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Have you thanked your tailor today?

Last week, the Economist chided its readers for failing, over the course of this year, to celebrate a very special anniversary: the 150thbirthday of the business suit: It has become a symbol of conformity. “Suit” was the chosen insult of hippies to describe a dull establishment man. The garment has been ostentatiously rejected by Silicon ...

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LONDON - AUGUST 18: A suit is created for Prime Minister Gordon Brown by Bespoke Coatmaker Tom Slatter at Gieves and Hawkes Tailors on Savile Row on August 18, 2008 in London, England. A bespoke two piece suit takes up to eight weeks to make and starts at around 3,500 GBP. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Last week, the Economist chided its readers for failing, over the course of this year, to celebrate a very special anniversary: the 150thbirthday of the business suit:

It has become a symbol of conformity. “Suit” was the chosen insult of hippies to describe a dull establishment man. The garment has been ostentatiously rejected by Silicon Valley titans like Steve Jobs of Apple, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Sergey Brin of Google…. 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.

First off: isn’t it fitting (pun intended) that it’s the editorial staff of the Economist offering this tribute to the buttoned-up-and-starched look? (Something tells me that they did, in fact, dutifully organize a celebration — happy hour on Savile Row?)

That said, there’s a lot of fascinating sartorial history packed into the piece. Among the various threads (again, pun intended) that comprise the costume of contemporary power brokers: the Greek-inspired idealization of the male form; the sporty habits of British gentry; and the clean, masculine cut of military uniforms.

But it was ultimately the democratized atmosphere of American office culture — where boss and employee alike desired clothes that were informal and efficient — that delivered the final blow in favor of the relatively humble business suit. Today, the suit and tie is standard garb for workers the world round, and often only a close inspection will reveal whether the crafting was done by a high-end European tailors or a mass-production Asian factory.

(Here at FP, quality of stitching isn’t an issue, as we’re all obliged to wear matching Kim Jong-Il-style jumpsuits.)

The article notes that the trend toward aesthetic and functional leveling in fashion is an historical exception. But how could clothing again become an explicit and obvious marker of status? Maybe the high and mighty will soon be flaunting computerized threads to separate themselves from the lower castes? The Economist does ominously take note of Londoners asking their tailors to outfit their suit jackets with an enlarged inner pocket for their iPads.

Cameron Abadi is deputy editor at Foreign Policy. He previously worked at the New Republic and Foreign Affairs and as a correspondent in Germany and Iran. His writing has appeared in Bloomberg Businessweek, the New Yorker, the New Republic, and Der Spiegel.  @cameronabadi

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