This morning I awoke at 1:30 to coddle my infant son, and like I do with all my free time, I made high-pitched noises and got caught up on the Melaroo blog. In case you aren’t a regular, I strongly suggest you subscribe to our RSS feed, at the right.
So between chirps and giggles, I specifically noted that Ike had referred to a debate I’d been having with Nate over black suits. Lest you get the impression that we waste time at work, let me expound. We weren’t arguing over the existence of black suits, although it would have been a pretty compelling discussion because I recently heard this bit on NPR about how nanotechnology people (I don’t know if they were scientists, researchers, technicians, or whether the terms are interchangeable) had developed some carbon thing that was the blackest thing to ever exist on our planet, meaning it absorbed the most and reflected the least light, which would have called in to question the relative blackness of any suit. And I’d like to interject that I had made the Spinal Tap connection several minutes before Michelle Block did.
Anyway, our debate was about whether it’s okay to wear a black suit before 6 pm. I vote nay. And when I say it’s not okay, I don’t mean it violates the US constitution or contradicts any absolute truth of the universe; I just mean it looks a little too funeral/Jack White-ish for the average sales call to a band of Houston good ol’ boys. Call me a monarchist, but I still believe in the time-honored traditions of sartorial propriety. Nate’s more of a “don’t tread on me” kind of dresser, evidenced by his penchant for white suits and gold chains (okay, I made that last part up).
In case you aren’t fully caught up on the larger debate, let me brief you.
Though a staple in Post-Reformation Flanders, black suits seem to have fallen out of favor as daytime attire. Everyone’s fine with them for evenings, funerals and the clergy, but it’s one of those generally accepted principles that you don’t wear black to the office. And if there’s anything I’ve learned in my life, it’s that you don’t mess with those generally accepted principles unless you really know what you’re doing. Most support the ban, like my favorite contemporary writer, Glenn O’Brien (read his Style Guy blog at GQ); a few oppose it ardently while an alarming percentage doesn’t even know it exists, including a bunch of guys I went to career fairs with in college. In my argument with Nate, I never defended the ban itself. A Google search will reveal all sorts of opinions about why the ban exists, and none of them seem very compelling. My compliance is due to the simple fact that the good ol’ boys with whom we like to do business (i.e. get money) look on the daytime wearer of the black suit as callow, a parvenu, a noob. Just because. And considering our tender years, that’s the last sort of impression we need to be making.
You know that Geico ad campaign with the cavemen? Well, it received critical acclaim for its revolutionary bird flipping to the focus group. See, commercials produced on a decent budget will almost always be run past a bunch of soccer moms and NASCAR dads (By the way, since when do soccer moms marry NASCAR dads? The soccer moms I knew growing up were all married to golf and tennis dads, while the NASCAR dads mostly stuck to the Walmart moms. The editorial at large needs to seriously rethink their social labelling.). These Joes Six-Pac and their better halves then indicate, through surveys, brainwave mapping and urinalyses, whether they think the ad would work on them. If enough middle Americans vote yay on the campaign, it goes to air. What Geico’s ad people did was to completely rethink this process, and instead of going for the maximum number of ‘yes’ votes, went for an acceptable number of ‘HELL yes’ votes. Most of the focus groups didn’t get the cavemen, but part of them really liked it and Geico made a ton of money. It’s a textbook case of “I’d rather have a small portion of this really big, awesome pie than, like, 72% of this crappy, unenthusiastic pie.”
I’m really not one to respect conventions, as evidenced by my including this bit about the cavemen, but wearing a black suit during the day isn’t like the Geico commercial. It’s more like your local carpet cleaner commercial, where the proud owner stands in front of a greenscreen and lists all the kinds of carpet he can clean, and a list, through some video magic, scrolls behind him. When they meet at the family reunion that summer, the guy who produced the caveman commercial is obligated to talk shop with his goofy carpet cleaning uncle, and what he really wants to say is “Good job. You got a commercial. You have no idea who you’re talking to.” But instead he just nods politely and says things like “yeah…awesome.”
No, the Geico commercial doesn’t break conventions like the black suit at the office. The Geico commercial breaks conventions like a clown suit at the office. Nobody is going to admire your black suit; half the people will unconsciusly accept it, while the other half snickers. Half will still snicker at your clown suit, too, but the other half will love you for it. And it’s not like they’re going to think “this punk kid obviously never watched People Polish in college” like they will when you show up in your Johnny Cash meets Gordon Gecko costume. They may be taken aback. They may not appreciate the joke, but they’ll respect it. And everyone else will write a check on the spot.
Yes, Melaroo is all about breaking a convention now and then. But when we do, we don’t pry until we hear a crack. We kick it in with work boots. If I’m going down, I’m going down in a blaze of glory, because blazes of glory do more damage than gentle emergency landings in farmers’ fields. If only a select few are going to be on my side, they had better be a very select few. When I approach a potential client twice my age with twenty times my consequence, and I know I can’t help looking green, I’m gonna sport a diaper and a binkie. Speaking of which, my infant son finally nodded off at about four. Without missing a beat, my daughter got up wanting to go feed the ducks.