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TIME TO SUIT UP



Published: Tue, September 24, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



TIME TO SUIT UP

Chicago Tribune: The suit is coming back and it's about time. Men's fashion magazines say so. Some companies are ditching casual wear and insisting employees return to business-appropriate dress.

This is welcome news. A suit is not just an article of clothing, but engenders -- or betrays -- a state of mind. Historians will trace the rise and fall of the tech bubble, and our economy with it, not to the inscrutable Alan Greenspan but to one simple factor: Men stopped wearing suits.

We got casual. We got sloppy. Next thing you know, accountants lost their zeal for exactitude. Blame the tech geeks. They said we didn't have to dress up to impress anyone. What were those stuffed-shirt corporate types called?

The Suits.

What symbolized the antithesis of all things tech-y and trendy in the 90s? The suit.

Suit and tie was like ball and chain. It announced to the world that you had not yet understood the profound shift in America. You did not understand that it wasn't about a company making money. No. It was about the potential to make money. Any 22-year-old computer whiz with a billion or ten in venture capital to burn could tell you that. Wall Street bought it. Soon all of corporate America was cowed into casual dress, even if it was pricey microfiber shirts and well-pressed khakis.

What followed was predictable as gravity. Ruin, degradation, people going to jail. Think of the pain and suffering we could have averted if men had never shed their suits.

The subconscious

Dressing is all about the subconscious. It's about how you feel. You feel responsible in a suit. "Think about it," a human resources executive said a few years ago. "When do you see kids behaving best? It's when they are dressed up in their nice Sunday clothes. The better dressed they are, the better they act. It's the same with grown-ups."

When you yank the tie and strip off the suit, you unleash subconscious forces that cannot be controlled and will, inevitably, wreak havoc. Now it is plain to see. The suit is seriousness of purpose. Richard Nixon, one of the most serious people ever, was famous for, among other things, wearing his suit while strolling on the beach at San Clemente, Calif.

OK, that may be a bad example, since his allegiance to suits didn't keep him out of trouble.

On the other hand, going casual didn't help Jimmy Carter. When he shed his suit for a sweater and a touch of malaise, his presidency effectively ended.

In truth, casual dressing for the office confuses most men. A suit-wearer does not have to rummage in the closet every morning in a desperate attempt to assemble an acceptable casual business outfit. Your choices are simple -- black, blue, gray, if you're feeling giddy, olive.

There is resistance, of course. That is to be expected. It's hard for some to return to the suit, when those khakis are just so comfortable.

But it's happening here and around the world. Earlier this month, for example, the men among the 3,000 employees of Deutsche Bank in London were ordered to jettison what a memo called "clubbing attire" and return to the suit.

So go ahead, put one on. You'll help make the world a better place.

DUCKING ON WARMING

Washington Post: In June the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put on its Web site a report acknowledging that human activity is contributing to rising temperatures that could have serious effects on the United States. Hardly radical stuff, but the head-in-the-sand crowd sharply criticized the report, with President Bush deriding it as a document produced by "the bureaucracy." So it's sad but not surprising that the next time the agency faced the subject, it unhesitatingly decided to dodge.

In recent years the EPA's annual assessment of national air-quality trends has discussed not only the pollutants regulated under the Clean Air Act, but also emissions of greenhouse gases that most scientists believe are contributing to rising temperatures around the globe. This year, as The New York Times reported last weekend, that section is missing. Online readers are directed to another Web site for global warming information.

Carbon dioxide

An EPA spokesman said agency officials decided to focus the trend review on regulated pollutants, which currently don't include carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas. In addition, he noted, the EPA had just published June's voluminous climate change report. Faced with summarizing that already-controversial document, and the likelihood that any version would be scrutinized and criticized anew, the agency decided, with the approval of the White House, to punt.

It's the symbol more than the substance that matters here. Bush long ago abandoned his campaign pledge to support the regulation of carbon dioxide emissions, and he junked the Kyoto protocol on climate change without proposing anything meaningful in its place. He's living in a fairy-tale world, in other words, where lowlands won't flood and ice caps won't melt; the EPA is merely adjusting its reporting to his fiction. Still, most people in "the bureaucracy" -- also known as hardworking and talented government scientists -- undoubtedly know better. They must cringe to see reality bent to political purpose.




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