Dressing to Impress: The Changing Sartorial Language of Entrepreneurship

In an increasingly postmodern world, many previously immutable concepts are now being contested and transformed. One of the most interesting such revisions in the domain of business is the sartorial language of entrepreneurship. For much of the industrial capitalist era, the clothing sported by iconic businesspersons – nearly all men – has been exceptionally conservative; the more expensive the suit and the tighter the tie, the better. The assumption was that in order to ‘do business’, a person had to ‘look the part': if all the world was a stage, then it made sense to dress in accordance with the audience’s expectations.

Yet these assumptions have changed radically over the past few decades, and – after a bit of contemplation – Mediolana’s Creative Director & CSO posits that there are solid reasons behind this:

1. Innovation. It is widely acknowledged that Silicon Valley in California is one of the world’s premier clusters of innovation. A key reason behind this is the visual diversity of the economic hub’s apparel. With a relative absence of uniformed regimentation, creative professionals are that much more liberated to deconstruct the box: by being physically free to dress how they want (and customise their physical environment more broadly), a degree of mental freedom ensues.

2. Reverse Psychology. The suit and tie are not necessarily dead – but they are much more powerful if used selectively. Former AIG doyen and present African land magnate Phil Heilberg is a case in point. The Al Jazeera English documentary Our Man in Sudan sees Heilberg angling for a land lease deal in newly-independent (and insanely mineral-rich) South Sudan. Business neophytes may have been surprised to see an former Wall Street icon prospecting around Juba in little more than some shorts and a baseball cap, only donning a suit and tie when meeting no one other than the president of the republic. But by suiting up discerningly, Heilberg very cleverly confirms his own überstatus.

3. Globalisation. This phenomenon has forced the world to recognise that things are done differently in different places. Russian oligarchs – Roman Abramovich and Suleyman Kerimov, take a bow – regularly appear in public sporting a few days’ facial hair, and this is by no means an aberration in the context of their entire business careers. Somehow, this does not stop them owning large chunks of the Earth’s productive wealth.

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