This week's featured outfit: tailored lines, neutral palettes, and remarkable professionalism. I spent a few days out of the office visiting stores, and had to represent Luxottica's Luxury Sales Team by, well, dressing the part. I'm an adult!
Thinking back on how I was treated this week vs. others, it almost bothers me that the world at large chooses to align rule-following with style. I'll start with the obvious: it is easy to tow the line. If you're a dude, dressing professionally is more checklist than thoughtful expression. You have, at most, three color choices for everything. Then, you have a series of arbitrary but authoritative rules based on shoe color, tie color, and the girth of King Edward VII (don't touch that bottom button!).
The end result is a number of accepted outfit combinations so small, you could count them on your digits and have toes left over - as long as those toes are encapsulated in brown shoes unless paired with a black suit. You catch my drift.
In a professional setting, this makes sense: I want my clothing to compliment my serious, detail-oriented talking points, not speak over them. Even within the fashion industry, what I'm saying means more than what my clothes are. I'd hate to have an unconventional suit (and the connotations that may carry) discredit my unconventional ideas (and the benefits they may ultimately provide as long as the audience is receptive.) It's the idea of picking your battles - of coloring within the lines without painting by number.
Outside of the boardroom, however, this thinking is dangerous. For many, how I'm dressed today fits their idea of "dressing well." Wool jackets and neutral colors certainly check the boxes for a median definition of how clothing fits, and yeah, a suit typically costs more than casual clothing so it can be expected to project status and wealth. That doesn't mean that slapping one on marks you as well-dressed.
Out of its proper context, wearing a suit is more codeswitching and aspirational projection than style done well. A tailored white tee and indigo jeans may not telegraph the same "seriousness" of a suit, but for life outside of the 9-5, that aura of professional gravitas isn't particularly desirable. As for dressing professionally 24/7 in case you need make a professional impression at the drop of a hat, this is tantamount to wearing ski boots year round because you spend Christmas in Tahoe.
Conflating the idea of "dressing well" with the rigid rule-following of professional dress is, in my opinion, a little foolish. At best, you'll sweat your body weight if the temperature crests 80. At worst, you'll spend your life off the clock wearing a costume, all because of the false pretense that style can be codified into the same rigid rules that dictate office decorum. Long story short, there's a reason Barney Stinson is a fictional character.