Why do NHL players wear suits to the game?
Because that’s how it’s always been done, would be the answer until quite recently.
Early in the 2021-22 season, two NHL teams experimented with a “business casual” pre-game look, with one of these team reverting to suit and tie due to player non-adherence to the relaxed dress code.
Unlike many hockey fans, I don’t have a clear opinion on whether a rigid team dress code is a good thing or not. Despite wearing a suit to the rink for many years by obligation, I still can’t wrap my head around all the implications of dropping such a long-standing practice.
Here are some things I think about, when I think about suiting up - or not.
Prison uniforms clearly distinguish inmates from employees and visitors, but they also serve to strip the inmates’ individuality.
Prison uniforms are perhaps the most tyrannical application of a dress code, and the most extreme example that comes to mind when I think about the impact of fashion on a person’s mindset.
Inmates always wear the same-coloured suit, but so did former president Barack Obama.
“You’ll see (me) wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”
Barack Obama, Feb 2014
Ironically, six months after giving that quote to Vanity Fair magazine, Obama uncharacteristically wore a tan suit to a press conference, leading to a tempest in a teapot.
My High School
From grade 9 to 11, I attended a French private school called College Jean-de-Brebeuf, one of the most academically-demanding high schools in Canada.
Our grade’s most accomplished graduate is Beatrice Martin, a.k.a. Coeur de Pirate - I sat in front of her in Economics.
The school’s most famous alumnus is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who presented me with a creative writing award in grade 10.
Unlike most private schools in Montreal, Brebeuf does not mandate uniforms. Instead boys are allowed to dress up in a collared golf/polo shirt or a button-down dress shirt, paired with dress pants (slacks, khakis, etc.) and leather shoes. No t-shirts and no jeans allowed.
My years at Brebeuf weren't easy ones. One small way that I avoid revisiting those memories is by dressing differently than I did then. I avoid wearing collared shirts or khaki pants; I stay away from people who wear boat shoes or anything Lacoste.
Andre Agassi’s High School
In 2001, Andre Agassi - tennis player, ‘80s fashion icon and high-school dropout - started a charter school in his home town of Las Vegas, NV. Agassi’s vision was to make his school a beacon of hope in one of his city’s most underdeveloped neighbourhoods by providing its children with a path toward college.
Andre the teenager would have hated the Agassi Prep uniform, but Andre the grownup insisted on it during the school’s formation.
As Agassi explains in his autobiography Open, putting on a uniform meant getting ready to learn. Wearing it alongside classmates meant knowing that you were accountable to each others’ education.
For decades, one of hockey’s great hypocrites took over the conversation every Saturday night in more ways than one. Despite advocating for collectivism, Don Cherry’s loud voice and louder suits suggested quite the contrary about his own priorities.
Who is Don trying to show up? one might wonder. Most often the answer was his partner, Ron MacLean, who wore an understated navy suit and spoke deferentially even until the very end.
The Montreal Police Department
It’s easy to identify when the city of Montreal and its policemen at are a contractual impasse: the cops start wearing camo pants.
Is it a crime against fashion?
Does it make our city look bad?
Does it help cops blend into the snow so that they can catch more bad guys?
Does it erode citizens’ trust in the SPVM as an institution?
Who’s to say?
But what I do find interesting, is that the fashion choice is being made by the group as a whole. Maybe by wearing these ridiculous pants as a group, the individual within the group feel more solidarity with each other?
Maybe that’s the point, after all.