This post first appeared on the Ferenstein Wire, a syndicated news service; it has been edited. For inquires, please email author and publisher Gregory Ferenstein.
I spent the last week gliding around San Francisco in the now infamous “Suitsy,” an adult-sized pajama onesie disguised as a full business suit. At bars and in meetings, no one seemed to notice anything amiss.
Perhaps, I thought, this was because San Francisco is the home of weird attire and my colleagues were just unfazed.
So finally, I sought out the only place in the Bay Area where most people were guaranteed to be wearing suits: a Republican convention.
Last weekend, the liberty-loving tech organization, Lincoln Labs, held a rally for presidential hopeful Senator Rand Paul. There were suits oozing out the front door waiting to get a selfie with the libertarian icon. I blended right in.
Indeed, one dressed-down hip conservative asked me why I chose to join the other square stiffs wearing formal attire, “This is Silicon Valley,” he chuckled to himself. “What are you doing?”
It was at this point that I unzipped my onesie suit and revealed the comfy glory of what I was actually wearing. Gasps of disbelief echoed around me, as if Chris Angel had just made a statue of Ronald Reagan appear out of thin air.
The consensus was clear: Everyone thought I was wearing a traditional suit.
The Story Of Suitsy
Last fall, a crowdfunding campaign to create the Suitsy became an instant meme, turning the Suitsy into a totem for everything that people loved and loathed about Silicon Valley. Good Morning America praised its quirky bohemian ingenuity; GQ hailed it as an omen for the end times.
For the past six months, its creator, Jesse Herzog and Silicon Valley-based retailer, Betabrand, have been heads down turning the concept piece into a reality.
I managed to get my hands on the first production run and tested it out in the real world. Below is the first hands-on review of the Suitsy and, below that, is a data-driven analysis of how our economy got to a point where it’s acceptable for grown men to wear pajamas at work.
To be sure, without the twin Silicon Valley powers of Internet crowdfunding and casual tech office attire, Herzog never would have never been more than faint blip on the fashion radar.The question I had in reviewing the Suitsy was whether it’s just a gimmick or a legit substitute for men’s office attire.
So I tested it quantitatively.
A Suit Comfortable Enough To Sleep In
For four days I barely took the Suitsy off — and never wanted to. I worked out, went grocery shopping, held business meetings, and went out drinking at a bar while wearing it. As a blogger who spends most of my workday in pajamas anyways, it was like wearing my normal attire all day long. Were it not for occasional glances in retail shop windows, I would have thought I was at home in sweatpants.
Indeed, the Suitsy is just as comfortable to sleep in. Compared to the night before sleeping in sweatpants, my deep sleep actually improved about 3% while in the Suitsy—at least as measured by the Basis band health tracker.
This isn’t to say that the Suitsy improved my sleep; but it certainly didn’t keep me from a restful slumber.
But Does It Look Like A Real Suit?
For style, the Suitsy is no match for an expensive tailored ensemble, especially for folks who like to don the latest seasonal colors. But, that’s like comparing the top speed of a Ford Mustang to a Prius, when all you really want is a car to pick up milk at the grocery store. The Suitsy is meant to satisfy the bare minimum requirements of suit-dom, not to make a statement.
So long as it can pass undetected as just another neck-strangling suit, the Suitsy has achieved its goal. I decided to test the Suitsy’s style prowess as scientifically as I could.
I compared professional photos of me in my normal suit to the Suitsy, and conducted a small poll online using Survey Monkey and and a sample of U.S.-based Amazon Turks.
Respondents were asked, “Which suit do you like better” — no other details were provided. My normal suit won the poll, of course, but the Suitsy managed an admirable showing, with 20% of respondents preferring the disguised adult onesie. (See the full details here.)
One poll respondent even noted that the Suitsy “appears a bit more refined and professional.”
At the end of my trial, the Suitsy definitely proved its worth in both style and comfort. It won’t make you look like the sharpest trendsetter at the negotiating table. But if you’re like me and only wear a business suit once or twice a year, the Suitsy is more than a sufficient substitute.
Creative Class Fashion
The Suitsy is no one-hit wonder; it’s part of a long line of comfort-first clothing items successfully crowdfunded through the Silicon Valley clothing startup Betabrand. Rather than rely on a few expert designers to predict next season’s fashion trends, Betabrand’s own audience votes on prototypes using a Kickstarter-like platform.
If enough consumers commit to pre-ordering a pair of pants or a onesie business suit, a batch gets sent to the factory for mass production. “When we develop products, we try to connect them to Web communities and let them do the talking,” explains Betabrand co-founder Chris Lindland.
Betabrand’s avid early consumers were mostly bi-coastal professionals who wanted pants that could withstand a bicycle commute to the office. When Betabrand offered up “Bike To Work Pants” for crowdfunding, the Internet exploded.
“Something like a thousand unique sites point at our pants and we sold batch after batch,” Lindland said. Mark Zuckerberg’s famous hoodie-wearing habit become the inspiration for Betabrand’s next viral sensation: a hoodie with business suit-like stripes.
Lindland’s early vision for Betabrand was “fashion for the Creative Class,” referring to the growing legion of geeks-turned-highly-skilled professionals first identified by University of Toronto Professor Richard Florida. Creative Classers are “educated early adopters who’re professionally connected to the Web and tend to have larger-than-average social reach,” Lindland says.
So while Facebook’s engineers can lallygag into work in a pizza-stained hoodie, most creative class workers aren’t lucky enough to have a billionaire CEO that wears t-shirts to press events; many are the lone data scientist or designer sandwiched in between Burberry-clad sales reps.
Crowdfunding is the collective action glue that helps creative class workers around the country band together and fund clothing that feels like pajamas, but are indistinguishable from regular work attire. As Lindland says:
Fifty years ago, you’d be insane to open up a Suitsy Shop on Main Street. Because each town is blessed with only a handful of gents who’d appreciate the majesty of [Suitsy designer] Mr. Herzog’s invention. [But] add up these lone wolves of style from every city, and you have a large-enough pack to sell product to.
For now, Betabrand is a relatively small tech startup that gets substantial media play through stunts that appeal to its highly connected audience. The Suitsy officially debuted at the company’s self-titled “Silicon Valley Fashion Week,” which made headlines for drones that flew shiny pants down the catwalk.
Unsurprisingly, Betabrand’s penchant for silly, trolling stunts that needle the traditional fashion establishment make it an easy target for critics. But behind the silliness, Herzog says that the fashion industry itself won’t recognize the next generation of fashion, especially from folks who don’t share their values.
“I love a good fashion magazine on a flight,” he says. “But they’re kind of like the Bible. If you read it literally, you’re not doing it right. They are a great way to learn about what is generally acceptable, and traditions in attire, but something like a Suitsy from a nobody in fashion, that is counterculture to everything they’ve espoused.”
Herzog is aware of his critics, but believes there’s a sea change in the culture that will propel the idea of pajama-like clothes into the mainstream of work attire. “When J. Crew says sweatpants are now a fashion item,” he concludes, “that apparently is not the end of fashion.”
Photos by Greg Ferenstein for the Ferenstein Wire