Architectural Blatherations

Why Architects are Flashy Dressers

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The Good Oil

We've always been a little disconcerted about the affectation of dress that architects (and architecture students) persist in. We finally found out the explanation. It's really all about bow-ties.

The bow tie

In an interesting article, Mr Rob Walker of New Orleans wrote for slate.com:

Now, I've known a few men with excellent taste in clothing, formal and otherwise, who can get away with the occasional bow tie as just one more facet of a large and complicated wardrobe. But the same cannot be said of the vast majority of bow-tie wearers, and particularly the chronic ones. What those folks are up to isn't really so subtle at all

The truth is that there's nothing so flattering in contemporary American life as coming under fire for being one of those gosh-darned nonconformists.This is particularly so among those who hold the most conventional views imaginable on topics up to and including the importance of looking spiffy. In the absence of actual eccentricities of the sort that really do inspire animus, the bow tie is a useful short cut. It is a stunt accessory, with the sole function of drawing attention to the supposedly maverick and 'against the flow' worldview of its wearer. Its true analogue is the kid with the green mohawk and safety-pinned shirt complaining that everyone is staring at him all the time. The bow tie, in short, is the nose ring of the conservative.

Moreover, the particular beauty of expressing your individuality by sporting a bow tie-as opposed to, say, wearing your pants backwards-is that the secret of your devilish nonmainstreamness will be perfectly obvious and instantly understood by everyone. No one can possibly misunderstand the message, and that's important. That way you can be certain that you'll inspire only the sort of disapproval that actually enhances your individualist credibility.

On dressing

Architects always like to dress 'differently'. We've written about this elsewhere using a lot of sociological jargon, but you can't get a better summary of the rationality behind this than Mr Walker's piece. The bowtie, especially, has been the motif of the devil-may-care architect since the Modernists pioneered it almost a century ago. One classic photograph of a whole slew of bowtie-wearing architects can be found in this office photo. True, it's meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but it makes our point.

Architects are not about to be mistaken for a claque of double-breasted accountants or pin-stripped lawyers. Examine the image gallery of the illustrious laureates of the Pritzker Prize. Some are soberly suited, but most are trying desperately to project an air of creative nonchalance.

Most dutiful servants of the powerful

Architects like to project themselves as chic radical artists. The truth is that they are the most dutiful servants of those in power: whether they be capitalists, communists, or Rastafarians. No 'art' depends more for its existence on toadying to the good and the great than architecture, as this article from the The Times brilliantly demonstrates. So how to project an air of dangerous radicalism, while in fact spending all your days doing the work of those with power and money? Simple: wear a bowtie.