Corporate Dress, 1987

This week the venerable Goldman Sachs announced it is no longer requiring suits to be worn. Yet another end of an era.

Above is a photo taken at a broker function in 1987 for the opening of a commercial office building in Reston, Virginia. The event was held for the firm I was with at the time which was then known as Coldwell Banker (now CBRE). Up until the dot-com era began in the early 2000s,  we all wore suits the entire week. No casual Friday, and except for summer, the suits we wore were typically navy or charcoal gray and ties rep or foulard. Can you imagine this scene today, especially our fellow associate with a pipe in his mouth, whom we affectionately referred to as Fred MacMurray? Many came from successful career beginnings with IBM or Xerox and brought conservative business dress with them. It was ingrained in the corporate culture at the time, and deviating from it was not really an option. Personally, I willingly and happily complied.

Different times indeed. And, as Paul Winston said in the recently posted interview, “Will it ever go back to the way it was? Not in my lifetime.” I concur with his assessment. — BC

17 Comments on "Corporate Dress, 1987"

  1. elder prep | March 9, 2019 at 1:20 pm |

    Return to suits? As the phrase ‘not in my lifetime’ is oft repeated, is probably accurate. In the contest between professional appearance (suites, ties, or even sports coats) and casual comfort, (slacks, golf shirts even jeans) especially in the 20 to 30 age cohort, the latter will win. Blame? 1. The tech movement. 2. Working from home. 3. The portable business environment.

  2. Though I’ll continue in my role as against-the-grain, counter-cultural outlier in suits (and even occasional DB models), this lastest development makes me kind of sad. We have lost something as a society in our mad, stretchy, now ubiquitous “snacks” as incentive to attend work meetings, comfort waist rush toward almost everyone looking equally crummy and as though they have been living rough for the last several months. And lets not get started on the hipster commentators for the recent SpaceX demo launch. Still, the Spring 2019 issue of The Chap arrived in the mailbox this afternoon, so, somewhat tongue in cheek nature of the mag notwithstanding, there is still a faint glimmer of hope.

  3. Um, that should be ‘Let’s.’

  4. MacMcConnell | March 9, 2019 at 5:47 pm |

    Wearing suits actually simplifies one’s life.

  5. Right on! Down with the corporate uniform, show your independence and individuality in your…..jeans, tees, and hoodies in dark blue, black, and gray. Yeah, not like those regimented “suits” at all.

  6. Ezra Cornell | March 10, 2019 at 1:10 am |

    “Dress has long excited the feat of the demise of the world that is known. The preoccupation expressed in much of the hierarchical sumptuary laws was that a society without discernible ranks and thus devoid of recognizability lacked a necessary precondition of normal social life. The decline or demise of the known freezes responses and induces fear because no other way of relating to others can be envisaged. Hovering around the margins of sumptuary discourses is the fear of social collapse if the natural and necessary social order is not preserved….It is the quest to achieve both individuality and conformity that provides the motive force for change in self-presentation. It is the ambiguity at the heart of dress as a semiotic system that results in clothing being interpreted in extreme forms. Shifts in the exposure of flesh or accentuation of physical features frequently gave rise to images of a world turned upside-down.”
    Alan Hunt, Governance of the Consuming Passions: A History of Sumptuary Law (Macmillan, 1996), 133-34.

  7. Charlottesville | March 11, 2019 at 1:41 pm |

    Thank you, BC. That picture is exactly the way I remember the late 80s at the law firm where I started out in Washington. I really miss those days. Not only ubiquitous suits, but indoor smoking, wine at lunch and a weekly in-office cocktail party. I am now the only one in my office who wears a suit with any regularity, and few even bother with a sport coat or tie very often. Smoking, of course, is a thing of the past, as is a drink with lunch. Possibly good for one’s health, but I would be happier if the ostensibly healthy folk around me were properly dressed.

    Heinz-Ulrich – I too got my spring issue of The Chap and found much to enjoy. Even my wife, who is not technically a chap, was laughing out loud. I especially loved the references to “field telephones” (those things we all carry around in our pockets when not glued to our hands). The description of a tweed-wearing pub-crawl in LA was also remarkable. Finding 20 or 30 Angelenos willing to walk more than a block or two, rather than drive is quite a feat. Finding that many who own a tweed garment is a singular accomplishment indeed.

