Suits: Articles of Interest #10

Menswear can seem boring. If you look at any award show, most of the men are dressed in black pants and black jackets. This uniform design can be traced back to the American Revolution, classical statuary, and one particular bloke bopping around downtown London way back in the 1770s.

Articles of Interest is a limited-run podcast series about fashion, housed inside the design and architecture podcast 99% Invisible. Launched in 2018, the show encourages people to rethink the way we look at what we wear and what it says about us.

This second season of Articles of Interest features six interlocking episodes examining luxury and our collectively held ideas of glamour across the United States, from Chicago to Canal Street. Think of it like a podcast concept album, with recurring themes and threads that examine the ways we signal success and authenticity in America.

Articles of Interest was written and performed by Avery Trufelman, who spoke with Derek Guy, G. Bruce Boyer, Ian Kelly, and Rae Tuturo for this episode. This season was edited by Chris Berube, scored by Rhae Royal and fact-checked by Tom Colligan with additional checking by Graham Hacia; mix and tech production by Sharif Youssef with additional mixing by Katherine Rae Mondo; opening and closing songs by Sasami; photography by Austin Hobart and graphic design by Helen Tseng.

The voice talents in this story were Pat Mesiti Miller, Mathilde Billaud, and Felix Trench (of the fiction podcasts Wooden Overcoats and Quid Pro Euro).

Special thanks to fantasy author and podcaster Alex Rowland, who first tweeted out an amazing thread about Beau Brummell. Thanks well as menswear designer Brice Pattison, of The Blk Tux. Thanks as ever to the whole 99pi team for support, insights, and edits, including Joe Rosenberg, Emmett FitzGerald, Vivian Le, Sean Real, Abby Madan, Kurt Kohlstedt, Delaney Hall, and Katie Mingle. And Roman Mars is the Dandy Cult Leader of this whole series.

  1. Jason

    Great episode but I think it very much so from a western white perspective. I grew up in a predominantly black and Puerto Rican neighborhood in Brooklyn, expression through clothing was everywhere (and now has spread everywhere, see all high end brands copying hood streetwear and repackaging it) even when wearing suits.

    -J.

  2. isaac cech

    I’ve been a long time listener, and always enjoyed this podcast, but this episode made me want to comment. I’m a fashion historian who has studied menswear from the 16th through the 18th century. I take serious issue with this episode. It is in a couple words reductionist and sensationalist. I would really encourage you to take a look at this thread on Reddit written by another fashion historian.

    https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/5tlr6k/how_much_did_the_regency_era_and_george_brummell/ddnr1uf/

    Also the idea that he “originated” wearing a white shirt is absolutely ridiculous, wearing white shirts was around for hundreds of years at this point. Wearing white linen shirts was the standard for everyone, because white can be bleached and boiled and aggressively cleaned unlike anything else. It’s the reason that doctors, and butchers, and painters still wear white today. I was disappointed in this episode.

    1. 99pi

      Hi Isaac, 

      Thank you so much for listening and for sending along this forum link. It’s a fascinating discussion and you bring up a lot of great points. Sorry the piece was disappointing to you. We did our best to try to situate Beau in his time, and talk about all the influences before and after him that led to the Great Male Renunciation, based on our discussions with various fashion experts.

      Of course, it’s hard to condense all the nuances of an entire era into a 30 minute story, and we hope that we can also inspire listeners to learn more and take deep dives for themselves. So thank you for the work you do in this field.

  3. Murali Krishnan

    Hello Articles of Interest. I enjoyed the episode on Suits, but there was an aspect that was left out of the story. Adding my perspective clearly would have ballooned the episode into a much, much larger exploration. And perhaps there are already plans to address these points in a future episode.

    I am referring to two specific points that I feel are core to the understanding of suits — their deep historical ananchronism, and their close association to Western colonialism.

    I feel that suits are out of place in the modern world. The environment they evolved from was Northern Europe before the development of central heating. Why should anyone today wear a multi-layer ensemble including a jacket INDOORS? That actually makes sense when heat came from fireplaces leaving cool corners. But that stage of architecural development is almost considered antiquity. The wide populace in most places today have fairly uniform temperatures in the home and the workplace. A single layer is sufficient, and would be the practical choice.

    The common stereotype that women in the workplace frequently feel cold is not a reflection of a biological difference. Rather, the mindless clinging to outdated fashion makes men dress in layers, like the suit, regardless of the season or lattitude. As a result, the cooling of the building is increased to accomodate this silly fashion choice, and anyone (like many women) whose fashion pallette is not specifically designed for cool, drafty interiors, will obviously feel cold.

    The association with colonialism is apparent in the appearance of the suit as the standard formal wear in areas where that style of dress is wholly impractical. When I see foreign leaders of tropical countries of the developing world publicy wearing a suit (which is utterly unnatural/artificial/impractical for the environs), it always strikes me as a jarring imposition of colonial fashion dictates. Sure, that’s dramatic, but it seems highly unlikely that the fashion choices of that locale would have evolved naturally or organically to a suit. It really must be bowing to what a historical foreign overlord required as acceptible fashion.

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