Elegance is defined as something that is unnoticeable, but as an amateur social historian, I tend to notice the unnoticeable — especially the trivial aspects of the TV distribution business.

SerafiniHave you noticed how the dress code of TV executives has changed over the years? Not really for the worse or for the better, just changed.

Looking at the early photos from VideoAge’ extensive archives, which include those from the pre-VideoAge’s era inherited from Television RadioAge, we can see executives attending MIP-TV dressed in sweaters, slacks and blouses á la Joni Mitchell or silk jersey dresses á la Diane von Furstenberg.

These were people who grew up in middle-class families where the best dresses and suits were reserved for holidays, weddings and religious functions. At that time, the affluent wore the opposite: impeccably dressed on weekdays and very casual on weekends and holidays.

During president Ronald Reagan’s “No Millionaire Left Behind” program in the 1980s (which was followed by “No Billionaire Left Behind” during the Dick Cheney administration in the early 2000s), all top executives at TV trade shows would be smartly dressed on weekdays — complete suits and tie for men and shoulder pads for women — and casual on weekends.

However, in Hollywood, there was still a form of casual dress, with men wearing shirts and ties but not jackets. This particular look was later emulated by American politicians, who wanted to convey the message: “look I’m hard at work for you.” It has been reported that Italian TV mogul turned politician (and former prime minister) Silvio Berlusconi took this message a step further by washing his hands before going to the bathroom, like a typical bricklayer or a livestock farmer would do: “Look, I’m close to the manual laborers!” was the obvious implication.

Under Cheney’s “No Billionaire Left Behind” program, the TV executives’ look remained casually dressy by eliminating ties and restoring jackets, which was good for men whose collars were shaven, but not too appealing for those whose necks had hair sticking out.

Apparently, the open collar look for men began with the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice in the late ’60s, but it became fashionable during the “No Billionaire Left Behind” era when top-level politicians wanted to appear as men-of-the-people types. This time around, however, Hollywood followed politicians after Hollywood had originally created the open collar, “look ma, no tie” look.

For my part, I went from a casual look to dressing in suits, back to a casual look, but with a twist: a button down collar shirt, tie and no jacket. In my view, a tie was more respectful and elegant than an open collar shirt with a jacket.

There are diverging opinions about this latter statement, but it is worth noticing that those who prefer ties tend to stay in their offices without wearing a jacket because the look is respectful, while not wearing a tie means that one has to sit at his desk with a jacket on (otherwise it is too casual), which is very uncomfortable.

My “conversion” to the button-down shirt could be noteworthy. In the beginning I rejected it as too radical chic, since it was the preferred uniform of rich intellectuals who wanted to distance themselves from the rich Wall Streeters, who opted for the stiffened starched collar (the super rich radical chic wore the button-down shirts with the collar unbuttoned to separate themselves from the mere rich).

But then, practicality and convenience took over, since the button-down shirts (which by the way, since the late 1800s have been called polo shirts because they were worn by English polo players) were the perfect match for ties and no jacket.

And then came the fun “Got the memo?” expression popularized by Russ Kagan about making sure to wear pink button-down polo shirts at TV trade shows.

With my new dress combination, I can now travel with a carry-on luggage even for extended trips, while in my former formal suit days, packing a couple of suits required checking in the luggage (naturally, for the higher-up executives this problem doesn’t exist since they can FedEx their luggage).

Dom Serafini

Audio Version (a DV Works service)

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