Question: What do business suits, travel agencies, DVDs, and libraries have in common?

Answer: They all count themselves among the Internet’s recent murder victims.

business suitImage provided by: DeviantArt

If you walked into a business meeting any time in the hundred or so years before 2000, chances are pretty strong you’d be wearing a business suit. Business attire followed a very strict code that had remained more or less unchanged since Custer’s Last Stand. It wasn’t mandated by your employer or even your industry, yet was completely beyond reproach.

In that historical context, what’s happened in the past ten years — the sudden and unceremonious death of the business suit — has been quite remarkable. I, for one, can count on two hands the number of times I’ve had to wear a suit since graduating college, and nearly all of them have been for special occasions that had nothing to do with work. I know I’m not alone, and it’s not just because I work in the technology world. The business suit is marching towards extinction in virtually every industry.

The number one suspect for the demise of the business suit, in my opinion, is unquestionably the Internet.

Once upon a time, the only way to broadcast your status as a high-powered businessperson was to wear things — watches, ties, shoes, and suits — and work in offices that only high-powered businesspeople could afford. If you wanted to prove to someone that you had a bunch of clients that paid you a lot of money, there weren’t a lot of options. You pretty much had to spend like it.

In the past decade, however, the Internet has opened scores of other ways to broadcast your success and stability to potential business partners:

  • Your Linkedin profile shows that you share connections, who would presumably vouch for you if asked
  • Your Facebook profile (hopefully) shows that you don’t spend your weekends sniffing glue
  • Your company’s website shows that you’ve invested in your business and know a competent front-end designer
  • Googling your name turns up a hopefully small amount of police blotter links
  • If you have one, your blog leaves a trail of opinions for the world to read and digest

The multi-channel B.S. detector that is the Internet has made it very difficult in this day and age to get away with saying you’re something you aren’t. It’s also made it much less necessary to superficially communicate how successful you are in a first impression. When the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company can show up to a press conference wearing a hoodie and let his accomplishments speak for themselves, you know you’re in a world that no longer needs the business suit.

I can’t defend every way in which the Internet has changed society. It’s shortened our collective attention span, facilitated anonymous slander, and ripped away our fragile right to privacy. But it’s hard to argue that promoting a system where people are judged more by their accomplishments and less by their clothes is anything other than a noble feat. The suit is a thing of the past, and I for one won’t miss it.

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