vain, rather than confident and powerful. Still, chafing at having to wear a suit for certain work or evenings out is a bit silly and as grown-up as whining that people would look at you funny if you wore a pink mohawk. Some convention just is, until you expend your precious time, energy and opportunities changing it.

Full disclosure: women are pro-suit because b-days, Father’s Days and Christmas’s are easier...

5/14/2007 06:06:00 AM  
Blogger 3Case said...

At court, suiting up, however humbly, shows respect for the proceedings and, IMO, garners grace for the accused.

I agree with rds. It is hard work to find a good tailor. I would add that finding old school suit salesmen is tough these days, also.

5/14/2007 06:29:00 AM  
Blogger Marcus Aurelius said...

like engaging in fisticuffs at a Boston Pops concert, to use a purely hypothetical and completely absurd example. RWE, sadly not so hypothetical or absurd: http://www.boston.com/news/odd/articles/2007/05/12/boston_police_investigate_concert_fight/

BOSTON --Police are investigating a fight that broke out between two men during a Boston Pops concert this week and will refer the case to a magistrate to determine if charges are appropriate.

Women are pro-suit because they think we more handsome in one. Whenever I put mine one The Empress practically swoons with delight.

5/14/2007 07:28:00 AM  
Blogger Yashmak said...

Some of us are fortunate to have an off-the-rack size (39L in my case) fit perfectly.

Tall & thin fellows like me are made for wearing suits. I actually regret not having more opportunities to wear my suits (right now, it only gets hauled out for job interviews, weddings, & funerals).

5/14/2007 07:35:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Dunbar said...

he told us that, after making the payments on the Lotus, etc he had $100 a week to live on.

It's possible to do anything to excess.

I maintain that if you have the kind of a job where wearing a suit might be a possibility you can afford at least two of them and a variety of shirts and ties.

5/14/2007 08:43:00 AM  
Blogger jane said...

Casual dress gets a bit confusing, but if you must, this isn’t a bad look for the office, symphony or dinner party.

5/14/2007 10:04:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

Believe it or not, the standard combat uniform for an RAF fighter pilot at the time of the Battle of Britain was a jacket and tie. Tying a noose around one’s neck before climbing into an airplane that you may have to jump out of on very short notice sounds like a very bad idea – and it was. It is amazing what people will endure in the name of decorum. No wonder Chamberlain tried so hard to appease Hitler; Great Britain’s forces might have had to shed their gentlemanly finery – as indeed they did, eventually.

And as to the Boston Pops pugilists, I note that at least one of the men involved in that distasteful altercation was not wearing a coat and tie. I guess that explains it all. Such poorly clad uncouth ruffians should be denied access in the first place!

5/14/2007 10:20:00 AM  
Blogger Chavo said...

I'm a Levis and Tee shirt kinda guy. That said, I feel that it shows respect to bring out the suit for important events such as weddings, baptisms, funerals, etc. To my mind, it's not really scoring points but an awareness signifying that you recognize the importance of the event.

From a broader perspective, as a florist/retailer I understand the importance of projecting an image of success. Nothing will doom a business faster than "looking" like a failure. I learned early on to say "Business is Great! even if it isn't. People are drawn to success. It's theatre really. How you manage it is critical to the success of your business.

By the way, I saved a grand on an Armani suit at Overstock.com, after having it altered (another $300.00)I still managed to save 700 bucks.

5/14/2007 11:41:00 AM  
Blogger GeorgeH said...

He obviously never had a suit that fit correctly, because a properly fitted suit is as comfortable as jeans and a T shirt.
The reason most men hate a Tux is that they rent one that doesn't fir.

Putting on a suit to go to work, or on a date or any other function is like a football player putting on a game uniform. It's part of putting on your "game Face", adjusting your attitude from hanging out to an important purpose. It shifts your focus and it lets the world know you are paying attention.

5/14/2007 11:44:00 AM  
Blogger Fausta said...

In my opinion, any man in a well-tailored suit looks fantastic.

5/14/2007 12:42:00 PM  
Blogger jane said...

Generally speaking, sure, but it seems one of the roots of the UN's problems is its surfeit of exquisite suits. Dandy dim debauched diplomats- enabled by good tailors.

5/14/2007 01:38:00 PM  
Blogger John Lynch said...

Suits are easy- almost everyone can look professional wearing one. It's hard to make casual look good. Most people don't have the knack. Choosing a good suit is easier than an appropriate casual outfit.

5/14/2007 01:38:00 PM  
Blogger dbsfacs said...

Willie S. said it best: "Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy for apparel oft proclaims the man..."

5/14/2007 03:21:00 PM  

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