Originally Posted by Holdfast
It makes me wonder about what language of dress will come to symbolise this fresh order. I am tempted to suggest that a rediscovery of accessorising sumptuary glamour on a vast scale is waiting to happen, and to say that the whole concept/visual language of "bling" from the last decade or two is an early foreshadowing of this. Think of all those knock-off designer handbags, oversized rings, designer perfumes, and the like (dare I even include iPhones, since you mentioned them...): easy indicators of consumption that appeal to those with the least to spend, but who wish to still play at pleasure.
I think the problem is that there is no longer a
language of dress. Rather, we have a sartorial Babel. Until very recently, popular culture was pretty hierarchical in the West and there were only a few channels of dissemination. This made it easy to establish norms. In fact, norms established themselves. But today, there is no such thing as "popular culture" in the sense of stylistic norms that are broadly adhered to.
Popular music is a good analogy. Once upon a time, popular music was very well defined and what constituted "popular" was accepted by almost everyone. People might get "stuck" on the popular music of a certain period, typically that of when they were young, but it was very easy to define what constituted "popular" at any given time.
But there will never be another Beatles. Popular music has been fragmented into a thousand different streams. Some are smaller, some are larger, but none are dominant. I think the trend began with cable TV but the internet has accelerated it by orders of magnitude.
The same thing is true of clothing. Tailored clothing is now just one of many possible sartorial choices. While it still has a certain cultural dominance -- a vestige of it being a cultural superpower for 150 years -- it now exists in a multipolar sartorial world.
Will the wealthy middle classes continue to see themselves as middle class? That, to my mind, is the most interesting question. Currently, they do (witness the debate in both the UK and US about whether top-rate taxpayers are middle class or not). If they eventually stop seeing themselves as middle class, their clothing habits will no longer be restricted by stealth wealth aesthetics (whether tailored or not).
Tailored clothing, especially the suit, still carries with it a certain connotation, not so much of wealth but of power and status. But that is fading and may be completely gone in another 20 or 30 years.
Or not. It is interesting to contrast the average person's reaction to "bling" vs. that to tailored clothing. Very conspicuous consumption does signal wealth but it also suggests a certain marginalization. A suit, even a not particularly nice suit, suggests that one has a position in the hierarchy that runs things, even if it isn't a particularly exalted position. Chicks totally dig this. Well, in its proper context, at least.
Again, this is being eroded by casual Fridays, etc. and may not survive. But for the moment, this explains why people tend to treat you much better when you are wearing a suit. The question is whether this is culturally re-enforcing or a sort of vestigial reflex. If people have an inherent "respect" for suits just because they remember their grandfather wearing one, this is the last generation where wearing a suit will allow you to sweet talk your way into an aisle seat. So my advice? Work it while you can.