American Psycho

why are we so suspicious of suits on the dancefloor?

Suited and booted or suited and booted out. We explore the politically charged history of the suit in clubbing.

by Josh Baines
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12 December 2017, 11:23am

American Psycho

In another life I was the editor of a club culture website. Which meant that I spent a lot of time in nightclubs.

Over the years as a roving nightlife reporter I came to several very minor conclusions about what clubbing is all about. One of the more concrete was that you should never trust a man wearing a suit in a nightclub.

The suit is the sartorial manifestation of a corporate culture at odds with the supposed freedoms of club culture. Be it an off the peg Moss Bros job or a Saville Row masterpiece, it brings work into one of the few places on earth that exists -- on the surface at least -- almost purely for pleasure. One look at a double breasted jacket and you might as well be back at your desk.

Or, as the writer Angus Harrison puts it to me, “wearing the same shit you wear to work in the nightclub only serves to blur the night into the day. It makes the party another cog in the grind.”

The post-All Bar One crew who’ve now found themselves clogging up the dancefloor at a Bala Club party probably aren’t going to be chatting about Seth Price retrospectives at the ICA or the latest Gasius collection when they nip out for a fag -- meaning their very presence, can in fact, remind you of your marginal societal status. Which sort of negates the whole point of clubbing in the first place.

You’ve also got to consider that in an environment like a club, or at least the kind of club the average i-D reader might end up in this weekend, a suit signifies power. A strange kind of power rooted in another sphere, but power nonetheless. And power is intimidating.

Or at least it can be.“I don't think they're necessarily intimidating, I just think they’re a total vibe killer,” says Sirin Kale, a writer and nightlife aficionado, reflecting on the sight of the suited and booted boys of clubland. “I’d actively avoid any club that had guys full of suits in it. The general rule of thumb is that the more suits, the shitter the club will be.”

"Whatever direction we’re going in, club culture is still fundamentally an exercise in fashion. We can talk about clubbing as an exercise in potentiality, exploration and freedom, and we practice all that through clothing."

But it wasn’t always like this.

Whether it was in the back rooms at Studio 54 in New York or on the dancefloor of London’s Wag Club, there was a time when dressing up for a night on the tiles meant, well, dressing up. It meant tuxedos, zoot suits and gowns. It meant the monied glitz and aspirational glamour that now scans as quaintly kitsch as you flip through the glossy reproductions in a Rizzoli book at a gallery bookshop.

Nowadays, we’re more likely to dress down or dress sideways (dress anyway but up). Whatever direction we’re going in, club culture is still fundamentally an exercise in fashion. We can talk about clubbing as an exercise in potentiality, exploration and freedom, and we practice all that through clothing. Looking good is the aim of the game; that’s still the central tenet of the tribal rites of a Saturday night, whether you end up at a Jane Fitz set in Panorama Bar or a flea-pit in Plymouth.

For Natalie Davies, who divides her time between running leisurewear brand Copson and DJing as Esqueezy, the question of the acceptability of the suit is one of context. “Can you imagine going to a drum and bass rave and seeing a guy in a suit? They'd think he was an undercover cop lost in a time vortex,” she says.

Somewhere in that vortex, the suit became a thing of the past. The transition from disco, a queer black sound eventually co-opted by affluent white heteros, to house -- a black sound that, yep, was eventually co-opted by white heteros -- as the dominant sound in clubs on both sides of the Atlantic reset club culture’s inner clock, and the whole thing was reborn in more casual clothes.

That kind of dancefloor democracy found its peak in the glory days of the wear-whatever-as-long-it’s-tie-dye-and-baggy late-80s acid house explosion. There’s a reason why brands as varied as Palace and Vetements make clothes beamed straight from abandoned nightclubs in Bootle. It’s the same reason that sees you watching yet another grainy YouTube video of a Doncaster warehouse rave on a Sunday morning: the openness of the past is a salve for the hostility of the present.

Those new jackets and old videos remind us of what once was, the era before club culture was bought, sold and sent into heavily-branded balloons, or dressed as a chicken, or sent on a fucking cruise. The suits we see now, remind us of all that’s happened since those golden days of yore.

"There’s an argument to be made that when designers decide to dabble in subversively club-ready tailoring, they’re simultaneously pointing fun at the (largely) unspoken rules about what is and isn’t acceptable in supposedly inclusive spaces."

“Dance music should be anti-capitalist, anti-corporate culture,” Sirin says, “and therefore suits are not welcome.”

Not everyone shares this view. There are clubs where traditional formal wear still holds cachet; peer behind the velvet ropes and Moet Methuselah’s of London’s cloistered West End scene and you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who isnt dressed to the dull and dreary nines. Which, in a roundabout way, proves Kale’s point.

And, of course, there are still designers who cast an eye over both the dancefloor and the boardroom, and high fashion’s always looked to the subterranean for inspiration. Recent catwalk collections by the likes of decadent darlings Gosha Rubchinskiy, Charles Jeffrey, and Demna Gvasalia flirt with that divide, daring the most daring of clubbers to break with recent-tradition and dabble with the most formal of nightlife taboos.

There’s an argument to be made that when designers like those mentioned above decide to dabble in subversively club-ready tailoring, they’re simultaneously pointing fun at the (largely) unspoken rules about what is and isn’t acceptable in supposedly inclusive spaces, and harking back to a time and place -- be it a vision of downtown NYC painted by Basquiat, or Leigh Bowery’s gloriously anarchic heyday -- when clubbing was an exercise in hedonism rather than wallet-emptying.

The thing is, wearing a Gosha suit is a pose, a knowing nod to the neoliberal horrors that make contemporary living so hellish, the horrors that make nightclubs more vital than ever. It is an expensive irony.

The kind of suit, and the kind of suit-wearer we’re thinking about here, is devoid of irony. This sort of suit is an instrument of colonisation. It says that the open, expressive views you thought clubbing had to embrace more than ever mean fuck all. It is braying laughter and lines of coke. It is unwanted attention and crap conversation.

This kind of suit should never be trusted. Anywhere really.