Sorry, Brooks Brothers. The ‘Uniform’ is History–My Tale of Sartorial Revenge

This is me in my closet with the dozen suits and sport coats that helped create “the uniform.” Remember, all the way back to February or January, before the pandemic hit and people still schlepped into the office wearing this stuff? Since semi-retiring four years ago, my uniform pretty much has been put out to pasture except to infrequent forays to business meetings or funerals.

Oh, they served me well over the years. Especially the one Brooks Brothers suit I splurged on when I was still a TV reporter. It pains me that BB, like other men’s clothing chains is going bankrupt, because, in the era of Zoom meetings, we not only don’t wear the uniform, we barely wear pants.

I have a lot of ties. See them whipping around on the little merry go round in my closet? Some, I’ve never actually worn. They are instruments of torture but pre-pandemic, they represented an often-compulsory punishment to our respiratory system in the name of adhering to a “dress code.”


Ah…the dress code. I also kinda got that wrong. When I joined CNN in 1981 I had come from a TV station in Tucson, Arizona where I was producing newscasts. Since I wasn’t on the air, I could dress like shit. I was joining CNN in a similar capacity and assumed “dressing like shit” was the dress code there too. On my first day I showed up in corduroy jeans, a buttoned-down sport shirt and scruffy shoes. I made an instant first impression because everyone else was wearing “the uniform.” My boss, who wore his own version of the uniform, featuring a crumpled white shirt and suspenders, kindly took me aside, smiled and informed me “we kinda have a dress code here.” Would have been nice to know in advance but with most of my wardrobe back in Arizona, I had to do some fast shopping.

Many years later it worked the other way. When I made the jump from journalism to corporate communications at then DaimlerChrysler, which is now Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, I show up the first day in a pressed blue suit, white shirt and red tie. Damn! Missed again! Sure, there were a couple of guys with a shirt and tie and sport coat hanging on hooks, but I looked more like one of the German taskmasters looking to take over the company.

A couple of years later, the company was sold by the Germans to a U.S. capital management slumlord company from New York City. They all dressed up while they fired a large percentage of our staff as the company headed towards bankruptcy. I suppose it’s appropriate for the executioner to at least show some respect for the condemned by throwing on a decent tie.

It all changed again when the late, great Sergio Marchionne and Fiat took over the company. He never work a tie and rarely a jacket. His uniform was a black sweater or golf shirt, depending on the season and dark pants. He once explained it made his busy life less complicated by not burdening himself with daily wardrobe decisions.

From then on we felt we had permission to dress down a bit, but didn’t take it to extremes. I may not have always worn a tie but at least had a jacket handy in case we had an important meeting. I’d wear it into the office, then immediately take it off and hang it up until it was needed, or it was time to go home. You could always tell who the visitors were in the building–they were the suckers who were wearing suits and ties.

In my semi-retirement I’ve been working from home since I walked out of FCA for the last time on July 28, 2016, so there was basically no adjustment for me when the pandemic hit. I don’t mind Zoom or Google Meet meetings, and the only concession I make sartorially is wearing a decent shirt, but don’t ask me what’s covering my lower regions. To put your mind at ease, it’s, um, something, but I assure you it’s not the pants from that abandoned Brooks Brothers suit, nor is it a pair of pressed Dockers. It’s just something, okay?

Once this is all over and we’re compelled to meet in person again, I’m not so sure many folks will revert to a version of the uniform, having gotten used to being dressed more comfortably, and probably less expensively.

I do feel sorry for the abandonment my old work wardrobe must be experiencing. That’s why every once in awhile, I’ll go to the section of my closet where they suits and jackets and pants are hanging, thank ’em for their service, then hit the switch, watch the ties go round and round and round and round, hoping those now-useless instruments of torture are starting to feel a little nauseous. Payback is sweet.

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