The Inherent Ick of 'Power Tailoring'

Charlie Teasdale
·4-min read
Photo credit: Paramount Pictures
Photo credit: Paramount Pictures

From Esquire

In The Wire, detective William ‘Bunk’ Moreland is roundly mocked for his devotion to pinstripe tailoring. One colleague suggests he might even have been born in pinstripes, which is somehow both a lame dad-joke and a sickening concept. In fairness, Bunk is definitely more sartorially minded than the average Baltimore vice cop – he’s able to spot a Joseph Abboud suit from fifty yards, after all – but he’s not exactly Tom Ford, is he?

Pinstripes mean power – or rather, the insinuation of power – and Bunk’s not really into that. He just wants to solve murders, smoke cigars and drink hard liquor in a train siding. Let the man live.

Photo credit: Jeff J Mitchell
Photo credit: Jeff J Mitchell

The meaning and symbolism of tailoring has shifted over recent years and the flux has become especially fervent since we weren’t allowed to leave our homes. For as long as there has been social hierarchy, clothing has been a signifier of status. The more expensive the cloth, the more work and craftsmanship that went into the garment, the higher the wearer's place on the proverbial food chain. In very broad terms, it’s why we want luxury goods, and in more narrow terms, it’s why tailoring has traditionally been the uniform of people (men) in power, where the more delicate the fibres, the more apparent it is how far the wearer sits from the kind of sweaty, greasy work that might damage them.

Thanks to a number of factors – largely the informality of Silicon Valley power – the suit has lost its inherent meaning since the turn of the century, and that cultural relevance has only been further eroded over the past year since the physical places in which a suit could be worn have been made unavailable.

That’s not to say that the suit is irrelevant – Virgil Abloh has filled his last three seasonal collections for Louis Vuitton with suits, for example. Nor is it to say that suits can’t be incredibly stylish or beautifully made; they absolutely can be, and plenty of brands are demonstrating that. But the simple parallel between slick suiting and power simply no longer applies.

Think about how all the finance bros have swapped Brioni blazers for Patagonia gilets. Think about Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s obsession with Rick Owens. Think about Boris Johnson, if you can bear to – one of the most powerful people in the world looks like he got dressed in a tree.

But despite various think tanks concluding that wearing nice clothes is almost as bad as using wagging your finger to make a point, politics seems to be where power tailoring is making something of a last stand. I’m thinking of Sir Desmond Swayne, the Tory MP for New Forest West, who likes to wear cutaway collar shirts and club ties when accusing the government of “pettifogging malice”. And I’m thinking of Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House of Commons and the thinking man’s coat hanger. So vast are his double-breasted jackets that he runs the risk of being blown south of the river in an ill-judged breeze. I don’t think he’d like that.

And it’s not just old Tories, either. Look at Brian Rose, an independent candidate for London mayor and, seemingly, a big advocate for power tailoring. His campaign imagery sees him standing on London Bridge, brooding, ominous skies overhead, broad-chested in his pinstripe three-piece, blood red tie and matching, voluminous pocket square. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that a former Wall Street banker, a man who once wrote that he used to stack abs, degrees, and bonuses “relentlessly”, is big into power tailoring. But nonetheless, he’s really doubling-down on the Gordon Gekko vibe. Someone on Twitter said he looked like a supervillain on a kids’ TV show, and yeah, that pretty much sums it up.

I may be proven wrong, but I can’t see that brazen sartorial machismo playing well with the electorate. In fact, I’m struggling to think of a modern milieu in which Eighties-style power tailoring is still the go-to. It just feels so incredibly naff, so completely out of touch with where society is heading or what anyone is into. Having said that, if Bunk was on the ballot for Mayor of London, he’d get my vote in heartbeat.

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