The suit still bears the marks of this turbulent past as well as the influence of Enlightenment thinking, sporting pursuits and a Regency dandy. In the year that may well mark the 150th anniversary of the suit it seems a shame that no celebrations were held in its honour.
The pattern was cut in the middle of the 17th century. To maintain an image of what is now called “austerity Britain” after a plague outbreak in 1665 and the Great Fire of London a year later, Charles II ordered his courtiers to dress in simple tunics, shirts and breeches. This was a profound reversal. Monarchs had long imposed sumptuary laws preventing hoi polloi from dressing too grandly. Forcing the elite to dress modestly suggested that power and place were no longer to be marked by yards of lace and frills.
It is another intriguing quark of history and culture the suit as we know it – spare, a minimalist length with modest lapels – was at one point a statement of reserve, egalitarianism even. A shoe maker, a cabinet minister and an engineer all wore the same basic garment to weddings and meetings. A tie is not a suit but they have been inextricably paired. If there are complaints about suits is it usually the tie which suffers the worse tongue lashing. The tie is an opportunity to indulge in exactly the opposite of the modern lounge suit’s original intentions. While some men go for the somber most use it as a colorful expression of their individuality. A sartorial tip of the hat to the egalitarian man lost in a crowd of gray and navy. As with any piece of clothing which becomes a standard, the suit became a uniform. A symbol of the conformity of the individual to the standardized dictates of society. As The Economist notes during the 60s anyone wearing a suit was “A Suit” ( the first season of Madmen had an encounter between Don The Man and a village hipster). A walking emblem of lost individuality in a corporate technocratic world. Denim (and cotton twill “khakis” to some degree) became the every man’s choice of wear by the late 50s. The 60s simply sealed the deal when youth – genuinely in revolt – choose them as their uniform. Fast forward fifty years and denim jeans are part of the unwritten national dress code. An item of clothing is hardly a revolutionary statement when Sunday dinners have three generations of a family in Levis or expensive designer jeans made in Tokyo from denim made in France. This might be why the suit – sans tie – refuses to go away. Besides a well fitted suit being able to disguise the average frumpy body, it helps delineate work from leisure. For some people it may even define who they are at given parts of the day. Professional, businessman or professor a few hours ago I have donned my disguise as casual guy or as all-American weekend warrior. Which works in reverse too. So you thought I was old surfer contest t-shirt and jeans never grew up Peter Pan, but see how responsible and adult I am in my all-weather worsted wool just like Cary Grant wore in North by Northwest. Which also say something about modern dress and perceptions. Does the suit mean you’re stand-up citizen or is the suit a camouflage for what is really underneath.
Roger Thornhill: Now you listen to me, I’m an advertising man, not a red herring. I’ve got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders that depend upon me, and I don’t intend to disappoint them all by getting myself “slightly” killed. – North by Northwest (1959).
Sarah Palin sought to build her foreign policy credentials on Tuesday, with a new op-ed arguing that the Obama administration needs to “toughen up” on Iran based on information from leaked diplomatic cables that she had earlier denounced.
The former Alaska Governor writes in USA Today:
Iran continues to defy the international community in its drive to acquire nuclear weapons. Arab leaders in the region rightly fear a nuclear-armed Iran. We suspected this before, but now we know for sure because of leaked diplomatic cables. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia “frequently exhorted the U.S. to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons program,” according to these communications. Officials from Jordan said the Iranian nuclear program should be stopped by any means necessary. Officials from the United Arab Emirates and Egypt saw Iran as evil, an “existential threat” and a sponsor of terrorism. If Iran isn’t stopped from obtaining nuclear weapons, it could trigger a regional nuclear arms race in which these countries would seek their own nuclear weapons to protect themselves.
The “leaked diplomatic cables” that Palin speaks of are, of course, dispatches released as part of WikiLeaks’ latest document dump, an action that she deemed “treasonous,” later asking why the group’s founder, Julian Assange, was not “pursued with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders.”
There is another way to see this beyond the blatant hypocrisy. Saudi Arabia is primarily a Sunni Muslim state. Arab Muslims have had a rock relationship with Iranian (Persian) Shia Muslims for a few hundred years – thus the antagonism in the leaked memos and something Palin should already know if she is serious about being a foreign policy guru. It was a radicalized group of Sunni Muslims ( as compared to say the radicalized right-wing Christians who have carried out terrorism in the U.S.) who carried out the attacks of 9-11-01. Palin has shown some forgive and forget attitude in her willingness to follow the foreign policy recommendations of any Muslims. It just happens that once again Palin as is the Right’s tendency – has cherry picked one piece of information – to rationalize some morbid instincts. What with all the hypocrisy of using Wikileaks some may fail to notice her basic premise is not about Iran – a nation we could turn into a pile of glass in 20 minutes – it is about using Iran as a cudgel against the guy who cleaned her political clock in 2008.