Last year I worked for several months for a very corporate organisation that was one of the most conservative places I have ever worked. One of the most unusual aspects of working there for me was the sartorial aesthetics and the significant differences between women and men.
Women wore a diverse range of clothing that I can describe as: traditional corporate (blue and grey, plain or pinstripe skirt or trouser suit, white or pastel shirt), modern corporate (suits and shirts in fashionable colours and more diverse fabrics), smart casual (untucked and/or collarless tops, cardigans etc) and contemporary fashion (bold colour, asymmetric lines, diverse shapes, cuts and fabrics).
In contrast, men overwhelmingly wore only traditional corporate with a few rare exclusions (the occasional pair of dark jeans on casual Friday, white or pastel, plain or pinstripe, shirt still firmly tucked in). I was often the only man in the building I saw wearing red, dark blue, dark green, purple or black shirts.
After a few weeks I determined that the (officially undefined) dress code allowed for quite diverse sartorial expression (judging by how my women colleagues dressed) and consequently I began to wear my shirts without tucking them in. I was again the only man in the building (Monday to Thursday) walking around without their shirt tucked into their trousers. It was common for women to not tuck their shirts in, so I followed their lead.
Male fashion in the corporate world has barely changed in over a century. The suit, tucked in shirt and tie is a uniform and a costume that symbolises a performance of submission to corporate capitalism and an anachronistic masculinity that has no relevance to the contemporary world.
It seems to me that the arch conservatism of male dress is enforced by men and women. Private school rich wanker types have obviously grown used to the corporate costume from an early age (I wore jeans to high school) and have no wish to change in middle age, or to allow other men to be different. Women also commonly seem to approve of the powerful image of the man in a suit, and to reject as less powerful men who do not meet this image.
Being different is to be a threat to the status quo. Take this recent example. Two men were ejected by security from the members pavilion at Flemington racetrack for wearing red and pink jackets. They are claiming discrimination based on their homosexuality. This may be valid, but from my point of view their sexuality was only inferred by the goons, not proven.
In reality, these men were ejected for being flamboyant and extroverted in their fashion choices, in other words men who have abandoned and thus betrayed the codes of traditional (understated) masculinity. Flamboyant campness is routinely assumed to automatically infer homosexuality, but this is lazy thinking. Flamboyance, camp and gayness are distinct things.
The members pavilion at Flemington racetrack may be private property where the owners can be as discriminatory as they like, but their opinions and behaviour are typical of many other places in society, including places of employment, where very different rules apply.
It seemed extremely ironic to me that, in a place that had an internal queer network and extensive EEO policies, that I should also find recent policy documents (seemingly not defined as official) on the intranet that banned men from wearing earrings and breaching other petty aesthetic barriers.
Having wandered along Savile Row in London recently drooling over some of the tailoring, particularly the amazing Ozwald Boateng, it occurred to me that wearing some of the colourful current Boateng collection would get you kicked out of the members pavilion at Flemington racetrack.
So the very best of men’s fashion on Savile Row is not good enough for the goons as Flemington? What petty backward archaic fuckwits. You don’t have the right to control and limit my masculinity by defining what I wear.