How Nouveau Can You Go?
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – My pal Harbison, he's under 40. Hell, why put a gloss on it? He's 35. That's tough in any business environment, but now, frankly? It's hell. I mean, up until now he's been firmly grounded in, like, whatever? With a minor if! And now, with the collapse of the whole dot-com thing, he's, like, well, you know?

So the other day he's invited to an extremely fabulous dinner in honor of, hey, whoever, at, like, wherever, as in the most elevated and amazing restaurant in town, a place that stripes its own bass every day and knows where to put its chervil? If you're not there, you're possibly not anywhere? And I'm not exaggerating?

Anyhow, my man Harbison gets there, and he's wearing an outfit that's completely right for late-1990s casual new-gen, next-gen, up-yours wear? As in an off-white button-down shirt tucked into jeans, or maybe it was khakis, I'm not sure, and mocs with no sox? But either way, he gets there, you know, and suddenly a whole bunch of people kind of stare at him down their noses, and the idea occurs to my man that he's not dressed...appropriately? As in he looks around and sees he's the only guy in the room not wearing a tie and he, like, sees in a flash that the whole extended grunge thing, which has been the brand for young people, cool people, tech over.

"Several people came over to tell me it was okay," said Harbison. That's how he knew it wasn't.

And so here it is, ladies and gentlemen. It has finally happened, and not a moment too soon for the people who make neckties. As of last week--you read it here first--it is now possible once again to be Inappropriate. The New Traditionalism has arrived. I believe we can pinpoint the exact moment when it started: the press conference announcing the merger of Time Warner with AOL. At that event, the chairman of the acquired corporation, who was last seen in public without a tie at his 4th birthday party, appeared with an open collar. The conquering entity's leader strode in with a cravat around his neck. To many, the message was clear. The old look was history. The future belonged to the guys in the ties.

For old farts or those who have always emulated them, the new style is no problem. But it presents a liability for the entire laconic group that thought it was about to usher in the new world order, many of whom are reading this magazine right now as the spring wind plays upon their open necks and their canvas belts caress their increasingly porcine midsections. Like, the entire Brown class of 1993 is going to have to reevaluate things, for instance. As if it didn't know that already.

The good news is that it's not all that hard to be a New Traditionalist. First of all, and I'm speaking to you men here--you've got to wear a tie. Sure, it's a pain, both in and around your neck. But look on the bright side. There are many good things about ties. They can certainly express who you are just as well as the top part of your chest area can. Striped ones in muted colors may make people think you went to a better college than you did. Big, loud ones help the quiet person declare himself. And even a bad tie often succeeds in making unprepossessing, dorky-looking guys seem a tiny bit more substantial, unless it's one of those knit ties with the square bottom, which are about as classy and effective as a lump of cheese around your neck.

While women are sort of left out of this whole tie-as-uniform discussion (scarves may be considered but are little more than nonmandatory accessories), both sexes may make the move from New Economy Hipster to Nouveau Traditional with the purchase of a suit. A suit is a type of clothing in which a jacket, worn on the top half of one's body, is fashioned out of the same material as the pants or skirt on the lower half. For those who have never owned one: Suits can range anywhere from $200 to more than $2,000, and in the New Traditional environment, you should know, the more expensive your suit, the better you will do in general. Guys in cheap suits fail. Guys in expensive suits succeed. It's that simple. So get as good a suit as you can afford.

A word to the wise Neo-Trad. Much of the new clothing you will have to buy and wear cannot be taken to the laundromat. It must be "dry cleaned," a process in which an article or articles of clothing are taken to an establishment for safekeeping, cleansed in some mysterious way that involves no water (!), and then returned to the owner with some small imperfection inflicted on them for which the dry cleaner disavows any responsibility. Put something intended for the dry cleaner into your washing machine, and it will come out looking like a dead weasel.

By the way, your phalanx of new white shirts, pinstriped shirts, and other tie-supporting shirtwear must be handled with the same care. You will have to determine whether you want your shirts artificially stiffened to some extent (with starch) or not (without starch), and whether you would like them boxed together or hung on wire hangers. These are big decisions, but they will determine your relationship to your shirts, and that's important.

Now that you're dressed, on the way out the door, stop by your bathroom mirror and get rid of that little stripe on your chin, young man. The goatee, along with the open collar and the invasion of the sneaker into the workplace, is the emblem of the old new-economy paradigm. You might as well wear a little sign around your neck that says, NO BUSINESS MODEL HERE, I'M JUST WINGING IT.

Now get good and ready to attend meetings, lots and lots of long and stupid meetings that you take while sitting down, not standing up on the run to the next exciting interface the way you used to. No, interfaces are out, and meetings are back! Long ones that have nothing to do with extending any paradigms or establishing any creative business solutions. People in traditional companies have been having them for years.

So! Now we're really getting back to where we once belonged. Pretty soon, and that day is not far away, everything will be nice and cozy for us Old Traditionalists once again, with everything where it was, whenever that was, with Republicans in the White House and everybody in a nice suit and tie, and nobody looking all sloppy and messy with chest hair poking out, and all that informality drooling and festering all over the place?

Hey, you over there. That's right, kid, I'm talking to you. Stop eating with your fingers! Look me in the eye when you talk to me! And call me sir, too, while we're at it! You know, things were really kind of a drag for a while there, but as one of those guys who's already got a lot of power to hold on to, I'm liking this return to the basic virtues a lot, you know?

Yo! Bozo! Get in here and shine my oh-so-traditional wingtips!

By day, STANLEY BING is a real executive at a real FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name. He can be reached at