Answer by Raakhee V. Menon:
Thank you for the A2A.
Having lived in the middle east for a major chunk of my life, I think I know what you’re talking about.
Even if it is sweltering hot outside, people wear a full suit to attend official meetings. Take the curious case of the necktie for instance. It traces its origins to the early to mid 1600s and was developed from the knotted handkerchiefs that Croatian mercenaries used to sport during the Thirty Year War. It is but common knowledge that protecting the neck would protect the wearer from cold to a certain degree. Maybe they wore it to protect themselves from the cold while riding on speeding horses. But then it got adopted by other cultures and became a decorative piece of clothing, its original purpose clearly lost.
If you look at the general components of a full suit for men, it has everything to protect the wearer from the cold.
This makes perfect sense for countries where the climate is generally much colder than the tropics.
But in places like India, wearing a full suit is just a few degrees away from self-imposed torture. The humidity levels of the tropics ups the discomfort levels by several notches. And yet we go for ‘corporate wear’, whether we like it or not.
I believe this attitude of Indians has a lot to do with the dress codes set down by colonial forces while they were around. If you see the attires of people back in the days, you’d see everyone in what were considered to be respectable clothes in their region.
When the White Man descended on our lands wearing trousers and ruffled shirts and waistcoats and hats, people began to look up to them as sahibs…people worthy of respect and reverence. Anyone not wearing a suit was viewed as less important. After the British established themselves, a marked change was seen in the attire of the ministers and other important members of the society. They started to wear a jacket over their shirts to look more respect-worthy. Something like this…
This look was adopted by doctors, teachers, government servants, etc.
This mental attitude has become a part of the mental make-up of almost all societies the world over. Arabs wear their traditional costumes when they are in societies that accept it. When they move outside to foreign lands, they too wear formal wear for official meetings and smart casuals at other times. Indians do the same thing in a much smaller circle, though.
When they are in a region that accepts them and respects them while wearing a dhoti or a kurta-pyjama, they would wear that. At other times, when they are in a mixed crowd of mostly strangers, they prefer to wear formals or semi-formals as a way of asserting their respect-worthiness. And to be frank, a person is still evaluated on the way they dress and on the way they present themselves. Gone are the days when you could be respected as a genius even if you have unkempt hair and dirty clothes and yellowing teeth. In the current day and age, a well-dressed person is automatically shown more respect, whether he actually deserves it or not. And what well-dressed means to people changes from region to region, from community to community. Being a Keralite, I could tell you that a man wearing a shirt and a dhoti in our traditional way would just as welcome as a man in a shirt and trousers.
But a man who sports a full suit on daily basis is usually regarded as somebody out of our league…a pseudo-sahib.