There are two different types of men online who are into suits. The first, per Derek Guy, an editor at Put This On, are like himself — “clothes mad.” They think about tailoring all day, every day. They read about the construction of suits. They consider suits to be a language rather than an artistic expression. “To put together a successful outfit, you have to communicate something that’s culturally legible,” Guy explains.
They know their history, too. For example, that traditional Western men’s dress only refers to clothes guys wore beginning at the turn of the 20th century. Because prior to the 1900s, the “proper gentleman” would wear frock coats. In fact, what we think of today as the business suit was, Guy says, actually a worker’s garment first worn by Keir Hardie, the founder of the British Labour Party, as “he wanted to signal his allegiance to the working class by wearing a tweed suit.”
The second type of online man who is interested in suits is interested in them for what they think they mean for men. “There’s a whole community of people on Twitter who call themselves trad,” Guy says. “They like to defend the white female and like photos of old European architecture,” often coupled with text like, “This is what they took away from you.” For these men, who lament the downfall of masculinity and lecture about how guys don’t dress like adults anymore, the suit is wielded as a symbol of what we’ve lost — and serve as a way of reclaiming it.
The thing is, though, they’re trad-ing away in the wrong threads.
Case in point: Jordan Peterson, the self-appointed arbiter of traditionalism. When asked during a recent appearance on the Bet-David Show Podcast why he wears suits, Peterson mentioned that his father wore suits and that when he asked his father why, his father responded that it was to show respect. This, according to Guy, is an “apocryphal story often repeated by suit wearers, as it hits all the right notes — respect, learning from your father, a reference to old practices, etc.”
Peterson goes on to list other predictable clichés as to why he wears suits and why other men should go suit shopping, too. Namely: He does it to dress like a grownup, and he’s sick of seeing grown men dress like children. “This sort of stuff happens because a lot of guys are uncomfortable with their newfound interest in clothing, which is traditionally a feminized interest,” Guy explains. “So they code it in terms of masculine virtues, which helps them put borders around it.”
As an example, Guy cites the headless fit pic that’s common on menswear forums. “At some point, no gendered language can cover up the fact that you’re asking people to check out your outfit, so hiding your face will have to do,” Guy wrote in a 2019 blog post.
But what makes Peterson’s pleas to follow his sartorial lead particularly bizarre is that the suits he’s wearing closely mirror that of a metrosexual man from 2005, not the allegedly great men of yore that he thinks he’s emulating. His jackets fit very trim and short, and they’re generally made up of strange fabrics. “There’s a photo of him wearing a charcoal jacket with a gray speckled sweater and his red poppy on his lapel,” says Guy. “That fabric would never be used for men’s tailoring, that’s a fabric that would be used for a Chanel jacket.”
And so, if there’s any cultural lineage to Peterson’s suits, Guy says, it can only be traced to queer fashion trends that came about during the early aughts when many things that used to be coded as gay became mainstream. “One of those things were really slim-fit suits,” says Guy. “Hedi Slimane did this uber slim-fit look because he wanted to push back against this macho stereotype of the 1980s and 1990s of the very brawny, Arnold Schwarzenegger kind of character. He said he felt alienated by that when he was young, so he did this very slim-fit look.”
Basically, there’s nothing traditional about Peterson’s suits. “A serious and, in his words, ‘adult’ outfit would be a dark gray suit with medium lapels that terminate halfway between the collar and shoulder joint, a sober dark tie worn with a four-in-hand (not Peterson’s often-used full Windsor), a white spread collar shirt with collar points that sit underneath the jacket’s lapels and a neatly folded white pocket square,” Guy explains. “That said, there are multitudes of sober, classic outfits. He doesn’t need to wear this specific one. But ‘adult dress’ isn’t just about wearing a suit. It’s about knowing how to use the small details in an outfit to communicate the things you want to communicate.”
“Men who are just starting to pay attention to their dress often think about this process as creative expression,” Guy continues, reiterating one of his earlier points. “They treat dress like throwing paint on a canvas — blue goes with green, or round shape goes next to a square shape. This is how many end up dressing in a chaotic, nonsensical way.”
Or, this is how you end up looking like Jordan Peterson.