Suits are oppressive

They promote a capitalist patriarchy

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Jong man Kim / Daily Collegian

By Benjamin Zhou, Collegian Contributor

In the past few semesters, I’ve witnessed a concerning trend: many students at the University of Massachusetts have started wearing suits for business classes. Personally, I don’t like business suits – I believe they perpetuate oppression and are unnatural.

Business suits, like other clothing, reproduce the social and cultural conditions of a time. It was the anarchists who recognized that everyday culture must be changed should we wish to eliminate oppression. To that end they understood that some clothing was a mechanism for oppression. The French individualist anarchist Émile Armand understood that in his essay “Revolutionary Nudism stating, “Let us imagine the general, the bishop, the ambassador, the academic, the prison guard, the warden — naked. What would be left of their prestige, of the authority delegated to them?”

With this in mind, what forms of oppression suits maintain? Suits maintain patriarchy and capitalism. They intrinsically express the power and domination of the higher classes over blue-collar workers. Suits require resources; you need money, time and energy to adopt this unnatural fashion when we go to a formal event, like a court case, where suits are considered more appropriate, more trustworthy and less criminal. This is proof that suits dominate workers and our cultural conception of formal fashion.

I ask you to imagine a businessperson. Despite using a gender-neutral term, many of you may have imagined a man and found the use of businessperson to be strange instead of the more common “businessman.” Patriarchy and capitalism are mutually intertwined which is reflected on bourgeois culture.

Making students wear suits only serves to condition them into believing that wearing suits is normal. When in truth it, as Armand says, “can never be anything but, a hypocritical disguise.”  The wearing of suits is so abnormal that many people just chose to rent suits.  This is because suits are incredibly expensive. Searching online, I found suits being sold anywhere from a hundred dollars to mindbogglingly more than a thousand dollars. In a news article from 2013, Business Insider suggested that, “A solid price point for the first suit should be around $500.”

This price should be shocking: $500 is not an insignificant amount of money and should not be a requirement for formal work. For many students who are currently applying or are planning to apply to internships for the first time, getting a suit is a barrier that must be overcome. But this barrier is not a necessary requirement for any type of job. Ultimately, suits bear no utilitarian purpose in a work environment, and whatever aesthetic purpose can be attributed is limited by its dominance over worker’s fashion, suppressing all other alternative forms of expression. The fact that us students are required to wear this useless and bland type of clothing while we present a tailored story to beg for a job only illustrates how little autonomy we have compared to our employers. The control employers wield over their employees while ordering their employees to buy expensive uniforms can only be one of oppression.

Suits are ultimately an abnormal and artificial construct that differentiate people by class and gender. It can only be abnormal because of its price, and it is artificial in that its requirement is made by men. Suits evoke professionalism, civility, trust, while the people under it are either prospective workers or businessmen who argue that the most basic public and common services ought to be privatized, dictating our society, dictating even what we wear over our own bodies.

Benjamin Zhou  can be reached at [email protected]