Monday, January 18, 2010

The Death of the Business Suit

Recruiting season is in full swing at Chicago Booth. People are anxiously learning about the companies that are courting them. They have polished their resumes. And the hallways of the business school are filled with students in tailored, well pressed suits.

The suits thing intrigues me.

Traditionally people wore suits because it was a sign of status and success, something that gave the subconscious message: I am successful, and therefore you can trust me to handle your interests and assets.

Recently it seems as though suits are gaining a negative connotation. Pandering politicians wear suits. Greedy fat-cat bankers on the news wear suits. Criminals wear suits to the court room when they would never wear one on a normal day.

Whereas the suit used to represent success and trustworthiness, more and more, the unspoken message is: I'm wearing a suit because it's expected of me, and because I know that it can help me to get what I want.

Certainly the meaning has not completely shifted. However, the trend seems to be toward the negative. If it continues, the suit will lose its symbolic power. And without the positive association, people will stop wearing it

It could happen. That would be interesting to see.