  8. Marc Chevalier | March 11, 2019 at 5:17 pm |

    @Charlottesville: I organized and hosted the Los Angeles Tweed Pub Crawl events for three years. On one of them, seventy of us —men and women both— collectively wore more tweed than the rest of the entire city (I reckon). The evening temperature was in the low 50s, so wooliness was justified.

  9. Charlottesville | March 12, 2019 at 10:50 am |

    Marc — That is wonderful. I wish I could have been there. I have an LA-suitable tweed in wool, linen and silk that might even enable me to withstand the daytime temps. I believe that fellow Ivy-Style commenter Evan is an LA resident, and I know he has the tweeds to wear to the festivities. Pub crawls are not usually in my line, but I manage to work in some draft Guinness most weeks at a local restaurant/bar that has a darts team, bangers and mash, and reasonably priced oysters.

  10. Evan Everhart | March 12, 2019 at 5:02 pm |

    @ Charlottesville and Marc: I just missed this last Tweed Pub Crawl! I was not aware of it until the last moment and circumstances precluded my attendance, most regrettably, indeed….

    Charlottesville! Tweed-Buddy! I have a new Southern California style Brooks Tweed jacket! Pure hand woven silk tweed Brooks 346 in ashen midnight blue and cream Glen Urquhart with red windowpanes! Too cold at present to wear it yet! I am in tweed today as well! Olive and golden yellow micro-herringbone sack suit, white Brooks OCBD, and dark brown with pale pink double horizontal bar striped silk knit tie and robin’s eggs blue wool OTC socks and vintage Church’s cordovan wingtips with an alligator belt and gold buckle. Very Brisk outside! How are the temps by you these days, Sir? There’s nothing better than some comforting British food on a cold day! steak and kidney or shepherd’s pie are calling to me…..

    Marc, do you still attend the Tweed Pub Crawls? How are you? 🙂

  11. Charlottesville | March 13, 2019 at 11:45 am |

    Hello, Evan. The new silk tweed sounds perfect for your climate. I am tweedy today myself in a J. Press wool herringbone in shades of brown with a blue windowpane, Brooks navy and white Bengal stripe button-down and ancient madder tie, with charcoal-brown flannels, brown and blue argyle socks and Scotch grain, medium-brown AE longwings. Medium-brown Brooks alligator belt on me as well. Chilly here this morning, but mid 60s promised for tomorrow, so something a bit lighter in weight will be called for. Alas, I will miss my standard Thursday-night rendezvous with a pint of Guinness this week, but hope you enjoy your late-winter pie.

  12. Henry Contestwinner | March 13, 2019 at 2:49 pm |

    Yet another example of how we are slouching to perdition.

    In the same vein, I attended a wedding recently. I heard guests at the wedding saying they had wondered about what they should wear—it was outdoors, and in Kasual Kalifornia to boot. I was one of the few men in a suit; heck, I was one of only a few men wearing a tie.

  13. Jesse Livermore | March 13, 2019 at 9:12 pm |

    A passage from Charles Ellis’s history of Goldman, The Partnership, describes how early in his career, in the years after the second world war, John Whitehead thought he would beat the summer heat by going to work in a light-coloured seersucker suit. Walter Sachs, son of the bank’s co-founder, saw him in a corridor and asked if he worked for the company. Whitehead — who would go on to chair the bank — confessed that he did. “In that case,” came the frosty reply, “I would recommend that you go home right now and change out of your pyjamas.”

  14. “I am now the only one in my office who wears a suit with any regularity, and few even bother with a sport coat or tie very often.”

    Rebellious, or anachronistic? I suspect it feels like the former, looks like the latter, unfortunately.

  15. Charlottesville | March 20, 2019 at 5:15 pm |

    JJ – I am sure that you are correct, but anachronism suits me quite well. I had a professor who used to say that he was “only reluctantly in this century,” and I understand the feeling some times.

    I like what I see currently at J. Press and similar shops, which is reflective of what I wear, but it is certainly not mainstream these days. I see it more frequently when in Washington or New York than I do in my academical village, but it is still pretty standard on working lawyers, stock brokers and finance guys around here, at least for now. Doctors and professors tend to be less formal, although there are holdouts. Even in the environment where I find myself currently, my fellow lawyers generally bow to tradition and strap on a tie during working hours.

    I think the main thing is being respectful of one’s environment and comfortable with one’s choice of clothing. In the places I tend to frequent here on the east coast, traditional, so-called “Ivy” style, including coat and tie at the office, works for me. It may not work for others or those in more casual surroundings.

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