A well-fitted suit with the right tie, collar, shirt, cuff links and shoes will always create a splendid visual impact.
But when you look at the average suited man on his journey to work he is more likely to look like a provincial estate agent than James Bond. A suit does not make you look smart, just because it is a suit. A suit can look excellent, but it’s much harder to pull off and most of the time it would be easier to look smarter by wearing a different type of attire.
Part of the fundamental problem of the suit is its ubiquity. When the majority of people in professional, semi-professional and sales jobs are wearing suits it is difficult to create an elegant impact unless you are paying extra special attention to tailoring.
Also the connotations of the suit have changed as the economy has evolved. When the billionaire tech giants of Palo Alto or the creative designers at Apple are more likely to wear a T-shirt than a suit, the latter is no longer the symbol of status it once was. When there were simply blue collar workers and white collar workers, the suit acted as a signal of social standing. These associations have now been lost. If you see a man in a suit in a tech or creative company, he is probably a visiting photocopier salesman.
But the debate should not be reduced to two polar opposite dress codes e.g. suits versus t-shirts and jeans. It is really about how you can actually look smarter by abandoning the suit.
An army major once said you can sometimes tell who the special forces in the army are; they are the ones with beards and long hair. You are not allowed to have beards and long hair in any other sector of the army except the special forces. In other words 'those who can, break the rules'.
Richard Branson took this motto to heart when he went around his office with a pair of scissors cutting off his colleague’s ties.
Similarly, those who have influence, creativity and independence don’t have to wear suits. In many respects a suit now could signals submissive conformity.
There are plenty of respectable jobs were a suit is still appropriate. And there are occasions when it is advisable. However for social occasions where you might feel the need to wear a suit, try not wearing one. Paradoxically when you see the clones in their suits it might even make you feel overdressed.