Riding on trains and subways in Japan, it would seem that gray is the new blue. I believe this trend started out about ten years ago and has recently approached the tipping point, where salarymen in gray suits will outnumber those in dark blue.
When I first started riding the subway to work (the route is drilled into my brain for all eternity: Yotsubashi Line from Tamade to Nishi Umeda, walk to Higashi Umeda for transfer to Tanimachi Line to Miyakojima; approximately 40 minutes counting waiting time), dark blue was still de rigueur for a salaryman. Back in those days, Nam and I lived in an apartment possibly the size of a large van interior, in one of the few neighborhoods in Japan where you can actually see drug dealers hanging on the corner, and the local riots over police brutality were still in people’s not-so-distant memories. Even in our little slice of roach-infested heaven, the blue rule was in full effect, that is, Salarymen Wear Dark Blue. I always felt like a rebel, because I wore gray. This is not to say that I started this trend or anything (God fucking forbid), I was just one of the admittedly not-really-so-few early adopters. This is to say, however, that I have been closely monitoring the gray-to-blue ratio for almost ten years.
The gray movement lost a few recruits to the School of Black (managers especially seem to prefer the total absence of color, and not just with regards to attire – ha!), but step into any number of ready-to-made salaryman suit factories and you will immediately notice that there are more gray suits than any other color. Black may never attain the crown due to its now dual stigmas: Black positively screams, “Hey, someone died and I’m mourningly toting a new Coach attache to the wake,” or alternatively, “I’m a fucking management weenie! I can wear sunglasses on the train and merely pretend to comprehend the Nikkei Weekly, yet still get paid more than you pissants! Bow down to me and the fake Rolex I got during shucho to Hong Kong, bitches!”
So let’s review: Gray is the new blue. Black is sharp, but carries the Asshole Manager stigma. Dark blue is just old, man… Doesn’t leave a whole lot of choices, does it?
Methinks white suits with pastel man-blouses and see-through mesh slippers ala Sonny Crockett aren’t that far off. Especially with this whole Cool Biz affair still pumped into overdrive. Can you guess the biggest effect of Cool Biz I have seen so far? The market for desktop electric fans has shot through the fucking roof! Gee, too bad they don’t make those in Japan anymore… It might have boosted sales of some poor domestic sod of an appliance manufacturer teetering on the verge of self-immolation and helped avoid protracted price wars over $10 toaster ovens.
In Salaryman’s Brave New World, however, a chance at PR supercedes trivial shit like lost jobs, dependent families, or the gross dofuckingmestic product.
P.S. Ironically, these days I like to wear black suits the best. I like being mistaken for a mourner because if I just lose it (FLAME ON, BITCHES!) at someone, I can always just say “sorry, my great uncle just died from avian cancer,” or something equally as pitiful, afterward. Plus, Addendum #26 of the Salaryman’s Code clearly states that black does not carry a stigma when the wearer himself is one.