A 5-year-old named Hugo recently asked, "Why the hell do men wear suits?" Great question from a great New Zealander.
It's a pretty weird set-up the suit. An open or one-buttoned jacket with pants of the same cloth and a scarf-like piece of material that hangs down your front. It seems odd that this wussy combo should be the ultimate symbol of manhood. But it is and it works.
Would Winston Peters be where he is today without his dapper suits? No way. Imagine trying to hold the country to ransom in Stubbies and a singy. It would never work.
Anyway Hugo, here's the poorly researched "everything you need" to know about suits.
The pre-suit nightmare
There have been matching coats, trousers, and waistcoat combos for more than 400 years. Some of them were okay, but things got completely out of hand in 17th century Europe. Courtiers started wearing humiliating knee breeches, elaborate brightly coloured jackets, effeminate frilly shirts and stupid powdered wigs. It was too ridiculous to last and it didn't. In fact it ended in violence with the French Revolution. Many a ridiculous suit wearer's head being guillotined off in public. Rightly so.
The modern suit
In the late 19th century the British moved things forward with some well cut suits in sober colours and tidy reserved neckties. Not only flattering but also great for country sports. Unfortunately dandies persisted on wearing french frock coats après sport right as late as 1905. Luckily the Americans simplified everything before WWI. Their practical but stylish suits became hugely popular worldwide. No tails, frills or unnecessary darts. Give or take lapel and pant width that's the way it's largely been ever since.
The suit is a scam
Merchants were the first to wear extra fancy suits. It was thought the nicer the suit the more trustworthy the merchant. The thinking was simple: if you can afford to dress nicely you must be doing well, therefore you must be selling a lot, therefore your stuff must be good, therefore you can be trusted. We use this trick to this day. People wear suits to project success and trustworthiness. Look at the suit wearing professions. Lawyers, politicians, businessmen, real estate agents, newsreaders and car salesmen. All potentially dodgy occupations that require your trust.
I was once a warehouse manager. Over a few beers one night I promised to hire my mate Andy in a low level box packing position. We decided it would be funny if he wore a flash suit to work every day. Not only did he get more respect than me in my overalls from day one but within six months he had my job. The lesson: show up in a nice suit and people will think more of you.
How often have you seen a guy getting arrested on the news and thought "guilty as". Then 12 months later he turns up in court with a nice suit and a haircut and you think: "He doesn't look the type."
Never trust a man who wears a suit in the weekend
I'm not saying that every Saturday and Sunday suit wearer is dishonest. But ask yourself, "Why is this man wearing a suit in the weekend?" No one's making him, so who's he trying to impress and why? If it's a wedding, fine. If he's trying to sell you something, don't be fooled by the fancy threads. Check everything very carefully.
Suit wearing tips
Your tie should be the same width as your lapels and just above your belt. Your socks should be long enough that you can sit down without showing bare ankles. Your belt should match your shoes. Your pants zipper should always fly half mast or lower.
So the answer to 5-year-old Hugo's question "Why the hell do men wear suits?" is simple. It's to trick people into thinking we are respectable, trustworthy, richer and better looking than we really are. The good news is it works. As long as you wear them right. Sadly, a saggy T-shirt and a loose crotched pair of jeans while comfortable will earn you zero respect. Especially with a jury. So here's to the suit.
You can thank it for our new government.