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Monday, October 13, 2008

Of suits and ties

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Tie is probably the only garment I’ve seen which doesn’t serve any useful function. After all, tie is nothing but a piece of cloth hanging from your neck. However, it does induce some kind of alertness by restricting your free neck movement, and is perceived smart. I wish thousand curses upon whoever invented this useless piece of clothing with with one of the most convoluted method of wearing (perhaps, to be surpassed by Sari only).

To make matter worse, Indians have adopted ties (and suits) as professional dress even though they are utterly incompatible with Indian climate and were clearly designed for colder western world. Narrow Indian mentality burdened with years of colonial subservience could not separate professionalism from western symbols of it. Without logic, that you cannot be professional in Kurta, has become understanding in the business world. Modern schools have thrust upon this attire on young children. It’s heart breaking to see innocent school children struggling in ties in smelting Indian summer of 45 degree Celsius.

At some level, I guess, suits and ties started as sign of professional elitism; executives, government officials, army generals wore them to symbolize their higher social status. With time, relatively lower level* professionals, specially service staff, adorned this attire to show their professionalism. At this time, perhaps to disassociate with new fans of suits and ties, executives abandoned this dressing style. Now we are at a time when a waiter at restaurant, security guard at ATM or office door, and car chauffer are fully suited-booted and executives just wear business casual. In some cruel joke of fashion, meaning of tie and suit reversed. In my previous company, higher up in hierarchy you were, less business formal or casual clothes you wore. Interesting fact is that only mid-level executives abandoned use of suits, and senior level executives (Chief of various things) still wore fully formal clothings to display their status.

Within these low-level service jobs though, tie remains a status symbol, a trickle down of early meaning now completely changed. In student mess of my college, supervisor wears tie, clearly not because his status in hierarchy is substantial but because that’s only way he can differentiate himself from cooks and cleaners. It is as intangible perk of his job as corner office is for higher executives. Sometimes things become important because everybody deems them important, and not because of inherent importance, not unlike currency notes. It would be interesting to find a socio-cultural study of meanings and acceptance of this attire.

*It’s not to disrespect anyone but I have to find some words to talk about it, don’t I?