I remember when my dad taught me how to block a hat; to get that top crease just right. I also remember how he taught me to tie a necktie, to know which side I “dress” in a suit, where the leg breaks and to always make sure the holding stitch in the back flap of a suit coat was removed before wearing it. Today — because of him — I am as comfortable in a suit as I am in a pair of faded jeans and well-worn t-shirt.
I’ve passed these same skills on to my son. At twenty-seven, he still seeks fashion advice from me from time to time, though I suspect he does some fact-checking with his younger sister.
Over the decades, tie knots have gotten wide, then narrow, now wide again. Same with lapels. Jackets have gotten shorter and pleats and cuffs have come and gone. Now the GQ crowd is trying to convince us to ditch the socks with the dress shoes.
But the basics remain steadfast.
Every time I hear fashion advice being dispensed on a magazine show, I go to my father’s fashion advice, with George Zimmer’s voice-over reassuring me in my head; “You’re gonna like the way you look. I guarantee it.”
But the Men’s Wearhouse is now seeking to silence that voice as they oust Mr. Zimmer from the company in favor of chasing a younger crowd. I think eventually, men’s suits will be relegated to a back corner, staffed by an old geezer whose only other employment option was the paint department at The Home Depot.
I think that is a mistake.
The Men’s Wearhouse brand is adulthood. Eventually, every boy becomes a man. He needs guidance through his ignorance that fiercely protects his dignity. Like it or not, business is run by adults. Adults wear suits. When it comes to wearing a suit, form IS function.
Bankers, lawyers and VCs notice fly-away collars, wrinkled shirts and mis-adjusted tie knots. Women notice when the shoes don’t match the belt, when shoes are scuffed and when pants don’t break quite right. The television camera picks up a shoulder pucker, badly-fitted shirt cuffs and ill-fitted shirt collars. A badly-fitted suit sticks out as glaringly as a single quote used in place of an apostrophe. Something is “off,” but you’re not sure quite what it is.*
The Men’s Wearhouse is now about the only mens clothing brand out there that speaks in an adult voice to a generation of young men who have not been taught by their dads how to dress. Instead, they have picked up fashion advice from their peers and the GQ crowd, eager to sell them high turn instead of deep value. This generation is now entering adulthood and asking to be accepted into the adult ranks.
Instead of leveraging their brand to be the steward of a generational rite of passage, Men’s Wearhouse is tilting at windmills, chasing the younger generations further into their past rather than leading them forward into their future. The irony of dressing like an adult is you adopt the trapping of a geezer generation at the same time absorbing the power that comes with it.
I fear when George Zimmer’s voice is silenced, this younger generation will be left with nobody to guide them through their ignorance while still respecting their dignity.
I guarantee it.