The origins of “smart casual”?

Short teaser from the forthcoming book… The tailored suit has a long history. The coat, waistcoat, and breeches gradually became the gentleman’s mainstay from the English Restoration in the 1660s onward, when the elaborate dress common at European courts fell out of favor. Embroidery and silk died out from the middle of the 18th century and wool became the norm, particularly in circles with a democratic axe to grind. Benjamin Franklin made a splash at the French Court by turning up in the somber suit of a Quaker. (More rustic still, he wore his own hair rather than a wig.) In the wake of the French Revolution even French nobles lost their enthusiasm for aristocratic dress.

By this time the plain linen three-piece suit already marked the height of gentlemen’s fashion in England. Despite the rapid deterioration in the European sartorial standard, the business suit remained the gentleman’s mainstay from Charles II’s reign in the 17th century to James Bond and Gordon Gekko in the late 20th. Then, in 1996, Marc Andreessen, founder of Netscape, the company that had made the biggest IPO in history the year before, appeared on the cover of Time Magazine sitting on a throne in bare feet. He wore a polo shirt and jeans. Three centuries of the suit were forgotten.

The business world basked in the fresh air of the new casual dress code not only because it liberated men from the onerous duty of donning a necktie, but because it represented a new way of doing business, a break with the industrial past. The Internet had changed the nature of companies within as much as it changed marketplace conditions without. Business culture, as Andreessen’s bare feet told Time readers, was adopting some of the nerd norms that had previously been confined to hacker and homebrew communities. Like some of the hackers at MIT in the 1970s, David Filo, the billionaire founder of Yahoo!, regularly slept under his office desk (according to Po Bronson) in the 1990s until the junk he had accumulated there forced him to lie elsewhere. Even former hedge fund analyst and Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, spent his first years at the company working at a desk made out of a door with legs nailed to it, just as the initial BBN team had done when they worked on their ARPANET tender in the late 1960s. Bezos had apparently considered the idea of abolishing job titles and giving everybody the title ‘associate’. These new companies, where the old hierarchies were less pronounced, were widely thought to represent a new paradigm suited to the new, fast economy. Traditional hierarchical organization, the logic went, were in deep trouble…

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