Tuesday, October 22, 2013


I was in the middle of Mel's excellent book the other day when I came across a passage about the manifold significance of the male suit. 
The Man in Black.... personifies American paranoia over the misuse of government power. His authoritative yet anonymous black suit, white shirt, narrow black tie and sunglasses attract no attention.... .... In the Matrix films, the Man in Black is Agent Smith, the computer-generated guardian of a virtual world designed to subdue humanity.... In the film The Adjustment Bureau (2011) he belongs to a celestial bureaucracy policing pre-ordained destinies...
Reading this, I soon realised that for most of my working life, I have been in offices where hardly anybody wears a suit*. In my old job in North Melbourne one chap decided to wear a tie to work just because it was so unusual and keep doing so until someone commented on it. In some offices people haven't been wearing ties for a long, long time; indeed, it seems to me the suspicion with which a wage slave might have formerly regarded a man in a crisply-cut suit and tie could be transferring to another sort altogether: the managerial sorts who wear smart-casual in a strangely affected manner. (I'm not sure what they're affecting. That's why it's so strange). I was reminded, indeed, of the following passage in, of all places, a television review:
.... Normally, when it’s a competition between fusty, sclerotic Old Europe and go-ahead, can-do America I’m with the US all the way. Not on this occasion, however. I particularly warmed to a character so ludicrously Gallic and Grande Ecole I’m surprised they didn’t film him with a napkin over his head devouring an ortolan. His name was Jean-Noël Jeanneney, former director of the French National Library. 

Jeanneney was not impressed when the young men from Google approached him. He could tell they were not habituated to wearing ties, he said, and had clearly only put one on because such, they believed, was the European way. Worse, they made the fatal mistake of attempting to curry favour with a gift: they had brought him one of those thermos mugs that keeps your hot drinks warm on train journeys. He had resolved then and there to have nothing to do with Google and its infernal project....
 Perhaps, in his current incarnation at least, the Man in Black has had his day. Soon the only people to wear ties when knocking on your door will be harmless obsessives like Mormons. However, it occurs to me now that if two young men dressed neatly in smart-casual come knocking at your door on the weekend, you should probably run and hide: only door-to-door atheists could be so tasteless...

*People talk about 'the suitless office'. Can it be long before they start talking about 'the pantless office'?

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