If you happen to work in a neighbourhood called the Financial District or the Loop or Midtown or the CBD, you may have noticed a particularly egregious menswear trend of late. It is called the “Midtown Uniform” and involves three articles of clothing: a no-nonsense button-down shirt, a fleece or quilted vest (aka gilet if you’re reading this in the UK) and a pair of dependably comfortable slacks. The anonymous creator of a popular Instagram account, @MidtownUniform, couldn’t help noticing when he moved to Manhattan that bros from a broad swathe of highly remunerated fields ranging from banking to technology have made the look theirs (Jeff Bezos among them, pictured above). The account, which parodies the uniform and the dudes who wear it, has acquired tens of thousands of followers since it was started 11 months ago – and created something of a media frenzy. Esquire conducted a thorough investigation into the frumpy look, while a splash in the New York Post probed the account’s genesis. A Buzzfeed reporter even spent five full days in this three-part getup to see if she, too, might attract some of the power vested in the outfit.
Fascination with the account stems from the way it exposes our corporate-tech overlords as, basically, average-looking, poorly dressed extras from “Zoolander” who – the captions suggest – are somehow simultaneously smug and desperate. A trio of balding men named Zack, Zach and Zac hopelessly ponder how to woo a woman via text (“How many dog face selfie snaps is too many?”). A guy named Chad (below) wears expensive-looking loafers (called “sleds”) and on his dating profile lists himself as 6’0”, a “perfect big spoon”, “gainfully employed” and – with no sense of shame at his brazen opportunism – a “feminist”. Elsewhere, Cory and Rory consider how many Costco-sized palettes of beer to buy for their shared summer house. Scores of people have tagged their male friends to the account, effectively saying “this is so you.”
But unless your job involves spitting out the words “leveraged buyout”, “slide deck” or “value prop” on the regular, some of the humour here might be lost on you. That’s because what began as one man’s cutting critique has morphed into a massive digital in-joke. According to Esquire, most of the account’s recent photographs have been submitted by men who wear the uniform themselves – and some of the captions will be intelligible only to them. For instance, a particular type of financial professional refers to companies in daily conversation not by their names but by the abbreviations they’re given when publicly listed – which explains the frequent coffee-related complaints on the account about “SBUX”. One can’t help but wonder if some of the jokes aren’t piss-takes so much as direct quotes. The men on @MidtownUniform complain about sitting in coach (like “friggin’ animals”), laugh at people with affordable cell phones and refer to ordinary people as “peasants”.
It’s always fun to watch the powerful make fools of themselves. But in the world of @MidtownUniform, the joke’s on us. The nonchalant casualness of the outfit obscures the fact that, just like any other uniform, it adheres to a set of rules. But while formal office dress codes are often written down and easily learnt, the rules for casual dress can be picked up only from lived experience. For people like Trent, Aspen, Parker and Baron and other denizens of @midtownuniform, that means trips to the Hamptons and jobs that somehow involve a lot of sailing. But the “peasants” who can’t afford such experiences must resort to stalking @MidtownUniform. Is that funny? No. But at least I wouldn’t be caught dead in a zip-up fleece.